A few of the most reputable hip hop and rap artists in the country will perform at the Sanford Center tonight.
As part of their "Welcome to Minnesota Tour," Atmosphere is headlining, along with Twin Cities musicians MaLLy, Big Quarters, BK-One and Kill the Vultures.
This past December, the artists on this tour convened to produce "Somebody, MN," an ode to the creation of the hip hop scene in the Twin Cities and Minnesota on the whole in the past two decades. With all of the musicians hailing from various regions in the state, and having made considerable waves in hip hop, it's the track MaLLy himself calls, "the anthem of the Welcome to Minnesota Tour."
Produced by Sean "Slug" Daley of Atmosphere and mastered by Daley and "Medium" Zach Bagaason of Big Quarters, the song about cold Minnesota weather and growing up to make music outside their tri-county regions leaves Minnesota listeners puffing with pride. And maybe wanting to get out of the bubble of rural, northern Minnesota - if not by heading to Minneapolis, than by creating a scene and sound of their own.
With Big Quarters having roots in Clearbrook and Atmosphere having close ties to Bemidji, this stop on the tour is of special significance to the troupe, and potentially an opportunity to encourage those in the all-ages crowd to pursue a similar path.
Atmosphere's latest album, "The Family Sign," brings the "Somebody" mentality full circle; Slug's grown up. At almost 40-years-old, the rapper still has more life in him than, say, Keith Richards, but with this being an all-ages show at the Sanford, the focus will likely be to inspire the younger audience to break out and pursue their own passions - whether they be in music or something else.
"It's not really about Atmosphere," Daley said. "It's about continuing to add to the overall, generational cycle of art and music in the area."
This is something he's already managed to do for his tour mate, Malik "MaLLy" Watkins, of Minneapolis. Slug even donned a MaLLy T-shirt at a recent show, paying homage to the younger generation coming up. MaLLy being the first hip-hop artist to make it into City Pages' Best New Bands showcase in a few years, he attributes the feat to his fresh sound against the backdrop of his legendary Rhymsayers label tour mates.
"I'm just bringing a new energy and a new face, and a potential rising talent," said MaLLy. "I'm not reinventing the wheel, I'm just wanting to bring all the elements that are needed for a new rap song, but put my own personal spin on it."
A new spin on hip hop in Minnesota and in general is needed. Minneapolis rapper Brother Ali's recent insistence that he will boycott the Grammy's until Atmosphere gets a nomination was a valiant protest, but perhaps a misplaced one. MaLLy says that the Grammy's don't validate him, and Slug and other "Welcome to Minnesota Tour" musicians interviewed agreed.
"I think that the biggest thing that the people that make those nominations and those Grammy winners are looking in the Top 40, and a lot of amazing artists aren't in that vein," said MaLLy.
Big Quarters members Zach and Brandon Bagaason can relate to the crowd that's sure to swell at the Sanford, as well, growing up in Clearbrook and having very little local stimulation to veer them toward hip hop. Ron Wilson of Bemidji was a major influence for Brandon, but they both ended up moving to Minneapolis to pursue music.
Now, with the Sanford Center bringing in more musicians from throughout the state and country, they feel that perhaps the scene will thrive in a new way. Big Quarters and Slug did agree, however, that the big venue isn't necessarily the heart of the music scene in this area.
"Every little bit helps. Whether it's 5,000 people that go (to a concert) or 50 people that go," Daley said, "there's an exchange of energy and movement and art going on between people, and it impels the next step and the next step."
Quite familiar with Bemidji and its music scene, Daley said, "MC Edge in Bemidji, a show at the Blue Ox, I would love to see him ... It's good to know that things are happening up there."
BK-One will be deejaying throughout the night, playing unreleased tracks from Brother Ali, POS, Manifest and other Twin Cities artists with full sets from the rest of the tour lineup at the Sanford Center.
If You Go:
What: Welcome to Minnesota Tour featuring Atmosphere, with Kill The Vultures, Big Quarters, MaLLy and BK One
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Sanford Center
Tickets: $22 general admission standing room only