Thursday, December 27, 2007

not a top ten list

just some random holiday bullet points:

1. I've been saying it a lot, but January will mark the actual, physical completion of my new album, EL GUANTE'S HAUNTED STUDIO APARTMENT. We're putting the finishing touches on the artwork this week, and the tracks will be fully mastered soon. We're already booking release parties too: 3/14 in Minneapolis at the Blue Nile, 3/7 in Madison (not set in stone, but a good ballpark), and more dates coming soon for Milwaukee, Chicago and elsewhere. I'll probably be doing lots of self-promotion in the coming months, so forgive me.

2. Check this out: I got "Farewell of the Year" in Rich Albertoni's "Top Stories in Madison Music" article over at Isthmus. Can't wait to go back again-- i'll probably be there in mid-February for a few shows and some promo stuff.

3. We helped put together and promote a youth activism conference in Minneapolis a few months back, and here's the site of the national org that's spearheading these conferences all over the country: Youth Noise. It'll be interesting to see how this site develops. Hoping for big things.

4. I still haven't heard Lupe's new album. I know, I know. Go to hell. I've noticed that he has a pretty rabid fan base though-- anytime a blogger or message board says something even slightly critical of the guy, a horde of people show up to post vitriolic comments. Traffic here ain't bad, but it could always be better, so just allow me to say: LUPE FIASCO IS SLIGHTLY OVERRATED. Ooooh. Burn.

5. Jermaine Dupri, Young Jeezy and Mickey Avalon? Really? I mean, REALLY?

6. So i'm watching football on Sunday, and am shocked as hell at how out-in-the-open these commercials are about telling men what it means to be a man. It's not that i don't expect that type of ad to exist, it's just that they're so explicit. One would think that in the age of political correctness and metrosexuality or whatever that we could cool it with the "real men do this, feminized pansies do that" advertisements. It's like every other commercial, whether about cars, beer, jewelry or hamburgers-- they're all trying to tell me that unless i drink beer, drive a big expensive truck and act like a dumbass, i'm not a man. Fuck you. It makes me glad i can only watch the game a few times each season.

7. And on top of that, the game itself was awful. Though it's probably a blessing in disguise-- with such a pass-heavy team, they'll probably be better off in Dallas rather than Lambeau in January. (Yeah: "politics, hip hop, rage, sports." I'm multi-faceted).

8. Big Quarters and Kanser are playing the Dinkytowner on New Year's Eve. That should be fun. If i can overcome my anti-social agoraphobia i might actually go. Either way, YOU should go.

9. Almost forgot: PERSEPOLIS is coming out as an animated film. Go see it. The book was good, but from the clips i've seen the film looks even better.

10. Even though my profession (RAP GOD) isn't always exactly high-stress, i'm still treating this week like a vacation. Played some Warcraft 2 (classic), ate a lot of carrots, watched movies, spent time with old friends. I'll post some more interesting, meaningful and in-depth blogs (with beautiful pictures for looking-at) when i get back. I promise.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


(three short book-to-movie reviews for no reason)

I AM LEGEND: Beautifully acted, well-shot, tense as hell... up until the ending, which totally deviates from the book and ruins everything. And i'm definitely not a "faithful for faithfullness' sake" kind of guy-- i actually like the film better than the book for the first 2/3 of it. But the book's ending was just SO MUCH more compelling, more emotional, more powerful. This is a good film that easily could have been a great film. As is, it's worth watching for Will Smith, who does a hell of a job.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS: Everyone in fantasy-land, from Narnia to MiddleEarth to the crazy animal-soul land here, is white. That was kind of jarring, though by now it probably shouldn't be. Hollywood has always done that. Aside from that pretty major distraction, the film was alright. Too rushed, very little characterization, but not horrible. I'm also sick of how every damn movie has a "prophecy" and/or a "chosen one." Why can't regular people just be heroes on their own without that extra baggage? The film DID make me want to read the books though, which is the best thing i can say about it.

ATONEMENT: This is a great example of a movie that's too well-done for it's own good. All the pieces for a "great film" are in place-- love, war, emotions, good cinematography, good acting, etc.-- which ends up making it seem kind of unreal, as if the filmmakers were doing nothing more than trying to win Oscars. Add to this the emotional exploitation going on (a number of the deaths in the film didn't seem to serve much of a narrative or thematic purpose, they just bludgeon the audience into thinking "this is heavy"), and i really couldn't get behind it. Again, maybe i have to read the book.

