Most listeners are only familiar with Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree by way of Wugazi, the ingenious Fugazi/Wu-Tang Clan mash-up. This summer’s Wugazi LP, 13 Chambers, provided insight into the group’s core dynamic: raw punk energy wrapped up in lofty hip-hop heroism. Doomtree’s dynamic is perfected on its latest record, No Kings, an all-out assault combining the individual strengths of five MCs and two producers.
The thumping, lapping bass notes that start off album opener “No Way” set the wry, reeling tone prevalent through so much of No Kings: rap songs that are as much about athleticism as they are aesthetics, rooted in the restlessness of underground shows. “It’s 2000 and self-destruct,” spits laid-back, sucker-punching Sims over skittering beats and threatening synths, anchored by the lazy wisdom of Mike Mictlan and the venom-laced fury of P.O.S. Elsewhere, on album highlight “The Grand Experiment,” rapper/singer Dessa nimbly drifts in and out of melody, deftly switching from hook to hard-hitting verse and back again just in time for a triumphant and almost video-gamey hook. There are delightful, experimental forays, too: “Bolt Cutter” makes surprisingly infectious bedfellows out of wobbly, dubstep bass and bird calls, proving once and for all that Canadian loons can get the party started.
Thematically, No Kings straddles the lines of allusion and awareness, drawing heavily from Greek mythology and, true to the album’s title, medieval imagery. The Trojan Horse, Mount Olympus, St. Peter, Osiris, axe-wielding warriors, beacons shooting into windy skies: These are only some of the more prominent examples. Repeat listens uncover even more genius gems: “I took it for a kiss, but it couldn’t have been, could it?/I see now what it is, we were just biting the same bullet”; “Hewlett packing”; “loogie yacking on Don Hero’s.” The propulsive beats, laden with snappy snares and dramatic synths, provide plenty of ear candy to tempt repeat listens, each spin unveiling yet another layer of lyrical intricacy.
Ultimately, No Kings is the rap album you want to root for in the ring: an affable, intelligent piece of work bursting with vigor and creativity but devoid of any pretentiousness or falsehoods. It’s got it all—punk sneers, rock snares, electronica, hip-hop. With no foreseeable end to the seemingly infinite expanse of mindless, phoned-in party rap, No Kings provides a kind of artistic oasis, a glimpse into how great hip-hop can be when placed in talented hands.