Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Guante Year in Review: Some Reflections, Plus Songs, Poems, and Videos You May Have Missed

AKA "stuff I did while not writing papers or being in class this year." Check out previous years here: 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014


1. Performances: United Nations, Big Shows, College Gigs
Thought I'd kick this year-in-review off with my brand new booking reel, courtesy of PCP. That was the major theme this year, after all: I performed and/or spoke at 25 different colleges and universities all over the country, and 2016 should see even more of that. I also got a chance to perform at the United Nations (read the recap here), co-keynote the Building Bridges Conference with Jessica Valenti, and perform at the Equilibrium SuperShow with Patricia Smith (and two dozen other incredible poets). As for stuff I had more of a hand in organizing, we sold out the U of MN's Whole Music Club for the second year in a row with our "Page.Stage.Engage" event, and kicked off a brand new concert series: #YesYesYes: a show devoted to consent and healthy sexuality. Endless thanks to the people who show up to these things.


2. Sifu Hotman's "Matches" Featured on Welcome to Night Vale
This was unexpected, but also very cool. I actually hadn't heard of what I now know is the biggest podcast in the world until a friend suggested I submit music. They picked up the song, and the result was a deluge of people checking out our music who would have otherwise probably never heard of us. If you don't know Sifu Hotman, it's a hip hop trio featuring me, Dem Atlas, and producer/DJ Rube. Check out our album here.

3. A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry
A compilation album of new songs, remixes, remastered tracks, and basically what I think is all of my best material up until this point, the idea of this album is that it's an entry point for anyone interested in my work. Drawing from Guante & Big Cats, A Loud Heart, Sifu Hotman, and random solo songs, it collects a ton of songs that I'm really proud of. 

It also features guest appearances from Dem Atlas, Chastity Brown, Kristoff Krane and more. On top of that, it's a promo, so you can download it for FREE.

4. New Poem Videos
I actually recorded a ton of new videos this year, but most of them are slated for a 2016 release. Still, here are a few new ones courtesy of Button Poetry. The first one is a new poem about consent; I shared a few further thoughts on this one here.


Here's a new video for an older poem of mine, "Starfish." I also wrote up a few thoughts on this one.


5. New Music
First, one of my favorite new tracks; produced by Ganzobean; video by Adam J. Dunn:


Longtime friend and collaborator See More Perspective let me hop on this Star Wars-themed song. We actually performed a version of this at Soundset way back in '09, so it's great to finally be releasing something, especially right as Ep.7 is hitting theaters.


Two singles from the upcoming Guante & Katrah-Quey album, "Post-Post-Race."



A guest verse: me, Crescent Moon (of Kill the Vultures, Mixed Blood Majority), & Judah Boi:


Finally, another guest verse: here's Jared Paul, me and Ceschi on a song from Jared's album:


5. TruArtSpeaks, New Writing, and Other Stuff
A huge part of my schedule this year was working with TruArtSpeaks-- in-school residencies, hosting the open mic, helping to facilitate the Youth Advisory Board and various workshops, etc. If you're into hip hop, spoken word, youth power and social justice, you should know about that organization (including two things on the immediate horizon: the "Write to Be Heard" youth spoken word workshops over winter break, and the start of the 2016 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series in January).

Here are a few things I wrote this year. It isn't all here, but I wrote a lot this year... actually wrote a whole book, but I'm not thinking about a release for that until 2016. Stay tuned. In the meantime:

6. Looking Ahead to 2016
I have one semester of grad school left. Will be hitting the road this spring anyway, but then hitting it doubly hard in the Fall. If you want to bring me to your school or city, get in touch.

We'll be releasing a VINYL SINGLE of the Sifu Hotman song "Matches" pretty soon too. It's maybe my favorite song I've ever written, so I'm glad it's getting the vinyl treatment. Also, the b-side is a Mr. Fantastic remix of our song "Embrace the Sun" featuring a new guest verse from Tall Paul, and he blacks out on it. Really excited for people to hear it.

The new album, Guante & Katrah-Quey's "POST-POST-RACE" is being mixed now and should be released in early 2016. It's all songs about race and racism. Yeah. More on that soon.

Hoping to release the book in 2016 too. It's done; just figuring out the timing/logistics.

Finally, I have a lot of new videos scheduled for 2016 release, including some of my own work (brand new poems plus re-recordings of some old ones) and some other people's work that I'll be hosting on my YouTube page. As always, the shares, the re-posts, the word-of-mouth-- all of that is greatly appreciated. Thanks again for the support.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

New Video! "Land of the Sandpeople" (See More Perspective featuring Guante)



If you don't know, See More Perspective is the best. We've been working together for years, and actually wrote and recorded this song a pretty long time ago. I remember performing some version of it at Soundset way back in '09.

His brother Nye produced it (one of my favorite beats ever, by the way), and I knew that he had been working on a video for it as well. I just never thought the video would just happen to be done the same week as the premier of Episode 7. Good timing.

Check out everything on See More's bandcamp page as well; his last album in particular is pretty incredible, and he has a new one coming soon.

Monday, December 07, 2015

New Song: "One Bad Cop" by Guante & Katrah-Quey w/ G.P. Jacob and Tish Jones


"One Bad Cop" is the second single from the upcoming album “Post-Post-Race,” the debut collaboration from Twin Cities MC/poet Guante and producer Katrah-Quey. Featuring quotable guest verses from G.P. Jacob and Tish Jones, the song tackles not just police brutality in general, but one very specific element of it: how so much of the conversation in media focuses on the specific details of each individual case, while failing to make connections to the broader trends of police violence, institutional racism, and mass incarceration. Like the duo's first single, "White People on Twitter," this song is about digging deeper and striving to think critically-- especially important considering the current #justice4jamar protests growing in the artists' backyard, Minneapolis.

