Monday, April 07, 2014

Guante: A Pragmatist's Guide to Faith (New Live Video)

New piece. This was shot by LineBreakMedia at the 2014 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Finals, where I served as host. Big shout to TruArtSpeaks for organizing the series and continuing to do incredible work here in the Twin Cities.

As for the piece itself, it's kind of a song, kind of a poem; I've been challenging myself to blur the lines more lately and really re-think my approach to writing and performance. It's also the second in a series of "Pragmatist's Guide" poems/songs, the first being "A Pragmatist's Guide to Revolution." This one is about legacy, and how even though the obstacles we face are deeply-entrenched products of history, so is our resistance to them; every activist, every survivor, everyone fighting for what they believe in however they want to define that-- we are all the products of something bigger than our own perspective. And we can draw encouragement from that; we can draw power from that.

I'm grateful for the chance to get to perform this piece in a number of very appropriate spaces over the past month. Yeah, it's kind of loud and growly. Might seem too much on video, but this was a very cathartic piece for me to write, and continues to be every time I perform it. Find all of my spoken-word work here. Full transcript below:

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Thoughts on a Few of the Questions Surrounding the Fitzgerald/MPR/TPT and Local Hip Hop Situation

Big, bold-letter caveat: this is not an official press release; I am not speaking for anyone but myself here. Just sharing a few thoughts.

Brief background: MN Public Radio, Twin Cities Public Television and the Fitzgerald were going to throw a big event on May 10 to celebrate the local hip hop community. After a panel discussion on local hip hop’s relationship with local media on Monday, March 24, however, as well as many conversations beyond that panel, a lot of questions and concerns were raised. Soon after, a group of people from the Twin Cities hip hop community got together to begin to address those questions and ultimately to ask the organizers to postpone the event.

I was part of that meeting, and while I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I thought I’d share a few of my responses to common questions:

MPR and TPT both have pretty solid track-records when it comes to organizing and promoting big, successful events. Why call for postponement of this one?
First of all, it’s important to note that the organized response to this event is bigger than this event. The Fitz show is a convenient focal point, but what’s happening right now is in response to larger issues-- not just of media’s relationship to local hip hop, but of representation, self-determination and all of the forces at work at the intersection of art, race, and culture. Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

This whole situation is a great example of examining the difference between working for a community and working with a community. I can’t speak for anyone else who signed the letter, but I genuinely believe that the organizers’ hearts are in the right place, that they really want to throw a big, beautiful show that can reach out to their audiences and show what a unique, diverse, talented hip hop scene Minnesota has. And that can still happen. I just think it can happen in a more intentional way.

Because the organizers did a good job reaching out to a lot of artists to get feedback and advice. A bunch of people filled out online surveys. Had the event happened as planned, I’m sure it would have been successful by the organizers’ standards. What we’re talking about here, however, is not just critiquing what was, but recognizing the potential of what could be. “Getting feedback” and bringing people in as consultants is not the same thing as working in solidarity with a community to organize together, and this is an opportunity to forge a lasting partnership. That’s a lot bigger than figuring out which dozen acts get to perform at the Fitz.

That’s kind of vague. The original open letter just called for more time and nothing else. Are there more specifics you can share?
There absolutely are more specific proposals involving both the show itself and the future relationship between these media entities and the hip hop community. As people continue to meet, and as we all meet with representatives from the media, those bullet points will be revealed. Calling only for “more time” was an intentional strategy. Now that we have more time, we can really build something.

I, for one, appreciate the organizers’ willingness to postpone. They didn't have to. As someone who has dealt with grant-writing and event-organizing, I know that probably wasn’t an easy choice to make. But it was the right one.

