Rapper deconstructs critique song and finds himself

Sims is identified as one of the most politically astute rappers in the Twin Cities-based Doomtree Collective,
Image courtesy Doomtree

Minneapolis rapper Sims has a reputation for being the most overtly-political emcee in the hip hop crew, "Doomtree," and a track on his newly-released CD titled Bad Time Zoo takes aim at "progressive" public radio listeners.

In the song "One Dimensional Man," Sims lets fly with a scathing critique of people conservatives usually refer to as liberal elitists. But the music begins to boil even before Sims starts sharing his stinging observations.

As in most of their collaborations, Sims' producer, Lazerbeak, cooked up the beats and sounds before Sims even put pen to paper. He didn't know where Sims would take it.

"But this one definitely felt aggressive and a little mean or a little nasty, you know what I mean?" he said. "I think that ended up maybe nudging Sims a little bit in that direction, cause it's dark, and it's kind of this rolling thing that just keeps building."

"One Dimensional Man" looks at the nature of limousine liberal political activism. To Sims, it's about people caught up in the trappings of an economy that severely limits their involvement, while allowing them to think they're making a difference.

The lyrics are blunt:

"you did your part,

you gave your hundred bucks to NPR,

you joined the co-op now,

bought the hybrid car,

switched to Peace coffee,

went to three rallies,

and wiped your hands with sanitized solution

good deeds tallied!"

"We have a list of things that are important to us, but a lot of that importance is manufactured," Sims said. "And a lot of that has to do with being a cog in the system of keeping the economy moving."

The song may cause some public radio listeners who partake in rallies, sip Peace coffee and drive a Honda Insight to ask, "is he talking about me?" And Sims, who says he's very liberal himself, would answer "yes."

Lazerbeak has long collaborated with Sims. Usually he creates the music and then Sims adds the lyrics.
Image courtesy Doomtree

"It is directly pointed at you," he said. "It's directly pointed at the fact that you can't do things to make yourself feel better, you need to do things to actually accomplish the goal that you have in mind which is helping, or changing the world, or fixing the problems."

If this sounds like a rather intellectual analysis from a feisty rapper from blue-collar Hopkins, Minnesota, it is. Sims borrowed the title "One Dimensional Man" from a book written by political theorist Herbert Marcuse in 1964. Marcuse wrote extensively about the impact of consumerism in capitalist and socialist societies alike.

The song also includes a line from Harlem poet Audre Lorde. Sims wrote the song during the waning days of the Bush administration, out of frustration with what he saw as liberal lethargy.

"It was sort of the inaction that we took during the Bush era as liberals," he said. "I was trying to add adrenalin to apathy."

"I'm not as knowledgeable on a lot of these things to be honest with you," said producer Lazerbeak. "I make the music."

Ready to rap
While Sims new album "Bad Time Zoo" is only just out, he and Lazerbeak have performed and refined many of the songs through dozens if not hundreds of live shows.
Image courtesy Doomtree

Lazerbeak has performed "One Dimensional Man" with Sims live hundreds of times over the last couple years.

"It felt really good, and it felt like he had summed up an idea into this three minute gap, that would at least be a conversation starter, no matter how you felt about it," he said.

For his part, Sims doesn't want to give the impression he's criticizing lazy liberals from on high.

"I am a part of this song as much as anyone else is," he said. "I'm not pointing fingers at everyone else but me; I mean I'm very much included in this conversation in the song."

And Sims doesn't look at the song as an indictment. It's designed to make people who think they're progressives, think again.