FOREWORD: Many of you haven’t heard of indie Minneapolis hip-hop crew, Heiruspecs, but they’re undoubtedly one the most thrilling live acts I’ve ever witnessed. I caught up with DJ Felix in ’04, weeks before watching Heiruspecs knock out a capacity crowd at Tribeca’s Knitting Factory. In ’08, a self-titled, self-released long-player proved commendable. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
While so many hip-hop heads merely dupe ole riffs rhymes n’ riddims for suitable affectation, St. Paul, Minnesota quintet Heiruspecs create wholly authentic new beats without resorting to sampling. Formed in the ‘90s by DJ Felix and apropos-nicknamed bassist Twinkie Jiggles, at first with random musicians, these shrewd schoolboys spread rap gospel like the evangelical soothsayer their Roman moniker derives from.
DJ Felix recalls, “We started jamming in Central High School’s Jazz Room, doing improvisations – not songs per se. We thought we should organize an impromptu band. We put out a tape years ago that we hope goes away. It had bad sound quality. Our drummer (Peter Leggett), interestingly, the youngest member, played a Battle of the Bands we were celebrity judges at. His band sucked but he was great. There’s a pretty huge hip-hop scene in Minnesota. The Rhymesayers are from St. Paul. Other crews on the way up are Kancer, Unknown Prophets, and Doom Tree. I could walk from my house to Minneapolis in five minutes.”
Though DJ Felix admits having a propensity towards contemporaneous rap stars Nas, Jay_Z, and Gift Of Gab, early on his father’s eclectic taste invigorated the impressionable youth.
“I was into the metal my dad had exposed me to. But then he had Run DMC playing in his van. Those two guys rapping turned me on to hip-hop culture and opened new doors,” he recounts. “But at age seven, I had old tapes of indie rockers Husker Du. (Local hero) Prince could always be heard on the radio so I didn’t bother buying his records. The Twin City scene had many funkier bands that didn’t go too far, but provided my first exposure to the local scene. Abstract Park turned me on to regional prospects. Their member, Glorious, was a big inspiration as far as our sound goes. Then came NWA’s West Coast gangsta rap. The first CD I owned was public Enemy’s The Empire Strikes Black. I couldn’t stop listening to it.”
After Heiruspecs developmental self-released ’02 debut, Small Steps, took hold, respectable label, Razor & Tie, signed up the ambitious quintet for ‘04s progressive-minded rap attack, A Tiger Dancing. Loaded up-front with a scintillating barrage of diligently detailed joints, the crucial set eases into incisively uniform latter fare such as the sanguine “Positions Of Strength” and its cello-tinged reprimand, “Lie To Me.”
“It’s a more mature effort. On Small Steps, we were experimenting, trying to find our sound. There was more childishness,” DJ Felix explains.
Augmented by fellow St. Paul rapper (and feral human beat box) Maud’Dib and a trio of sterling instrumentalists, Heiruspecs have certainly come of age. Meatier beats, stronger opinions, and less gimmickry mark their perceptive sophomore endeavor.
Giving a shout out for brother-in-arms, Maud-Dib, DJ Felix discloses, “He’s a little older, but lived in the same neighborhood for a long time. He was always into music and came from more experimental hip-hop outfit, Twisting Linguistics. He pushed himself to do things others hadn’t done. The vocalized scratching element came out of that.”
Dissing corporate, religious, and neighborhood corruption, the insurgent epiphany, “I’m Behind You,” shoots a poison-tipped arrow at ripe wack targets.
Defending his sociopolitical stance, DJ Felix gushes, “The concept was to examine the criminal mindset from jaywalking to flicking cigarettes out car windows to regular people of elevated status doing appalling stuff. What’s the motive? So I play the devil’s advocate, asking, ‘Did you ever notice you killed that person?’ People of high moral standing constantly screw up. I took a slightly different twist and it made me understand my own surroundings better.”
Executing engagingly scatological investigations reliant upon precise rhymin’ elocution, Hieruspec’s creative depth, sturdy chemistry, and instinctive skills cultivate hip-hop’s discreet fundamentals. Vinegar-y linguistic pugilist Maud’Dib complements DJ Felix’s dexterous tongue-twistin’ gabs while the band reticulate the duos’ mike technique. Percolating rafter-raising beep-beaten anthem “Something For Nothing” grabs attention immediately. Fresh as the morning dew and giving big ups to the Lord, lounge-y keyboard sprinkles pontificating count-off “5ves.” Written out of urban frustration, lickety-split rant “Two-Fold” lets emotion dictate style, blasting forth with a delectably bleating cadenced melody.
Live at New York’s Knitting Factory post-midnight April Fools Day, DJ Felix and Maud’Dib provide an even more profound contrast than their curious white rhythm section. While bespectacled Felix seems almost nerdy, modestly playful, and non-threatening, menacing partner Maud’Dib’s guttersnipe street pounce, serious ghetto demeanor, and quick-spit tongue-lashings sometimes recall Iceberg Slim. They rapidly exchange succinct verses, but domineering Dib’s jittery-faced verbosity, confrontational staccato declarations, and brash bravado tend to hit hardest. Plus, he motivated the appreciable audience to jump along to the climactic mid-set boogie “Something For Nothing.” Occasionally Maud’Dib sprayed unique hyperventilating human beat box affects: brassy splutters, pouty-lipped turntable scratching, and one schizoid whiny scat.
The majority of fierce solo freestylin’ takes place stage right in front of sweat-drenched Rhodes keyboardist dVRG. Meanwhile, half-ton bassist Twinkie Jiggles’ instrument looks like a toy next to his large frame and drummer Peter Leggett’s Jazz-invested patter finds the groove beneath. Phat new joint “They Are” stammers rigidly and concisely. Adding icing to the cake, Berkeley, California rap icon Lyrics Born’s seasoned guitar-bass-drum-keys combo supplemented his terrific participatory call-and-response P-Funk beforehand.
Whether live or on record, Heiruspecs deliver the goods. So watch carefully as these Minnesota ambassadors add a new chapter to hip-hop history.