Limitless Minds: The Bright Side of Seward with Illuminous 3 – hip hop group Illuminous 3 and their album Montessori

Limitless Minds: The Bright Side of Seward with Illuminous 3
Maddy Edwards <maddyeds [@]>

There are twenty-two “Welcome to Seward” signs outlining the very defined boundaries of the Seward neighborhood. To outsiders, Seward is classified by its diverse demographics, affinity for green gardens and eclectic characters. To an insider though, Seward is a mecca of history in South Minneapolis. A small town in the middle of a metropolis, the Seward neighborhood is literally at the heart of this city.

While it may be difficult to describe the unique nature of this place, it is certain that this space represents a state of mind. I recently sat down in one of Seward’s infamous duplexes to find out more about the mind state.

Freez, Franz Diego and Mavin MC, all graduates of Seward Montessori School, make up the group “Illuminous 3.” Local young men who came of age together in the 1990’s, the three are proud to hail from a school that is proud to be unusual. The album, “Montessori,” released last November is dedicated to their time spent there.

Seward Montessori is a small K-8 magnet school that shares its home next to Matthews Recreation Center in Matthews Park. Here, the foundation for the luminous minds of Minneapolis’ greatest rap group were formed.

Attributing much of their success to the school, the three collaborated to pay homage to their adolescent alma mater on the album titled, “Montessori.” Each song is biographical, each one highlighting the differences found at Seward. Having met between the first and seventh grades, the mischievous, opinionated and outspoken young men fostered a firm friendship in a predominantly white school, embracing their diverse cultures and absorbing the free and friendly culture that is Seward.

Franz Diego: “Until I got to high school I didn’t know that it was normal to sit at desks.”

The Montessori approach uses carpet squares and beanbags for students to do their work. The nontraditional teaching components at school, such as grade integrated classrooms and knowing the hippie teachers on a first name basis, provides for a fun and structurally laid-back learning environment.

Franz Diego: “The biggest difference for me was play learning versus machine learning…you went to school to play and you just happened to learn. You never heard of a Montessori kid hating school.”

Mavin MC: “Learning was fun at Seward because we didn’t just sit down and do math worksheets and book reports, our lessons were taught through beads and checkerboards –the teaching tools appears as toys to us.”

Through passing the halls and attending classes at Seward Montessori, Illuminous 3 learned at their own pace. They were conditioned by teachers to strive for advancement, yet they were given the tools to learn the traits of self-discipline.

Mavin MC: “Integrated classrooms encouraged acceleration; the older kids would get into leadership positions.”

Freez: [Because of integrated classes] “I’ve always been told I act older than I am.”

The value Seward Montessori placed on relationships has stuck with Illuminous 3 throughout the maturation of their careers.

Franz Diego: “Ill 3 couldn’t really exist if we didn’t come together at Seward, what you get is three different personalities, very different minds, very different approaches to music, but we all share the common idea of what quality is.”

Mavin MC: “We respect each other and love each other, I feel like that is a direct reflection of Seward.”

All three believe the diversity at Seward to be one of its most valuable aspects. And they also believe that diversity is what the hip hop industry lacks today. Growing up in the 90’s meant coming up at a time where the genre was transitioning. Illuminous 3 came out before the popular formula driven hip hop that is current.

Franz Diego: “The 1990’s embraced and loved diversity…everything could be represented in its best light, everything was going on at the same time.”

A lot is different since what Freez considers, “The Golden Era of Hip Hop,” the industry has changed. Lost is the standard of quality once demanded of the MC. Reminiscing on the time period, Illuminous 3 are always aware of their place in hip hop.

Mavin MC: “I feel privileged to be a part of that movement, we’re a product of that.”

Seward Montessori, they told me, was about celebrating differences. It was about celebrating diverse cultures within the culture and embracing individuality, independence and thinking critically. The school has influenced their character as artists and as friends.

Freez: “We’re always, very, very fair.”

I asked these three, very “keepin’ it real” gentlemen what they thought about City Pages recent assessment of the Seward neighborhood, Minneapolis’ “Best Hipster Neighborhood.”

Freez: “I’m still unclear of what a hipster is, but to the outsider it could totally feel that way.”

It could be true that the newer Seward may be all about the survival of the hippest, but the three didn’t seem to agree.

Mavin MC: “I think it’s a super inaccurate title. The result of the hipster movement has meant many communities have become gentrified, there are a lot of families in Seward that have been here historically and are not moving from Seward.”

Franz Diego: “Seward isn’t down with gentrification, they will accept anyone.”

Mavin MC: “Hipsters tend to go with what’s counterculture and that’s what Seward embodies.”

Franz Diego: “It’s way more of a hippie ethos than a hipster one.”

“Montessori” captures the appreciation Illuminous 3 has for the Seward neighborhood and its people. They each feel a sense of ownership over this space.

Freez: “Matthew’s park is like our first stomping ground.”

They also feel a responsibility to share their own knowledge and experience. Nobody can represent Seward better than the children raised by this village. Nobody can better describe what is happening here.      

Freez “My little sister and nephew go to Seward, and hopefully I can bring my daughter there.”

For the future and the past, the experiences of Freez, Franz Diego and Mavin MC are extraordinarily important. They are an authority on Seward and Minneapolis hip hop, educated and influenced by the vibe suspended within Seward limits. The foundation rooted in Seward school and Southside pride provides for a great story, “Welcome to Seward” as Illuminous 3 tells it. “Montessori” is available for free download at, Find them and find out about upcoming projects at:


Illuminous 3 on Facebook


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