Thursday, December 31, 2009
1. Took first place at the 2009 National Poetry Slam as a member of the St. Paul team. We performed pieces that we believed in, and we were rewarded for it. Slam is so imperfect, but it still feels good to be validated on some level-- we did, after all, put a TON of work into our writing and performance.
2. Organized and performed at the very first Hip Hop Against Homophobia concert, along with Toki Wright, Maria Isa and more. Since then, there's been almost a dozen more.
3. Won the VERVE grant through Intermedia Arts, plus won the people's choice for "Best Slam Poet" and "Best Artist/Activist" at the Urban Griots Spoken-Word Award Show.
4. Played the SOUNDSET FESTIVAL, the biggest and best indie hip hop festival around.
5. Did a ton of music writing for CultureBully.
6. Co-coached our amazing MN teen poets at Brave New Voices, along with Khary Jackson.
7. Released two projects-- the Guante & Big Cats! EP "Start a Fire" and the See More Perspective-produced "Return to Guante's Haunted Studio Apartment." Technically, "An Unwelcome Guest" is a 2010 release, but we had the release party at the end of 2009 at the Bedlam Theater and it was huge.
8. Started serving as the Arts Coordinator of the Canvas, a St. Paul teen arts center.
9. Toured with Junkyard Empire, played a million shows, facilitated a million workshops, made a million appearances, etc. I guess these were the important things, though.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
As long as we're all doing end-of-the-decade lists and stuff, figured I'd share some of my conspiracy-theorist rantings concerning why this song is the most insanely brilliant track of the '00s:
Double meanings have always been important in American music, from the slave spirituals that contained secret messages about escape, to some of the seemingly innocuous “love songs” of the Civil Rights Era that, whether intentionally or not, provided inspiration and rallying cries for the marchers in the streets. Inserting potentially subversive comments into popular forms of art is a way to reach the masses and avoid the troubles that go along with actively, conspicuously supporting or commenting on controversial material. It can also be a lot of fun—watching those who “don’t get it” go about their business, not getting it.
A contemporary example of this could be Outkast’s (or more specifically, Andre’s) monster hit “Hey Ya.” A bouncy, euphoric pop song, “Hey Ya” can be heard everywhere, from shopping malls to top 40 radio to your mom’s stereo to every damn house party in the city. It’s simply an infectious track—a catchy melody, a driving beat, and inoffensive, easy-to-remember lyrics. It’s the perfect pop song. Perhaps too perfect.
Listen closely to the song. I generally hate over-analyzing things, but I am thoroughly convinced that “Hey Ya” is a very deep artistic statement, and that Andre is, through the medium of pop music, commenting on pop music and popular culture in general. The song is taking shots at the music industry, at the artists, and perhaps most of all at the fans.
The evidence is mostly in the lyrics, lyrics that to the casual listener deal with the slow death of a romantic relationship. But read the lyrics—on a literal level, the song isn’t really dealing with those issues in any concrete way. Most of the words are just catchy phrases that can be repeated—incidentally, the absolute most important thing for the modern pop song. The chorus, perhaps the most obvious example, is just a nonsense phrase repeated eight times. Here, I think that Andre is commenting on the lack of content in most pop music hooks: does “hey ya” really say any less than the typical Nelly or Ja Rule chorus? (remember, I wrote this back in 2003)
There are more clues: “Shake it like a Polaroid picture” is probably the most popular line of the entire decade, let alone the song. Everyone sings along during that part of the track. A Polaroid picture is a copy. There is no originality left in music, and the fans don’t even care—they’re singing along.
Related to this are the lines: “you think you got it/ ooh you think you got it/ but got it just don’t get it until there’s nothing at all/.” Few people seem to be noticing the what the music industry has done and is doing to popular music. Media conglomerates promote products, not art, and the result is “sure-thing” pop music, music that will be immediately devoured by the public and then left on the roadside to rot.
Another point: “Don’t want to meet your Daddy/ just want you in my Caddy.” This is about lust—not just sexual lust, but artistic lust. It’s about enjoyment without commitment. In a market driven by singles rather than albums, music becomes a quickie rather than a romance. Most pop albums, rushed to release in order to maximize profit, contain one or two sure-fire singles and ten tracks of filler. A song may stay with you for a long time—much like an incredible night of passion—but in the end, if the artist can’t deliver again, you will forget him or her and move on to the next fool with a hit single.
