The Cry of the Tiger

Doomtree’s digital handyman and graphic designer’s debut full-length is a sleek and murky release that features Lookbook’s Maggie Morrison and Doomtree wordsmith Dessa.

by Raghav Mehta

In a hip-hop scene as close-knit as the Twin CitiesâÄô, itâÄôs hard for your album to go unnoticed âÄî especially if youâÄôre of Doomtree ilk. In just a few short years, the nine-man rap collective has jumpstarted myriad solo careers and even established their own annual winter âÄúBlowoutâÄù at First Avenue. So when John Samels, aka Paper Tiger , one of the groupâÄôs key producers, announced his full-length debut, it was met with fevered anticipation from the Doomtree faithful. With the exception of a handful of tracks that feature LookbookâÄôs Maggie Morrison and DoomtreeâÄôs Dessa , âÄúMade Like UsâÄù is mostly instrumental. ItâÄôs a murky 40 minutes that boasts jazzy keys, walloping snares and âÄô80s club homage that never lulls or becomes redundant. âÄúWhen I was working on other records and making a lot of rap-specific stuff, thereâÄôs sort of a formula that goes on and you know itâÄôs a little bit more of a verse-chorus-verse-chorus âĦ so it was kind of a nice way to change the process,âÄù Paper Tiger said. âÄúMade Like UsâÄù is moody from the get-go, with the first half packed with crisp drum samples and sullen synths. The highlight comes early with âÄúThe Bully Plank,âÄù a soulful and somber piano-driven instrumental fused with an intermittent vocal sample that recalls some of the darker moments of DJ ShadowâÄôs now-legendary debut, âÄúEndtroducing .âÄù But like Shadow and other deft digital maestros, Paper TigerâÄôs songs handily avoid repetition by continually shifting the layers of sound. But the albumâÄôs success doesnâÄôt stop with its instrumental arrangements. In the darkly atmospheric âÄúThe PainterâÄôs Arm,âÄù MorrisonâÄôs meaty vocals soar as a snare pops and patters in the distance. âÄúIâÄôve been a fan of Maggie and Lookbook and stuff sheâÄôs been doing for years,âÄù Paper Tiger said. âÄúIt sounded like the right fit, too; it sounded like something sheâÄôd be into.âÄù In two subsequent tracks that are sure to receive plenty of airplay âÄî âÄúPalaceâÄù and âÄúAnd the CameraâÄù âÄî DessaâÄôs poetic musings offer something that flows in the same vein of the duoâÄôs previous work. âÄú[Paper Tiger] has been moving in a direction that has a lot more depth âĦ so itâÄôs fun to be reintroduced to him as a solo artist,âÄù Dessa said. âÄúI think itâÄôs the best work heâÄôs done yet.âÄù Since itâÄôs devoid of the abrasive lyricism and the hard-hitting boom-bap of crowd favorites like âÄúGame OverâÄù and âÄúLow Light Low LifeâÄù that fueled previous Doomtree-related releases, itâÄôs difficult to determine how Paper TigerâÄôs full-length will be received by Doomtree diehards. Nonetheless, itâÄôs 11 tracks of beautifully haunting soundscapes that shows how Paper TigerâÄôs electronic arsenal can hold its own ground and further proving that hip-hop doesnâÄôt always require lyrics to be engaging. 3.5/4 Stars