To passers-by, Friday, December 4th seemed like a normal evening at the Target Center. Thousands of fans making their way through the lines for security to the sounds of electronic tickets being scanned and the muffled sound system thundering above a sea of inaudible chatter. Although many would expect this to be the latest game in the Timberwolves season, another hometown team held court under the various championship banners: the Twin Cities independent juggernauts known to the world as Rhymesayers Entertainment. After two decades of relentless touring and laying the foundation for self empowered artistry, the globetrotting Hip Hop crew brought back home a show 20 years in the making at one of the biggest stages in the state.
The show began at 5pm sharp as forewarned by Rhymesayers as they brought home long lost DJ/producer K-Salaam, years 13 years since they released his mixtape “Real DJ’s Do Real Things.” As the crowd started filling in the darkened stadium, local riot starter P.O.S. took the stage to properly prepare the fans for the following six hours of non-stop excitement before rushing off to a Doomtree show in Chicago later that night. That level of energy was not lost as Soul Tools statesman Toki Wright brought fans back to his 2009 debut A Different Mirror while mixing in new classics such as “You Know” from Pangaea. Shortly after he announced the promise of a new album, Seattle underground veterans Boom Bap Project and Grayskul reprogrammed the show back into the battle tested showmanship that helped prolong many artists through the early underground circuits that forged alliance between the Twin Cities scene to the beacon of the Northwest.
As JFK and Onry Ozzborn bid their farewells, the stage erupted with indigenous pride for the revered revolutionaries Los Nativos as they welcomed their families to take part in the celebration, adorn in authentic colorful garments and waving the Mexican flag proudly throughout their 20 minute performance. Backed by live guitar and hand drums, Felipe Cuauhtli and Xilam Balam code switched between languages to remind longtime fans of their ferocity from their Anti-Columbus Day concerts and creating one of the most captivating performances of the night. As the legends made their way off to the side, deM atlaS refused to let the energy die down as the dreadlocked dynamo channeled his fearless stage presence with his song “Charlie Brown” with the passion that ensures the future of the lasting dynasty.
For many long time supporters, it would be a crime to forget the dues paid at the alter of the Scribble Jam stages.Thankfully, one of its founders and Atmosphere’s former tour DJ, Mr. Dibbs rejoined Slug to usher in mosh ready cuts and blends that got the audience’s adrenaline rushing. By mashing Big Pun with the irreverent Black Sabbath, the bandanna clad caper poured his heart (and literally his own blood) into the mix and separating the shuffle DJs from the real thing.
In keeping with the raucous intensity, the legendary I Self Devine paraded into the show with the unabashed tenacity and socio-political wordplay that inspired many of Rhymesayers founders to take their craft to the next level. Joined by his battle god brethren Budah Tye and T.U.S.S.’s own Akrite and I.B.E., the Micranots frontman astounded many young audience members with countless classics spanning his virtuous and venerated career. From outward turmoil to inner, Soundset favorite Grieves stepped out to bask in the RSE reign with his song “Rain Damage.” Whizzing through his set on his DJ Fundo induced whiskey breath, the Seattle MC pulled away from the tear jerking jams of his revealing catalog to remind everyone that they were there to party.As the lights grew dim again, Columbus MC Blueprint strolled out to RJD2‘s soothing production to remind the world of their rhapsonic partnership in Soul Position. By pairing together both songs from their two full lengths and Printmatic’s solo material, it reaffirmed Blueprint’s place as the baron of the boomboxes.
With the first local Hip Hop show to take place at the sports arena, fans were anxious to see how the Powderhorn powerhouse known as Prof was going to show out. And he did not disappoint as he ran out in a throwback George Mikan jersey and personalized ski-mask before giant wacky-arm-flailing-tube-men among other inflatable creatures bouncing throughout the crowd. Utilizing the same speakers that DJ Mad Mardigan reminds fans of home court advantage, Prof and DJ Fundo tested their strength with the roaring bass of his Rhymesayer debut Liability. Even with excitement of living out his dream as a lifelong Timberwolves fan, he took the time to slow it down to perform his bluesy “Motel” just for the frisky out of towners. Clocking in to the cramped half hour mark, Rhymesayers latest signee bid his sincerest thanks to the rapturous audience proving to be a beacon beckoning for the future of prosperity.
As the crowd began to catch their breaths, the hosting Brother Ali prepared them for one of the most pivotal members in the foundation of the crew as Musab emerged to take’em back to the basics. Dressed down in a bent brimmed Twins hat and white tee, Minnesota Slicks took fans back to the “Beyond days” by celebrating the legacy of his Comparison album while rocketing them to his latest project, Mink. After a few songs, he was joined by the Project Blowed legend Abstract Rude to appreciate their Awful Truth EP proceeded by Ab rejuvenating the smokers club with his puff puff pleasantries of “Nuff Fire.” While one legend left the stage, Sabby Sab was not lonely as he was joined by hometown heavyweight Mike the Martyr as they performed their track “23rd Orchestra,” capturing one of the biggest surprises of the night.