The key, however, is the point in the song where the instruments drop out and Andre sings, “when we know we’re not happy here.” Immediately after that, as the chorus comes in, the careful listener will hear Andre say quietly, “but y’all don’t wanna hear me you just want to dance.” This is not printed in the album’s liner note lyrics, and is buried in the track—I didn’t notice it until just recently. This is explicit: people don’t care about art; they care about a good beat and a catchy hook. Now those two things are fine and there is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying them, but without some substance, without some meaning, even the catchiest pop record is just a product— a vacuum cleaner or a used car.
On top of all this, the sonic qualities of the song hint to a deeper meaning as well. Dre has something cold in his voice—whether it’s desperation, resentment or disillusionment—it’s subtle, but it’s definitely there. The edges of his voice are much sharper and harder than a simple love song warrants. Though jubilant and up-tempo, “Hey Ya” isn’t exactly happy; it’s more of a cocaine high than a genuine feeling of joy. This is particularly evident in the “alright alright alright alright alright” part.
Finally, the video contains a number of clues, the most intriguing being the big green casket in the center of the stage. In an interview, the director said that the casket was actually there for some other idea that they had originally had for the video, but after changing ideas they had simply decided to keep it in. I’m not so sure that I buy this. A casket is not just some random prop—it has very specific connotations. Perhaps Andre is commenting on the death of innovative music.
And “perhaps” is always an important word. All in all, “Hey Ya” can be read in two (or more) ways, and it’s probably true that no single reading is entirely correct. None of this can take away from the fact that “Hey Ya” is a great pop song. All I am saying, however, is that it can be a great pop song and much, much more simultaneously, and that we should be paying closer attention to our music, or at the very least believing that an artist can be capable of creating something beyond a catchy sugar buzz.
That's the piece I wrote six years ago, with a few very minor adjustments. I still believe a lot of it, and "Hey Ya" is still one of my favorite songs. Maybe it's crazy to dig that deep into the lyrics of a pop song, but I wish we lived in a world where all music is actively listened to. Who knows what we're missing.
And this is my pick for "song of the decade" because of my two great loves: good pop music and subversive, thought-provoking lyrics, two things that, incidentally, very rarely go together. Maybe my analysis is off-base, but I'll give Andre the benefit of the doubt.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I feel like I've been holding my body and sanity together by sheer force of will this past week, and now that the release party is over I can finally just fall apart. But wow. What a show.
Packed house, amazing sets by Kristoff Krane (who waded into the center of the crowd and played a song on acoustic guitar, between monstrous hip hop tracks), No Bird Sing and the Tribe, killer guest appearances from Chastity Brown and Big Quarters, great staff and space, a trip to Little Tijuana afterwards-- pretty much everything I could have asked for.
Loved the stage set-up. You'll be able to see it in other photos more closely, but we had a multi-level stage and there were fake trees all around. Very cool. And despite a few sound hiccups (our monitor blew after our second song or so), I thought we played our asses off; best performance of ours, ever. Even got to do my "we are waking up in our caskets (CASKETS!)" call and response thing.
Turnout exceeded expectations. Pretty much a packed house, even earlier, and people stuck around until the end. The Bedlam is a pretty big space too, so I'm not sure what our actual numbers were, but I'm beyond happy. Big thanks to everyone who made it out.
So for now, you can ONLY get the new album through the Strange Famous web store. Our official release date is January 12, so after that it'll be in stores and Itunes and all that, but for now, head over to Sage's house and pick up the special package (signed CD, sticker, instrumentals and PDF booklet) for just $9.99.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
1. A signed CD
2. Limited Edition Sticker
3. Download Card with a code that unlocks the album instrumentals and a booklet with lyrics, commentary and more.
ALL FOR JUST $9.99. Even if you're coming to the release show, this is the best deal you're going to get.
CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE STRANGE FAMOUS STORE. Shop around too; lots of good stuff on there. Strange Famous is Sage Francis' record label, and they also have stuff from B.Dolan, Sleep, 2mex, Cecil Otter of Doomtree and many other acts.
“Earnestness can go wrong in hip hop. On this album, it goes very right.” --Sage Francis
On a side note, this is very cool. BIG ups to Sage, SFR and my label, Tru Ruts, for putting this all together. Me and Big Cats poured a whole lot of ourselves into this album, and I'm ecstatic to see so many people excited about it and helping us push it. Please take advantage of this pre-order deal, even if you plan on coming to the release party-- it's really a fantastic deal, and we want to support those people who are supporting us. Thanks!
