Underrated Icons

In a city rich of talent, many iconic Minneapolis musicians go forgotten

Illustrator: Lindsay Wirth

Illustrator: Lindsay Wirth

Picture this: It’s a chilly late fall day as you drive down 4th Street, passing the old brick buildings of Dinkytown in your Little Red Corvette. The skies are grey as winter begins its journey out of hibernation. You see the people semi-bundled up but some still wearing shorts. What fitting local music would The Current or Radio K be playing? Most would quickly guess legends Bob Dylan or Prince, but Minneapolis has so much more iconic music to offer, and it’ll make you appreciate the city even more.

One of the most influential alternative rock bands of all time belongs to Minneapolis: The Replacements. They were known for their wild, energetic—and often times—drunken, performances.

The band had a distinct sound, ranging from hardcore punk to songs featuring just piano and vocals, like “Androgynous,” which showcases the incredible songwriting abilities of Paul Westerberg. His lyrics were touching on many issues that are still heavily controversial today with the LGBTQ community. The song tells the story of a couple who choose to dress like the opposite gender, but social stigmas force them to hide their true identities, yet their passionate love continues to live on. Its message encouraging people to fight the stigmas and be accepting still rings true today.

Other bands highlighting the roaring ‘80s in the Twin Cities included alternative rockers Soul Asylum and hardcore punkers Hüsker Du. Soul Asylum patrolled Minneapolis venue First Avenue and were prominent in various Kevin Smith directed films. The band’s most popular single, “Runaway Train,” was best known for its music video, which showed the faces of missing children who had run away from home. The lyrics tackle depression and how quickly life can spiral out of control.

Hüsker Dü was a well-known hardcore-punk band throughout the Twin Cities. The band was fronted by Bob Mould. He and drummer Grant Hart butted heads often, but were able to channel their anger at each other into fast and energetic music enjoyed heavily by Minneapolitans and St. Paulites throughout the 1980s.

Another band who pioneered social justice protest music is The Suburbs. Led by Chan Poling, The Suburbs played an instrumental role in the dance-rock scene in the late 1970s. Their biggest hit “Love is the Law” brings to light the struggle of the LGBT community in displaying affection in public, “People breaking the law just to make ends meet / People breaking their hearts just to stay off the streets.” The song regained popularity for good reason in 2013, when Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage.

Polling continues to be a Minneapolis icon as he, along with bassist from another local band, Semisonic, John Munson, and drummer Steve Roehm make up the New Standards: a jazz trio showing the best that Minneapolis has to offer. The band is best known for their annual holiday show, bringing in local musicians to celebrate and welcome the winter season.

The best known rap group from Minneapolis is Atmosphere. Made up of Slug, who raps, and Ant, who produces the beats, Atmosphere has been influential in putting Minneapolis on the map in the hip-hop community, with many of their songs revolving around the city. The duo has certainly lived up to their name, as they helped pioneer Minneapolis’ first rap movement.

Their biggest hit ‘Love is the Law’ brings to light the struggle of the LGBT community in displaying affection in public, ‘People breaking the law just to make ends meet / People breaking their hearts just to stay off the streets.’ The song regained popularity for good reason in 2013, when Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage.

Atmosphere took part in forming the Rhymesayers label, a collective group of talented local rappers, performing alternative, underground hip-hop. The label is not your average hip-hop label, as these artists, keeping with Minneapolis tradition, rap about the major social issues like inequality. Brother Ali brings to light the tragedies and experiences of genocide, slavery, and government corruption in his 2007 album, “The Undisputed Truth.”

Rhymesayers kick-started a strong following for hip-hop in Minneapolis in the early 2000s, leading to the formation of the supergroup and label, Doomtree, which includes P.O.S. and Dessa. Both have also launched successful solo careers: Dessa, who is a University of Minnesota alum, is known for her silky smooth flow and sing-rapping, whereas P.O.S. brings power and energy stemming from his early days as a punk singer.

Clearly, Minneapolis is a city rich in talent. Not only are its musicians instrumental wizards, but they also write meaningful lyrics. And best of all, they’re proud of their city, well, except Lipps Inc., who had aspirations to move to the big apple, or what they called “Funkytown.”