Band finds unity in difference

It’s Saturday night on fraternity row.More than 60 people are gathered in front of Delta Kappa Epsilon. They are drinking from red plastic cups.

Jenna Ross

It’s Saturday night on fraternity row.

More than 60 people are gathered in front of Delta Kappa Epsilon. They are drinking from red plastic cups. They are laughing. And, most importantly, they are dancing.

Live hip-hop band The Blend plays from the porch ñ their stage for the night.

Toussaint Morrison, a theater senior and the group’s MC, occasionally works a command into his flow.

“Shake your ass like this,” he says into the microphone, flipping around to shake his own.

A girl in front loves it. She dances her way up to a guy selling the group’s CDs and pulls out a $10 bill.

That’s the point. The Blend likes playing these shows, they say. They like that they’re outdoors, that people are enthusiastic. And they love that they’re getting the word – and their CDs – out.

“This is mainly a PR show,” says Linden Killam, a sophomore who plays keyboard and saxophone. “We want to introduce ourselves.”

Meet The Blend.

Currently four Twin Cities musicians, The Blend plays original live hip-hop. Theirs is “a game of chasing Heiruspecs,” Morrison says. But the Blend mixes in heavy doses of rock, of jazz, of even salsa. Get it? The Blend?

“People say we’re ruining the sound,” Killam says. “But I think we understand it. Hip-hop is supposed to be about freedom of expression.”

Each band member has a specialty to add to this mix. Killam, for instance, is a music major who has played the piano for 15 years and the saxophone for 10. He keys Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor” for his sound check.

Before Daniel Leussler played bass in The Blend, he played in a folk group.

Spencer Austin, 25, “the Ringo of the group,” drummed for a couple of other rock and hip-hop bands before joining the group last year. He listens to Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sublime.

And then there’s Morrison. Morrison is the hip-hop. He wrote rhymes long before he performed them.

But he sings, too, and often. He moves from call-and-response to eye-squinting soul singing to hyper-speed rap.

Morrison had wanted, and tried, to start a hip-hop band for a while, but it “crashed.” So he worked with rock bands, “just rapping around them.” But that soon became frustrating.

Then two years ago, he and about eight others entered a band contest at an Uptown festival. And they won.

“For a real band, that’s not a big deal,” he said. “But we felt we were Hollywood stars.”

The size of the group swelled and settled. Right now, the four members are without a guitar player. But they should have one within the week, they say.

Morrison and Killam compose most of the material, and Killam promises that if you listen closely and know their backgrounds, it’s clear who wrote what. And he’s right.

Morrison is plainly the face of the group, “very much the frontman,” Killam says. And the others like it that way.

They are happy to speak about themselves and their backgrounds, but when asked specifics about the band as a whole, they often say, “Ask Toussaint about that.”

The biggest “ask Toussaint” subject is the Twin Cities’ hip-hop community.

And Morrison shares, often speaking in the poems and songs he has written.

“We are not a part of any community,” he says. He takes off his hat and holds his head.

“The hip-hop community in Minneapolis came down on us like a ton of bricks,” he says. “They say we play at white frats, that we’re a white version of Hootie and the Blowfish.”

The drama escalated when Morrison called them out at an open mic with a poem.

“What is your community worth if the people in it feel they are a part of something / holds outcasts looking in, feeling a part of nothing,” his poem reads.

Morrison finds it disturbing that a hip-hop community would alienate hip-hop artists, in the same way he hates when black people alienate other black people, he says.

“But I have no beef with anybody,” he says. “I hate fighting. But I love talking about otherness.”

Morrison has long considered himself an outsider. At the risk of sounding “cheesy,” he would call the band a group of outcasts.

“I think we all came from that place,” he says. “In high school there were the insiders, the outsiders and the kids staring out the window, not sure if they even belonged in one of those two groups. I see us there.”

But Morrison doesn’t mind. The band’s going to end up being based in Chicago at some point anyway, he says.

The Blend is poised for this move. Last spring, they created their first good CD (“It’s our baby,” Morrison says). They are being played on college radio stations in places like Montreal and Hawaii (but are still working on Radio K, they say). In the coming months, they will play shows around the country.

This week, they will buy a school bus. They plan to put beds inside it.

“We can live in it if we need to,” Killam said. “And we might.”

Killam is willing – and already considering – leaving school or going part time if the band is able to get consistent gigs.

Right now, the band plays out of town only on the weekends, so the two University students can get to class.

On the road to these shows, they harass one another ñ and not always playfully, they say. The group often doesn’t like one another. Morrison, for instance, repeatedly calls Leussler an asshole.

But even when separate, their language sounds eerily similar. They want to get out of Minneapolis. They want to play 150 – exactly, apparently- shows a year. They want to starve and work for it. They “don’t want TRL.” But they want to be able to survive on the music.

And when on stage, they click.

Between songs, Morrison tells the crowd on fraternity row a tale about a fight that broke out at a party. Killam sneaks into the story with his keyboard, giving it shape with his sound.

“Look at him, going along with me,” Morrison says. He turns back to the crowd. “I love these guys.”