Music: Katrah-Quey: @kqbeats
Words: G.P. Jacob: @GP_Jacob | Guante: @elguante | Tish Jones: @TheTishJones
Mixing: Katrah-Quey and Graham O'Brien

That's the official blurb. But a few further thoughts:

The whole album is on its way; as things generally go, it's taking longer than the original plan. But it'll be worth it. There's a song on there with Jayanthi Kyle that might be one of the best songs I've been part of. A bunch of other tracks we're excited to share too. We're in the mixing/mastering phase, so we're probably looking at a January/February release. But as always, it's done when it's done.

The album delay is one of the reasons we wanted to release another single. Another reason, however, is the context. The #justice4jamar protests and #4thprecinctshutdown were and are watershed moments in the movement for racial justice here in the Twin Cities. So regardless of whether you listen to the song, here are some links you should know about (as always, these links aren't about saying that these are the only organizations or entities involved; just good places to start to get more info):
Finally, one last link: this will be my last show of 2015: Sunday, December 13 at the 7th St. Entry for Aym Telos' album release party; w/ Sarah White, EJ and more!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Registration for the 2016 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series is Now Open!

The Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series takes place every January through March, and 2016 should be the biggest one yet. Five prelims, two semifinals, and one huge Finals slam-- all for Minnesota poets between the ages of 13 and 19.

As always, yeah, being one of the final six poets who go on to represent Minnesota at Brave New Voices is great-- but the slam series is so much bigger than that. It's an opportunity to share your work, to plug into this incredible community, and BUILD with people from all over the state.

The full schedule and registration form are here. Remember, you can compete in as many prelims as you want, so signing up for the first or second of the five is a good tactical move. Just something to consider.

ALSO, if you have any interest in working with me, I'll be facilitating a special three-day intensive spoken-word workshop over winter break! December 28, 29, and 30th at the MPLS Central Library's Mark E. Johnson Conference Room. 2-4pm each day. These are FREE and open to anyone between the ages of 13 and 19, no matter how much/little experience you have.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

November 6: "Page.Stage.Engage" at the U of MN's Whole Music Club + A Free Playlist of Some of My "Political" Songs

Just announced: on Friday, November 6, I'll be performing at the U of MN Coffman Union's Whole Music Club at 8pm along with Tish Jones, members of the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam team, plus a couple of special guests TBA. 7:30pm doors, all ages, free. (Facebook event page).

I've visited more than a dozen colleges just this Fall, and have had the opportunity to both perform for and build with students, staff, and faculty all over the country. Using art as a jumping off point to have deeper discussions about issues of power, identity, activism and more, it's been a great time, and this capstone event will be yet another chance to explore how art can respond to injustice in concrete, meaningful ways.

While I'll be performing a mix of poetry and music at the event, I thought I'd make a quick playlist of some of my favorite "political" songs of mine, all available for free download (though you do have to click through on the individual track you want to download to get to the link) for anyone interested:

Sunday, October 04, 2015

New Song: "No Quits Till" by Jared Paul x Ceschi x Guante



"I don't believe that the song/ is all we have to offer; I believe the singers are strong."

That line captures a lot of what I think when people ask me about the role of artists in social movements. It's all part of this brand new track from Jared Paul's new album featuring both me and Ceschi Ramos (I'm the second verse). Pre-order his album here via Sole's Black Box Tapes label. Jared and Ceschi have both been real leaders when it comes to radical, DIY poetry and hip hop, so it's cool that we got this chance to do a song together.

More new music soon; if you missed it, here's a link to "White People on Twitter," the first track from the upcoming Guante & Katrah-Quey project.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Protesting the Band "Viet Cong": Another Example of How Organizing Around "Little Things" Impacts the Larger Culture

(9/19/15: UPDATE: three days after publishing this piece, the band announced it was changing its name. I can only assume it was because of this writing, haha. For real, though, respect to all of the organizers and advocates who made noise about this)

...they explained that their name came from a moment when their bass player was holding his instrument like a weapon. One of them remarked, "All you need is a rice paddy hat and it would be so Viet Cong." (source)

You may or may not already know: there's this band called Viet Cong. And you also may or may not know: that name is offensive to a whole lot of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian people.

They're about to play First Ave. here in Minneapolis, and here's the petition asking/demanding: "change your band's name, and provide more critical thought into whatever it is that you choose."

I signed it, and I'd encourage you to sign it too. I'll share a few further thoughts below, but I'd suggest people first check out the text of the petition ("The name is a reminder of a history’s worth of violence and trauma to many Southeast Asian communities..."), and also read these links for some background info and commentary:
I can hear the questions already.  Here are my answers, for what they're worth:

Saturday, August 08, 2015

"White People on Twitter:" The First Single from the New Guante & Katrah-Quey Album, "Post-Post-Race"


“White People on Twitter” is the first single from the upcoming album “Post-Post-Race,” the debut collaboration from the Twin Cities’ Guante & Katrah-Quey. Over Katrah-Quey’s disarmingly subtle, contemplative beat, Guante (a two-time National Poetry Slam champion in addition to a critically-acclaimed MC and social justice activist) lays out all of the common complaints and evasions from white people whenever the subject of racism comes up, building from a clever, laugh-to-keep-from-crying deconstruction of #AllLivesMatter tropes to a devastatingly serious look at the consequences of those attitudes.

Music: Katrah-Quey: @kqbeats | Words: Guante: @elguante
Mixing: Evan Bakke and Graham O'Brien

...so that's the official blurb. A few more thoughts:

My biggest worry with releasing this song isn't trolls or that white kids might "un-like" my Facebook page. It's that the song is very much part of the album, and the album has a specific thing that it's trying to do. This is the first track, so even though it has its own self-contained "breezy-half-funny-intro-transitioning-into-a-serious-point," it's also very much the setup to a larger arc.