Monday, December 07, 2009
"Part Cormac McCarthy, part Woody Guthrie, and part Public Enemy, An Unwelcome Guest is an intricately woven poetic and sonic excursion through landscapes mental, emotional, and physical, cementing Guante and Big Cats!'s status as two of the best emerging artists within Twin Cities hip-hop."
And here's a write-up of our CD release party (12/12 at the Bedlam) in City Pages:
"Fortunately, Guante has a deft sense of humor and style in his arsenal, along with a battle-hewn tongue that rattles off sharply-spit rhymes and high-concept narratives. His upcoming album An Unwelcome Guest tells the story of a traveler's fight against a zombie horde (stop me if you've heard that one before), but Guante's lyrics go deeper than the familiar comic-book premise into an authority-questioning meditation on violence that'd do John Romero's most allegorical moments proud. And Big Cats, his production partner on the new album, has the kind of chops that can only add to the atmospheric resonance."
Saturday, December 05, 2009
Friday, December 04, 2009
Some lady walked by and bought one, out of nowhere. Good omen?
If YOU want one, you'll have to come to the release party (12/12 at the Bedlam). Nobody gets one before then, and since the show itself is more of a "special Twin Cities preview," you won't be able to get one AFTER the show either, at least not for a little bit. Something very cool is happening-- can't talk about it yet, but soon, like, early next week.
Oh also-- I know everything is digital these days, but you really should get a physical copy. The art (done by Big Cats himself) is beautiful. Get the little booklet that comes with the album too; I make them myself and they have all kinds of cool stuff in them-- lyrics, song notes, more. Fun fact: the mystery figure on the cover is a doctored photo of Truth Be Told from the Tribe.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Guante raps. Guante is not "a poet who raps." Guante raps really well. Guante also performs spoken-word really well, but for him, those two things aren't related all that much. It is possible for one person to do two (or more) different things at a high level.
And yeah, I like spoken-word, and I like writing songs "about stuff." But like I say in the video below, no one likes to be pigeon-holed. So here's a video of me rapping about rapping while Big Cats plays the MPC:
Sunday, November 29, 2009
The Roots: Game Theory and Phrenology
Phrenology is criminally underrated by hip hop heads. I always hear people talk about how “out-there” and “experimental” it was, but when you take away the little “punk” interlude and the freak-out at the end of “Water,” you have a pretty straight-forward monster of a rap record, probably my favorite Roots album. And Game Theory is just undeniable—super cohesive, dark and beautiful—through Phren is my favorite, Game Theory might be their best.
Fall Out Boy: Infinity on High
If you peel away all the seething hatred for this band—hatred that’s usually based on non-musical factors like who their fans are or who the bass player is dating—you’re left with some of the best pop music of the decade. I wrote more about my love for this album in my review of their follow-up.
K-OS: Atlantis – Hymns for Disco
K-OS isn’t a great rapper, but he is a great songwriter. Though I’m usually all about lyrics, this album got me because of how pretty the music is. K-OS is one of the few emcees to get the whole genre-bending thing right—the music defies easy categorization, but it’s not defined by that. The hybridization is organic, and the music never loses sight of the hooks.
This one hasn’t stayed with me as much, but when it first came out it was pretty revelatory. The harsh production isn’t for everyone, but I feel like this album really opened up some doors for other hip hop artists to explore weirder sonic territory. Sounds amazing live, too.
Haley Bonar: Everything
From "The Size of Planets" to “Lure the Fox” to “Big Star,” Haley Bonar is just breathtakingly good. Her lyrics are engaging, her melodies are beautiful and her voice is otherworldly. It’s an absolute mystery to me why she isn’t more famous than she already is—she can appeal to people who just want pretty adult-contempo folk rock, but she can go so much deeper than that too. And yeah, she's on my new album.
OutKast: Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Two interesting releases here. One represented the apex of OutKast as a duo; the other, the exact point they started to part ways. Neither release is perfect, but OutKast are so far beyond what most other artists are doing (hip hop or otherwise) that even their uneven, experimental stuff is pretty bonkers. If you took the best songs on these three albums and put them on one album, you'd have the best rap album of the decade. As is, they're still pretty good.
Janelle Monae: Metropolis - The Chase Suite
You don’t hear a whole lot of ambitious R&B music these days; usually it’s throwback retro soul, groove-oriented neo-soul or plastic loverman pop R&B. This album, however, shattered those molds and made something wildly original. Monae is one of the few artists I'm really excited about.
Yann Tiersen: Amelie Soundtrack
I don’t really have anything interesting to say about this one. I don’t really “do” instrumental music. I just really like this album. I think I listen to this more than anything else in my Itunes.
