Monday, December 12, 2011

2011 Year in Review

So this is the fourth one of these that I've done (2008, 2009, 2010), and I'll let you in on a secret: this is for my own mental health.  As any independent artist (or activist) knows, this kind of work is stressful, and I need to remind myself that what I'm doing has an impact and that no one does what I do.  And I'm proud of that and make no apologies for being proud.  So here's what I did this year:

A Loud Heart -- The Illusion of Movement from Unique Techniques on Vimeo.
1. Released the acoustic hip hop collaboration A LOUD HEART with Claire Taubenhaus. We’re still in the middle of the promo push for this, but the album seems to have really struck a chord with people.  The acoustic style isn’t for everyone, obviously (and I have a couple of not-so-great reviews to prove that), but I know that this is some of my deepest, most challenging writing ever (especially on Moving Train and Revolver), and Claire knocks it out of the park too. Listen here for free, and buy it if you like it.  And a City Pages write-up here.

2. Released a re-mastered re-imagining of my mixtape CONSCIOUS IS NOT ENOUGH, an all-political collection of songs about the importance of organizing and the power of community. There are a few gems on there—“Your Boyfriend’s a Republican,” “Ink” and more.  Download it for FREE here.

3. I was asked to write and perform a new piece for the Dawn of a Dream gala, a fundraiser for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. I went to the Amplatz Children’s Hospital and met with doctors, patients and families, doing more research for a poem than I’ve ever done, and ended up with a piece that made me more nervous than I’ve ever been.  But I got a standing ovation from a crowd of 800 people dressed in suits and evening gowns, so it worked out. And we raised a million dollars in one night.  And yes, I'm wearing a suit that matches the backdrop and talking into a Janet Jackson-style headset mic.

4. I was asked to speak/perform at Occupy MN multiple times, and it was inspiring to take part in what we may end up looking back on as the most important social movement of our generation. My piece here definitely wasn’t a good capital-P POEM, but it said some stuff that I think needed to be said. I’m most excited about what the Twin Cities Occupy movement is becoming—a movement to resist foreclosures and help out our neighbors when the banks come around. Some amazing things are happening now and will continue to happen in 2012.  Bonus video: me performing the Guante & Big Cats! song "The Hero" live at Occupy MN.

5. In March, I officially launched the MN Activist Project, a database of progressive activist organizations (plus tips and resources for activists) in the Twin Cities and beyond. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s a great start.  We had a launch party at Intermedia Arts that featured some truly surprising, inspiring work from local artists. The video above is me talking about the project at Fifth Element in MPLS with Kevin Beacham.

6. We continued the Hip Hop Against Homophobia concert series with four performances—one at the U of MN Whole, one at the Canvas teen arts center, and two at Patrick’s Cabaret. Each one brought diverse crowds together and showcased some top-notch talents. As we try to evolve from a concert series into a larger media movement, I’m hoping that more artists will get involved—especially with the ridiculous marriage amendment on the ballot this year. As people who travel around the state talking to big groups of people, artists are in a good position to actually help lead the charge against the amendment.

7. I served for my second year as arts coordinator of the Canvas, a St. Paul teen arts center.  I actually just left that position last month, and I'm incredibly thankful that I was able to serve and meet so many great people.  Just this past year, I visited almost every St. Paul high school, hosted open mics, ran the sound board for teen concerts, facilitated community organizing workshops, performed a bunch of times, facilitated the teen writers' circle, worked on programming and promotion and what seemed like a billion other things.  And I'll still be over there every Monday at 4:30 for the writing circle.

8. Tons of workshops and lectures: I gave the keynote address at the Tomorrow’s Leaders Today conference in Duluth, a public lecture on the relationship between art and social movements at Northland College, talked for an hour about that same subject on Wisconsin Public Radio, hosted the Poetry Out Loud State Finals competition at the Fitzgerald, gave a speech at Central High School’s National Honors Society induction ceremony, and facilitated workshops at the APIA Spoken-Word Summit, the Loft’s Teen Writers’ Summit, the Hmong Women Write Now! Conference and more I'm probably forgetting now.

9. Through COMPAS and on my own, I engaged in writing/performance residencies or workshops at Tri-County Schools up in Karlstad, Edison High, Anne Sullivan school, Forest Lake ALC, Roseville Middle School, the School for Environmental Studies, the Rivertown Commons community center, Great River School, Onalaska High way over in WI and more, working with hundreds of students and helping to facilitate a whole lot of expression and growth.

10. Played (and often organized) some wild shows: the AFL-CIO pavilion at the MN State Fair, Death Poetry Jam at Intermedia Arts, EQ at the Loft with Idris Goodwin, the Fineline with B.Dolan, the Cub Foods parking lot for the CTUL protests, the UW-Madison Terrace with Kristoff Krane and Not Enough Mics, a couple of shows at the Entry with Toki Wright, Junkyard Empire and Prayers for Atheists, a whole bunch of different college gigs and out-of-town shows... and I played at a Bowling Alley with Black Blondie, which might be the weirdest I've ever felt on stage.

11. Although I kind of took the year off from slam, I've been writing and performing spoken-word more than ever (and hosting a LOT).  I even got to be on MN Original to talk about spoken-word and slam poetry.  A few newer videos:

MN Original Interview:

Confessions of a White Rapper:

The Fist that Lives in Your Neck (Cartpushers):


A Prayer for Indie Rappers:

12. I did less freelancing this year (though I did get an op-ed about youth arts programs in the Pioneer Press and a book review in Rain Taxi), instead focusing on publishing stuff here.  I also have the best Twitter feed in the TC rap scene, haha.  A few of the higher-traffic posts, not counting the Occupy stuff and music/poetry stuff listed above:
That's it, I guess.  As a poet, rapper, essayist, activist and educator, it's been the busiest year ever for me, and also the most rewarding.  I'm not on the cover of the City Pages or going on tour with Atmosphere or whatever, but I know that what I'm doing is both high quality on the arts side and makes a real, concrete impact on the community side-- and that's all I care about.  I also knew when I moved here four years ago that it would take me about five years to get to where I want to be.  2012 has always been marked on my mental calendar, and I have some big things planned.

More than anything, I just want to give endless thanks to those who have supported me this year.  I can't tell you how much your retweets and Facebook wall posts and link-forwarding and word-of-mouth support and just face-to-face encouragement mean to me-- that kind of little stuff really makes a difference. So thanks again.

...and there's still one more very big announcement to make before 2011 is over.  Check back soon.

1 comment:

Gifted Gear said...

I'm a fairly young singer-songwriter from Washington and earlier this year, I had the longest creative dry spell.
Then I discovered your music when somebody on some forum that I can't remember the name of linked Conscious Is Not Enough 2011.

I've listened to hip hop all my life, but my own music (the stuff I write and play) has generally tended toward folk, so the idea of creating hip hop had never seriously crossed my mind. Listening to that tape though, something just clicked and I was inspired to write.
To my surprise, the rhymes I was writing about homophobia and Cthulhu were actually pretty good, and my flow (though admittedly lacking breath control) wasn't bad either.

So I guess what I'm saying is thanks for inspiring me to write and to try something new. More generally, thanks for making awesome music.

High hopes for 2012,

P.S. In regards to Confessions of a White Rapper, I'd listened to Conscious is Not Enough twice before I actually saw a picture of you; up to that point I'd assumed you were Hispanic. So yeah.