I actually had no plans to release an album this year. But then I got a folder of beats from Katrah-Quey, spurred by a relatively random Twitter exchange between us and Lydia Liza. While brainstorming song ideas, I found myself only being able to write about race, based on all of my Twitter conversations, real-life conversations, and the work that I do as a touring artist/facilitator. The danger in that, of course, is assuming that "writing about race" is automatically a good thing, especially coming from someone who looks like me. I've written songs about race before (like "The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege" and "Other"), but never an album-length analysis/deconstruction/exploration/whatever.

So I decided to run with the impulse to write songs about race, racism, whiteness, and racial justice activism in the age of #BlackLivesMatter, but did it only under two conditions. First, it had to be a platform for multiple voices, and not just me. So there are a lot of guest artists on the album, each bringing their own perspectives to the project. Second, it couldn't just be "songs about race." It had to have something more specific to say, something deeper to contribute to the conversation.

Which brings us back to this single, which doesn't necessarily illuminate those two important points. What it does, hopefully, is set the stage for them. We don't have a release date yet (just trying to record a couple more guest appearances and finish the mixing/mastering), but this is work that I think is as conceptually grounded, as lyrically focused, and as musically engaging as anything I've done yet. Excited to share it. Lyrics after the jump:

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

"A Pragmatist's Guide to Revolution (Graham O'Brien Remix)" Plus Links About the Effectiveness of Protest


This song is included on my latest release, a free sampler mix pulling together some of the songs I've written that are most important to me. Big Cats produced the original version (here), and Graham O'Brien produced this one, which mashes up two verses from that song, a third verse from another song, and a hook from yet another song. I like the overall effect, and love this beat (especially the outro-- listen to the whole song!)

My "political" writing tends to be pretty specific-- a song about sexual politics, a song about whiteness in indie hip hop, a song about language & bullying, etc. At first glance, this song might seem like a departure from that, more of an all-purpose "conscious MC 'political' song." And there are elements of that in here, but I wrote this song to make another fairly specific point: that change comes from organized struggle, from everyday people working together to build the world that they want. It isn't just about electing the right people, or hoping things will inevitably work out; it's about actively shaping history through intentional activism and solidarity.

"Marching around with signs doesn't really change anything" is such a shallow analysis of what "marching around with signs" represents. Of course, on a literal level, a single protest doesn't change the system. But protest organizers know this. A march is never about magically fixing everything; it's about a range of tactical considerations: plug-in points for new activists, media coverage and narrative-shaping, a public show of force to foreshadow future electoral (or extra-electoral) power, a space for solidarity and emotional release, a jumping off point for even more intentional organizing inside & outside systems, etc.

The same could be said for social media-- a hashtag along doesn't change the world. But it can be an incredibly useful tool for raising awareness, coordinating multi-city efforts, shifting the larger narrative, and building a movement. Movements are, after all, complex machines, with gears of many different sizes turning simultaneously to accomplish different functions. It's personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and the real world has reflected this idea quite a bit lately. A few good links:


"The #BlackLivesMatter movement is already making a difference. We're clearly nowhere near where we need to be, but these recent cases played out differently than they would have a year ago, or five years ago, or ten years ago because of all the work and all the noise that young people have been making while we keep saying that they don't have a plan."

Jay Smooth is the best. I think a lot of people know that already. But this video in particular is super important, in that it recognizes how much still needs to done while affirming that the work being done right now is already starting to bear fruit, that "that mountain is moving." More proof:

Lynette Holloway at The Root:
40 New State Laws Sparked by Michael Brown’s Death in Ferguson

"Who said protesting is ineffective? Since Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Mo., was shot and killed Aug. 9, 2014, by white then-Officer Darren Wilson, lawmakers in nearly every state have proposed changes to the way police deal with the public, according to the Associated Press."

Shaun King at DailyKos:
Just because you don't know what changes protests have produced doesn't mean changes aren't real

"Yet, the refrain I hear far too frequently is, 'Protests don't produce change.' Technically and practically, this just isn't true. First and foremost, offline protests are a way for people of like minds to join together to express their shared pain and frustration. This solidarity is wildly significant but is too often dismissed, mainly by people who don't protest, because they don't haven't experienced it to understand its value. Online, tens of millions of people are now better connected with one another and with the issues around police brutality in ways that are markedly different than anything we saw in 2013 or earlier. While it's despicable that every person killed by police ends up as a hashtag and trending topic, the reality that people killed by police are often the No. 1 trending topic in the world signifies a sea shift in solidarity and awareness of the issue."

Andy Cush at Gawker:
Here's Proof That Black Lives Matter Protests are Working

"Those who argue that forceful demonstrations only serve to entrench people in the positions they’ve already taken are wrong. People are changing their minds. Just like it did for the suffrage movement 100 years ago or civil rights in the ‘60s, public protest is working in 2015. Now all we need is some meaningful policy change."

Julia Craven, Ryan J. Reilly, Mariah Stewart at Huffington Post:
The Ferguson Protests Worked

“What’s sad is it often takes a tragedy,” Oates said. “What happened in Ferguson wasn’t unusual -- which is awful, but true. The response was unusual, and the depth and breadth of the protests was unusual. And you could kind of see it coming from Trayvon Martin ... This rising awareness [about] race and unfairness, and this real question about what was really going on.”

...and if you're looking for a super concrete example, check out this story by Scott Heins at Okayplayer. A lot of people shared this because of the Kendrick Lamar angle, but I think there's a bigger story in this quote:

“Today after the ending of the convening as everyone was walking down the street CPD arrested a 14 yr old,” wrote uploader Blake Piffin. “While everyone was demanding his release an officer pepper sprayed the crowd and further escalated the situation. In unity and solidarity everyone was demanding that he be released, and we stayed and protested until they released him!”

Again, no one is arguing that the struggle is over, or that "marches and rallies" alone are all we need. None of the new laws being passed will end police violence. But this is what movement-building looks like. Here in the Twin Cities, the Black Liberation Project just organized a successful #SayHerName solidarity action, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (one of the most active, effective orgs in the community) are raising money to literally rise from the ashes, and there's more coming from #BlackLivesMatter Minneapolis, Voices for Racial Justice, Communities United Against Police BrutalityTruArtSpeaks, and countless other organizations and individuals are doing good work. As always, it starts with knowing what's going on, then plugging in and getting involved.