Res: How I Do
Another overlooked gem. Beautifully-produced music, well-written songs and a very cool delivery. An all-time favorite album for me.
Some Singles, Omissions and Random Thoughts:
I didn’t LOVE either of Lupe Fiasco’s albums, but “Kick, Push” might be my favorite rap single all year. He uses really simple language to say some pretty complex things about identity and freedom; I wish Lupe would “dumb it down,” so to speak, more often. Saying deep things with simple language is always better than saying simple things in overly abstract nonsense gibberish.
Another example of this would be "No Regrets" from Aesop Rock. I like Aesop's weird stuff too, but this is his most simple, straightforward song... and it benefits from that.
Amy Winehouse and producer Mark Ronson made some really catchy songs. “Valerie,” “You Know I’m No Good,” and others—it’s not exactly revolutionary music, but it’s really well-done throwback soul.
D'Angelo's "Voodoo" was my favorite album for a long time, but I haven't found myself coming back to it any time recently.
I thought about writing up Rage Against the Machine’s “The Battle of Los Angeles,” but upon re-listening it’s a pretty uneven album. The high points are insanely high, though. “Sleep Now in the Fire,” in particular, is monstrously good.
Nothing deep to say, but Raphael Saadiq’s “Still Ray” might be my favorite song of the whole decade.
“Makeshift Patriot” by Sage Francis is probably the best song dealing with 9/11, at least the best one that comes to mind.
“At the End of a Slow Dance” by Vant Hunt is also a great track, "a tremendously weird blend of ‘80s synth pop, rock and soul that not only defies genre conventions, but is a pretty brilliant piece of songwriting in its own right" --me.
"Lord Willin'" from Clipse deserves a mention, but only a mention. Enough other people have written about them.
Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief” is usually overlooked in their repertoire of albums, but I think it splits the difference between their early, more poppy stuff and later, more experimental stuff just like “OK Computer” did, just not as well. But being “almost as good as ‘OK Computer;” is still a pretty awesome thing. Some killer songs on this album.
Upon further listening, Saul William's Niggy Tardust album is pretty great. Not as good as the self-titled, but not as "eh" as I first thought.
Blue Scholars put out some great music, but they still haven't grabbed me by the throat and demanded my attention. They share this with about 98% of all indie-rap released in the last few years.
I think Ghostface and DOOM are both really talented and put out some great music over the past ten years, but I also think they’re insanely overhyped. You can read about how brilliant they are elsewhere.
Kind of the same for Kanye, who had some amazing tracks this decade, but I don't really feel like writing about.
I want to love The Coup, because I think Boots Riley is one of the best lyricists in all of hip hop, but their music is just too inconsistent for me. Some of it is beyond brilliant, but only some of it.
I’m SURE I’m forgetting some stuff too. It is a whole decade, after all. What about you? What are your favorite albums or songs of the decade?
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Also, if you're in the Twin Cities, be sure to go check out Big Cats at Last of the Record Buyers tonight (Thursday) at Fifth Element at 9pm. He'll be playing some never-before-heard stuff from our new album.
BIG PLANS for the release party 12/12 at the Bedlam. BEYOND. We've added members to our band. Special guests. Much more. Tell your people.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Also, here's the Facebook event page, if you do that sort of thing.
Friday, November 13, 2009
On Sunday (11/15), there's a march for LGBTQ equality (commemorating last year's historic protests) at 2pm in front of the Hennepin County Government Center. From 3pm-6pm, there'll be a show at the Bedlam Theater featuring me, The Tribe, Sleeper & The Sleepless and some really good poets. Here's the Facebook event page.
If you haven't heard, the big release party for the new album will be Saturday, 12/8 at the Bedlam Theater. 10pm. Pre-sale ticket information, supporting acts (they're amazing) and sponsoring organizations will be announced very soon.
Also, I got a job as the arts coordinator for the Canvas, a new, arts-based youth center in St. Paul. We're putting together an amazing slate of workshops and events right now, so if you know teens in St. Paul (or beyond), let them know; if you have connections in St. Paul schools, let ME know. Here's the Facebook page; website coming soon.
Finally, I've got a title for my one-man spoken-word show: "The Fist that Lives in Your Neck." Look for a debut in the Spring.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
This is one of my favorite Twin Cities hip hop releases ever, one of a few that I listen to regularly. My label just re-released it, newly mastered and beautiful. GO GET IT HERE.
