Matthew “Crimson” Ihle Talks About Duluth Hip-Hop

Paul Whyte

Local hip-hop artist Matthew “Crimson” Ihle has been working with the experimental project Strictly Hammers for several years now and has seen the area’s hip-hop scene rise from just a handful of rappers, to becoming a regular niche and community of artists working together. Strictly Hammers has gone above just hip-hop with releasing collaboration albums with The People Say Fox, The Horror and Mikey Talented.
Nick “MidiEvil” Pawlenty creates the beats, samples and production for Strictly Hammers and takes on similar duties with his other project, Low-Hi Funk, which just recently put out an album.

Reader: So, is there anything coming up?

MI: Yeah, there’s a huge upswing of artists who are trying to build something legitimate here. The last time we had an interview I mentioned five or six acts and artists that were working with just hip-hop, but now after making the Duluth hip-hop Facebook page, there’s over 300 members. There’s a lot more people coming forward with a legitimate body of work. There’s a lot of people looking to release albums and some of it is going to be really soon, this winter.

Reader: When did you start getting involved with the hip-hop scene here?

MI: About five years ago. Jaze really helped us get into it.

Reader: I know that Jaze and Bliss have been doing this longer than that. I’ve noticed that there’s been a considerable amount more of hip-hop shows lately. Where is this upswing going?

MI: Formations of things like collectives are going to happen. There’s going to be a lot more creative contact with one another. Just up the hill, this collective call “218” has been doing house shows and recording. Our friend Nick Reed has been doing a lot. NonFic has a project coming out really soon. The band Lake Monster has been working with Chad (C-Silence or Low-Hi Funk) with a project called “Freelancer” which should be out pretty soon.

Reader: I take it that these recordings are primarily DIY?

MI: There’s Kat who is going down to the Cities and she will have an EP out in October. But a lot of it is done up here.

Reader: Yeah, I saw that she was on the latest Low-Hi Funk release.

MI: She organizes the Duluth Soup.

Reader: Can you explain a little more about what Duluth Soup is?

MI: It’s basically where people propose creative projects to judges and there’s a pool of funds. There’s food and music and they decide on a winner that the proceeds of the event will go to. It’s a fundraiser. There’s an application process at where you can go propose a community or art based project and they decide who will get that funding. There’s two collectives, another one is Lake Effects. It kind of started with the idea that artists can work alone, but it works better with a sense of community. So, it’s about tackling issues. It could be a social issue or something as simple as a food drive or even an environmental issue.

Reader: I’ve seen shows that deal with environmental issues and there are a number of threats to the environment that we face up here between the pipelines and mining. How do feel that musicians make a difference?

MI: Musicians have a huge responsibility to set up a standard for future generations. To set up a world where you’d want anyone’s kids to live in. You have to go with what you want to stand for and represent. Hip-hop was founded on community action.

Reader: One thing I wanted to get your opinion on was the Trap God video for “Dumpin Back” (a video where underage rappers wield a pistol and suggest a variety of illegal activity in the Duluth area). I’ve never seen anyone from that crew ever play a show, so I would consider that a different community. Are these guys even viable?

MI: Stephan is from Chicago. I’ve actually stepped out to them to work with them. But there hasn’t been time to make a beat. We can include everyone. No matter what the approach is, I think that people can come together and break down boundaries. That’s what hip-hop was meant to do.

Reader: His version of hip-hop is quite a bit more negative from what I’ve seen around here.

MI: That’s someone’s story. When we talk about trap, you need to look at their social world and understandings.

Reader: Could explain to me a little more about “trap?”

MI: Trap in the mainstream sense is basically a crack house. On a broader sense, a trap is a trap.

Reader: When we look at things like Homegrown and that Strictly Hammers has worked with other genres and bands, there is a sense of community going on.

MI: Between genres like punk and hip-hop there are similar social standpoints. It’s interesting to do show in Duluth with bluegrass bands and others. It’s really watching these people meet and do side projects. It’s more of a free market if people are open. So Homegrown doesn’t necessarily force people to be together but puts them in situations where sometimes they normally wouldn’t. Still, the Duluth hip-hop scene has become very integrated where if someone has a show, then others will be there supporting each other. Doing back up vocals and that goes over into non-hip-hop acts.


Paul Whyte

A South Shore native and University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism graduate. Lifelong musician, and former open mic host. Passionate about the music scene and politics.

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