Related: 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Maybe Progressives Are Too Critical of Each Other, or Maybe You're Just Not Used to Being Criticized


"The Left is eating itself!"

"We need to focus on our real enemies instead of criticizing each other!"

"Ultra radical social justice warriors are a joke, and their PC-policing will be the end of the progressive movement!"

There was a time when I was a lot more sympathetic to attitudes like this (well, at least the first two). If you're around activists, online and offline, you do start to notice a particular breed of organizer who seems to care more about scoring more-radical-than-thou points than about actually building a movement. They might roll their eyes because you haven't read a particular book, or talk all in academic jargon and then be super condescending when you don't get what they're saying, or swoop in to point out what you did wrong while never actually pitching in.

And yeah, those people are annoying. But they're also relatively rare. The problem is, however, that there seems to be a growing number of progressives who take that basic jackass archetype and apply it to ANYONE who has a critique, or a call for greater inclusiveness, or a challenge to the progressive status quo. So even when people have super legitimate, necessary critiques, they get lumped in with the fringe, characterized as "just as bad" as their radical conservative counterparts.

The reason that I'm no longer sympathetic to those attitudes is that my real-life experience with movement-building has shown me that very rarely is the problem that progressives are too critical; much more often, we are not critical enough.

When Bernie Sanders flubs an opportunity to stand with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we can acknowledge that as a flub and push him (and his relentlessly white campaign) to do better, or we can shout down the critiques, on some "he's really great and the best chance we have for real change so everyone shut up!" (further conversation about this on my FB page).

When a panel discussion on a feminist issue features five white women, and then gets called out for being too white, that's not "nitpicking." That's acknowledging the long tradition of the erasure of indigenous women and women of color from mainstream feminist discourse, and pushing for something better. Maybe it's easier to see it as "not a big deal" when you happen to not be affected by it.

When "well-meaning" talk-show hosts and journalists continue to ask ridiculous, offensive, invasive questions to trans people, we shouldn't all just shut up because they're "trying to raise awareness." There are ways to raise awareness without throwing people's dignity under the bus. Again, they can do better.

The whole "we have to stop making good the enemy of perfect" attitude assumes that those adjectives are objective and universal, ignoring the fact that what so many of us see as "good" can actually be harmful and counterproductive to movement-building efforts. Historically, who has been able to frame this debate and decide what "good" is anyway? Even in progressive circles, it's been people who already have some access to power.

So now when the internet gives a platform to counter-narratives and other definitions of "good," old-school mainstream liberals find themselves being challenged. That's why so much of this discourse is couched in condescending, tech-oriented language ("hashtag activist," "tumblr feminist," etc.), and framed as personal attacks when they're actually critiques of power.

The idea that feminism, for example, has been "taken over" by the man-hating trigger warning reverse racist thought police is as ridiculous as it is weirdly common, and a lot of the people making that argument either benefit from the status quo, or have no dog in the fight anyway. My job lets me meet feminists/activists/leftists from all over, and I can tell you: the problem isn't that "we're too self-critical." A lot more damage is done by those with some access to power refusing to be challenged/critiqued than by the critics themselves. 

The thing that I just cannot wrap my head around is this bizarre belief that it's so HARD, that there's an expectation that everyone has to be PERFECT and we just can't-- as individuals or as a movement-- ever get there. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. But there is an enormous difference between those of us who actively try to do better and those of us who whine and want the rest of the movement to accept us unconditionally. I'm certainly not perfect, but somehow, even as a very vocal, very privileged, public personality talking about a lot of serious issues, my life is not an endless series of call-outs.

If your life does seem like an endless series of call-outs, maybe that's on you. If you're a liberal professor and you're scared of your liberal students because they embody "call-out culture," maybe you deserve to get called out because you're saying or doing things that hurt people.

If you're a guy who doesn't feel welcome in feminist circles, maybe you should think about why you want to be in feminist circles as opposed to introducing feminist ideals into the circles you're already part of.

If you're working on a campaign and you know that your candidate's platform will have a positive effect on communities of color, but those communities aren't supporting you, maybe you need to do more to bridge that gap rather than huff and puff that "they" just don't get it.

Of course, passionate people go too far sometimes. But it's really important to think critically about who gets to define "too far." Because for every bogeyman story about someone caught up in a wave of critique for an honest mistake or misunderstanding, there are many, many more stories about erasure, invisibility, and liberal racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. that have been silenced for decades. Slowly, this is changing. This shift is happening right now, and as progressives, we should have the strategic and moral sense to embrace it.

To me, being a progressive/radical//leftist means challenging established systems of power. Doing that within our own movement doesn't make us weaker when it comes to doing that in our society; everything I've ever learned or experienced as an activist tells me that it makes us immeasurably stronger, and that it's the only way we can actually win.


Further Reading:

Joan Walsh at Salon: Bernie Sanders’ big test: Can he learn from his Netroots Nation conflict with Black Lives Matter activists?

Kat Stoeffel at the Cut: Why I Stopped Rolling My Eyes at Trigger Warnings

Amanda Taub at Vox: The truth about "political correctness" is that it doesn't actually exist

Lindy West at the Guardian: Trigger warnings don’t hinder freedom of expression: they expand it

Roxane Gay at New Republic: Student Activism is Serious Business

Me: "A Visit from the PC Police"

Friday, June 05, 2015

Sifu Hotman T-Shirts, Be Heard MN Team Send Off Show, Other Summertime Updates

A couple of updates:

I posted about this a little while ago, but Sifu Hotman (me, deM atlaS and Rube) was recently featured as "the weather" on the Night Vale Radio podcast, which is apparently one of the biggest podcasts in the world. The response has been bonkers, and it's been beautiful to see that project getting a big second push, because it deserves it.

