The big cats on campus

Local hip-hop outfit The Tribe & Big Cats! have dropped a daring debut LP.

by Sally Hedberg

The Tribe & Big Cats! may represent a portion of Minneapolis hip-hop that you donâÄôt hear about as often as Doomtree, but man, that doesnâÄôt mean they arenâÄôt kicking out beats, pushing venues to capacity and pleasing their city-dwelling fans with just as much energy as the hyped supergroup.

ItâÄôs been mere weeks since the sold-out release of their debut LP, âÄúForward Thinkers Movers Shakers,âÄù and thereâÄôs a reason itâÄôs already been backordered at Fifth Element.

âÄúThe CD release was great. We sold it out before midnight and the albums are already gone,âÄù Big Cats!âÄô Spencer Wirth-Davis said. âÄúI guess there are worse problems to have.âÄù

Though in reality itâÄôs their first album, âÄúForward Thinkers Movers Shakers,âÄù possesses the cohesive feel and sound of a group that has years of experience working together under their belts. The production quality is markedly high and carries throughout the entire album, a rough-cut, rockinâÄô take on hip-hop that features a diverse array of local and national artists. ItâÄôs a fun record with a sense of humor thatâÄôs honest in its raw simplicity.

âÄúIâÄôm glad that we made this album because itâÄôs something completely different,âÄù the emcee of the group, Chris Hooks (TruthBeTold), said. âÄúNow weâÄôre here and weâÄôre older and trying to be famous.âÄù

The group itself came together in a right-time, right-place chain of events. Wirth-Davis started out as a bedroom beat-maker with only half-serious ambitions. He spent an entire summer sending beats to East Coast rapper Sage Francis in hopes of striking his interest to use something on his new record and gain recognition. It worked, provoking Wirth-Davis to re-evaluate his musical aspirations.

âÄúI had my âÄòoh s**tâÄô moment of âÄòmaybe I should do more than just make beats in my bedroom,âÄôâÄù Wirth-Davis said. âÄúI realized that maybe I could do more than just make music for myself.âÄù

With his mind in a focused place, all he needed was the right people, and through some mutual friends Wirth-Davis ended up at the sold-out Dinkytowner show of Chris Hooks (TruthBeTold) and Peter Gjovik (DJ Pete).

âÄúThey were really kind of unpolished,âÄù Wirth-Davis said. âÄúIt was not the best performance IâÄôd ever seen but I could tell that they had a lot of potential.âÄù

From then on, the name of the game was music-making, and after becoming comfortable with one another and mastering their live act, they hit the studios to self-produce the album. Now theyâÄôre hitting the road for touring, something thatâÄôs extremely important to the groupâÄôs career plans.

âÄúWe want to branch out from the local scene, not only the Midwest but throughout the country and build that way,âÄù Wirth-Davis said. âÄúI feel like a lot of artists kind of get locked into the Minneapolis music and rap scene.âÄù

âÄúThe last thing we want to be is a hometown legend,âÄù Chris Hooks added. âÄúWe do want to reach national exposure one way or another.âÄù

While both the local music and hip-hop scene are so vibrant and thriving, underneath it all itâÄôs more complicated being a hip-hop artist in Minneapolis than meets the eye.

âÄúIt can be difficult when youâÄôre an act thatâÄôs not at that the level of Rhymesayers because when you have one of the biggest independent labels in the country literally a block from your house, only so many things can get all of the attention,âÄù Wirth-Davis said.

While this may be true in some forms, with all of the positive reception they continually receive and their fervent collective motivation, itâÄôs clear that The Tribe & Big Cats! wonâÄôt settle for anything less than success.