Four local artists on collaboration, creative barriers, and the future of rap in the North Star State
This is part two of a two-part conversation with three up-and-coming Minnesota-based hip-hop artists—Kamilla Love, booboo, and Student 1—and Medium Zach, an artist with two decades of experience, about Minnesota’s hip-hop scene. Read Part 1 here.
I’m Sean McPherson and I’ve been playing bass in Twin Cities hip-hop groups for 20+ years now. I went to St. Paul Central, and I started a band that’s still active today called Heiruspecs, and I met a whole lot of rappers coming up at that point.
As a media person—a host here at The Current—I feel like one shortcoming of Minnesota media is that a lot of times we’re like, one black artist at a time. Like this person will get the calls and the looks and the appearances for X amount of years, and until then, we don’t really have room for you. I want to be clear: That’s an exaggeration. But we can get this sense of, ‘We’ve got our rapper for these three years, and we’re going to hit him or her up, and they’re going to be performing on these slots, and then we’ll go on to the next thing.’
Medium Zach: You’re talking about The Current a little bit?
I’m talking about The Current, but I am drawing the circle larger than that.
Kamilla Love: If we’re being real, it is the same person for years on end. No shade to that person, because that’s not invalidating what they’ve done in their talent. But a lot of people aren’t comfortable with new. They want to hear the same thing. They don’t want to experience a new artist.
In terms of what we do, I feel like a lot of people acknowledge it because they have to, because you can’t deny the talent. But if they had a choice, they wouldn’t, because of us being black and queer. People only want that, like you said, one person at a time. I’m like hold on, there’s a whole bunch of us, and we’re all talented, and we’re all making moves. People don’t know how to feel about it because it’s disrupting what the norm is.
Student 1: That’s a huge stop sign too. There’s definitely subgenres in hip-hop that are more prevalent in other areas of the country and left in the dark here. That’s taken a toll on how much I’ve had the opportunity to learn about a certain type of music. For me, new stuff like that has always been scary because people don’t like different styles—like off-top [freestyling]—because sometimes it can hit the ear wrong. But if artists were to think that way, then progress would slow down so much.
Kamilla Love: We all wouldn’t be here right now if we didn’t step outside the box and make our own way and do what we wanted to do, despite what everybody wanted from us and what everybody felt like we should do. You can’t think like that as an artist and be free and really make your true art. But I feel like the culture here is that people want to do what other people are doing.
Medium Zach: I do want to say that in the early-2000s, you saw most people trying to rap like Slug, and that’s not going to work in Slug’s city. And what never changes is that if you’re different from the norm here—if you’re different and dope, I’ve seen that work over and over.
The problem has been media being able to raise that up for everyone’s attention. There’s not enough media, or not enough media that understands. That’s been a big problem for a decade-plus: media not really understanding our culture and our scene. And that’s why you have the situation where we have time for one artist to mix in with all our indie music, our rock music, our folk music that we’re all highlighting.
The development of the Minnesota hip-hop scene and being able to celebrate its diversity has super grown. And so now we’re in this place where it’s broad, it’s big, it’s poppin’. People outside of the Twin Cities take notice. It’s huge.
But my role is to continue to listen to what you all are talking about and seeing how we can support each other to grow the scene. And as I step into situations where I have opportunities to put younger people in a situation to perform and whatnot, it’s my role to highlight a new person. It’s not so much about me anymore.
I want to acknowledge a couple things. I’m the one person from a media organization here. I’m the one white person with the microphone on here, and it is not the job exclusively or primarily of young black people and young queer people to make the scene more hospitable to them. It is also my job. It is also media organizations’ job.
That having been said, the microphones are on and I would love to ask what would this scene look like were it more hospitable to young black artists, to young queer artists? I’m not asking you to do all the lifting, but I’m asking to get that feedback, especially so it’s on record, so that everyone can think about what that would look like.
booboo: A big thing that I notice when I go out to see music is that at a lot of venues, the staff is almost 100 percent white. Places like the Cabooze and stuff like that, I’ve seen them get violent with black women, like grabbing them and throwing them out of the venue for being at a show and dancing. I keep seeing that happen at venues. If people can feel safe in a space, then a whole lot can change.
Student 1: I was also going to say, in a time where I’ve seen controversies left and right, it’s really easy to hear something and just be upset. Like, how could somebody be that blind, or why would you say that about another person? Somebody could be just trying to open the door into a conversation that is progressive or productive or that could be breaking down barriers, but the minute people hear something kind of off, they’re just like, “Nah, I’m done.”
I feel like if we just gave everyone a little more time to plead their case instead of just calling them out—instead of trying to accuse somebody for saying what you think they said—just know that it came from their head and no one knows their head more than them. So it’s better to not be hostile from the jump, and that’d probably help us come together more.
Kamilla Love: To answer your question, I feel like there would be way more people to come forward and share their art if there was a safe space to do so. There are a lot of people that you would never expect to make amazing music, but because the space is not safe, they won’t even share their art. I feel like a lot would change if there were more queer people in the media that are in the forefront, and more black people in the media that are in the forefront, really representing what it is to be black and to be queer. But to do that, like you said, people need to start switching up who’s working in these spaces, who’s owning these spaces, who’s running things. That’s really what it is.
booboo: The only reason I have music equipment is because my mom is white, and I have generational wealth and I was able to buy that shit. But there’s so many people that have nowhere to make music. If you’re working 40 hours a week for $9.50 an hour, when are you going to find time and money to work on your music? It’s not just music; it’s the way that our entire world is set up. You need to have money to be able to have equipment to make shit. It’s not just like if you love music enough, you’ll make it.