With the renewed interest, Rube is printing up new t-shirts. He made our beats, and he prints the shirts too-- all in the same studio. Go get one!

In other news, here's a big event to look out for:

TruArtSpeaks has been doing good work all year; this show is a showcase and celebration of the 2015 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam team before they head off to represent MN at Brave New Voices. The Send Off will be on June 15 at Intermedia Arts. The last few shows we threw there were huge, and this should be the most exciting one yet. Hope to see you there. If you can't make it, support the organization's work here through our #7UpForSocialChange campaign!

Also, I should mention that I wasn't planning on releasing any new music anytime soon-- I'm neck-deep in a ton of different artistic and activist projects, and that just wasn't on the agenda. But as it always goes, a producer sends you a folder full of beats, you start writing, and suddenly you have a new album. More news on that soon.

Finally, I am currently booking for Fall and Spring. The calendar is going to fill up fast this year, but if you want to bring me to your school or wherever, check out my booking info page and get in touch!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spoken-Word Tips and Tactics Part 4: Diving In and Getting Involved with Spoken-Word as a Culture


As always, these videos are not meant to be "guides" or teach anyone anything. I'm just sharing tools that have benefited me and the stuff that I think about and try to be intentional about. I'm no expert, but hopefully something in here can be useful for you.

This installment focuses on a question that comes up all the time: how does someone get involved with spoken-word, not just as a form of writing and performance, but as a culture, a community, and potentially even a career? That's a big question, but I share a few thoughts here.

Also, a few links to things that I mention in the video:

TruArtSpeaks (Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series, ReVerb open mic, much more)

List of open mics and slams in the Twin Cities

Well-Placed Commas weekly poetry workshop

This is part four in an ongoing series. Catch the the first three installments here. More to come!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

#YesYesYes Consent-Themed Poetry Show, Sifu Hotman on Night Vale Radio, Other Updates

A few big updates:
On Wednesday, May 20, this consent-themed spoken-word show will be happening at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. Performers include Keno Evol, Thressa Isobel, Kevin Yang, Simone Williams, Kenny Ngo, Sophie & Ally, and See More Perspective, as well as Chava Gabrielle and me. Here's the FB event page.

Chava approached me about collaborating on this event a few months ago, and it's shaping up to be very cool. Sponsors include great organizations like TruArtSpeaks, The Aurora Center, The Sexual Violence Center, Line Break Media, and Intermedia Arts, and we'll be doing some audience-centered interactive stuff too. It's also good timing; if you missed my brand new poem, "Consent at 10,000 Feet," check it out here.


This past Friday, the Sifu Hotman song "Matches" was featured on Welcome to Night Vale. If you don't know, Sifu Hotman is a collaborative hip hop project featuring me, producer Rube, and rising indie-rap star deM atlaS. And Welcome to Night Vale, apparently, is the most popular podcast in the world. A friend suggested we submit some music, and we did, not thinking much of it. But now that they've played it, the response has been overwhelming. It's so great to have this project in particular get a big second push, because I think it's one of the best things I've ever been involved with. If you missed it during the first run, you can get it here.

Update: as of right now, Sifu Hotman's "Embrace the Sun" is also the #1 best-selling hip hop album on Bandcamp. So that's cool.

Lots of other stuff happening, as always. First of all, thanks to Daniel Rangel for the new header photo; more media coming soon. Also, we're still pushing the big #7UpForSocialChange campaign over at TruArtSpeaks, and I'm so excited about that work. Lots of new projects in the works. Lots of shows coming up, especially once we get into autumn. In the meantime, I want to plug my Twitter feed, where I try to share not only updates on my own work, but link to as much cool stuff as I can. That's the best place to keep in touch. Please do.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Watch the Best Spoken-Word Show I've Ever Been Part Of (The Loft's EQ Supershow Full Video)



So this is something really special. In April, for AWP, I got invited by Bao Phi to perform alongside a bunch of my favorite poets at the Equilibrium supershow. Thanks to the Loft Literary Center, you can watch the full show online; the link above is a YouTube playlist of 34 videos.

When I say it's the best show I've ever been a part of, that's not an exaggeration. Watch the whole thing, and if you need some extra motivation, a few highlights:
  • Patricia Smith's headlining set. Again, I'm not trying to be hyperbolic, but Patricia Smith in on a whole other planet poetically. This is the most powerful poetry performance I've ever seen, and is a must-watch for #BlackLivesMatter organizers and advocates.
  • Marcie Rendon with a MN history lesson that got a well-deserved standing ovation.
  • Khary "6 is 9" Jackson with a rare performance of "Limbs," one of my favorite pieces of his.
  • Look at the rest of this lineup: Danez Smith, Ed Bok Lee, Tish Jones, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Marisa Carr, Emmanuel Ortiz, Lorena Duarte, Diego Vázquez Jr, Christy NaMee Eriksen, R. Vincent Moniz, Jr., Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, Juliana Hu Pegues, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, David Mura, Electric Gemini Bailey, Shá Cage, Danny Solis, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, Robert Karimi, Douglas Kearney, Ka Vang, Nimo H. Farah, Moheb Soliman, IBé, Andrea Jenkins, Tou SaiKo Lee, Frank Sentwali, and Louis “Babalu” Alemayehu.
  • A new recording of my poem "Quicksand" too.
I can't stress enough how valuable this playlist is. Channels like Button have done so much when it comes to capturing and documenting 21st century spoken-word, but they can't be everywhere, and a lot of the poets in this playlist don't perform at slams and/or aren't super active on social media. So if you have any interest in spoken-word at all, you owe it to yourself to watch this. Again, endless thanks to Bao and the Loft for making this happen, and to our whole community for being so brilliant and inspiring.
Photo by Anna Min; that's me between David Mura (!) and Patricia Smith (!)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Guante: "Consent at 10,000 Feet" (New Video, Plus Links)


Thanks again to Button Poetry for capturing this and broadcasting it out to so many people. As always, any additional shares/reposts are appreciated. Also, be sure to check out these other poets writing about consent: Britteney Conner, Anna Binkovitz, Imani CezanneCaroline Harvey... please add more if you know any.

