Minnesota may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of hip-hop. However, the state has a vibrant and storied hip-hop scene that has produced some of the industry’s most celebrated talent. The Minnesota hip-hop scene started in the 1980s and has since grown, with the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, serving as the hub for most of the state’s hip-hop activity. In this article, we’ll explore the history, pioneers, emerging talent, collectives, venues, and impact of Minnesota hip-hop on the national scene.
The history of Minnesota hip-hop
Minnesota’s hip-hop story can be traced back to the early ’80s, with local artists primarily influencing the sound. Rappers would often reference the Midwestern experience, which was a direct reflection of the state’s predominantly white population. However, despite the lack of diversity in the state, Minnesota’s hip-hop scene has always been a melting pot of different styles and influences.
Early beginnings and influences
The early ’80s saw groups like Combination Inc., whose “Rock the City” was the first recorded rap single from Minnesota. These early pioneers paved the way for a new generation of artists who would go on to make their mark on the hip-hop world. Soon after, MCs like Moorish Delta 7 and the Micranots emerged, challenging hip-hop stereotypes and clamoring for national attention with politically conscious lyrics, socially aware themes, and pioneering work on jazz-rap fusion music.
Minnesota’s hip-hop scene was heavily influenced by the Minneapolis Sound, a genre of music that blended funk, rock, and pop. This sound was popularized by artists like Prince and The Time, and it had a significant impact on the state’s hip-hop scene. Many local rappers incorporated elements of the Minneapolis Sound into their music, creating a unique and distinct sound that set them apart from their East and West Coast counterparts.
The rise of the Twin Cities scene
By the end of the ’80s, a scene had emerged in the Twin Cities that centered around the Cedar Cultural Center, West Bank, and the Uptown Bar. This era was marked by groundbreaking artists like Truth Maze, who brought a new level of consciousness to Minnesota’s hip-hop scene. However, the scene hit its stride with the release of Atmosphere’s debut album, “Overcast!” in 1997.
Atmosphere, consisting of rapper Slug and producer Ant, quickly became the face of Minnesota hip-hop. Their introspective and emotionally charged lyrics, combined with Ant’s soulful and melodic beats, resonated with audiences across the country. The success of “Overcast!” paved the way for other Twin Cities artists like Brother Ali, P.O.S., and Doomtree to gain national recognition.
Notable moments and milestones
Several defining moments made Minnesota hip-hop stand out. The most notable ones include the release of Eyedea & Abilities’ “First Born,” which showcased the duo’s incredible lyrical ability and innovative production techniques. The album was a critical and commercial success, solidifying Eyedea & Abilities’ place in the pantheon of great Minnesota hip-hop artists.
Another milestone in Minnesota hip-hop history was the founding of Rhymesayers Entertainment in 1995. The independent record label, founded by rapper Slug and his friend Siddiq, became a driving force in the state’s hip-hop scene. Rhymesayers’ Soundset Music Festival, which began in 2008, quickly became the premier hip-hop festival in the Midwest. The festival has featured some of the biggest names in hip-hop, including Kendrick Lamar, Nas, and Wu-Tang Clan.
Minnesota’s hip-hop scene continues to thrive to this day, with new artists emerging all the time. Whether it’s the socially conscious lyrics of Brother Ali or the experimental beats of Lizzo, Minnesota hip-hop remains a vital and important part of the genre’s history.
Pioneers of Minnesota hip-hop
Atmosphere, the hip-hop duo consisting of MC Slug and DJ Ant, was founded in 1989 and quickly became a hit with the release of “Overcast!” Atmosphere’s music is known for its introspective lyrics, which delve into themes such as personal struggles, relationships, and politics. The group has released several albums, including “Lucy Ford” and “God Loves Ugly” that have all been critically acclaimed. Atmosphere has worked with several artists nationally and gained significant commercial success with their hit single “Sunshine.”
Brother Ali, born Jason Newman, is a rapper, activist, and label mate of Atmosphere. Ali hit the scene in 2000 with his debut album, “Rites of Passage,” and quickly earned recognition for his political and social messages. Known for his deeply personal lyrics that touch on themes such as race, religion, and identity, Brother Ali has released several critically acclaimed albums, including “The Undisputed Truth,” and “Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color.”
Eyedea & Abilities
Eyedea & Abilities was founded in the Twin Cities in 1998 and consisted of rapper Eyedea and DJ Abilities. Known for its innovative sound and poetic lyrics, the duo released its debut album, “First Born” in 2001, which was a critical and commercial success. Eyedea & Abilities parted ways in 2009, following the release of their fourth album “By the Throat,” with both artists going on to pursue successful solo careers.
Founded in 2002, Doomtree is a collective consisting of seven members from various backgrounds, who draw inspiration from punk rock, indie rock, and rap music, to create its signature sound. The collective has released several successful albums, including “No Kings,” and “All Hands” and established itself as one of the most innovative, genre-bending groups in contemporary hip-hop.