I also just recorded a song for Chantz's upcoming full-length, which should be even better. Watch out.
Here's Chantz's MySpace page too.
Friday, November 06, 2009
Saturday, December 12 at the Bedlam Theater. 10pm. 18+
Opening acts and sponsoring organizations will be announced soon. For now, just mark your calendars. It's going to be a great show. For real.
AN UNWELCOME GUEST is a hip hop concept album from Twin Cities producer BIG CATS and rapper GUANTE. Over fifteen tracks, the album tells the story of one man moving from east to west in the wake of a man-made disaster and his own personal tragedy. Also, there are zombies.
The album features guest appearances from HALEY BONAR, PROLYPHIC (of Strange Famous Records), BIG QUARTERS, CHASTITY BROWN and ERIC BLAIR (of Hyder Ali and No Bird Sing). Through the album’s unique narrative frame, these artists join Guante in exploring issues of displacement, authority and the difference between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed. Also: zombies.
Stay tuned. Much more (including the first single, some exclusive video stuff and more announcements) coming soon!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
See More Perspective produced the whole thing, and the two of us take turns, more or less, on the vocals. It's got a Halloween/Day of the Dead theme, and will only be free until Friday the 13th in November, so grab it now.
We actually released a version of this last Halloween, but this one has some new tracks, and everything is re-mastered. As I get ready to put out the Guante & Big Cats album and See More preps his debut full-length, we wanted to get something out now for all the people who have been supporting us. We're very grateful. Hope you like it.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Dressing up like a stereotype of someone else's ethnic/cultural heritage isn't just insensitive, it's fucking stupid.
Many of us have learned, over the past ten halloweens or so, that it's pretty much pointless to argue with someone wearing a poncho, sombrero and fake mustache who is carrying a bottle of fake liquor about why his costume is innappropriate. You can talk politics with the fratboy in the fake locs and Jamaican hat or the girl in the "Asian Dragon Lady" costume until you're blue in the face. They probably won't get it.
So rather than debating with some drunk guy in blackface, or calling the PC police on that friend-of-a-friend wearing the turban and fake beard, why don't we try a new approach:
"Hey idiot-- you had all this time to think of a costume to wear and the best you could come up with is this? How boring. How unoriginal. How fucking stupid. Yes it's offensive on a political level, but it's also offensively uncreative. You went to the store and thought 'duuuude this mexican guy costume is hilarious, dude; everyone's gonna love me' and you bought it. You're an idiot."
More reading here.
And more here.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Also just added a Halloween weekend show (10/30) in La Crosse, WI with See More Perspective at the Root Note.
For the press release, CLICK HERE.
For a full, updating calendar, CLICK HERE. Here's what we got so far:
• 10/22 – The Kinetic Playground – Chicago, IL
9:00pm • 21+ • $7
• 10/23 – The Reptile Palace – Oshkosh, WI
9:00pm • 21+ • $5
• 10/24 – Java 101 w/ Diagram of Truth – Dekalb, IL
8:00pm • All Ages • $6
• 11/19 – Doc’s – Sioux Center, IA
8:00pm • 21+ • $5
• 11/20 – The Industry – Iowa City, IA
9:00pm • 19+ • $7
• 12/05 – Red Square w/ Broadcast Live – Albany, NY
8:00pm • 21+ • $5
• 12/06 – Fat Baby – New York, NY
9:00pm • 21+ • $8
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Noam the Drummer put together this megamix of our new album, An Unwelcome Guest, essentially condensing an hour-long zombie-superhero-love-story concept album into 15 crazy minutes. In it, you’ll hear some flashes of the story, a few of our guests (Haley Bonar, Chastity Brown, Eric Blair of No Bird Sing; the album also features Big Quarters and Prolyphic, though they’re not in this mix) and an idea of how the album as a whole sounds. We’ll be releasing the LP in December on Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records. Think of this as the trailer.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
1. New post at CultureBully listing our favorite "political" songs: add to the list here.
2. Guante & Big Cats! are on BandCamp now. You can hear our whole EP, "Start a Fire" for free, and buy it track by track if there's a shred of a human soul rattling around in your hollow frame. My favorite songs off that project are "The Hero" and "Dragons." There's a slightly different version of "Dragons" on our full-length, but you'll see.
3. Speaking of our full-length,"An Unwelcome Guest," big news this week. Stay tuned. The album is done, and we're looking at a December release. But like I said, we'll be leaking something cool this week.
