Building a Co-op Allowed These Musicians to Quit Their Day Jobs

With no major labels in Minneapolis, this hip-hop group started their own label.

Members of the Doomtree collective: Lazerbeak, Cecil Otter, Sims, Mike Mictlan, Paper Tiger, P.O.S, and Dessa.

Photo by Ben Lafond.

When the Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree started in 2001, it joined a genre with a long tradition of collaboration, from Run-DMC to the Wu-Tang Clan. At the time, the group comprised 15 musicians, most of them fresh out of high school.

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“I got invited into the crew before I ever made a beat,” said DJ and Doomtree member Lazerbeak. “I don’t think any of us fully knew how to make rap. We just really wanted to do it and kind of taught each other.”

Today’s roster has seven members—Cecil Otter, Dessa, Mike Mictlan, P.O.S, Paper Tiger, Sims, and Lazerbeak—who have practiced and learned from each other for years. They have been able to turn their music into livelihoods because they all put their heads, hearts, and resources together. They were able to book showcases as a crew that they wouldn’t have been able to do as solo artists, and to feature each other’s work on albums and tours. That commitment to collaboration helped build a new local hip-hop scene, establishing a market for their music that may not have otherwise grown.

“It’s the punk rock [do-it-yourself] ethos,” rapper Sims said. “There’s no major labels here [in Minneapolis], so we kind of had to do it ourselves.” To get their music out, Sims said, “we had to find a network of people—each other.” Through the collective, the members launched their own label.

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One reason Doomtree has worked is that it’s a cooperatively owned business. Everyone has a say in how it’s run and a role in how it works, whether it’s logo design, budgeting, or ordering T-shirts. Shared ownership and decision-making have allowed members to explore careers they never would have been able to have under a traditional label. “This is about artists being able to control and have more power and do more for themselves than they have in previous iterations of this music business,” Sims said.

Now they’re helping to create that space for new generations of artists. “We’re the old guys, and we’re seeing the new generation of artists come up,” Lazerbeak said. “It feels good to be a link in that chain.”