Local Current Blog

A fond farewell to Fifth Element

Fifth Element on April 2, 2020. (Photos by Jay Gabler/MPR)

Like many other brick-and-mortar stores in the time of COVID-19, Fifth Element — the record shop and home-base of the Minneapolis rap label Rhymesayers — was forced to close its doors due to its designation as “non-essential business.” What patrons may not have realized was that this one-stop-shop for all things Twin Cities hip-hop was actually closing its doors permanently.

“Last year, while discussing our next steps for 2020 and the coming decade, we began developing some creative new strategies to better serve the needs of our artists and our community, and we’re excited to begin this work,” Fifth Element’s Twitter account explained in a thread. “With that outlook in mind, and with respect for recent events requiring temporary closure, we’ve chosen to permanently close our Uptown Minneapolis retail store.”

For two decades, Fifth Element was a hub of activity in the Twin Cities rap scene. The store, which was opened in 1999 by Rhymesayers founders Sean “Slug” Daley, Brent “Siddiq” Sayers, Anthony “Ant” Davis, and Musab “Sab Artist” Sadd, was originally meant to be a vehicle to sell label merch. It soon developed into a key component of the Twin Cities music community.

Fifth Element was the place to be if you wanted to buy records and merchandise for both local artists and big names like Aesop Rock, Brother Ali, MF Doom, and Eyedea & Abilities.

“For a period of time, [Fifth Element] was huge. It was a great resource for financial s***. Twelve-inches were selling, CDs were selling, people were buying music,” Slug explained to Forbes back in 2015. “It was a huge plus for us to have this stream of income that had nothing to do with us pushing our art.”

The store soon became much more than a means to make a little extra cash. Fifth Element would host turntable tutorials for wannabe DJs and allow countless aspiring MCs participated in their open-mic nights, hosted by scene veteran C.M.J. A huge wall in the building is adorned with “Be in peace … Dream.” in big graffiti letters.

In essence, the shop would evolve into a place where the four elements of hip-hop (DJing, MCing, b-boying, and grafitti) could converge under one roof.

Fifth Element proved to be both a mecca for young up-and-comers and fans from out of town — and it was both a business and artistic venture. Daley described the location as a “clubhouse,” but it was also an office space where new talent was signed and deals were struck.

With its closing, Fifth Element leaves behind a history of fostering talent and community. Fans of the label may be anxious, as Soundset — the label’s premier rap festival — was also put on hold this year, but it sounds like this is just the end of a chapter in the Rhymesayers story and not the closing of the book.

Kevin Beacham, a former employee, put it best in 2010: “In any event, Fifth Element isn’t just a store. We strive to be an active participant in global Hip Hop culture. It’s important for us to personally connect with the fans, the artists, and all the surrounding entities involved in the process.”