By: Thomas D. Mooney
It’s not every day that Lubbock is graced with established and fresh hip-hop. It’s not like West Texas is the ultimate Mecca for hip-hop artists to come flock to. In recent years, the only rappers who’ve played in Lubbock have been ones whose careers peaked when most of us were in junior high (you know who I’m talking about).
But like the Lubbock music scene in general, things are building–and better and more relevant rappers are making their way onto the high plains. This past year, a small, but steady stream of hip-hop artists have stopped in Lubbock. And while they may not be Billboard topping artists, they have been rising stars and emcees who local hip-hop-heads appreciate. If 2011 is any indicator, it’s that there are better things to come. And the first real great hip-hop concert of 2012 gives that statement validity.
Last week, New Slang caught up with Aaron Mader, more commonly known as Lazerbeak, of the seven-piece hip-hop institution, Doomtree.
With an arsenal of five emcees with and assortment of styles and deliveries, one thing you can always count on from Doomtree is that they’re not going to repeat themselves. While Doomtree isn’t a house hold name by any means, hip-hop purists, music critics, and music obsessionists in general, know and love the Minneapolis-based group.
Their last album, “No Kings,” which came out in late November of this past year, is an album packed full of punch and bite. The 12-track album is full of club worthy (and Top 40 radio for that matter) choruses and beats, while never sounding like they were manufactured in a hit-factory, cookie-cutter, corporate-owned assembly line.
There’s never a point where you feel cheated. It’s the way hip-hop and rap were meant to be: smart, concerning, applicable, and overall, likable.
Doomtree performs tonight, Monday February 6th, at Wreckers.
New Slang: You guys have been on this current tour for a while now. How’s it been so far?
Aaron Mader (LazerBeak): It’s been great, dude. I today marks two weeks on the road. [We] started in Minneapolis and working our way out west and down the coast. It’s been really good. It has been a little bit of a grind since the drives are longer; we’re really cramming it in this time. It’s been a really fun time. And coming from Minnesota, having the AC on in the van on February 2nd, it’s a really beautiful thing for us [laughs].
NS: Since the drives out west are longer, what do you guys do to pass the time while out on the road?
AM: Well we have so many people out with us, we have a 15-passenger van, and we ended up renting a minivan. So the minivan, that’s where more of the business side of things get done. So it’s me and Dessa side by side, kind of handling the business side of the label and everything, our tour manager and Cecil. So we spend a shit ton of time reading and writing e-mails [laughs]. But those guys (in the other van), are either listening to rap music or–P.O.S., who likes to drive a lot, he’s gotten into podcasts, so maybe listening to some crazy science podcast. And, every once in a while, we stop and eat some Subway. Some really exciting stuff [laughs].
NS: You guys are from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and that hip-hop scene up there, I think nationally is pretty underrated. There’s a lot of artists coming from the area who are great. What are your thoughts about the music scene there?
AM: Yeah, absolutely. I think we all feel really blessed to come from that region and now being able to get the word out about our music community. I think it’s amazing. And I know people think it’s weird that of all places, in Minneapolis somehow there’s all this great underground hip-hop coming out. But I just show a great sense of pride from being from there and having our name attached to that. And I don’t know, it probably is underrated nationally, but the music scene in general has always been that way. We have a really strong community. And I think we kind of like it like that–you know, so it doesn’t ever get tainted or too cynical.
NS: The last album, “No Kings,” it came out last year. Kind of has that “rebel against kings, thrones, etc” feel to it. Now, obviously I don’t think it was any kind of response to another “kings” album that came out last year, but I do think it’s interesting that “Watch the Throne” by Kanye West and Jay-Z came out the same year. With “No Kings,” do you think it was more of an outward thought and expression on society or more of an inner look and statement on the group? As in there aren’t any kings in Doomtree, everyone has a say. Or both?
AM: I think it’s both. I think it’s really how we feel about everything. Trying to have a level playing field whether it’s in music or daily life. I think we’re all equal and we’re all in this together. I think it’s something we’ve always thought. It’s really the reason we’ve been able to last this long. We’re seven individuals who have somehow put ego aside and bonded together. I don’t think we set out to make a record called “No Kings” though. It was just when it was all said and done, we kind of looked at what we had and concept-wise, it kind of summed up the attitude. And the “Watch the Throne” comparison happens a lot. Even we were aware of that. But yeah, definitely no subliminal message or anything like that. Jay-Z is my favorite rapper and I really like Kanye West. But, it really is interesting that they came out so close together. And with it them celebrating about this wealth aspect. And really the most bragging about money on a record I’ve heard in a while. But, it’s one of my favorite records. It’s kind of funny how all that works out.
NS: Like you mentioned before, there are seven of you in Doomtree. And, I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but recently, Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan said that he thought the individual solo careers ultimately hurt the group. What do you think of that how that relates to Doomtree, since you are a large group and all have side/solo projects as well?
AM: Yeah, totally. You know, obviously it’s going to be different for everybody, and this is certainly not an easy thing to pull off–being a solo artist and in a band–but, everybody has things going on, but we’re very focused on the fact that we want everyone to succeed as individuals and in doing that, the group can succeed as well. It’s something we’re always thinking about and we’re very careful with because it’s obviously very easy for it to spin out of control, for egos to grow, for things to overlap. It’s certainly not easy, but I feel that we’ve known each other for so long and we respect each other enough to check in with one another enough to make sure we’re all on the same page. And as long as we’re able to do that, I don’t ever really worry about the solo thing vs the group thing. So I certainly understand the thing with Wu-Tang–and we’ve had some moderate success, we hope to have more–but you know, Wu-Tang was the biggest thing in the world for several years. So, I can definitely see how it could strain relationships [laughs]. We’ve been lucky to have kind of this slow up tick as far as success. It’s never felt like it’s gotten out of control and too fast to not be able to handle it. And I just hope we can continue that with a little more elevated pace, but nothing too crazy.
NS: A lot of times, writers and people in general, will call you guys “intelligent rap” or “conscious hip-hop.” Do you kind of feel in a way that it’s kind of a backhanded compliment?
AM: Not speaking for the band here, but I didn’t really like the “backpack rap” thing getting out of control and the “conscious rap” thing. I tend to not really like the sub-genres in rap. I feel like we’re just pushing ourselves away from each other when we do that. I understand that there’s different styles and whatnot, but I don’t think we need to have a sub-genre in rap called “intelligent rap.” I prefer not to deal with it, but it’s not enough to make me lose sleep on. But, I feel that we’ve been influenced by so many different genres and within rap…and I don’t want to get pigeoned into this one little thing. I think at the end of the day, we’re contributing to the culture that we’re really influenced by.
NS: I’ve always kind of felt that the label wasn’t ever needed as well. I mean, I feel that when hip-hop started out, it was overall this intelligent and socially conscious statement. If anything, it should be the other way around, with “stupid rap” or something being the sub-genre. Maybe “dumbed down hip-hop [laughs].”
AM: [Laughs] Yeah. It’s just ended up being like that for some reason. And with rap, it just becomes more of a focus point. Look at rock, like fucking hair metal and shit like that. It’s a similar idea, like some stuff is sort of dumb down…I mean, I’m just not feeling it (the “sub-genreing” of hip-hop) so much. But I totally agree with you. If anything, it should be the other way around.
NS: Doomtree fans, I think that’s a really varied audience. A real broad spectrum of people listening. You’ve got everyone from die-hard rap listening only people to hipster kids to indie-rock fans. What do you think about having such a varied audience?
AM: You know, I love it, man. You know what they say; you can’t choose your audience. But it’s really encouraging to me to see all these types of people, especially when we go on tour. It’s great to see these diverse crowds enjoying themselves. We understand it’s not that way for everybody.
NS: I wanted to talk a little about what you have working on the side as well. What’s currently happening with any side projects you’ve got going on?
AM: I just put out this new this album called “Lava Bangers.” It’s an instrumental hip-hop record. It’s like 20 unreleased instrumental pieces that were all under two minutes…and pieced it all together into this one long 40-minute song that weaves in and out of itself. So that’s like the newest thing from me. We’re just happy to have that out and available on tour.
NS: How do you personally start building a beat? Where does a beat originate for you?
AM: You know, I need structure when it comes to creating music. Usually, it’s like I get up in the morning, start right away, and start listening through records to chop up little samples, or start with a keyboard line and play guitar. It’s just kind of like whatever you’re feeling that day. You have to start with something. Typically takes a couple of hours to get a little something going. And once I’ve got like eight bars of a melody or anything like that, then it’s the fun part since you have your base and you just build on it. And I usually build to the point where I should stop building [laughs]. But I like to cram as much shit as possible. And, it’s just trying all types of new shit out until it’s got everything it needs. Then you try and deconstruct it and sequence it…and usually, I start around 9 a.m. and hopefully I’m done around 5 p.m. when my wife gets home. It’s certainly not the most glamorous approach, but it’s worked so far.