UPDATE: check out footage of our #YesYesYes consent-themed show we did here in Minneapolis.

The poem itself is maybe one of the more straightforward things that I've written; I wanted something that could work as a teaching tool, a resource, an additional frame for anyone doing work around this issue. In that spirit, I'd like to share a couple of links for further reading:

"Consent is a mutual verbal, physical, and emotional agreement that happens without manipulation, threats, or head games." --more on consent from Project Respect

"The idea of enthusiastic consent is quite simple. In a nutshell, it advocates for enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity, rather than passive agreement." --more on enthusiastic consent from Persephone Magazine

Book: "Yes Means Yes" from Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti

The classic "Five Ways We Can Teach Men Not to Rape" by Zerlina Maxwell

Feel free to add more links or resources in the comments. Thanks!

Full text of the poem:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Framework For How I Think About Social Media Supporting Social Movements + Links to #BaltimoreUprising Info

I've written about this kind of thing before, and I'd like to be clear that this framework is what I try to remind MYSELF of, not how I think all people everywhere need to operate. If other people can relate to this or use it, great, but I'm not trying to dictate anything to anyone. Especially when I think about my own identities and positionality, these points only really make sense in that context. For example, telling a Black person "you should do more to educate people" would be a super messed-up thing to say. But telling myself that would not be. So please read this spectrum with that in mind.

Also, I'm not particularly interested in being "deep" here. This isn't some profound philosophical discussion about how human beings relate to change-making processes, or a poetic exploration of the roots of racial violence; it's a concrete look at how social media practice can relate to movement-building.

With regards to the #BaltimoreUprising and #FreddieGray protests, a few examples:

1. Silence: So some people are silent because they're ignorant, or because they don't care, but there's also a case to be made, especially for white people, that silence could mean listening, not trying to take up space: two good impulses. But as the rest of this list shows, there are ways to speak up without without speaking over others, especially when we're talking about social media practice. And there's just too much at stake to be completely silent.

2. Platitudes: "We all just need to LOVE each other!" Some platitudes are innocent, but a good amount of them implicitly amount to "why are you talking about this? I'd prefer to not think about it." And then, of course, there's the "All Lives Matter" crowd.

3. "Thoughts and prayers:" The last thing I want to do is disrespect people who are authentically trying to process tragedy and injustice. But I struggle with this one. If saying "my thoughts and prayers are with Baltimore" helps you survive, then I support that; this spectrum, after all, applies to me and yours might look different. But for me, I don't give my own thoughts or prayers much weight. Sometimes a phrase like this can be an excuse to disengage, to say something when you feel powerless to do anything. But I don't believe in powerlessness, as the following points illustrate.

4. Outrage: Sometimes, this is just raw emotion, and that's fine. "This country is messed up and we need to DO something" is a great sentiment, and one I agree with. But this point is in the middle of the spectrum for a reason.

5. Outrage + links to more information: Social media can be really powerful, but not just for the vague push-and-pull of culture battles. It can be used to legitimately transmit information that can be used for the building of movements. So saying "this country is messed up and we need to DO something" AND linking to something like one of the following is more valuable to me than the previous point. A few examples:
6. Outrage + links to concrete actions or organizations: When the question "but what can I do?" is on so many people's minds, I return to the idea that systemic problems require solutions that are bigger than just "striving to be a better person." That means organizing: joining and/or supporting activist organizations that are doing the work. Of course, no organization is perfect, and no single event can magically "fix" things. But these are vital first steps. A few examples:
7. Signal-boosting the activists on the ground: I don't always do this, since it can be tempting to center my social media practice on my own thoughts and opinions. But I think the "tweet less, retweet more" impulse is important. I have opinions, but I'm not in Baltimore, or Ferguson; beyond that, I'm also not Black, and this movement is very much about how #BlackLivesMatter. So shout out to people like @osope, @aliciagarza, @opalayo, @deray, @prisonculture, @karnythia, @blacklivesmpls, @nvlevy, @micamaryjane, @eveewing, @blklivesmatter, @dreamdefenders, @wintanamn, @mnnoc, and the hundreds of other activists and organizers out there. Feel free to add others in the comments.

If you're one of the many people who feels like "I want to say something, but I'm not an expert; I don't have anything to contribute," then finding ways to signal-boost others can be a good option.

8. ADDENDUM SPECIFICALLY FOR ARTISTS:
I don't think it's unfair to say that there's extra pressure on anyone who has a significant social media audience (whether you define that as 5k, 25k, 100k or beyond). ESPECIALLY because, as artists, it is very easy for us to veer into performative allyship, posting the hottest hot-take, being super vague, abstract, and faux-poetic. But we can do better. Artists (especially hip hop artists, my community) reach audiences that organizers don't. When you're tweeting/posting, please keep that in mind. Like this whole continuum illustrates-- you can do some good by tweeting about the movement, but you can also actively help BUILD the movement with a little bit of intentionality.

The key word here, I think, is "specificity." Even though so many of us are conditioned to strive for "timeless" rather than "timely," sometimes being timely is simply more important. This is about how even though we're all planting seeds, there's a difference between randomly scattering wildflower seeds and planting crops.

Also feel free to add other links or resources in the comments. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

City Pages' 2015 "Best of the Twin Cities" Observation

I hate to make other people's accomplishments about me, but this was too funny. Every year, City Pages runs a "Best of the Twin Cities" feature, honoring different local artists and establishments. I've been in it before, as have lots of people. This year, I noticed something cool; not sure if anyone else has made this connection yet:

Best hip hop artist: deM atlaS

Best female vocalist: Claire de Lune

Best producer: Big Cats

Now, aside from these artists being phenomenally talented and wonderful people whom everyone should know about and support, does anyone see the connection between the three of them? I'll give you a hint:

Me and deM atlaS made an album with Rube under the name Sifu Hotman. Me and Claire made an album called A Loud Heart. And me and Big Cats made two albums together, the most recent being You Better Weaponize. Click the links to listen to and/or buy them.

