It’s no secret; spring is finally upon us as the sun begins to nourish the once frozen tundra back into its fields of flowery splendor. The birds are returning to their respective ponds and yellow blades of grass are sprouting out from the last patches of snow. With the soon reemergence of the seasonal varieties of orchids and lilies, so will the rise of the sumac. Complete with spirals of feather like leaves and producing reddish drupes; sumacs are native plants to Minnesota, yet considered to be an invasive species due to its process of expelling a chemical into the soil in hopes of securing its place against other plant life. This fascinates Minneapolis MC Shelltoe as he returns to the mic with his new EP, The Sumac Tape.
“Sumac Tape came from me being outside constantly,” said Shelltoe. “I don’t hunt or fish, but I like to get in the middle of nowhere and just be. I studied environmental science in high school and I’ve always loved identifying wildlife and learning about ecosystems. It’s an invasive species, meaning that it pushes other plant life away… At the same time it’s a native plant, whereas many invasives ended up here from other states or even continents. That native invasive juxtaposition is analogous to my place in rap.”
Much like the sumac, Shelltoe’s roots are well established within the fertile Twin Cities scene. First rising onto the scene as part of the group, Bottom Feeders with Sean Anonymous and Spy MC, he soon became renowned among the battle circuits between 2006-2008 by winning many prominent battles including The Twin Cities Battle League Finals, Death Session and the 2008 Scribble Jam MPLS Preliminaries.
“The energy at a battle is unmatched, and it’s a super dope environment to be the king of for a couple minutes. One favorite moment was when I won the Twin Cities Battle League finals. I beat a dude so bad he sucker punched me outside, then I came back inside and won the thing bleeding all over the mic. Also I remember battling Big Zach at the Dinkytowner. We went 8 rounds and at the time, I felt like I took the first 3 and he got the last 5. Somewhere in the 6th or 7th round he said a line about ‘you’re still hung up on Caitlin Laflash’ and I predicted it, meaning I mouthed the words while he said them. Usually this disarms a line, but in that spot it amplified it 100x. It was a valuable lesson to learn.”
Yet with all of this talent and attention going towards his direction, Shelltoe had other plans. As he explained, his time was largely divided by booking and hosting multiple “Minneseries” for local label/promo company, Death Ray Scientific, as well as working to graduate from St. Thomas University. Shortly after the follow up to the Bottom Feeder’s debut “Low Road” became fried on their hard drive, he soon fell in love and became focused on becoming a more professional person. It was not long until writer’s block crept in and ultimately disenchanted him from rapping as he disappeared into the shadows of the scene only to become an urban myth.
After a couple of years away from the mic, the rhythm finally caught up with Shelltoe as inspiration struck as he was wondering through the woods. Digging through the hundreds of instrumentals of 9th Wonder, Nicolay, Kno of Cunninlynguists and Dr. No., Shelltoe sharpened his mind to pen six new songs, displaying his love for complex wordplay and vibrant imagery for his debut solo EP. It wasn’t long before he connected with local multimedia extraordinaire, PCP to track The Sumac Tape all within a single day, spared of all the professional touch ups to bring out the organic, yet gritty feel reminiscent the classics mixtapes of the early 90s. Along with the new songs, Shelltoe made sure to take with parts of the past by recycling two verses from an unreleased Bottom Feeders record on “Makeshift 32” and releasing the powerful crowd favorite “Chalk.”
“Chalk is an old song that people always liked so I had to get it on the tape since it was written over a stolen beat already. One day I was walking and this little girl was drawing with chalk on the sidewalk. It was clearly going to rain soon and she didn’t care at all. It made me stop and realize that not all art is meant to be seen and ultimately you need to be doing this for you. At the same time, we take a piece of everything we create with us, which is what the whole ‘saving chalk on the bottom of my feet’ was about. My footprints are an aggregate of every step I’ve taken up until that moment.”
As he positions himself to regain his rightful place within the scene, Shelltoe remains optimistic of the current wave within the Twin Cities.
“My thoughts on the scene are pretty much the same today as they were 10 years ago; this place is dope as hell. There are so many different styles. I tweeted my top 5 a few weeks ago, which is Freez, Greg Grease, Metasota, Muja Messiah and Manny Phesto. Two out of five made Soundset this year, and Greg and Muja’s records are absolutely insane. Now I’m just waiting for Meta to drop. Also Bobby Raps and the St4nd4rd crew are super dope to me too. Music aside, I love that they’re blazing their own path instead of trying to ride in an existing lane. Ultimately those guys have a shot at being bigger than anyone else around here, assuming they stay around here.”
And wasting no time to get back on stage, Shelltoe will be joining his friend, Wide Eyes’ own Tony Phantom, in celebrating the release of their solo EPs at the 7th St Entry on Wednesday, March 25 alongside many of the Twin Cities finest including Manny Phesto, Omen and Moonlight Grammar. Aside from being the first time that he has headlined a show in years, the bill holds a certain sentiment for a man who has spent a decade within the Hip Hop community.
“I met Omen at the Dinkytowner years ago. I used to drive three hours from Morris to see shows and his old group Rockit Science would be opening sometimes. People that know me from that long ago knew me as a fan and a head. Proud to say I still am and I’m psyched to have Omen on the bill. I met Moonlight Grammar pretty recently but we became fast friends. We linked on social media and one day he posted about needing some A&D for a new tattoo he wasn’t taking care of. I copped it, dropped it of at the CC Club and we’ve been friends ever since. Go do nice shit for someone. Manny Phesto I’ve known for even less than Moonlight Grammar, but his record inspired me greatly as a writer. You can be socially conscious, do boom bap music and still push the envelope in terms of technicality. Dude’s style is akin to a Lord Finesse or Big L but content-wise there’s a lot more going on. And Tony Phantom was the first guy to put me on stage at the Dinkytowner and the first guy to toss me beats forever ago. I’d get to do a song in the middle of Wide Eyes sets and that shit was super dope to me. I’m proud to call him a friend a decade later.”
As the clock continues to tick away, Shelltoe is not wasting a single second as he is already gearing up to play some block parties this summer as well as working on an upcoming full length with help from StefanWolf with hopes of finding his way to the First Ave Mainroom stage. Only time will tell what the future holds for the reclusive rapper, but the soil is ripe for Shelltoe to blossom into the MC that Dinkytowner patrons knew he could be.
Shelltoe’s debut solo EP The Sumac Tape is available on his Bandcamp. His Dual EP Release Show with Tony Phantom is slated for Wednesday, March 25th at 8pm at the 7th St Entry with Manny Phesto, Omen and Moonlight Grammar. And stay up to date with Shelltoe on Facebook and Twitter.