4. We shot a video for "One of These Mornings" with the amazing One Light Collective. Because of the concept, there's going to be a lot of post-production, so it might not be out for a few months still, but it should be worth the wait. Big thanks to everyone who came out in the cold to be extras-- Rodrigo, Bryan, Jillian & friends, SeeMore & Sarah, Sha & EG, plus all the actors and crew.
5. Big shows this month: the Fong Lee benefit show at Macalester was huge, and full of amazing artists coming together to speak out against police brutality and honor the memory of Fong Lee. His family was inspiring. I also performed at Bryan Thao Worra's book release show, which was a lot of fun. Bryan's one of my favorite poets, and his new book is fantastic (it's called "Barrow"). Also played a show at Sobriety High School for their Fall Ball, which is always fun. Next up is a political prisoner benefit gig at the Bedlam on Sunday, and then we're off on a short tour-- details announced very soon.
6. I've decided that if the Packers don't have a good season, I may as well root for the Vikings. But if I'm going to do that, they'd better win the damn Superbowl, and not get knocked out in the second round of the playoffs like they always do when they're good.
7. Finally finished some new poems. Think I might slam in November. Did you know that the National Poetry Slam is going to be in St. Paul in 2010? Should be pretty wild.
8. If I had been smart and voted for myself in the City Pages "Picked to Click" poll, I think I would have cracked the top ten. Blessing in disguise, though; gunning for #1 in 2010. Let's hope people enjoy this crazy-ass album about zombies and superhero mythology and love and displacement.
9. Found myself at an Old Country Buffet the other day. The food wasn't very good, but I did enjoy having lots of different drinks (choosing one drink is so confining). On second thought, the nacho bar was quite good. Been spending all my money on Amazing Thailand, Quang and Jasmine Deli.
10. Late-pass, I know, but the funniest thing about the whole Kanye situation is that that Beyonce video he loves so much is just your standard "women dancing in front of a white background" video. GREATEST OF ALL TIME.
11. Yes, I officially dropped the "el" from my name. All the websites still have it, so i'm thinking of it as a more formal version. But from here on out, on fliers, press releases and albums, it's just "Guante." Thanks.
12. Follow me on Twitter for more frequent updates, because I'm sure that's what you really want.
THIS IS HERE BECAUSE I NEEDED TO UPLOAD FOR A PROJECT, PLEASE IGNORE:
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Fong Lee was a 19-year old kid killed by Minneapolis police. More info. Latest news on the case here. Some troubling questions here.
This is a pretty incredible line-up of artists. It's really inspiring to see:
Magnetic North I Nomi of Power Struggle I Michelle Myers of Yellow Rage I Maria Isa I Blackbird Elements I Guante I Rodigo Sanchez-Chavarria I E.G. Bailey I Tou Saiko Lee with PosNoSys I True Mutiny I Sha Cage I Kevin Xiong with Pada Lo I Tish Jones I Maipacher I Logan Moua I Bobby Wilson I Hilltribe I Poetic Assassins and Special Guests
SPEAK! I Lealtad-Suzuki Center I Asian Student Alliance I Ua Ke I DJ Club I History Department [Macalester College] I Coalition for Community Relations I The Loft Literary Center I Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network I Minnesota Spoken Word Association I Minnesota Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign I Shades of Yellow I TakeAction Minnesota I Communities United Against Police Brutality
Emcees I Amy Hang and Tou Ger Xiong
DJ I DJ Nak
* All proceeds to benefit the family of Fong Lee for legal costs.
For more information
Joseph Hang I 612.747.3768 [p]
Tou Ger Xiong I 651.738.0141 [p]
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I’m completely aware that “explaining the joke” makes it less funny, but I want to point out right away that this essay is satirical. So stop sending me angry emails.
1. Before you even get to the reviews themselves, remember, just because hip hop is a global cultural force enjoyed by billions doesn’t mean you have to treat it like it is. If you run a website, alt-weekly, college newspaper or whatever, one token hip hop review per month should just about do it. Too few, and people might accuse you of rockism or even racism; too many and, well, that’s never going to be a problem, is it? Not sure what to review? Just check Pitchfork and see what they’re into; they have their finger on the pulse.
2. If you're an editor, assign the newest mainstream hip hop release to the nerdy white guy on your staff who listens to Wilco and Fleet Foxes. Assign the newest underground hip hop release to the other nerdy white guy on your staff who listens to Wilco and Fleet Foxes. If you have a "hip hop guy/girl" on staff, fire him/her immediately; this troubled economy is no place for luxury staff positions.
