“Are you here for the show tonight?” The bouncer’s voice startled me. I pulled my headphones out of my ears (I had been listening to Sims’ latest record “More Than Ever” all day) and nodded “Yeah” to the man at the door of Schubas Tavern. “I just need to see your ID,” he replied, taking another drag from his cigarette. I fumbled with my wallet, producing my license, newly changed from Minnesota to Illinois, and then proceeded into the venue. It was a cool early November night and I was at the Chicago club to see and interview one of my favorite hip-hop artists, a man who goes by the name of “Sims”.
Before moving to Chicago two years ago, I was born and raised in the heart of Minnesota, between the metropolitan area of Minneapolis and the rural northwest. I grew up playing classical piano, while my mom played contemporary Christian music and my dad played classic rock. Hip-hop was never really a part of my life until college, when a friend introduced me to Dessa, a Minneapolis hip-hop artist and philosophy graduate. Listening to Dessa’s records I found a love for the way hip-hop infused poetry, rhyming schemes and rhythm, and the depth of the lyrics was something I had not found in most styles of music. I quickly branched out and started listening to more and more hip-hop, especially the artists of Dessa’s label Doomtree. That’s where I found Sims.
Sims is a 34-year-old hip-hop hailing from South Minneapolis, though he tours all over the world. In addition to being a member of the Doomtree collaborative, he has also released several solo albums: Lights Out Paris, Bad Time Zoo, Wild Life EP, Field Notes and his most recent release, More Than Ever. My interested in Sims was sparked after hearing tracks like Future Shock:
Look at the way we grew
Dropped the borders, but we kept them walls
The things we made to pull us close push us all
We hear the ring, but we screen the calls
and Market Made Murder:
Market made up of murder in turbulent times
When the country increases the deficit, what do you find?
You start a war in the third world ‘ Already won
I thought the Earth was the third world close to the Sun
I was intrigued by the style and timbre of his raps, and well as the social commentary in the lyric content.
Sims’ latest album More Than Ever is the product of facing incredibly hard times, of watching loved ones sick and dying, and trying to decide how to cope with it all. It’s about finding the beauty in the pain, the joy in the sorrow. The album features the production talent of ICTEP, and Doomtree labelmates Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger. The lyrics are incredibly timely, dropping modern-day wisdom infused with pop culture references – even the “goddamn pizza rat” gets a shout-out. Though More Than Ever literally dropped the same day as his show in Chicago, I had heard some of the early-released tracks and knew that this was likely to be my favorite album of his yet. Brutal Dance in particular stuck out to me, as it reflects the war inside of all of us:
I feel like I feel too much
I feel high, I feel low, I feel both, I feel fucked
I’ve been thinking on my sins for the last four blocks
That’s two Hail Mary’s and a half court shot
On Friday, November 4th – the day of the Chicago show and the album release- I arrived at Schubas Tavern two hours before Sims was set to play to interview him. I sat down on what resembled a church pew on the side of the wall of the venue and pulled out my recorder. Air Credits, Sims’ opening act and tour mates, finished sound-checking as Sims approached me. He has a rather quiet and calm demeanor and instantly put me at-ease. He gave me a fist-bump and we chatted briefly about the Chicago Cubs, who had just won the world series and had a rally earlier in the day that blocked traffic and consequently Sims had to miss a radio interview. But he laughed about it congratulating the Cubs and even quipped “I’m just happy for sports teams everywhere, general.”
Below is the transcript from our interview, edited for brevity and clarity.
TB: How did you first get into hip-hop?
S: Skateboarding. I found rap songs through skateboard tapes and then really wanting to know more and more about it and then trading cassette tapes with friends, and then my interest in it turned into an obsession with it and then it turned into like a life-long obsession.
TB: Was that in high school?
S: No I was like eleven.
TB: Started pretty early then.
S: Yeah, like eleven or twelve. You know how like most kids weren’t allowed to listen to rap music, so it was a lot of like, secretly recording the radio and trading tapes in secret with friends, which made it all the more better, because it was like dangerous music, you know, like rebel stuff that I was doing. It was amazing.
