Of the few simple rules in hip-hop, the biggest one is this: White guys from rural Massachusetts just don’t belong. Scream Eminem all you want, throw around underground names like Sage Francis and Buck 65, or even bring up the Beastie Boys—all guys who have cracked the color barrier, but none from Blue State Central.
And back in the mid-’90s, when Heiruspecs bassist Twinkie Jiggles—aka Sean McPherson—showed up at St. Paul Central High School just after leaving backwoods New England, white dudes from wherever were treated as suspect as best. If it weren’t for the niceties and openness of the upper Midwest, Jiggles probably would have gotten a serious beat-down or worse if he’d even imagined that he’d someday be a hub of Twin Cities hip-hop.
Luckily, it was the last thing on his mind at the time. “I definitely wasn’t one of those white suburban bedroom rappers,” he says. “I didn’t see the point. I didn’t think I could ever be a part of it. I saw The Roots in the eighth grade, but no one in rural Massachusetts was into that. So I just didn’t bother.”
That first day of school in St. Paul, though, he met a rapper named Felix. Within a few days, he was suddenly immersed in what would eventually become Minnesota’s now-booming underground hip-hop scene. Within a couple weeks, he and Felix were writing songs, Jiggles slapping down thick grooves while Felix freestyled, laying the groundwork for would essentially become the Twin Cities answer to ?uestlove and crew. “Before I even thought about why I was approaching hip-hop as a bass player, we were already writing songs,” he says. “Those first couple weeks I basically thought I was in the TV version of Fame.”
Cut ahead several years and Jiggles is now in widespread syndication. He’s the apex of St. Paul’s insular hip-hop scene, often backing up acts like Atmosphere and the aforementioned Sage Francis, while Heiruspecs has gone from an after-school special to bordering on prime time, recently releasing their first national record, A Tiger Dancing (Razor & Tie). And like the group itself, the disc is far from conventional—a 17-track ode to front-stoop confessionals and club bravado dressed up in the jazzy funk of Pete Rock circa 1992. Felix and counterpoint Muad’Dib drop verses that come off like rhymed conversations dealing with everything from being lonely suckers to real haters. And like St. Paul buddy Slug, they always keep it personal, though without all that self-loathing negativity.
But it’s Jiggles and the rest of the group—drummer Peter Leggett, keyboardist dVRG—that make Heiruspecs truly stand out. And not just because of the live-band thing. If it weren’t for the hum of bass and snap of the snare on “Something for Nothing,” it would be hard to tell there were actual people providing the breaks rather than some engineer with a ProTools. But come to a track like “32 Months,” a swirl of rat-a-tat beats and atmospheric spoken word, and it’s obvious Heiruspecs aren’t just interested in proving a group of guys can sound like two turntables à la The Roots. They’re looking for real musicianship in hip-hop—a novel idea when the whole genre is built around the power of the emcee. Yet it’s dVRG’s keyboard lines on tracks like “Two Fold” and “Intro” that stick in your head for days, not Felix’s verses.
“We consider this the peak of personal expression,” Jiggles says. “We have a lean group of musicians who don’t consider it a chore to play the same thing over and over. We feel hip-hop is about so much more than that.”
Of course, Jiggles knows there are a lot of musicians who disagree with him. Maybe it’s the rural white guy thing—the outsider who has to cherish the secret he’s been let in on. Or maybe it’s the attitude of the group, which prides itself on not “putting up those rapper fronts.” But he truly treats hip-hop as something sacred, something that’s as big and spiritual as Run-DMC thought it could be. And sometimes it can be a shock when others don’t see it the same way.
“There was this one time we were supposed to open for the more affordable members of Wu-Tang Clan,” he says. “So that meant no RZA, no GZA, no Method Man, but guys like Ghostface Killah and UGod, which was cool because some of the records put out by those guys are the best of any of the Wu-Tang stuff. But they didn’t show. None of them. It was just disappointing. And we had to pretend to be Wu-Tang for two hours. I guess some shows just aren’t what you expect them to be.”
HEIRUSPECS Egos 668 S. State Wednesday, Feb. 9 9:30 p.m. 521-5255