Doomtree is a collective of like-minded emcees, DJs and producers that all hail from the state of Minnesota. Some have already gained national fame, such as P.O.S., who was featured on RapReviews last year at this time. Now the rest of the crew is ready to show what they have to offer as last month the Doomtree collective released a self-titled full length album. This week RapReviews caught up with two of Doomtree’s members, Dessa and Cecil Otter, to find out who exactly makes up Doomtree, how totally different writing styles were employed in the creation of the group’s album, and why Minnesota is such a breeding ground for great music.
Adam Bernard: Let’s start with something fun. Describe each Doomtree member’s personality using the “he’s the ___ one” formula.
Dessa: Turbo Nemesis, he’s the ruthless one.
Cecil Otter: Dessa, she’s the best one.
Dessa: This is gonna go badly from here on out. Paper Tiger, he’s the stylin one. P.O.S., he’s the goofy one. I’m imagining P.O.S. hating this.
AB: You know, we’ve already featured him on the site and I met him at Warped Tour last year so it’s all good.
D: So you’re gonna take the heat if he doesn’t like the goofy thing?
AB: Yeah, no problem.
D: I’m counting on that. And let’s see, Cecil Otter, he’s the romantic one.
C: Mike Mictlan is the hammy one.
D: MK Larada, he’s the discerning one. Sims is the business one. Lazerbeak, I want to say he’s the bangin one, but that sounds really loaded.
C: Lazerbeak is the one who gets stuff done.
D: And that’s all nine of us.
AB: Impressive! Did you all come together as a group at one point in time, or was it a gradual building of the collective?
C: It was a gradual build. Me and MK Larada and P.O.S. started working on music and started up Doomtree a long time ago. We brought on our friends Bobby and Lazerbeak and we just made a bunch of beats and me and P.O.S. played all the shows and we were meeting a bunch of times a week. Then we started going out to the city and we met Dessa and she hung around the house for a while. We figured out we were next door neighbors and she was an amazing spoken word artist. We had all seen here and we were very impressed. One day we asked if she wanted to be in the crew. It was her and then Sims shortly after, then everything kind of fell into place. Mike Mictlan was in it from the beginning, he was a friend of P.O.S.’, they went to high school together, but he was living out in LA so it took us four years to get him to fly out here, but he did.
AB: I can’t imagine if you’re living in LA that you’ll think Minnesota is place to be.
C: We had basically told him we’re all his great friends and we’re building something really big here and you have to be a part of it and we’re not gonna stop, we’re gonna keep working. I think he was into that ethic so he came to do it.
AB: What is Doomtree? Is Doomtree a tree that’s doomed, a tree that’s gonna become paper?
C: When we were naming it the first time I was in a group called False Hopes, which didn’t do anything, we just stayed in our basement and we were hermits.
AB: So the group was named appropriately then?
C: Yes, completely appropriate. It was also a little knock at ourselves. It was kind of a joke. Then P.O.S. had this idea for Doomtree and my friend Bobby had an idea to call it Seven Bums or something like that, then we were like Seven Trees, Doom Bums, Doom Hope, and I was like can we please just do False Hopes. P.O.S. was stuck on Doomtree, then everyone else was and then it just kind of stuck.
D: If the naming story isn’t as satisfying as one might hoped it would have been, Doomtree was also the house that all the guys lived in, Cecil and the rest of the Doom crew, that for whatever reason, either because the gutters had a poor design or the trees in that neighborhood attracted them, pigeons would flock to the gutters of this house and with alarming frequency a dead pigeon would somehow arrive on the doorstep, so it felt aptly named, even if only a few years later.
C: We had done a t-shirt logo with a dead bird on its back, it was just an outline of it and its eyes were crossed out and then literally over a three month period we found close to thirteen pigeons and chickadees dead outside our house. It was really strange.
D: Have you heard of The Secret? (laughs) Visualizing things, that’s what we do.
C: I visualized a bunch of superfans out killing birds for us.
AB: Are you worried that people will throw dead birds at you while you’re on stage?
D: Not until right now.
C: Yeah, this is the first time I’ve ever worried about that.
“I don’t if it’s Hip-Hop or songwriting as a whole.”
AB: OK, I won’t influence the masses today. Incidentally, when did Minnesota become a breeding ground for dope Hip-Hop?
