Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Few Intro-to-Guante Links: Poetry, Music and More

Tons of new traffic here lately, thanks to both an Upworthy post and a string of big performances this past month. First: thanks so much for checking out the site. Here's a quick intro to me:

I'm Guante. Here's my official bio, including links to all social media, and nice things people have written about me. To expand on that:

I'm a Spoken-Word Poet
I'm a two-time National Poetry Slam champion, which doesn't necessarily mean much, but I've been doing this for about ten years. I write a lot about working class identity, gender & masculinity, race and culture. A big part of my work as a poet is facilitating workshops or discussions on power, identity, privilege and activism, using art as a jumping off point. You can browse ALL of my spoken-word videos here.

I'm an MC
I split my time these days between poetry gigs and hip hop gigs. My most recent release is an EP with Dem Atlas (who just signed to Rhymesayers, incidentally) and Rube called "Sifu Hotman." It's just some fun, uptempo, sharp hip hop stuff. My last proper album was a collaboration with producer Big Cats called "You Better Weaponize." That's my personal masterpiece, if I may say so, a project that really expresses who I am as an artist. I also have a free sampler of songs on my Soundcloud that's a good intro to what I do. Stream and/or download all of these projects here.

I'm an Educator/Writer/Activist too
I do a lot of stuff. Not trying to inflate my own ego; you kind of have to do a lot of stuff to survive these days. A few other points:
  • My primary work is traveling to colleges to perform and facilitate workshops. I also work in high schools and middle schools as an artist-in-residence. If you want to book me, here's how to do that.
  • I used to write a regular column on social justice issues (and more) at Opine Season, and also write at this site occasionally. Here's my archive, including pieces on feminism, whiteness, language, activism and much more. I also have a few essays coming out in anthologies soon.
  • I helped build the MN Activist Project and the Hip Hop Against Homophobia concert series, and continue to consult and do media work with various activist organizations and nonprofits. Some cool resources here too.
  • Here in the Twin Cities, I'm the director of communications for TruArtSpeaks and do a lot of work with them to further organize our youth spoken-word scene. I coached our Brave New Voices team in both 2009 and 2013.
There are a million other things. Explore the site. Like the Facebook page; follow me on Twitter. Thanks! More content coming before the year is out.

Friday, November 22, 2013

New Video for "Ten Responses to the Phrase 'Man Up'"


This poem has been out there for a while; the original is up past 100,000 views. The original also happens to be the first time I'd ever performed it, very soon after it was written. The video above is a revised, memorized version, and I think the quality is a little better.

Thanks to Button Poetry for capturing it and posting it. What they've done over the past year in terms of being a major signal boost to slam poets all over the country has been inspiring and important.

And just as a snapshot of my life: I'll be on MPR today at 9am discussing the legacy of JFK and reframing the idea of "service." Then performing with the legendary Jamie DeWolf tonight at 6:30pm at the U of MN's Bell Auditorium. Then giving a keynote tomorrow morning on social media stuff at the Fall Media Forum. Then finishing up my new mixtape. Check out the FB page for details on all that stuff.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On Power and History: Five False Equivalencies

Originally published at Opine Season

I met a college student last month who didn’t understand why so many people were angry about blackface (as part of a Halloween costume). Like a lot of people, he just saw it as “dress-up,” not as any kind of provocative or political statement. After we had a conversation about the history of blackface, however, he got it. The problem was that a lack of historical perspective resulted in an incomplete picture.

Without an understanding of how power works, both in the present and historically, of course people are going to set up false equivalencies, push back against discussions of privilege, and refuse to engage with social justice issues. Frequently, if conversations about offensiveness and privilege aren’t also conversations about history and power, they don’t go anywhere.

In my work, I come across the false equivalencies that result from this lack of historical context with alarming regularity. A few common ones:

“If you think ‘Redskins’ is so offensive, why aren’t you also protesting the Vikings?”
Well, “Viking” isn’t a racial slur, first of all. But this also relates to any Indian-themed mascot—Chiefs, Indians, Braves, etc. The larger issue is that Scandinavian people don’t carry with them a centuries-long history of betrayal, oppression and genocide. Scandinavian people aren’t economically, politically and socially marginalized. And Scandinavian people aren’t currently protesting or speaking out about how Viking mascots/logos perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reflect the silencing of Scandinavian voices in other realms.

