When Joe Hanson moved to Chicago after graduating from Fosston High School in 2001, he was surprised by how big-city folks were fascinated by small-town life.
This month, he put his perspective on his hometown in a rap song titled "Straight Outta Fosston." It's been a hit with northwestern Minnesotans in the week the song, accompanied by photographs of the town, has been available on the Internet. In a few days, it gathered more than 2,000 visitors.
It's done under his stage name of Bino White. Bino is short for "albino," fitting because people don't get much whiter than Joe, especially among rappers or even in the very Scandinavian town of Fosston.
"People tease me about my whiteness, so it's a way to spin the joke to be part of the joke," Hanson said about his rap moniker. "I'm a guy who doesn't go out into the sun much.
"Fosston is very under-represented in the hip-hop business."
He may change that. The Fosston bit is simultaneously hilarious and insightful and simultaneously honest yet not demeaning. I'm guessing most Fosston residents -- but probably not all -- will enjoy it. The naysayers likely will come from neighboring McIntosh, which is referred to as "McIntrash."
The beauty of the song's message is that you don't have to be from Fosston to "get it." It's also relevant for rural towns on either side of Fosston's population of 1,500.
Fosston Mayor Jim Offerdahl gives it a thumbs-up. "It's Fosston," Offerdahl said. "It's a cute, fun, catchy montage that paints Fosston in a positive light.
"It's tongue-in-cheek, but there's a grain of truth in everything he says."
It's not rap that the average listener expects, although there's one bleeped word ("I didn't want to corrupt the minds of young kids or make old people have heart attacks," he said of the self-imposed censorship). Like the other video he has produced, the rhyming, rhythmic rap songs are irreverent comedic bits along the lines of Saturday Night Live spoofs.
An example from Straight Outta Fosston:
"I'm from Minnesota,
"where it's cold-a.
"If you drink and drive,
"you get pulled ova."
He notes that Fosston has only one stoplight. And regarding entertainment options, "You can go to the theater to see a movie. They only have one, so don't be choosy."
He also references Fosston's three high school girls basketball state titles, calling former star Kelly Roysland "our female white Michael Jordan."
Hanson's lyrics don't surprise Patty Palaski, his high school English teacher. "His papers were a delight to read," she said. "It was always very entertaining and always unusual. He always had a unique, fresh way of writing."
He also wrote a satirical piece about how the Fosston school never closes for blizzards, adding other disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. At the end of his paper, the principal cancels school because it has a team in the state tournament.
You can see Hanson in the video. He poses as a bagger/carryout boy at the Palubicki's Foods grocery store, where he worked as a teenager.
After working for several years doing comedy spots in Chicago for the Current TV channel, Hanson is moving to Los Angeles to continue his career in entertainment. Before the long trip, he came home to get the pictures to go with his song.
"It was fun to make a rap song that teases but also promotes what Fosston is all about," Hanson said. "It's just me being nostalgic."
Fosston's brand is that it's where "The Prairie meets the Pines." But maybe it should adopt another Hanson rhyming lyric:
"It's Fosston, where you can't get lost in."