Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
A place like the state of Iowa is not normally known as a hotbed for strong hip-hop acts. We should know, as this has been the state we've lived in our entire lives. We know the stretch of Interstate 80 between Davenport and Des Moines like a tattoo on our forearm and just a little less so the stretch that goes on past the state's capital, over to Omaha on the far west end of the state. There have been the acts of college and high school kids putting together an act to play around Iowa City basements and clubs, hoping to open for Aesop Rock and all of the Rhymesayers/Doomtree acts swinging down from Minneapolis or over from Sioux Falls - a natural pathway to big shows in Chicago - but they were never good. They usually made you cringe, hard. The state of hip-hop here has been such that we'd given up on it long ago, understanding that the Twin Cities, Chicago and in some ways, St. Louis, were going to have to be the closest wellsprings we had to enviable rap acts. This is all before we heard Maxilla Blue a few months ago and wondered where in the Sam Hell they'd come from. Now, we'd heard about and seen Aeon Grey's name bandied about on telephone poles and in alternative weeklies under venue listings for years, but Asphate Woodhavet (the group's lyricist) and Touchnice (the group's DJ) were strangers, as far as we were concerned. Maxilla Blue has changed everything we formerly thought about the homegrown hip-hop talent spawning from the pastures and cornfields that most everyone else out there seems to think we're solely good for. The trio blend the kinds of beats and atmospheres that the breakout stars on Rhymesayers Entertainment have made their bread and butter (they've taken good notes on the many times down the highway) and yet they spin off into wholly independent and creative landscapes lyrically, bringing very strong-minded viewpoints - both politically and emotionally - into the equation, making music on "Maxilla Blue, Vol. 2," that has tons of brain AND tons of brawn. It's sort of the calling card of all of the Midwestern-bred hip-hop groups that have busted out of the Heartland and gained a reputation - Brother Ali, Mac Lethal, P.O.S., Doomtree - and it's at work here as Woodhavet keeps every turn of phrase exciting, as there's no telling what's coming next and you find yourself being immersed in a work of art, sunk deep into the canvas will all of the thick strokes and minutiae. His words are stuffed with the sorts of impressions that aren't slippery and off-the-cuff, but rather ones that percolated for quite some time and were carefully considered before they were committed to verse. We fall in love with phrases like, "Mind over revenue" and "Temporary thoughts produce martyrs," and we're brought into a mind that is sharp and studious, one that isn't about to engage in any macho bragging, but instead tackle subjects that actually mean something. He gives us the line, "Be always on the lookout for the nobodies and the anybodies," in the song "Vision Twunny Twunny," and it feels as if we're taken to a land that doom built, beneath a damaged sky, filled with shook up people. They're seekers and they're hoping that they're doing something, anything right. They're looking for good news for they're seeing little in hindsight.