November 22, 2011 - Doomtree
Doomtree get dance-punked, and though it’s more Daft than wack, the Twin Cities hip-hop collective struggle beneath the weight of the sound. The dark, low-riding rhythms and sonic set pieces are busy and clamorous like G-funk if it suddenly found Justice in a blind alley. They aren’t only loud, but repetitive, squeezing much of the light out in favor of hardness. It’s certainly a more claustrophobic tone than their last effort, 2008’s eponymous second release. Doomtree felt like a Minneapolis album, mining moody, NPR-jazz backdrops similar to those of Ant and other Rhymesayers producers. No Kings is more suggestive of Detroit, blending propulsive breakbeats (Derrick May, anyone?) and the type of gloomy, flinty malevolence that runs from 8 Mile to Esham.
Some might welcome the change. It’s definitely a harder hitting, more in-your-face album compared to their prior mix of sophisticated science and heady grooves. The rhymes and stories are pretty tight, but are at times overshadowed (and outshouted) by the music. The tag-team vocals of Sims, P.O.S., Mike Mictlan, Cecil Otter and Dessa are still rather seamless but don’t hang together as well as more dynamic tracks like “Game Over” and “Game Show Host” from their last album. Indeed, nothing shines that brightly, other than Dessa herself. Her smoky voice and limber tongue shine her inner light every time she steps to the mic. Her rich wordplay to open “String Theory” makes it one of the album’s best tracks.
Coursing over reverb-laden guitar and thick drumbeat like they tossed a kit down the stairs, the spoken word artist/emcee explains, “My bones are hollow, that’s where I keep my marrow/That quiver in my lip is just where I keep my arrows/I fold up my ideas, pack them neat inside my skull/I got the string theory: doesn’t work to push, you gotta pull.” There’s a nimble little Eastern-tinged piano part (suggestive of the RZA) to carrying the melody, a counterpoint to the thundering rhythm like a flower by the train tracks.
Some of the other more remark-worthy tracks include the album opener “No Way” which rides a “Peter Gunn” surf lick into a knife fight with an 808. The stuttering drum machine snare snap sounds like reverberating stomps on pep rally risers, with Otter, Sims and P.O.S. leading the cheering, as the latter shouts “No kings,” and promises, “No posture phony, just rock solid unfuckwithable dropped knowledge.” It’s a good start, and the next track, “Bolt Cutters” with its marching band bass drum rolls, isn’t bad either, not the least of which because of the mid-song interlude where the drums drop in the mix and Dessa takes the stage. But the Doomtree-hyping “Bangarang,” the introspective emotional-violence paean “Beacon” and the overdriven “Punch-Out,” with its vocals down at the bottom of the mix, squander that momentum by adhering to a single over-stimulated pitch. “String Theory” and the funky, spacier “Team The Best Team” establish a beachhead mid-album but none of the other tracks the rest of the way really catch fire.
Doomtree are a very talented crew, but they led the producers and a fascination with dance-rock overwhelm the other elements. The result is distractingly crowded soundscapes throbbing like an all-night rave, leaving you too exhausted and battered to pay attention to the words, a major deficiency for a hip-hop album. It is an interesting sounding album—but difficult to digest in more than two- or three-song bites.