3. Remember, music journalism is the opposite of regular journalism. Avoid "scooping" other music writers, and instead focus only on artists whom everyone already loves and knows about. There may be a brilliant yet overlooked indie MC in your city, but hey, Common has a new hat!
4. Your goal as a writer is not to talk about what you see as the positive and negative aspects of the music; it's to prove to people how well you personally understand hip hop, how "down" you are, and how out-of-touch everyone else is. Insinuate one of two facts: that everyone who listens to underground hip hop is an elitist, headwrap-wearing backpacker, OR that everyone who listens to mainstream hip hop is either a wannabe thug criminal or 14 year old white girl. There is no middle ground, and the boundaries between the two hip hop sub-genres are always clear and well-defined.
5. When reviewing underground or socially-conscious hip hop, make a point to emphasize how the artist "doesn't just talk about bitches and bling." This will make your readers' heads explode, because no hip hop artist has ever rapped about anything other than "bitches and bling" in the history of the genre. It doesn't matter what the artist actually does talk about.
6. If you're based in the Midwest, be sure to compare every MC who utters anything remotely introspective or emotional to Slug, and any MC with any shred of political awareness to Brother Ali, no matter how different their actual sonic or lyrical qualities may be.
7. Use the word "organic" a lot.
8. Don't try to actually understand the music, much less the culture behind it; use the same criteria you use for any release when reviewing hip hop. Talk about how it's not melodic enough. Or how the loops are too repetitive. Or how the rapper is too boastful. Or how live instruments automatically make hip hop much better. Be sure to sneak in a few sucker-punches about how sampling is just glorified theft.
9. If the rapper is expressing a political thought of any kind, it's "preachy and overbearing." Remember, we have a black president; these hip hop guys should rap about partying or love or something now. Conversely, if you're one of those "down for the struggle" types, compare any and every amateur MC who mumbles "fuck the police" to Chuck D and KRS-ONE, if not Malcolm X.
10. When you have a gimmick to write about, you don't have to actually engage with the music itself. Maybe the rapper has a funny name that you can fill up three paragraphs explaining. Or maybe his/her album is a mixtape about pirates; they're in right now. Or maybe you can just make something up based off a throwaway bar on a random track; did he reference a character from "The Wire?" I think we have your lead-in!
11. Compare white MCs to Eminem, no matter what they actually sound like. Similarly, compare female MCs to Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim, despite their growing irrelevance.
12. Use the words "deep," “socially-conscious” and "revolutionary," even if the messages on the album all boil down to "be yourself," "don't trust the government" and "I like rapping."
13. When writing about "street hip hop," you can only take one of two stances: you can either say that rapping about selling drugs and shooting people is absolutely evil and devoid of any and all artistic value, or you can say that it's ultra-edgy "ghetto reporting" and that these MCs are our new protest poets, performing an invaluable public service. Again, there is no middle ground, and everyone is going to judge you by the stance you take.
14. When mainstream rappers say sexist or homophobic things, it's not worth talking about because we should all just expect it. When underground rappers say sexist or homophobic things, they're just displaying their realness; they're not like all those indie-rap nerds. Either way, never criticize anyone for sexism or homophobia.
15. When you open up the press kit of an unknown indie hip hop artist and read things like “Artist X is the new face of hip hop, blazing trails worldwide with his rabid fan base and mind-blowing live show” or “Artist X is the perfect combination of 2pac, Biggie and Kanye, but with that southern flavor that’s so hot right now,” BELIEVE IT. Why would they lie to you? A good press kit writes the review for you. How nice!
16. Music writing isn’t so much like other kinds of nonfiction writing; it’s more like poetry. If you like the beats, don’t talk about what samples are present or what producer is an obvious influence, say things like “The undulating, chicken-fried bassline meshes perfectly with the twittering hi-hat chirps while every snare is a far-off supernova—distant yet magnificent; the overall effect creates a ghetto-gothic gumbo of post-9/11 paranoia, neo-throwback boom-bap and objective subjective reality.”
17. If you call an artist by their government name (especially first name only), it elevates you to his/her status in the minds of your readers. This is good, because writing about hip hop is a lot like hip hop itself; it’s not so much how talented you are as it is how people perceive you.
18. Pretty much everything even halfway good is a “classic.”
19. If you choose to write about hip hop in a format beyond an album review or interview, perhaps a scholarly paper or book, feel free to use the culture to validate any agenda you already have. Also, don’t write about hip hop after 1997 or so; just regurgitate what Jeff Chang has already said about the Bronx and whatnot. Finally, assign complex literary, aesthetic or philosophical meanings to everything—samples, throwaway punchlines, album covers, everything. When you overanalyze a piece of art, you can talk about it using your language, on your terms, completely out of context. It’s much easier than actually trying to understand where the artist is coming from.
