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Animal magnetism 

Sims, Dessa, and assorted Doomtree Collective colleagues search for the soul of underground rap

'What did you just say to me?" OK, so maybe there's a hint of Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle in Sims' reaction when I ask if he and his colleagues are all frustrated team mascots. But mostly he's just amused. (I think.)

Plus, my question isn't quite as obnoxious as it may sound. Especially since I'd prefaced it by pointing out that, in the past year, Sims and two of his Doomtree Collective cohorts (Dessa and P.O.S.) have each released video featuring ominous human figures wearing animal heads.

Factor in Sims' new album, Bad Time Zoo, whose cover shows some faceless guy in a necktie putting on a large lion's head, and I'm beginning to see a trend here.

"No, man," says Sims, "I just feel like there's a lot of good analogies between human behavior and the characteristics we choose to see in animals."

So in Sims' "Burn It Down" video, animal-masked creatures chase each other through urban streets, beating each other down and spraying paint into their victims' eyes.

In some ways, humans seem to have cornered the market on bestial behavior.

"I don't know if you're familiar with René Descartes' Discourse on the Method, where he talks about animals being soulless?" says Sims, whose melodic rap is as literate as it is political. "I think that he's full of shit."

It was nearly a decade ago when Sims hooked up with the rest of the Doomtree collective, who along with the Rhymesayers label are making Minneapolis an unlikely epicenter for underground rap. The emcee had gone to high school with original Doomtree ringleader P.O.S. who, at least until Dessa's breakthrough last year, was the collective's best-known member. Back in those days, Sims was buying beats from P.O.S. for $30 each.

"Yeah, before I was in Doomtree, he was charging me 30 bucks to get the beat and to record it at his house. And then I got asked into Doomtree and I stopped having to pay for stuff. I just started splitting up the money that would come in."

For the first few years, Sims shared a house with the rest of the collective, which he sees as part of the reason why they all continue to be best friends as well as collaborators.

When asked how his city managed to develop such a vital hip-hop scene, Sims boils it down to one key factor: "Because it's cold. And there's nothing to do except make good music. So you go to shows and then you go home and you make music. And you're snowed in for seven or eight months a year. It can be depressing. But a lot of people have the determination not to be depressed by it, and so they make tunes instead."

In other words, you have to suffer to be a good artist, which is a concept I've personally always hated.

"I hate that concept too," says Sims, laughing. "But yeah, I think it's true. Although it depends on what you consider to be good. If you consider Elliott Smith and Nick Drake and Conor Oberst to be the only good artists, then yeah, they have to suffer to make that kind of music.

"But if you're making Madonna hits, you don't need to suffer. You just need to have tons of sex, do the best drugs and have a great time."

bill@csindy.com

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