Never mind the edge of the stage creeping closer to your literal fall to public embarrassment. Before I could realize it, I had stepped onto a raised platform not intended to support the weight of 8 (or more) human beings. Just as FDR had finished his set to coronate a new album he’d released, Toki Wright and Carnage swiftly maneuvered a cypher to take place on stage. This is Minnesota, there are no swift maneuvers to co-opting over half-a-dozen musicians to get on stage at the same time- hence the brilliance of it all.
In a scene padlocked with passivity and great intention, getting to the point takes brute tough love. Toki wasted no time in assembling the mass and heading up a cypher that’d put the finale of the BET Hip-Hop Awards to a crying shame. The air came electric, ripe with possibility & talent, and a looming question of “Can it get any better?” Step one, Carnage mandated everyone take 4 bars each. This way you cut the malarkey to a minimum- keep cats on their toes- warm up to the idea of sharing the mic. Some went bashful at the forced peer pressure from Toki to take the stage, others pushed a stare into the ground something fierce searching for the next words they’d freestyle into the hearts of the audience. At a moment’s glance, one could fall from respect to rookie freestylist McGillicuddy. No one wanted the latter, everyone longed for greatness. Thus the beauty of the cypher; battling for rights to expression, building from the immediate past, sharing present thought without restraint to then laugh at how serious we all took ourselves soon after.
With so much testosterone and ego wrapped into one set, I could feel the gravity of each thought passing through my mind. “Don’t fuck this up” began to fade into a blur of white noise until Toki mandated the mic to me… we rhymed, we laughed, we closed house.
Talent gathering to one area, joining forces for a cooperative blast, and retreating with nothing but smiles is hardly a common instance in the Minneapolis area. The trick rest in the cojones of Toki and Carnage. Beatbox, vocal prowess, and raw talent aside, they remind me of a quote from a great actor I worked with by the name of J-Dub. At the end of my internship with the Penumbra Theatre, J-Dub handed me a key chain with a quote he would always voice in the midst of our acting workshops. “Always Do The Thing You Think You Can’t Do”. Going firmly against the city’s normative wallflower character, I couldn’t think of two people more suitable to revolutionize the wiring of Minneapolis music and business.
The catch to all of this was a common name- phrasing- title what have you- between each lyricist on stage. “Adam J Dunn” or “Adam Dunn” was referenced in the midst of the majority of freestyles performed that night. Not a record label, not a press figure, not a local blog, not a venue- just a guy… a guy who directs music videos responsible for the majority of Minneapolis music turned video. If you’ve seen a Minneapolis artist on YouTube, then you’ve most likely seen the work of Adam J Dunn. It behooved me to ask if it be inches or miles we’d stand behind the curve if it weren’t for a local director to put so many musicians in front of the world beyond the bubble of our city- beyond the awkward silence disrupted by the bright lights of Toki and Carnage- beyond any stage.