TB: Who are some of your favorite artists?
S: Right now, I guess I’d say Vince Staples is one of my favorite guys out right now, Andre 3000 is one of my favorite of all time, I love Mos Def, I love El-P.
From [age eleven] it was like Wu Tang Clan, Tribe Called Quest, and Grand Master Flash was one of my favorite tapes.
TB: What is it about Minnesota that makes it home for you?
S: So I pretty much travel for a job, so it’s cool, I get to like see a lot of the world, and have friends in a lot of places, so traveling is good, but [Minnesota] is just dope. It’s big enough, but it’s not completely over-populated. You can just like drive around and park anywhere and like hop out of the car… The other day we were driving driving around and jumped out of the car and shot a music video. We just would hop out at random locations and we were just talking about how you just can’t do that in New York or L.A., you need permits and this and that. There’s just a lot of freedom [in Minnesota].
TB: Let’s talk about your album. I’m actually a graphic designer, I absolutely love your album packaging and branding. It’s very vibrant, but not in a cheesy way, it’s like finding what’s bright and beautiful in the face of what’s dark. Could you talk about the creative direction?
S: So it as starts with waking up in the mornings and having a little routine when I was writing songs. I would wake up, shower, drink coffee, meditate, and then I would get to my computer and hit Tumblr and Colossal and different blogs like that and just look at different inspirations and drag things that I like into folders. And so I kind of had some vision boards, style boards. But what I wanted to do is make these dark images in a really bright presentation. Like I wanted the juxtaposition. I wanted something fucked up happening but in such a low-key way that you think it’s just like all pop-imagery and bubble-gumy… But there’s something kind of wrong in all of it. The way we had all the models posing… It’s as if they were broken or whatever [we said] now ‘put your arms up like this, as if you got hit in the chest or something’ and there was just a lot of like, little contortions we wanted to make. And the idea is just like transforming the malice and brutality that is forced onto your body just by running through world and accepting it’s position and flipping it as much as you can. It’s how to transfer that into something beautiful and positive and vibrant.
This album comes from when I lost five friends in the last two years and my wife was really sick for 18 months and was close to death, so yeah like really hard times. You get to the bottom and you have to decide- I’m going to go to joy and turn this all into joy and I’m going to celebrate my life while I get to. The whole record is about impermanence.
TB: You talked about this album as being a reset of who you are and how you approach things. What were some of the strategies that you used when writing this album?
S: Writing more songs then I needed to. Being happy making songs and not worrying about release dates and things like that. It was just like spending the winter just creating and not worrying about anything at all. Completely detaching from the result of what this song had to be, and so you just make a bunch of songs and if it sucks, that’s cool, you can just delete it or not put it out. And it’s great. So it’s just setting out with the intention of doing something every day and just take the pressure off yourself and create. Create enough stuff that you have faith in yourself. Because you can make stuff that’s great and you can make stuff that sucks… so just discard the stuff that sucks. And that’s that.
TB: Do you have any advice for creatives who find themselves stuck living someone else’s dream instead of creating their own?
Connect to your purpose and intention.
S: That I’d say is harder to do in a practical sense if you’re talking about quitting your job to pursue your own thing… That’s completely secondary. Because I think […] that’s just focusing too much on finances. What really unlocks the door for me is when you kick the internal editor out while you’re creating, just create, and then you can go back to edit, you go back to criticize and critique later. Just let the thing pour out of you and make as much stuff as possible and just do everything for the intention of making something beautiful, or making something radical or angry, or whatever your making and just connecting to the intention of making and why you’re making what you’re making, and then you can worry about the secondary business of finances. But don’t just quit your [day] job. The secret about being self-employed that no one talks about is, that shit is fucking hard. The work never goes away, it’s just you’re the one who has to do it all. You have to find the clients and run the meetings and do the pitches and all that stuff and that’s like it’s own set of skills in itself. So [my advice] is just to connect to your purpose and intention.
In a trying time in our nation and facing the constant always-present death of those around us, Sims’ new album truly is relevant now, more than ever. Pick up a copy on iTunes or the Doomtree webstore or listen on Spotify.