20. Once your piece is published and people start posting comments on it, be sure to respond to every single one of them. Also, take every comment personally. If someone didn’t like your positive review of the new Slaughterhouse or Esoteric album, insinuate that they MUST love Soulja Boy and the Black Eyed Peas. WRITE IN ALL CAPS TO ENSURE THAT THEY KNOW YOU’RE SERIOUS.
Any other tips people want to share?
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
Friday, 9/11 at Eclipse Records (all ages!): No Bird Sing CD release show:
September kicks off with a bang. Very excited about all three of these. We'll likely be adding some spoken-word-only dates to capitalize on the national championship, and will be touring at the end of the month. Tremendous.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Friday, August 07, 2009
We'll be facing San Francisco, Albuquerque and NY's Nuyorican team. And we have most of our best poems left. It's going to be wild.
Just got back from semis. We faced off against Oakland, NY's Urbana team, Orlando and Austin's NeoSoul team. A big, challenging bout. Khary and Sierra both got perfect scores on two absolutely mind-blowing poems. Mike did a brilliant piece and kind of got robbed. And by the time I got up as our anchor, we had a comfortable lead so I did "Love in the Time of Zombies" and closed it out for us. We're all very pleased with how we performed, and more importantly with the quality of the pieces we brought this year.
Personal aside: it's weird-- back home, I'm probably the most famous person on the team. I get the most press; I'm our Grand Slam champion-- not saying I'm the best; just that I'm the most well-known. HERE, however, I'm like the faceless nobody on this team. Both Khary and Sierra are superstars in the slam community, and Mike knows everyone from College Nationals. It's kind of fun being the weird guy nobody knows anything about. Or talks to. Or looks at. Haha.
Overall, this Nationals has been a great experience. It feels so good to be on a team that's writing and performing high-quality work and not just pandering and doing easy bullshit. There's been a lot of that this year, by the way. I'd like to say I've seen dozens of brilliant, inspiring pieces, but I'd be lying. Some really good stuff here and there, to be sure, but all in all it's been frustrating.
But at least we're doing well. We'll see how Finals shakes out. It'd be great to rep the Midwest and take home a win. Personally, though, I just hope the poetry is good. I know we'll be bringing some pieces we really love and have confidence in. Thanks for all the support!
Thursday, August 06, 2009
We took first place in both our preliminary bouts. I think we're ranked in the top five (out of 68).
Most importantly, we've killed our pieces. High scores are great, but I'm really happy this team is writing and performing quality work. We have a KILLER semifinals setlist, and it would be very cool to make finals this year.
Will post some photos later.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
"Land of the Sandpeople" LIVE at SoundSet '09 (w/ See More):
The video that ran with my feature in the Pioneer Press:
Monday, July 27, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
So I'm back in Minneapolis now after a week in Chicago coaching the MN youth slam team at BRAVE NEW VOICES. Both me and Khary (aka 6 is 9, the other coach) are very proud of our team. They all performed their pieces on stage more powerfully than they ever have anywhere else, which just blew me away.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Remembering 1934--When Minneapolis Became a Union Town.
Saturday, July 25
The festival site at 7th Ave N and 3rd St N is one block away from an intersection where Minneapolis police gunned down 67 strikers on Friday July 20, 1934. Two strikers died of their wounds. "We will never forget the sacrifices the strikers made," says Jim McGuire, coordinator of the festival and a union shop steward. "After the strike was won, Minneapolis became one of the strongest union cities in the country. We have been benefiting ever since."
"We call our One Day In July celebration the counter-Aquatennial," McGuire says. "The Minneapolis Aquatennial was created in 1940 by business interests concerned about the tens of thousands of working people who flocked to annual summer picnics organized by the Teamsters union, heard pro-labor speeches and celebrated union culture. At One Day in July, we take back our working class history, culture and traditions."
Friday, July 03, 2009
We're going into the studio today with a VERY special guest to record the first song on AN UNWELCOME GUEST, our upcoming album. We'll be finishing up all the recording next week. While the album should be done this summer, we won't be releasing it until late in 2009, but we have a few special treats that will come out before then. Keep checking back.
This album is something very special. I'll be posting/talking about it a lot in the next few months. Stay tuned. Thanks!