One day in sixth grade, Michael Marquez came home from school with his future figured out. Inspired at least partially by an older brother who was "one of the best DJs you've ever heard that you've never heard of," he says, and rappers that both siblings loved—N.W.A, Eric B. & Rakim, Run-D.M.C.—Marquez dedicated one school day to ignoring everything in class while writing his own rap lyrics. With this epiphany in hand, he decided then that he would grow up to be an emcee.
Sure, the Los Angeles-rooted Marquez had been rapping in some form since age 6, but it was that day as an 11-year-old that his affection for hip-hop vividly clicked and the ideas came pouring forth—even if his actual content and abilities weren't there yet. "I was fucking light-years away from being ready to be anything close to a rapper at all. What was most important was [that day's material] was three, four pages all filled up. I couldn't tell you one line of it, but I guarantee you it had to do with drinking forties and 'fucking bitches' and smoking weed and selling drugs and shit," he says with a laugh. "You can see that as an 11-year-old, there's not going to be any good content going on."
Still, that sixth-grader came through on his word. Nowadays, Marquez raps professionally under the name Mike Mictlan, an Aztec-inspired moniker he adopted long ago as a nod to his pre-colonial Mexican background. It was deep into his teens and while experimenting with various drugs that Mictlan began to hone the techniques that could make his dream viable—and he didn't rise alone. Bouncing between Los Angeles and Minneapolis as a youth, he started rapping with Stefon Alexander (aka P.O.S)—whose own background was in punk rock—while they attended high school in Minnesota. Their work then helped plant the seeds for Doomtree, an aggressively individualistic and ambitious hip-hop clique established in 2001.
The Minneapolis squad is made up of five rappers (Mictlan, P.O.S, Dessa, Sims and Cecil Otter) and two producers (Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger), and, as of January's All Hands, has three official records to its name, plus an array of other projects. "This is the longest relationship I've ever been in," Mictlan says. "I'm like married to these motherfuckers."
Though undoubtedly rap at its core, Doomtree's palette freelyrips from any genre it feels like—electronic music, indie rock, punk, soul, pop—creating genuinely unpredictable products, ranging from warped journeys skyward to big, glittery bangers. The actual verses—most of which concern the superiority of the group's skills—also come in several different flavors. Among others, there's Dessa with her majestic, poetic hand and deft snarl; P.O.S with his arcane pop-culture references and flow that oscillates between breathless and measured; and Mictlan's outsize, intense personality and uppercut-like quips and punch lines. Mictlan shines with tenacity and finesse that's unmatched in the group. If anyone could go on to create big radio hits, it's him.
If there's one theme that comes up over and over again in telling Doomtree's story, it's the importance of group bonding. Mictlan recalls the outfit as being a truly solidified, serious endeavor when they wrapped up their 2010 Wings & Teeth Tour by partying at a hotel in Madison, Wis., in which they consumed various substances and had "the ultimate bro-down grind session." The group's 2012 full-length, No Kings, was fleshed out during a five-day retreat to a Wisconsin cabin; similarly, All Hands was hammered out through another series of cabin sessions.
The camaraderie and chemistry between members is apparent—Doomtree members have generated loads of solo records, frequently teaming up from song to song—but in speaking about his personal role, Mictlan reveals a competitive fire at play. "I think what my role has been is the most relentless, courageous one in the group," he says, also relaying that his stylistic elements have been adopted across the outfit most. "Coming from what everyone else in the group has told me individually, all the rappers have said I can do things that they all can't do, which I try to prove with some of my songs and a couple of my records to see if that's true or not."
Now 32, Mictlan still very much has dreams of carving out his own path to prominence within the group and fleshing out his own solo discography. After having such surefire plans from a young age to become a rapper, come hell or high water, he does imagine what his career might be like if Doomtree hadn't happened—maybe a lavish life fueled by party rap—but those thoughts are fleeting.
"I think about being a solo rapper, I think about blah blah blah, but the thing is, [those thoughts are] super brief because I'm not just this odd man out in this group," Mictlan says. "This is something that we all built from when we were like babies. All of the theories and all of the ethics that we had at a young age, we still have them today, and it's become a collective thing now. No matter what, it'll be Mike Mictlan from Doomtree. I'm not trying to get away from it. I wear that shit like a badge of honor."