ALSO, the Re-Verb open mic, organized by TruArtSpeaks (the organization I work with as comm director and as a roster artist), was awarded best open mic!

All of this is less about how much impact and influence I have, and more about how good I am at latching onto talented people before they blow up, haha. Congratulations to everyone!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Power Youth Voice with #7UpForSocialChange and TruArtSpeaks


1,429 donations of $7.00 will raise $10,000 towards the sustained programming, mentorship and artistic spaces for Twin Cities youth to engage with in with quality artistic practices that challenge them to view themselves and the world differently. Be part of the change in our community by changing the lives of the youth who shape it - Donate by July 1st, 2015 and Power the Movement.

I got to host the Finals slam this year (which was sold out), and just last night hosted our weekly open mic (which is free, all-ages, and routinely packed). From the big events, to the small events, to the workshops and in-school residencies-- this has already been an incredible year for us, and we are just getting started.

This is about grassroots support for youth voice and youth power. We appreciate big grants and wealthy patrons, but a thousand people each donating a little something means much more. This is about more than just raising money; it's about claiming our collective power and building something that matters together.

Donate $7 at the link. Spread the word!

Also, you can get TruArtSpeaks shirts and chapbooks here!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

New Video for "Starfish" + What a Week in My Life Looks Like


NEW VIDEO for an older poem of mine, courtesy of Button Poetry. Here's the commentary I posted on it:

This is a poem I wrote about the tension that can sometimes exist between doing face-to-face activist/educational/service work that you know is good and that you know has an impact... while not seeing the larger systems/trends change.

As much as we might know on an intellectual level that we need BOTH (for example: we need people who volunteer at the homeless shelter AND people who organize around pushing policies that can end homelessness), it can be a challenge to figure how you fit in, where you should expend your energy. This poem is a reminder for me to continue developing more nuanced frameworks for how I think about change, to value and honor individual contributions while never losing sight of the larger goals of sustainable, institutional transformation.

In that spirit, aside from posting the new video, I thought I'd use this post to kind of walk through my week up to when the video went up. Part of being a multidisciplinary artist/person is that a lot of people don't seem to really understand what it is that I actually do. So what follows is a pretty standard slice of what my life looks like these days, for anyone who might care.

My life is an endless series of whiteboards.
Wednesday 3/4: I teach a class at the U of MN on intersections of hip hop, spoken-word and youth work philosophy. It's more a space for all of us in the class to build with each other, share thoughts, and strategies, etc. At this session, we listened to Heems' "Flag Shopping" and did a guided critical analysis, focusing on form, content, delivery and context. We then analyzed the analysis exercise, pointing out what practices and techniques were used.

Thursday 3/5: In the afternoon, I stopped by Hamline University to guest lecture in a "diversity and education" class. I shared a couple of my poems, did more critical analysis stuff, and then we had a discussion making connections between what those students are studying and the issues and themes that come up in my work. After that, I drove to Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul to facilitate a youth spoken-word workshop, focusing on odes. We watched Alvin Lau's "For the Breakdancers" and talked about what we look for in an ode, how an ode can be challenging, the pros and cons of "preaching to the choir," etc. After that, I hosted the weekly Re-Verb open mic. We had about 15 poets share their work, and the cool thing about that space is that we also engage in some workshopping and constructive feedback.

photo by Hieu Nguyen
Friday 3/6: This was the first semifinal bout in the 2015 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series, organized by TruArtSpeaks. It was at Intermedia Arts in MPLS, and I had the honor of co-hosting alongside up-and-coming MC (and former Be Heard participant) Lucien Parker. It was one of the best poetry slams I've ever witnessed. Completely sold out (including a packed overflow room where people watched the slam on a live feed), incredible energy the whole night, and some really powerful, beautifully-crafted poetry. By the way, FINALS are coming up Saturday, 3/28 at the Capri Theater in MPLS, 6pm. Everyone should be there.

Saturday 3/7: I co-keynoted (along with Jessica Valenti) the annual Building Bridges conference at Gustavus Adolphus College. The conference, which has an annual attendance of about 900, has a different theme every year, and this year's was disrupting and dismantling rape culture. I did an hour-long keynote that included some poems as well as some speechifying, and then did a combined Q&A with Jessica Valenti.

Sunday 3/8: Homework, grocery shopping, real-life stuff. Might have played some Hearthstone.

Monday 3/9: I'm a grad student, and I have my Arts and Cultural Leadership class on Mondays with Tom Borrup. We've had guest presentations from Fres Thao, DeAnna Cummings, and others. Learning a lot.

I like to leave important notes in my books.
Tuesday 3/10: This afternoon, I got to go to Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids to do a presentation for teachers and staff on identity and positionality in terms of student-teacher relationships. With just two hours, it was more of an introduction to some intersectionality stuff, but we also got to dig a little deeper and have a robust discussion. After that, I drove straight to campus to catch the last hour of my Critical Pedagogy class at the U. Reading Patti Lather's "Getting Smart: Feminist Research and Pedagogy With/In the Postmodern" right now.

Wednesday 3/11: Writing. I'm not the most disciplined writer in the world, but I try to find days to set aside to work on new songs, new poems, etc. It happened to work out this week.

Thursday 3/12: I traveled to UW-Madison for the Multicultural Student Center's annual Symposium on Race. I facilitated a workshop on how spoken-word can be a useful tool for illuminating narratives that are so often erased by mainstream discourse, and then did an interactive performance later in the evening, focusing on the relationship between knowing and doing, between theory and action, between acknowledging privilege and concretely shifting practice, especially with regards to race and racism. Bringing us full circle, this is also the day the new video dropped, and since I am also my own publicist/manager/agent, I had to use my phone to manage the poem's journey through Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.

