St. Paul, Minn. — Heiruspecs is proud of its St. Paul roots. Those roots can be traced back not only to Central High School, but to a particular class.
Heiruspecs lead rapper is Felix, aka Chris Wilbourn. Felix co-founded the group with bassist Twinky Jiggles, aka Sean McPherson. They were both students in Central's recording program, which teaches the rudiments of studio engineering, producing and recording. Felix and McPherson say the class gave them the time and space to discover themselves as artists and eventually form a partnership.
"I was happy because I was able to be in this class, rap for fun, do a couple projects here and there, and get a good grade for it because I was able to show that I was really progressing at something," Felix says. "And I learned a lot about myself and music in the process."
"And it taught us a lot about how to do it in the independent mode that we've come up doing it up to this point," McPherson says. "So it was definitely more helpful to me to do our career than something like bass lessons or poetry class. It's a lot more geared toward realistic goals."
Most hip hop groups consist of rappers backed by DJs' or turntablists. In Heiruspecs, live musicians on bass, drums, beatbox and keyboards provide the backdrop for the emcees. It's allowed the group to get in the door of clubs that don't normally feature rap music, and has reassured audience members unfamiliar with the role of a DJ. Felix says having live musical backing lets Heiruspecs be more spontaneous with the crowd.
"I think that that versatility is only halfway there with a DJ," he says. "A DJ could turn it up I suppose, but can't actually stress notes differently, can't really push the rhythm of something, and can't definitely, unless you have a really skilled DJ, is not going to be able to extend a small part of the song to reach into a crowd's pocket, you know?"
On "A Tiger Dancing," Heiruspecs second full length CD, thick beats and sparse instrumentation are designed to serve the song, or in this case, the rhymes. When lead emcee Felix is at the helm, they flow like a torrent.
Each line is so verbally saturated, if the listener temporarily loses focus, whole worlds can rush by. Some of Felix's songs are in the bragging, boasting rap tradition, but many contain unwavering introspection and self examination. Felix hopes they encourage listeners to do the same.
"I mean, I see many people that just live life day to day and don't really think that way, and I hope to maybe open up their eyes to do that, to look ahead in life a little bit more than to just, 'Ah, today was a day, tomorrow will be another day,'" he says.
A song called "5VES" (pronounced 'fives') is perhaps the most meditative track on the CD. It features Felix, sitting on his front porch, taking stock of his life.
"I woke up one morning, and came out, sat on the front step, and just kind of watched the neighborhood go by," he says. "It was really good, like enough time I spent out there that I could actually see my shadow changing in size. And I just watched it go by. At one point just got up and realized, 'I've been out here a really long time. This was awesome,' and I just went in and wrote it down."
Another song, "I'm Behind You," is Felix's exploration of the criminal mentality. The narrator embodies the urge to commit crime, stalking vulnerable souls around the neighborhood.
I mean, music has always been a thing that can lend humanity to things that can be viewed as sort of black and white otherwise.
"It just kind of examines crime in the city at all levels, from jaywalking and littering to murder and rape," he says. "Like the whole spectrum, and like what drives us to these things and how some of those things we're not even aware of. I mean you see things that fundamentally wrong every day and just don't even pay it any mind. And in that song I just paid it all mind that I could."
Heiruspecs bass player Sean McPherson nodds in agreement.
"I mean, music has always been a thing that can lend humanity to things that can be viewed as sort of black and white otherwise," McPherson says.
"I feel that way about "I'm Behind You" as far as the way it depicts the criminal mentality," he says. "And also the fact that there's a way in which if you aren't inside a person's head it can seem very simple like 'well why would you rob or why would do this?' But if you can see where they're coming it's easier to understand it and I think that music is a great outlet for doing that."
For Heiruspecs, music and the hip hop ethos have also inspired the formation of one of the most racially diverse groups in the Twin Cities. The drummer and bass player are white, the keyboard player and other vocalist are African American, and the lead emcee, Felix, is tri-racial, black, white and Native American.
Someone coming to see them for the first time, let's say at their CD release party Saturday night at the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis, might feel a sense of hope about the future. Sean McPherson says he feels it.
"We got black dudes in the band, we got white dudes in the band, we've had females in the group," he says. "We dress different, we act different, we pronounce words different. We go home to different neighborhoods, we go home to different places. And we get together and we do this thing that's really beautiful and is multi-cultural itself and it's like, we don't waste a lot of time in the band patting each other on the back and being like 'way to go, you're white and I'm black and we're together.' But there is these moments at least, personal moments of introspection where I'm like, 'This is cool!' I go home and I get excited about it. It makes me happy."