For many of those identifying with the culture, a call for inclusion of other elements was a must at a show of this magnitude. In doing so, it created one of the most spirited and somber sights of the night as DJ BK-One took the wheels of steal to rock a break-beat boogie that invigorated the illustrious breaker crews the Battlecats. To the steady funk of the looped bongos, B-Boy J-Sun, Annie-Up, Stepchild and the rest of the crew spun and flipped their acrobatics before the inquisitive arena. Yet, the set took a sentimental turn as their routine ended with grainy footage of the late Michael Larsen breaking among his talented team. As the spotlight dulled, the legacy of Eyedea lived on through the dedicated set of his longtime friend and DMC Champion DJ Abilities as he showcased a medley of their accumulated classics, reminding everyone of the beloved spirit that found new life among those touched by his profound impact on the lasting Rhymesayers experience.
Soon after, the Target Center found a rare glimpse at the alternative alliance known as The Uncluded as they launched into the acoustic cheer of “Delicate Cycle.” Performing only a few songs together, folk punk darling Kimya Dawson and voluble veteran Aseop Rock found a sense of dignity that only comes from unflinching vulnerability among the newly somber audience. After touching on Hokey Freight, Aesop traded out one friend for another with his former Definitive Jux labelmate Rob Sonic to turn the energy back up with the Rhymesayers sponsored Hail Mary Mallon and exuding a level of effortless fun that resonated throughout the stadium. From switching from one headlining crew to the next, the Grammy award winning Dilated Peoples got “Live on Stage” as Evidence and Rakaa Iriscience stepped out to the pulsing cuts from the Beat Junkies own DJ Babu. After running through songs spanning their own 20 year history, both MCs filtered in solo works from their respected projects while showcasing beats from the likes of DJ Premier and The Alchemist. With an air of humility and tradition, the underground gods hipped the crowd to a level of excellence that RSE fans have come to love dating back to their first Soundset performance in the Metrodome parking lot.
Carrying the torch from six hours of non-stop music, the host of the evening finally got a piece of the stage as Brother Ali took them back with his ornate ode to North Minneapolis with “A Room With A View.” Aware of the overhanging controversy concerning the lack of women on the bill, the stage erupted with teenage b-girls as the S.H.E. dance troupe took the spotlight as Brother Ali freestyled off to the side of their collective choreography. As soon as the stage cleared and he rolled through various gems from his prized catalog, the good brother gave voice to the permeating menace of police brutality that had captured the attention of the Twin Cities in the wake of the death of Jamar Clark only weeks before and blocks away from where they stood. Echoing the frustration from the likes of Toki Wright and I Self Devine, Brother Ali allotted his support to the protesters that had found their way onto 24 hour news cycles and withstood the cowardly bullets fired by white supremacists as he morphed into the impassioned poem “Dear Black Son.” Addressed to his own son, broke down the climate of distrust and prejudice that haunts the lives of people of color before a speechless audience once again gaining the admiration of many as the orator of love cherished by everyone in the Rhymesayers family.
Right as the lights fell upon the magnanimous microphone fiend, the big brother’s big brothers, Atmosphere took their place at the forefront of the shadowed stadium as the dingy piano rang out from their first breakout single “Scapegoat.” As soon as the beat finished, Slug basked in the nearly 10,000 screaming fans before offering the surprise onstage reunion of the lost third member Spawn as they ran through Overcast! standards such as “Multiples” and “Sound is Vibration.” After a quick embrace and wardrobe change into a throwback Kevin Garnett jersey, Slug and Ant relived the decades of material from “God Loves Ugly” to a quirky spoken word of “A Woman With Tattooed Hands” while fans beckoned for more. Keeping with their demands, the crew transformed with the inclusion of gleeful Murs into the endeared duo known as Felt as they paid tribute to Lisa Bonet with classics such as “Dirty Girl” and “Early Mornin’ Tony” before Murs returned the spotlight back to his reinvigorated friend. Yet the co-chairmen of the Rhymesayers family couldn’t shake the loss of their own ‘Mikey’ as the packed Target Center illuminated with the twinkling lights of cell phones to the mournful eulogy of “Flicker,” proving to be an awe-inspiring feat befitting the legacy of love that Eyedea had harbored. As the clock neared midnight, Slug invited deM atlaS and the entire ensemble of the Rhymesayers cast to join them on stage to offer their gracious appreciation to each person in the sea of people for helping build the ‘little label that could’ into the revolutionary independent empire before commencing into the Seven’s Travels anthem “Trying to Find a Balance.” Fans united with the 40 plus celebrity filled stage as they excitably chanted along the words to the angsty hymn as deM atlaS cried out for all those lost in confusion. As the song came to a close, the cannons fired on the cue of Slug’s heavy air guitar as bits of confetti showered down upon the adoring audience, drawing close a night 20 years in the making.
Through various onstage hugs and waves farewell, the Target Center exploded with light as thousands of fans made their respected ways into the streets of Minneapolis. While the monumental skeleton of a stage towered above the discarded plastic cups littered over the emptied floor, the success of Rhymesayers Entertainment finally set in for even the staunchest of disbelievers straggling to find their way out of the stands. Concurrently, many crowd dwelling artists felt inspiration strike as they ruminated upon the once Headshots crew’s strides gained from freestyling in basements to performing before a cheering sports arena. Halls that once filled with unclear sports small talk then registered with gossip of favorite moments in the two decade Hip Hop highlight reel, sharing the dwindling moments of escape before the chilly city winds swooping beyond the glass paneled doors.As each of them pushed open the exit doors, Slug’s famous closing phrase resonated throughout the breeze; “Rhymesayers number 1.”