Doomtree - No Kings (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


No Kings (2011)


Doomtree, the Minneapolis rap crew/label, is celebrating 10 years with the release of No Kings which is either their second, third or fourth full-length as a crew, depending on who you ask (and depending on how much you believe the rumor that Doomtree recorded one that will never be released). However, even with a seemingly limitless talent pool, many of Doomtree's crew albums have felt like less than the sum of their parts. That isn't to say they haven't been good. Portions have been great but with a crew that is fully capable of releasing great albums on their own (as witnessed by P.O.S.'s Never Better, Dessa's A Badly Broken Code and more recently with Sims' Bad Time Zoo), the crew albums felt like little more than getting everyone in a single place and compiling the results into an album. Doomtree's first official, self-titled full-length had sparks of brilliance but tipped the attention scale at 21 tracks. Their last release, the frustratingly great False Hopes XV EP, lacked solid unity, featuring a single whole crew track and solo tracks by P.O.S., Dessa, Mike Mictlan and Cecil Otter over eight songs. With No Kings Doomtree takes all the progress they've made individually and as a crew and crafts it together in a single, unified message. It's the most cohesive and impressive piece the crew has put out and it shows what 10 years in the game has earned them.

Lyrically, Doomtree has always been versatile. It's their strength but also a potential issue on a record like No Kings. How do you combine P.O.S.'s energy with Cecil Otters's laid back metaphors, or Dessa's falsetto tone and whiskey-thick delivery with Mike Mictlan's West coast, high energy barrage? It could easily turn into a wreck, or worse, formulaic, with each rapper only providing the same piece and style on each track. Luckily, Doomtree has never been about taking the lazy route and the record is better for it. Instead each song plays like a story coming together through multiple vantage points. You find Cecil Otter and Dessa coming together with ease on the rich blues of "Mercy" and Sims and Mike Mictlan trading high powered blows on "Punch Out." And that's the key to No Kings, each rapper works for and against each other on the tracks, with their styles complementing perfectly and their content constantly pushing each other in a level of rap oneupsmanship.

But, this isn't just a rap collaboration; Doomtree doesn't half ass anything and that goes double for the beat department. Working side by side are resident beat makers Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger but (in true collaborative fashion), artists P.O.S. and Cecil Otter pull double duty adding their touch to some select tracks on the album. Unlike the rapping, which is a side by side effort, the collaboration on beat making lays one on top of the other. You don't get half a Lazerbeak track and half a Paper Tiger track, you get both working on the entirety of a track, piling rhythms, instruments and concepts on top of each other. As a result the music on No Kings seems to build over each track. Beats grow, flourishes add, drums enter and leave, strings pile on top of existing strings until each track teeters on the brink of collapse. You get a track like the opener "No Way," which opens with a simple guitar line and grows with the addition of drum and bass, until the midway point is a runaway car chase through a back alley with the rap half of the crew knocking over trashcans and scaling fences as you pursue at top speed. It's enough to make your head spin, and that's a good thing.

It may seem a bit grandiose, but it's easy to say that all 10 years of Doomtree have led up to No Kings. Yes, the members have put out amazing solo albums, and even had great crew releases in the interim but No Kings has the entire crew working tactical ops under a single banner and mission. This record isn't a beast, it's Voltron. This is the convergence of seven highly different personalities and styles under the simple yet elusive battle call of, "Obey no kings, seek no thrones." After 10 years of doing what they do best Doomtree has finally put their stamp down and shown why they wear the (non)crown.