What makes hip hop so special? You don’t see indie bands pulling this type of stunt.
I’d argue that other genres of music can spawn cultures and subcultures, but hip hop is one of the few genres of music that is a culture FIRST. The local hip hop community isn’t just a bunch of rappers. It’s also the b-boys and b-girls, the DJs, producers and beatboxers, the visual artists and photographers who work in a hip hop aesthetic, the mentors and educators using critical hip hop pedagogies, the promoters and entrepreneurs trying to make a living, the artists who also work in activist campaigns, the elders who blazed the trails, the youth coming up, everyone.

It's important to note-- it's not just that a group of artists think that their particular "thing" is special. Institutions treat hip hop differently. There's no "State of Indie Rock" event in the works, after all. There's not a steadily increasing number of special college programs devoted to the study of shoegaze, or thousands of educators across the country (including here in the Twin Cities) using rockabilly to engage in critical education work. This is not to say that hip hop music is better than any other kind of music; it is to say that hip hop culture is a fundamentally different animal than other musical subcultures, and if you want to engage with the hip hop community, the rules are different.

As Andrea Swennson thoughtfully pointed out in her piece for the Local Current blog, “One thing I’ve realized in this process... is that it’s difficult to separate the culture of hip-hop from the larger issues that we face as a society.” Hip hop has history. As was mentioned in the original open letter, we can’t talk about that history without talking about racism, classism, exploitation, appropriation, condescension, and tokenism. That is not to say that any specific individual in the local media is consciously engaged in any of that; it’s bigger than what individuals do or say-- it’s about how institutions function, and how that history impacts where we find ourselves today.

So what’s next?
More meetings. More discussions. Getting more people into the room. Hopefully a rescheduled event (or events). We’ll see.

Beyond that, though, I think it’s worth pointing out that while many people are seeing what transpired here as negative (“nothing’s ever good enough for those mean hip hop people!”), I see it as really exciting, positive and potentially powerful. This is an opportunity to have a deeper conversation. Media isn’t just “the people who write about other people;” it’s an institution, a culture, a force. And when media can forge a stronger alliance with local hip hop, that helps everyone. When the hip hop community itself can come together and organize around this, I’m hoping that that opens the door to organizing together more often, around other issues.

Communities-- especially arts communities-- don’t just happen. We shape them, whether through our actions or inactions. I think this situation is a great example of what can happen when people work together in the spirit of building something-- intentionally, sustainably and respectfully-- and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Support "Creating Home," a Youth Arts Program For Adoptees

This summer, I'll be working with Land of a Gazillion Adoptees and COMPAS on a youth arts program aimed at creating spaces where adoptees can share their stories while also having access to tools and resources to help with that process. Check out the full Kickstarter page here.

The project is being driven by the adoptee community, especially young people, who are identifying community needs. My role is really just on the arts side of things-- facilitating writing and performance workshops, helping to organize performance opportunities, etc.

The idea is that this can be a pilot for a larger, sustainable, state-wide program. To make that happen, we're raising money to ensure that this pilot year can be as powerful as possible. Whether or not you can give, check it out.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Few "Next Steps" Regarding Local Hip Hop and Media

(this was the only photo of the event I could find, via Rob Callahan's blog; I'm stealing it, but only so I can also direct people to his post on the event too)

Last night's "State of Hip Hop" preview panel sponsored by the Current was a lot of fun. Hip hop panels are always messy, especially when it's a packed house (as it was last night), but while there are bound to be tangents and nonsense, I think some really good stuff was said. Thanks to Andrea Swensson, Kevin Beacham, the Lioness, Desdamona, Toki Wright and Slug, who were all on the panel with me, as well as everyone who spoke from the audience (including a number of bonafide legends, plus up-and-comers, plus youth, plus more) and continued the conversation after.

