Medium Zach hovered over his three young pupils as they twiddled away on computers, making hip-hop beats. Across the classroom, his older brother, Brandon Allday, sat at a table with the rest of the kids, helping them write rhymes.
The duo, who perform as local rap group Big Quarters, had finally gotten these third- and fourth-graders to concentrate on making rap music, the focus of this after-school class at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School in north Minneapolis.
An hour earlier, Brandon, 25, had asked the restless bunch to name the greatest rappers of all time. The kids shouted out the rappers they had seen on TV -- 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Flavor Flav.
Those rappers play arena tours and make millions, but it's hard to imagine any of them holding down a classroom of rambunctious 10-year-olds.
"There's nothing more rewarding than working with youth," said Zach, who is 23.
It makes for strong material, too. The duo 's first official album, "Cost of Living," hit shelves this week as one of the most highly anticipated rap albums in the local scene. It's a daring album, too. There are no battle raps -- no rapping about rap, either. It's all real life: Two brothers born to a Mexican-American mom and a Scandinavian-American dad who rhyme about Minnesota in a way Garrison Keillor and the Coen Brothers could never imagine.
"Word to my sisters and my brothers and my color."
- From Big Quarters' "Sign of the Time"
Zach and Brandon Bagaason were born in Schaumburg, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Their mother pushed them hard into the arts: piano lessons at age 5; theater, choir and band later on. And everything was DIY.
"She was against coloring books because she doesn't believe you should color inside the lines," Brandon said.
In 1993, the family moved into their dad's childhood home in Clearbrook, a northern Minnesota town of about 500 near Bemidji. Brandon was 11, Zach 9. Immediately, they knew they were different.
"We stood out," Brandon said. "But it made us stronger and we focused on what we had going for us, which was our Mexican identity."
Their mother, whose family settled in Minneapolis during the early 1900s, made it a priority to visit her hometown once a month. During those visits, Brandon would tape rap music off KMOJ and other stations so he'd have something to listen to back in Clearbrook.
"But when we listened to rap and there were curse words or they were disrespecting women, my mom would say, 'You guys should make your own rap songs,' " Brandon said.
And they did. For Brandon it started with a turntable he bought at 16. Zach followed him into DJ-ing and they performed at high school dances. They soon discovered the art of sampling -- mining records from their parents' collection and from antique shops in Bemidji, and transforming bits and pieces of sounds into something new. They wanted to be hip-hop producers, and the music brought them closer as friends.
When the brothers moved to Minneapolis in 2000 -- Brandon went to the University of Minnesota to study journalism and Chicano studies, Zach to the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley for drawing and painting -- they immersed themselves in the hip-hop scene, befriending rappers who would later become well-known. Zach was still 16 when Brother Ali recorded a song to one of his beats (it was never released).
"Once we found that these people were ready and willing to work with us, we knew we could make an album ourselves," Zach said.
They also met I Self Devine -- like Ali, a Rhymesayers heavyweight now -- in a record shop while digging for vinyl. He would become a close friend and fan.