Kamilla Love: That’s why I have a lot of love and respect for you, Miles, because you took that privilege from having a white parent to help out black people. And you were one of the very first people to give me a space to do music. I feel like if more people took that initiative to go out and make those spaces, it would be better for people. That’s really what it is here.
Medium Zach: I was thinking about that earlier as far as a bit of advice for y’all, or even younger generations: It is very much about developing your circle and pooling your resources. You hear this stuff about developing a craft so then you can charge people and make your money. But some of the times, that’s not really the best way to create art that you like.
I think we all come from a place where we want to make something that represents us, that we’re proud of, and that we can share. That’s what forming my own group was about.
Another thing that I want to say is in ‘04 I became a youth worker. After I finished high school in 2002, […] I worked a couple different part-times and made music. And then I stumbled into working in an after-school program. Someone was like hey, you should do what you do and show it to these kids over here. And I was like word, and I didn’t know I was walking into an interview. Two weeks later—I’m 20 years old—I have 17 middle-school boys that I have to teach rap writing and beatmaking to. And once I saw that spark in someone, basically the same spark that I had when I realized that I could do music, that did it for me. I was like, oh, if I got to have a job that isn’t just a music career, this is it.
That work became a strong parallel to my whole artist life, and it developed over time. Me and my brother developed studios in all types of youth and arts organizations—Kulture Klub Collaborative, for one, which works with youth experiencing homelessness. We were like, this is what we know. Y’all try to run with it. My words of advice for the future generations and y’all is: continue that tradition. It’s easy to think that everything is so big, and you’re looking at people who get Grammys or Grammy nods, or people are touring the world and they were just on SoundCloud yesterday or whatever. But don’t lose sight of what the DIY culture is and how it’s developed our scene.
Let’s flip it a little bit. For the younger artists in the room: What advice do you have for folks who have been here longer, about what you wish you saw the people with bigger names doing? Or the people with more years in the game.
Student 1: I wish there were more older heads inclined to listen to what’s popping right now. I feel like it’s really easy for new age stuff to hit an old head’s ear wrong, and that’s fine. […] You can’t help that. But what you can help is how you react after that. Because in the end, music is just like subjective free-form expression. So to hear somebody just call something ‘undeniably trash’ or ‘not real hip-hop’—that’s dry and really unconducive to creativity.
booboo: I think it’s on both older people and younger people to try and communicate with each other. It’s a two-sided conversation.
Kamilla Love: That’s real, though. I’ve had older artists that have been like, ‘I know who you are,’ but I’ve never seen them before. So a lot of people are even passive about wanting to support you, and I think if more older people took the initiative to be like, ‘I like what you’re doing and I’m here for you,’ that would be dope. But also, it is a two-way thing. So if the people in the younger generations were like, ‘I need this help,’ and, ‘If you want to work together, let’s do it,’ then it’d be a big party.
I’m really touched by everybody sharing their time and talking about this. I love Minnesota hip-hop. It has a lot of shortcomings, but it’s been at the center of my life for 20+ years, and I think that the work from you guys is spectacular. I want to give everybody a shot to share anything they’ve wanted to share that they haven’t been able to yet. And maybe as we go ’round the circle: If we’re in December 2019, what would you say might’ve happened in the Twin Cities hip-hop scene—whether it’s for your career or for the scene in general? So it’s a three-parter. Prediction, parting thoughts, and anything coming up for you.
Kamilla Love: I feel like a year from now, a lot of things will be very different. Speaking for myself, and watching Miles grow as an artist, I feel like we’re headed for greatness. A year from now, I feel like things will be different for us to the point where we’re able to help other people to the fullest, which I’m excited about.
Student 1: I was going to say I think when it comes to being a part of the music scene, no matter where it is, old or young, anybody that’s trying to participate is contributing to the progress of it. When you hear a young person trying to struggle their way through getting a thought out, they might be worried—they don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, but they also want to help and contribute. Just remember to go that extra mile to see what they’re trying to talk about, rather than just being like, ‘Where do you get off?’
For a forethought: I feel like stuff is always going to be in flux, so development and change is going to continue happening. I feel like it would be a really good idea to continue to find ways to open your mind. Find a way to make what sounds uncomfortable comfortable, or at the very least make your ear indifferent to it. Not only will that do wonders for your art, but it will also do wonders for how people interpret art that’s considered deviant.
I’m working on a tape called UPPRCLSSMN, and it’s coming out in January. That’s three for three.
booboo: As the city gets more and more gentrified, I feel more of a need to be political with my music. There’s beginning to be more pressure on POC communities, and I’m feeling more of a responsibility to push back. There’s ways to do it other than art, but that’s how I use my voice. There’ll be more music coming from me, definitely. I’m working on an EP right now with distance decay. He’s one of my producer friends. It doesn’t have a name yet but it’s coming out. And more music with Kamilla and Izell Pyramid as well.
Medium Zach: Prediction for next year: you guys are all lovely and I want to say that by next year I’ll have collaborated with all of you—have you guys all over at my studio, make something weird.
I would say that something that has really helped my career—and I’ve only felt comfortable in the past few years to say that I have a music career—but something that’s helped mine is to continue to experiment and get out of the box. I didn’t come from an R&B background or much of a band background, but that didn’t keep me from experimenting and working with singers. And then that opened up more doors in all types of stuff. I’ve been engineering, mixing, and mastering for Astralblak and Lady Midnight, and I also co-produced this project with 26 BATS! that came out last month.
[…] I have a job working with incredible musicians making music, and I’m so proud of the stuff that gets done and comes out. I just try to stay at it, because if I stop, then it doesn’t come out, and then I’m not going to have those jobs. That’s the way I feel. So next year, I hope to continue to open myself up to more things and hope to keep contributing and see everybody grow.
This article was produced by Cecilia Johnson as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.