Do we really need a recap? If you know anything about local hip hop and media, you probably know what the issues are. I want this piece to be more forward-looking, with practical, concrete things we can do to make things work better. But very briefly, a few points that stuck out for me:
  • We have one of the biggest, most diverse, most talented hip hop scenes in the country, but there are a small amount of music writers in town and maybe one or two are hip hop-focused. The rest might cover the scene, but it tends to be a fairly shallow look at a small sliver of the scene.
  • That leads to a kind of gatekeeper effect based largely on association: the acts that get the most quality coverage are very often associated with another famous act or a fashionable behind-the-scenes presence. In short, it's cliquey.
  • That also leads to tokenism-- if media swoons over a particular Black male artist (or female artist), it allows them to not have to think about the other 50 out here making good music.
  • Music journalists can always "do better" (and I think most are genuinely interested in that) but real progress has to be bigger than individuals "doing better." It's about representation; it's about the culture and especially the hiring practices at media institutions.
  • And as much as we don't want to let local media off the hook, another common theme was artists building our own media, sharing resources, signal-boosting each other and understanding that getting local press or getting played on the radio isn't as powerful as we often make it out to be.
A few things to consider as we continue this conversation and make it more than just a conversation:
  • As I mentioned, if we really want to fix these problems, it's about seeking out, hiring, and paying writers of color, writers who are hip hop heads, writers from underrepresented neighborhoods, and ideally intersections of those identities. Reed Fischer from the City Pages told me that if I knew of any writers to send them his way. So if you're interested, get at me or him.
  • Writers who are already in position to cover hip hop can always do more outreach, expand the scope of their personal hip hop definitions, and strive to make the amount of hip hop coverage match the amount of hip hop here. Jack Spencer at City Pages is doing a great job. Rob Callahan from Vita.MN told me that he'd like to do more if we reach out to him.
  • One really simple thing could be more regular hip hop features-- there will always be album reviews and concert announcements when they come up, but stuff like Jack Spencer's local mixtape roundups, or producer showcase playlists, or any recurring feature with a hook like that can be an easy way to institutionalize hip hop coverage.
  • As for this May 10 event at the Fitzgerald, I think MPR can do a number of things to increase buy-in from the community:
    • Make the planning meetings open to the public.
    • Barring that, posting the meeting notes publicly so that the planning is transparent.
    • Be super-wildly-mad-stupid intentional about the lineup. Let's get the other elements represented. Let's get the pioneers represented. Let's get the Northside represented. Etc.
    • Work to secure a whole bunch of comp tickets that those of us who work with youth, particularly youth of color from underrepresented neighborhoods, can get those tickets out to anyone who might be interested.
    • Make sure that this big event isn't the end of the relationship. As Tish Jones mentioned last night, let's get more hip hop acts on the Fitz stage (if the acts want to). If the Current really reps local music, let's get more than one hip hop show per week. Let's get a wider diversity of artists into the playlist.
A common theme last night was "we can work harder." And that's true, but I don't want that to be a copout. This discussion was/is about holding media accountable, and so we shouldn't turn it back on ourselves and put all the burden on our shoulders. That being said, sure, there are a few things we can do better:
  • I think more of an understanding of how media actually works can be helpful. We should push the media to do better, BUT that doesn't mean we should have a sense of entitlement. They don't come looking for your brilliance; you have to make your brilliance available to them. So how do you do that? The next point:
  • Even when the game is BS, it can help to know the game. For anyone out there who doesn't know how to write a press release, or who to send it to, or how to effectively manage your presence on social media, and all the other practical things that go along with succeeding as an artist, I'm interested in sharing that knowledge. You can get in touch with me, but this is also about collaborating more in a general sense. When we crew up, when we pool resources, we all do better.
  • Guante: Six Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Getting Started as an Artist
  • Big Cats: How to Get Local Press
  • Finally, we can build our own media, leveraging social media power while creating new outlets. Even more than that, we can understand that "media" isn't just newspapers and radio stations; it's how we transmit any ideas-- so word-of-mouth, flyers, however we promote. As Toki said last night, going directly to your people to spread the word about your work is going to be more effective than any write-up or radio play.
Here are a few concrete ideas that came up last night:
  • Why isn't there a blog dedicated to MN hip hop? I mean, I'm sure there are a bunch out there somewhere, but I mean one that is intentional and well-trafficked and curated by people with an authentic relationship to the culture? I could see one with 3-4 posts per day (maybe a couple local features-- new songs, reviews, concert previews, etc., and one"from the vault" feature of an older song); with the right people involved, that could be really powerful.
    • I know: "so why don't you do it Guante?" I think a project like this would have to be a crew of people's main project. I'd love to contribute, but to do this right would mean to do it with laser focus.
  • Toki mentioned getting a room at McNally Smith once or twice per month to continue these kinds of conversations, plan for the future, and organize together. So look out for that.
  • Toki also mentioned bringing back the TC Hip Hop Awards, and someone else mentioned bringing back the TC Celebration of Hip Hop. Personally, I'm all for big events, but I also think big events can be a time/energy/money drain. I'd rather see big events arise organically from new organizations, which relates to the previous point. Still, something to consider for anyone interested.
  • Me and Big Cats, and me by myself, have run workshops on introducing media skills to any artists who want them-- so again, press releases, using social media effectively, getting your work reviewed, etc. Feel free to be in touch if you run a youth program or have access to a community space where that could be useful.
To wrap up, I keep thinking about the difference between a "scene" and a "community." We have both here, but I'd say that right now, the scene gets all the attention, and we could do a lot more to build the community. And part of that is the same old "hip hop is beautiful and brings people together" stuff, and part of it is practical too-- a more supportive, intentional, deeply-rooted community with respect for the elders, the youth, all the elements, etc., is a breeding ground for success. Media can't be the driving force for that, but it can play a role.

