Doomtree is a well-known hip-hop collective based in Minneapolis, containing a variety of rappers and musicians. The crew/label are all loosely related in their impeccable production values and attention to innovative raps, but never before have they come together for an ambitious project combining their talents into one smoothly woven tapestry of sound. In many ways No Kings feels like David's answer to Goliath's Watch The Throne: a bunch of free folk plotting against the self-proclaimed royalty of rap, loyal to no one but their art. In true Doomtree style, the lyricism is tight and elastic, the punchlines are snappy, and the beats are inflated without feeling too heavy, lean without feeling too sparse.
The duties of production and verses are pretty evenly spread amongst the crew, in that there is no clear stand-out voice on any given track. It's more of an elevation through solidarity. The ubiquitous love of extended metaphors consistently compliments and compounds on itself, and Sims nimble and pyrotechnic flow meshes perfectly with P.O.S.s more acidic approach and Mike Mictlin hefty riffs. Lone female rapper Dessa provides color and smoothness to the otherwise boys-only club.
Cecil Otter and Lazerbeak have no problem crafting a large majority of the beats, on their own or with the aid of Paper Tiger and/or P.O.S. The shuffling of the four producers feels more shaken than stirred. As a result, the songs feel like a virile combination of jazz and funk, well-suited to the refreshingly shuffled flows of the rappers. "Bangarang," in this respect, really excels—providing the guys a perfect jumping point for the album's thesis with a simultaneously familiar and fresh creation. "Punch-out" is aggressive with its immediate boom and backwards references. And single "The Great Experiment" is the perfect encapsulation of a Doomtree classic, smarmy instrumentals with Dessa's pontificating providing a soulful open for everyone to take their turn on weighing in on the experiment that is No Kings.
Overall, No Kings offers a compelling reason to revisit the pessimistic outlook of the popular rap landscape. In a genre filled with fluff, auto-tune, and hollow rhymes, Doomtree stands out as a collective of artists with substance and style, forward thinking in a typically stale format, and poignancy even in the most obtuse of metaphors.