“How come Johnny Depp shouldn’t play Tonto but it’s okay for Idris Elba to play Heimdall, a Norse god?”
First, there’s the simple matter of numbers. “Whitewashing” characters happens a lot more than the opposite, especially when we’re talking about lead characters (as opposed to extras, comic relief, sidekicks, etc.). Second, the practice of casting white actors over actors of color is connected to a long, painful history of silencing the voices and experiences of people of color, normalizing whiteness and centering our collective mythology around heroes who are white.

I’d be fine (well, fine-ish) with a white Kaneda (in the proposed “Akira” adaptation) or a white Katara (in “The Last Airbender”) if there were a ton of other opportunities for Asian or Indigenous actors to get good work in Hollywood. But there aren’t. There are hardly any. “Colorblind casting” or “just trying to get the best actor for the role” are fine concepts in theory, but they almost always play out in harmful, status-quo-supporting ways.

“Why do people complain about women being objectified in media when men are too?”
Let’s use comics as an example. Yes, Batman has perfect abs. Namor wears some very revealing clothing. Most male superheroes have sculpted, sexy physiques too, just like the women.

But the objectification of women in comics is tied to the objectification of women in real life. Here’s a video game example: Liu Kang and Kitana might both have perfect bodies, lots of exposed flesh and non-existent personalities, but if they were real people, one of them would be making less money for performing the same fatalities.

There are many reasons why men outnumber women by such wide margins in politics, business and positions of power and authority in general. One of them is because women have had to deal with discrimination, paternalism, lack of representation and harmful stereotypes (less capable, too emotional, etc) for thousands of years. They’re also viewed as objects, in part because of how they’re represented in media.

“Why are so many artists speaking out against ‘Miss Saigon’ at the Ordway? That’s just censorship.”
Censorship is about power. A group of concerned citizens trying to convince a multi-million dollar institution to change, or trying to spread the word about the problems with the musical, or protesting outside the theater—none of this is “censorship.” (Be sure to read David Mura’s piece on this here).

Compare this to an educational institution reprimanding an educator who dared to have a discussion about racism in her class. Whether or not you use the word “censorship,” the power dynamics are simply different—and those power dynamics matter.

“I know what it’s like to be oppressed too because one time I was the only white kid in an African-American studies class!”
As all of these examples illustrate, oppression is bigger than “feeling uncomfortable.” It’s about representation, money, and power. It’s about how institutions are structured. It’s about history, and how historical events, trends and attitudes continue to affect the present. Without this larger perspective, conversations about social justice are likely to remain just that: conversations.

Friday, November 08, 2013

YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE One Year Later: "Name Your Price" For a Limited Time!

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Guante & Big Cats album "YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE," we're making it pay-what-you-want (including nothing) for a very limited time. Click the cover below to go get it.


I think it's the best music I've ever made, and some of the best music Big Cats has ever made too. From the songwriting, to the concepts, to the humor, to the poetry, to the dynamics, to the substance-- there is nothing else like this album in hip hop, indie or otherwise, and that's what I'm most proud of.



A few kind words:

"An all-around firebrand... the tracks are political but also personal, impassioned without becoming preachy, and always original." --Josh Jackson, Paste Magazine

"Guante and Big Cats create intelligent, political hip hop that mercifully doesn't come off as preachy or self-righteous. It's sobering, demanding your attention like a car crash, yet emotional and alarmingly intimate at times." --Michael L. Walsh, City Pages

"While 'Weaponize' contains sexy beats, biting social critique, and a hard-to-ignore case against apathy, deep down what it really all boils down to seems to be one simple thing: love..." –Jon Behm, Reviler

“Since he emerged in the Twin Cities a half-decade ago, Guante has built an artistic empire of forward-thinking ideals. Assertions on gender issues, institutional racism, class warfare, identity politics, and homophobia, among other progressive causes, show up in his work paired with the haunting stomp of Big Cats! bangers as the backdrop.” –Jack Spencer, City Pages

“Their new album captures Guante at his best as he delivers powerful cultural and sociopolitical theses with a blazing clarity, and it serves as excellent companion piece to P.O.S and Brother Ali's latest records.” –Andrea Swensson, The Current

“Guante establishes himself as the Twin Cities answer to East-Coast lyrical gods like Pharaohe Monch…” –Zach McCormick, The Wake

"Political rap. Conscious rap. Smart rap. Whatever you want to call it rap– You Better Weaponize is exactly what I love about all things hip hop..." --ChooseMyMusic.org