C: I don’t if it’s Hip-Hop or songwriting as a whole. There’s a lot of originality in the city so there is really good Hip-Hop, there’s this group Doomtree, they’re really awesome.
D: It’s a really fertile city for almost every genre of music and I think one of the factors that contributes to the high standard of art that’s coming out of Minneapolis is that we don’t have a major label presence and there’s that continual appetite of the underdog. Minneapolis is all do it yourself hustle and I think artists here really really hungry and they’re willing to promote their own stuff and develop their own sounds. Our genres here are really permeable, too. You can have a bill that has metal and Hip-Hop and punk and people don’t sweat that, so I think you get a lot of innovation because the musicians here are really working and living together in a lot of ways.
AB: When you all get together to create a song do you come in with specific ideas for how you want a song to go? How does the songwriting process work with a group so large?
C: I think it’s more like every song kind of happens differently. There are some songs, especially on the Doomtree album, that have three MCs on them where they all came with 16 bars, their own verses that they had before, and those verses worked for the beat, or they got together and wrote to the beat together and created some kind of common link in the lyrics. I think me and Dessa went into one song called “Last Call” and we had this nautical theme the whole time that we wanted to do, the nautical theme of going along with the bar and following around this girl’s life, so that took us a really long time to write, but that’s us just getting together every night over some beers and just trying to write these lines together.
D: And that one, I think, at least in my songwriting history, was one of the more deliberate collaborative efforts. Writing that song with Cecil, and with the help of MK Larada, the guy who produced it, I think took a total of three and a half months, or four months, of working together to try to come up with four and a half minutes of satisfying listening.
AB: Doomtree has a co-ed element to it, that’s something you don’t usually find in large Hip-Hop collectives. Let’s start with the male side; Cecil, how does working with a female change your style, if it does at all?
C: I don’t think it really does. Her personality just clicks with everybody. I feel really comfortable on stage with her, so that’s really nice for me because we both have a certain stage presence so there’s never a point where I’m like oh my God, it’s a girl!
AB: Dessa, do you ever feel the need to “man up” in such a male dominated environment?
D: I think that to some extent, even outside of the rap career, I probably tend towards androgyny in some ways. I don’t embrace femininity at the expense of masculinity. I’m a big fan of learning people as individuals more so than gender roles. That said, the biggest challenges in working with a crew of men hasn’t been in trying to man up, it’s been in actually learning how to use my voice. My inclination was to take a lot of cues from the successful songs and performances that I saw the guys doing and actually learn how to use my diaphragm and my vocal chords. I found myself mimicking a lot of male delivery that just doesn’t work without a lot of bass in your voice. So for me the only real challenge hasn’t been with the company, or with the songwriting, or with my group of fundamentally best friends, it’s been in learning that my instrument is a little different and might require a different technique.
AB: When you all came together and made this album what were you hoping people would get out of it?
D: We were really ambitious. I know the appropriate response is probably a humble one, but we were really hungry on this album and we were really eager to try to make a calling card that everyone in the collective could confidently pass out to fans of music and Hip-Hop heads and to critics and reviewers. We’ve been working as solo artists for a lot of years and we were really hoping that this album would do a lot to introduce us nationally and build on some of the success we’ve had in a more regional way.
AB: I was going to say I know most of you have solo careers, so what do you feel you can voice better in a group atmosphere than as a soloist?
D: I think that none of us are absconding from our solo careers. I think all of us spend our time pretty evenly between developing our own music and working together. The thing I think the crew offers us that solo albums might not is an opportunity to pool all of our resources. In Doomtree we all work as artists and adopt some business responsibilities, as well. MK Larada did all cover art, Cecil does a lot of lettering, so we had the opportunity to really pool all of our talents and our resources to try to accelerate the pace at which we’re ascending as solo artists.
AB: Where do you hope to go from here as a collective?
D: We have a really ambitious release schedule for the rest of this year. We released the crew album that introduces all of the voices of Doomtree, including our producers, DJs and emcees, and now we’re hoping to capitalize on some of that momentum by releasing a series of solo projects so that people who are just getting into the Doomtree name can get a product that features the solo work. Cecil Otter’s album is coming out pretty shortly, as is Mike Mictlan’s, who is working with Lazerbeak for a project called Hand Over Fist, and my solo album comes out in the fall, too. We’re doing a pretty rapid fire succession of releases in an attempt to strike while the iron’s hot.