It’s been a hot summer for Twin Cities hip-hop, and what better way to kick back than in front of the fireplace with a Polar Bear Rug? That’s right, rapper Homeless and producer Big Cats have collaborated on a full project that dropped this week, Polar Bear Rug, and are marking the occasion with a release show this Saturday at Icehouse with MaLLy, Last Word, Tony the Scribe, and Chantz Erolin, hosted by Franz Diego. We spoke to Homeless (aka Ryan Kopperud) about the new record, transitioning from the spoken word scene to MCing, and how acquiring an actual polar bear rug would be applicable in their lives.City Pages: You’re from Minneapolis originally, but first made a name on the national spoken word scene before becoming focused on music in 2006. What lead to that shift?
Homeless: Actually, that’s a complicated question. I think the spoken word and the slam poetry scene in the Twin Cities did a lot for me to introduce me to people, get me on stages and created an outlet for a lot of that writing. But, I kind of overdosed on it. It’s a complicated scene sometimes, and especially with slam poetry, there’s a box your art is supposed to fit into so that people can give you a number for it. While, for some artists, that’s a good thing to help pull it out of them, but it was confining me over time. I wanted a place where I could be freer. You start making art for scores rather than art for yourself. That lead to me just wanting to rap over beats and not being confined to three minutes.
CP: How did you first link up with Big Cats?
H: We both graduated from the University of Minnesota and both took The Poetry of Hip-Hop together. We just sat next to each other and over the course of this class I was like “I rap” and he was like “that’s cool, I make beats.” “We should do that thing together sometime.” We started making music and going to shows together. That was in ’07 maybe, so we’ve been friends for years now.
CP: This week you put out the second track from the record, “Hawk, Spit” which features P.O.S, Toki Wright, MaLLy, and Eric Mason. Did you envision this being a posse cut from the jump?
H: Yeah, all of those people are people that [Big Cats] and I are friends with and respect like crazy. He made this beat, it was just a banger, and we [thought] what if we just go all out and get as many of our rap friends to be rap friends on the same track. “Hey, you guys want to do a mean posse cut and rap about whatever you want and crazy stuff?” The response was positive and everybody was down. Getting everybody to agree was easier than I thought it would be.
CP: In 2011 you released a live album Right As Rain. Given that you don’t see many hip-hop live recordings, how much do you keep the live show in mind when you’re making music?
H: I think it’s definitely both. I’m thinking far more about the live experience now than I ever did when I was making music. Like poetry, it’s an intimate and personal artform and I think that’s why spoken word gained popularity, people bared their souls and started saying a lot of intimate stuff. That’s how I started making rap songs, being super personal and not thinking “How’s this going to translate to a room of four or five-hundred people.” Now I do, because I love performing, I love that room, I love that energy and you have to think about how you’re going to contribute to that. And Big Cats’ beats create so much energy, I think how’s are people going to bang their head off to it at the show.
CP: Prior to Polar Bear Rug, your last project was Twenty Dirt with the Van Gobots. Was it much different working with one producer than a full band?
H: I’d done the one MC-one Producer thing before, so I’d done that vibe, but working with a band is crazy. I’m glad I can’t sing or play instruments because I’d never want to have to be in a band. Scheduling, getting people’s parts to line-up is way more complicated than man and him getting to sit in a room and make a song. Everything’s done on a computer and there’s a lot less design by committee. It’s a lot easier to take steps forward.
CP: Finally, where did the title Polar Bear Rug come from?
H: It started an an inside joke. [Big Cats] has a relative that actually owns a polar bear rug, or at least did at one point. We were making jokes about when it gets passed down, if he inherits it, where that would go? We argued with [Big Cats’] girl that it should go in the studio because who doesn’t want to write raps and make beats while standing on a polar bear rug? She said no, it’s going in the house. So we promised we’d make enough money to buy her another polar bear rug after we take it into the studio in this hypothetical and distant, nonexistent future where that’s something that we own. We kept making this joke, and in the United States they cost $20,000 because they’re an illegal thing to bring into the country. It was an inside joke, what if we are able to make enough money off what we do to afford something so ridiculous and luxurious and simultaneous bad because it’s the death of a going extinct creature.