Emerging talents and rising stars
Dessa is a rapper, singer, and writer from Minneapolis and Doomtree’s only female member. She’s released several critically acclaimed albums, including “Parts of Speech,” and “Chime,” which showcase her eclectic, uniquely imaginative sound. Her music infuses hip-hop with elements of poetic lyricism and indie rock sensibilities.
Yung Gravy is an emerging rapper from Minnesota who’s widely regarded as one of the most eclectic and charismatic young artists around. He’s known for his distinct, old-school sound, which blends playful lyricism with classic ’70s funk sounds. He released his debut album “Sensational” in 2019, which quickly established him as a rising star.
Lizzo is a Minneapolis-based rapper and singer who’s been steadily gaining national recognition over the past few years. She’s known for her bold, brass sound and empowering anthems that celebrate self-confidence and self-love. Lizzo has released several albums, including “Cuz I Love You,” which was a critical and commercial success.
Bobby Raps is a rapper and producer who’s known for his highly visual lyrics and genre-bending sound, which incorporates elements of hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music. He’s released several successful mixtapes, including “Mark” and collaborated with several notable artists such as Travis Scott and Young Thug.
Minnesota hip-hop collectives and groups
Rhymesayers Entertainment is a Minneapolis-based hip-hop label that serves as the home base for Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and several other notable Minnesota-based artists. The label’s founder, Sean Daley, aka Slug, has been instrumental in establishing the Minnesota hip-hop scene. Rhymesayers has become one of the top labels in the industry, consistently producing high-quality music with a focus on artistic integrity.
Thestand4rd is a group made up of four of Minnesota’s most buzzworthy young talents: Allan Kingdom, Bobby Raps, Spooky Black, and Psymun. Together, they’ve created a signature sound that’s drawn widespread critical acclaim for its genre-bending mix of hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music. The collective released its debut EP in 2014, and since then, they’ve collaborated with several notable artists, including Kanye West.
Shredders is a Minneapolis-based collective consisting of four members of the Doomtree collective: P.O.S, Paper Tiger, Sims, and Lazerbeak. Shredders are known for their highly enigmatic sound, which fuses rap, punk, and electronic music, to create a sound that’s wholly original. The group’s 2018 debut album “Dangerous Jumps” received widespread critical acclaim and was hailed as one of the year’s standout hip-hop releases.
GRRRL PRTY is an all-female hip-hop group consisting of members Sophia Eris, Manchita, and Lizzo. The group’s sound is known for its high-energy beats, electrifying lyrical flow, and feminist themes. The group has gained widespread recognition for their ability to create a sound that’s wholly unique, while staying true to the roots of hip-hop.
The role of local venues and events
First Avenue and 7th Street Entry
First Avenue and 7th Street Entry, located in downtown Minneapolis, have served as a hub for live music in Minnesota, including hip-hop since the ’80s. Iconic performances from Prince and Atmosphere, among others, cemented the venue’s standing in the music industry. First Avenue and 7th Street Entry are important enablers of Minnesota hip-hop’s success, providing a reliable stage for artists to perform and demonstrate their craft.
Soundset Music Festival
The Soundset Music Festival, presented by Rhymesayers, is one of the premier hip-hop festivals in the Midwest. The festival attracts tens of thousands of attendees and boasts lineups of some of the industry’s biggest names. The festival has hosted performances from Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Travis Scott, establishing itself as a must-attend event in the hip-hop calendar.
The Cabooze, located in Minneapolis, has served as an essential venue for Minnesota’s hip-hop scene. The venue established a reputation for energetic crowds, accessible bars, and affordable cover charges and has played host to some of the biggest names in the industry.
The Cedar Cultural Center
The Cedar Cultural Center, located in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis is an intimate concert venue that carries an international, multi-genre music focus. The Cultural Center has supported several emerging and established Minnesota hip-hop artists, providing them with an accessible and welcoming space to share their craft.
The impact of Minnesota hip-hop on the national scene
Collaborations with national artists
Minnesota hip-hop has made significant gains and collaborations across the national scene, with various artists such as Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, and Doomtree tapping into some of Minnesota’s most influential hip-hop artists. The collaborations show the extent to which Minnesota hip-hop has garnered national attention.
Recognition and awards
Minnesota hip-hop has garnered critical acclaim, successfully challenging longstanding perceptions of the genre. The Minnesota-based artists have been recognized for their ability to innovate and revitalize the broader hip-hop scene in ways that have won over both local and national audiences. Both Atmosphere and Doomtree have been nominated for and have won awards in some of the industry’s most prestigious categories.
The Future of Minnesota hip-hop
Minnesota’s hip-hop scene continues to grow and mutate, producing impressive, diverse talent that should capture and intrigue fans for years to come. As the state’s urban centers continue to attract talent and attention across other genres, Minnesota hip-hop should attain new heights and impact.
Minnesota hip-hop is unique because it offers a vast range of styles and talents that are impossible to summarize. What’s clear is that Minnesota hip-hop has come a long way from the early ’80s, with energetic, genre-bending new artists and several critical institutions lining the scene. Understanding Minnesota hip-hop’s history is essential to appreciate the craft and culture of its contemporary scene, which shows no signs of slowing down or accommodating for traditional stereotypes.