‘Specs evolve with Small Steps

Mike Spoo

After toiling for years as virtual unknowns, Heiruspecs-one of the only live hip-hop bands in the Twin Cities-are finally gaining the recognition that a band of its talent deserves.

An underground following started to form a few years ago, when the band released their debut Antidisestablishmetabo-lism, a blend of live recordings and studio tracks. Since then, interest has grown with each live show. Now, Heiruspecs’ popularity has exploded with the release of Small Steps, their second full-length album.

Heiruspecs is made up of emcee’s Felix and Muad’dib, keyboardist/flutist Tasha Baron, drummer Peter Leggett, guitarist Josh Peterson and bassist Sean “Twinkie Jiggles” McPherson. Heiruspecs origins are at Central High School in St. Paul. Sean and Felix knew each other there from high school jam sessions. The two started a band called Live Hip-Hop. McPherson eventually left for college, and when he returned and reunited with MC Felix, Heiruspecs formed.

From Antidisestablish-metabolism on, Heiruspecs had been casually scouting for a new emcee to contrast Felix’s style. They found that emcee in Muad’dib of the group Twisted Linguistics.

“A second emcee opened up more opportunities for us as a band,” McPherson said. “As a line-up we are the strongest we’ve ever been.”

Bringing in another emcee was not the only line-up change that Heiruspecs went through between albums. They also dropped their horn section and added keyboards to give them a more hip-hop sound. This new sound is quite evident on Small Steps, on which the band fuses a classic hip-hop sound with jazz and funk influences, while the emcee’s trade verses back and forth.

Small Steps is a complete evolution in sound for Heiruspecs. They are one of the few instrumental groups in hip-hop to have completely original writing and still sound cohesive. Felix’s urgent rapping on Small Steps is good enough to move him into the upper-echelon of local emcee’s, and Muad’dib complements him nicely, while being able to stand his ground with nearly any emcee.

Heiruspecs have really gained their reputation through their live shows, which are always fast-paced and fueled by jamming and solos. There has also always been an element of improvisation to their shows, especially during freestyle sessions.

“We’ve gotten to know each other and how we play,” Baron said.

“It’s made it easier to improvise. It’s almost instinctual.”

Their live energy has put Heiruspecs in demand as a backing band for other emcees and performers. Most high profile of all their collaborations has been their work with Atmosphere, backing Slug at several local shows lately. A recording of their December 26 First Avenue show with Atmosphere has since been released as a limited edition CD Sad Clown Bad Dub 3.

They also backed up OddJobs and the Typical Cats at the Bryant Lake Bowl for two sold out shows in September. Recordings from these shows were also released on a CD.

“It’s nice to work with other people and still keep it in our family,” McPherson said of these live collaborations. The collaborations go beyond the live shows. Small Steps features guest performances by Slug, New from Kanser, P.O.S, from Cenospecies and Quazaar of Typical Cats.

Heiruspecs have had a busy year thus far and they have a busier second half planned. In addition to their new release, they hope to release a vinyl single. They also have a new song “Facecard,” which will be released on a compilation. They’ll also be capitalizing on a growing national fan base by touring the East Coast in July. There are plans for a West Coast tour after that.

Heiruspecs have found their niche in the ever growing, ever improving local hip-hop scene. McPherson added, “It feels good that a lot of groups are putting the same hustle in to move it (the hip-hop scene) up a level.”

Heiruspecs are definitely doing their part to ensure that the Twin Cities hip-hop scene will keep growing and improving.

Lastly, one thing to remember: according to their press kit biography, “Heiruspecs is mainly in it for the money.”

Heiruspecs will back Atmosphere this Friday at First Avenue (701 First Ave. N., Mpls. 612-338-8388). Sage Francis and Aesop Rock open. 5 p.m. $12/$15. All-Ages.