So yeah, that's a peek into my life. It was a busy week, but not necessarily more or less busy than any other week. Some weeks are more music-focused, with rap shows, rehearsals, and studio time, and other weeks are more like this one. I am very grateful for all of the people who make my being able to do all this possible. Lots more to come.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TruArtSpeaks, Youth Poetry, and the Future


(A haunting, powerful poem from Tamera Larkins during prelims)

A lot of my time and energy these days is going toward TruArtSpeaks, the organization here in Minnesota that organizes the annual youth poetry slams, as well as a bunch of other programs based around critical literacy, youth leadership, and social justice through spoken-word and hip hop. We've got some big news, but I wanted to add to that big news with a more personal note.

I really believe in this work.

I was a late bloomer in many ways, and credit spoken-word and poetry slam culture with helping me develop as a critical thinker, an educator, an activist, as well as a public speaker/performance artist. None of that came naturally to me. But as I grew up in this culture, surrounded by other artists and activists-- mentors, peers, and the next generation-- a lot of stuff kind of clicked into place for me. I get to see those "click" moments all the time now, doing this work in schools and other spaces. I get to witness the power of this practice and culture to literally change people's lives, to frame ideas in more powerful and immediate ways, and to push back against all of the intertwined oppressions that face so many of us, not just youth.

I could ramble on about all that (and probably will at some point), but for now, I just want to encourage everyone to SEE what is happening, to listen to these brilliant young people, and to stay engaged. A few thoughts on doing that:

YOUTH: Be Heard prelims are over, but will start again next January. If you want to slam, mark your calendars. In the meantime, there are a few other ways to get down:
  • The Re-Verb all-ages open mic happens every Thursday at Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul at 6pm. Come and share your work, or just watch. It's a beautiful space with a very supportive community.
  • The Flip the Script conference is coming up on 2/22; it's free and will put you in touch with tons of other people interested in all this.
  • Apply to the TruArtSpeaks Youth Advisory Board and help plan the future of the organization.
  • Connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.
ADULTS: A few ways to get involved:
  • DONATE. I actually give money monthly to this organization, because I have first-hand knowledge of how that money gets spent, and how worthwhile it is. Donate here.
  • VOLUNTEER. Email info@truartspeaks.org for volunteer opportunities at our events.
  • NETWORK. If you are a teacher, youth worker, parent, conference organizer, nonprofit worker, or anyone who comes into contact with youth, please spread the word. Bring us into your spaces. Get in touch about potential programs or organizational collaborations: info@truartspeaks.org
  • SHOW UP. For real. The five prelims so far have been absolutely unbelievable, and semifinals and finals are this March. Show up, be loud, support these youth, and have an experience.
And to everyone: COME TO SEMIFINALS AND FINALS.

Feel free to get in touch with any questions. Hope to see you at the events.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Report-Back on Performing and Speaking at the United Nations

So that was something I've never done before. This past week, Iceland and Suriname co-sponsored (along with other partners) a two-day event at the United Nations called the Barbershop Conference, aimed at "changing the discourse among men on gender equality." I was invited to perform and say a few words.

The concept was that it was a space to engage men (particularly men at the UN) around men's roles in the struggle; unfortunately, that's a pretty easy thing to misinterpret, and some of the early coverage presented that as "all the men are going to get together to solve gender inequity." I'm happy to say that from what I saw, this definitely wasn't the case. It was more about the importance of meaningful solidarity, and about bringing the conversation into spaces to which men have disproportionate access (while also challenging why that is in the first place).

As for a report-back, it's really making me think about the different spaces in which the struggle for gender equity manifests. As some of my social justice-minded friends probably expect, the conference (from what I saw of it) was not perfect-- it was pretty binary-centric, and while this was the UN, an even more intersectional lens would have been nice; all in all, it was fairly surface-level stuff, and like so many things, I find myself torn between critiquing that for being surface-y and applauding that for being a continuation and validation of the work that so many are doing in their communities on such a public, far-reaching stage.

There was some really good stuff, too. Phumzile Mlambo, Executive Director of UN Women, gave a powerful closing speech on how "achieving gender equality is about disrupting the status quo, not negotiating it," and it was cool to see that kind of framework reflected at such a high policy-making level. The conference also made me reflect on how much impact more radical voices are having, and how the conversations being had on Twitter and in feminist spaces are definitely bleeding into this larger movement and shaping the larger narrative... sometimes slowly, but surely.

The key will be what happens next, obviously, in terms of concrete change, but it does really seem like the conversation-- and the culture(s)-- are shifting. I heard lots of mention of the importance of both dismantling/challenging our thinking about masculinity on an individual level, and the importance of challenging systems, structures, and institutional practices that silence, exclude, and harm women and gender-nonconforming people. I think that both/and framework is key. The host/moderator, Al Jazeera's Femi Oke, also did a great job making sure that people spoke in concrete terms rather than platitudes. Again, we'll see what happens next. I'm grateful to the Permanent Mission of Iceland to the UN for allowing me to take part.

You can watch the second day's program here.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Guante: "A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry" Free Sampler Mix Available Now, New Video Too



I wanted to kick off 2015 with something special. That's the new video for "You Say Millionaire Like It's a Good Thing," one of two new Ganzobean-produced tracks on this new album. Adam J. Dunn made it.

The new album is a mix of some old songs, some new songs, some exclusive remixes and re-recordings, and some live poetry recordings. It also features design work by Rogue Citizen. Since I travel so much to perform but don't exactly "tour" in the traditional sense, I wanted to be able to sell something that captured the best of what I've made, and I think this album does that. If you don't know much about me or my work, it's the perfect place to start. If you've been following me, there are a few surprises (listen for new verses, lyrical change-ups, and more). Either way, it's free.



Here's the official press release with a little more info, plus the lyrics to the song in the video: