I distinctly remember the moment I first became acquainted with Twin Cities hip hop. It was 1986 and I was living in North Chicago, Illinois. One day while listening to my favorite station, WNUR 89.3 FM—which was my primary source of hearing new hip hop—and they played an artist that I didn’t recognize. It started off with some nice human beatboxing, kicked in with a sample from the I Dream Of Jeanie TV show and dropped into some quality rhyming. At the end of the set they announced it was the I.R.M Crew (Immortal Rap Masters) and the song was “I Dream Of DJs.”
Per usual, I had a notebook handy and added this track to my list of vinyl to search for on my next record store visit. I soon found a copy and, much to my delight, it was a four-song EP with a full color picture cover. Being that I was an all-out nerd, I would read every detail on the record. I was particularly curious about one other thing besides the great music: it didn’t sound quite like an East Coast record or a West Coast record. At that time, Midwest hip hop was fairly scarce to find. I notated on the record, “St Paul, MN.” My first thought was, “Where’s that?” I didn’t put bother pulling out a map or spinning my globe around for a closer a look; the music was great and that was good enough for me.
Besides the next couple releases by the I.R.M Crew and Prince’s flirtations with hip hop, I don’t recall hearing any other Twin Cities hip hop for nearly a decade—and that is when, by a stroke of chance, I happened onto an Overcast CD that landed in the hands of my Time Travel Radio co-host, J Pratt. The moment he played the CD and I heard the first song I jumped and snatched the cover out of his hands and was studying the credits. I don’t think we had made it to track two before I was borrowing J Pratt’s home phone and calling the number on the back of the CD.
After that call I was on the mailing list for Rhymesayers music for my radio show, and I also was instrumental in helping establish the Chicago-to-Minneapolis indie rap scene connection. We would bring RSE to Chicago to perform shows, and they would book some of the groups who J Bird and I were working with in Chicago at 7th St. in Minneapolis. Being that I was the guy working the merch booth usually, it was on those trips that I started to meet other MCs on the Twin Cities scene.
The main person I remember making an impression on me was Carnage. I didn’t hear him rap back then (this is circa ’98), but he just knew so much about hip hop and we discovered in our talks that we liked the same type of lyricism, so I assumed he was probably dope… and I was absolutely correct! Then as the ‘90s were coming to a close I got to meet I Self Devine while he was in Chicago recording “First Contact” with the Opus; I was already a fan because I had gotten my hands on the Micranots “So Deep I Never Fell” tape a few years prior, though at the time I considered them an Atlanta group because that’s where they were based at the time.
Outside of Rhymesayers, I didn’t get to fully explore the Twin Cities scene until I moved here in 2002. When Rhymesayers asked me to move here to work for the label it was a no-brainer. First off, I could have a job in the music industry with a label that I respected and also had a high quality artist roster. Plus, my few experiences from visiting to here had instantly made me appreciate the Twin Cities scene. I was impressed at how receptive people were of us coming to rock from Chicago, and I noted how willing people were to support the cause by buying our albums and mixtapes. These were not customs I was used to in the Chicago hip hop scene.
This was all further proven when I officially moved here. I regularly tell the story of how within a few months of moving here, if that, I instantly was being invited to do more gigs than I did in my whole 12+ years in Chicago. I completely immersed myself in the scene. I was pretty much at every hip hop event or DJ night possible. I recall being blown away by the intensity of Mr. Gene Poole and the ruggedness of Buddah Tye at the Loring Pasta Bar MC Battles. I was very intrigued by the poetic writing and unique stage presence of Cecil Otter and made a point of attending every show of his that I could. I had already bore witness to the skills of Crescent Moon when he visited my radio show in Chicago, but I continued to look out for his releases and become mesmerized by his poignant writing. The list goes on. There were many artists who impressed me over the years as the scene continued to grow and further develop its voice and identity.
From an outsider-turned-insider’s perspective, the Twin Cities scene is in a vibrant state. Sure, like anywhere else there’s a lot of people participating who haven’t built their skills up properly, but at the same time there’s an increasing amount of well-skilled individuals making quality music as well. So much in fact, that the Current has asked Siddiq Sayers (Rhymesayers CEO) and myself to produce a weekly hour-long program for the Local Current Stream showcasing the Twin Cities hip hop scene! This will be the online companion program to the the Current’s H2 radio show that Siddiq and I are launching on March 27.
With H2 Local Current, we look forward to sharing music from some of Twin Cities finest, as well as using this opportunity to dig even deeper to find those who are the next rising talents out there. I’m sure if you are a fan of the scene you are also on a mission to find more artists; I’d love to hear who your favorite local hip hop artists are, so I can make sure I’m not missing anything I should be in the know about. Let me know below!!
I personally have an extensive list of Twin Cities and Twin Cities-based artists I’m regularly listening to, but here are some of the ones who currently command my attention and/or peak my interest in some fashion or another: I Self Devine, Cecil Otter, MaLLy, Haphduzn, Atmosphere, Brother Ali, P.O.S, Lazerbeak, Sims, Dem Atlas, Meta, Villa Rosa, Big Quarters, Guante, Truth Be Told, I.B.E, Audio Perm, Toki Wright, Mike The Martyr, Greg Grease, Mixed Blood Majority, Carnage, Desdamona, Rich Garvey, Freez, Knox, Longshot, Astronautalis, Mic Mictlan, Dessa, BdotCroc, Mr. Gene Poole, Los Nativos, Prof, Wide Eyes, Kill the Vultures, St. Paul Slim, Mastermind, Kristoff Krane, Bionik, M.anifest and the list goes on and on…
How about you? What local hip hop is currently satisfying your listening pleasure? Join Siddiq Sayers and myself on H2 Local Current to hear what we have discovered…
— Kevin Beacham