What else? This is just my take-away from last night, but it's absolutely not everything that needs to be said. Feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I'll be hosting the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Finals on March 29, plus other updates

A million things happening at once, as usual. New music coming, a ton of April shows all over the country (see the calendar on the right), various projects in-progress. One highlight of everything, though, is the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series, organized by TruArtSpeaks. We've already seen dozens of wildly talented young people sharing their work in the prelims and semis, and now the top ten will compete for a chance to represent MN at Brave New Voices 2014.

I have the honor of hosting the big Finals slam, and DJ Stage One and BdotCroc will also be performing. Here's the Facebook event page.

As always, it's not really about the competition; it's about the community. Regardless of who gets on the team, TruArtSpeaks will continue to organize open mics and provide other opportunities for young writers and performers to share their work and build with one another. And this show should really be something special. I'm hoping we can have a full house to support these young voices. See you there.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Guante: DUNGEONS (free download + thoughts)

Here's my new project. It's one 30-minute track. Download it for FREE here:

Experimental mixtape. Nine brand new songs mixed into one track. All beats jacked from Dungeon Family (Goodie Mob, Outkast, Cool Breeze, etc.) songs. Mixed by Big Cats.

1. Chill Touch
2. Knock
3. Fireball
4. Crushing Despair
5. Raise Dead
6. Chain Lightning
7. Prismatic Spray w/ Homeless, Heidi Barton Stink, Tony the Scribe, Kaoz, Just Wulf & See More Perspective
8. Greater Shout
9. Mage's Disjunction

All I ask in return is, if you like it, to sign up for my email list. And to go along with all this new music, here are pretty much all my thoughts on it:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Next Project: DUNGEONS (Cover Art, Tracklist and Notes)

This is my next project, and my first completely solo project in forever. There are a lot of clues in that image as to what it's all about. It's a mixtape. The title is a reference to two more obvious things and one not-so-obvious thing. You'll see.

It'll be free. Nine brand new songs, all released as one 30-minute track. No videos, no singles, no release party. People will just have to download it and listen to the whole thing straight through. There's a reason for all of that. Excited for you to hear it.

Release date: soon.

In the meantime, please join my mailing list. I should have set this up years ago, but have been relying on social media; this is more dependable, though. I'll only send out updates very infrequently, only for the big stuff, and you'll get access to new music, videos and more right away (or, sometimes, early):

Guante's Email List