I'm exciting about seeing Sweeney Todd, There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men though.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Psychology of Pop-Culture References

First of all, I’m not against pop culture references on principle—in movies, in slam poetry, in music, there ARE ways to make them work. A good writer can use them to lend a certain immediacy to his/her work, a specificity that grounds the work in the real world. The fact that American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman can rattle off facts about Phil Collins makes him extra creepy. The Michael Bolton reference in Office Space is a pretty great piece of absurdist humor that actually adds to the film’s characterizations. Erykah Badu’s frustration over missing the Wu-Tang show--not just “the show,” but the Wu-Tang show--situates her as a down-to-earth hip hop head and not just a neo-soul bohemian queen.

I could go on; there are plenty of good examples out there of artists using the pop culture reference as a tool, as another literary device intended to add to the impact of the work. Hell, I have a whole song entitled “Harry Potter.” I LIKE pop culture references, when they’re done well.

But the problem here is that in the hands of lesser wordsmiths (or even great artists having lapses in judgment), the pop culture reference can be the cheapest, most inexcusable form of hackery. And it seems like that sort of laziness is becoming increasingly common. No pun intended.

Exhibit A would have to be films like Epic Movie and the forthcoming Meet the Spartans, films that masquerade as satire while really just presenting an endless string of disconnected pop culture references and the occasional gross-out gag. Rather than using the reference to advance a plotline, develop a character or tell a joke, these films simply present the reference AS the joke, like: “Hey, I’ve seen Borat. That movie was funny and now this guy is dressed like Borat and talking like him so that’s funny too. I’m going to laugh now.” These films are NOT the descendants of spoofs like Airplane or The Naked Gun, they’re something much more sinister and insipid.

Another example would be Common, especially in recent years, spitting lines like “it’s kinda like the Breakup, with Jen and Vince Vaughn” or “she on the treadmill like OK Go” or when he talks about “the dude from N’Sync” being gay. None of these lines add anything significant to his songs. Rappers can usually get away with making throwaway pop culture references if they’re part of a clever punchline or wordplay-oriented metaphor, but these are just pointless similes, lazy songwriting. I'm guilty of this at times too (we all are), but Common is particularly bad.

As a slam poet, I see this phenomenon all the time. A poet will be talking about the war in Iraq, and then for no reason say something like “George Bush and war is like Michael Jackson and pre-teen boys!” Unfortunately, the audience will usually respond favorably to nonsense like that, which brings me to the point of all this.

Why are pop culture references so powerful? Audiences absolutely eat them up, which encourages artists to go out of their way to use them more often. Why?

I noticed something the other night while watching I Am Legend. There’s a scene where Will Smith is watching (and reciting lines from) Shrek on DVD. Now I think this is a good pop culture reference—it shows how his character has used the film to escape the horrors of his life, and it is kind of funny to hear him reciting the lines. The audience, however, laughed before any of this was made clear, at the exact moment you see a TV playing the movie, as if the simple recognition was the interesting part.

That’s how these awful Epic Movie movies work as well. Their appeal isn’t in the writing or the performances or the jokes built around the references—it’s in the split-second of excitement that happens when the viewer recognizes something he or she has seen before. It reminds me a lot of performing at hip hop shows and seeing the audience respond to a jacked beat. The moment they hear the “Deep Cover” instrumental or whatever, no matter what’s being rapped over it, no matter how dope the original beats played up to that point had been, they go crazy.

And I’m not trying to be on some elitist “stupid peasants and their pop culture references” steez. Okay, well maybe a little bit. But I’m really trying to figure out the psychology behind this phenomenon. Why is the recognition of a reference as exciting, if not more exciting, than the meaning behind the reference?

It seems to be something very primal, very instinctual. Like how when apes are presented with a task they can’t complete, they go do something they know they can do well, like eat a banana or swing on a tire. Or how when my printer stops working, I punch holes in the drywall. It’s comforting. Maybe recognizing pop culture references and getting pleasure solely from that recognition serves a similar psychological purpose in some sense?

Because most people don’t go to the movies or listen to music to be challenged. Some of us do, but I doubt it’s a very significant fraction. Instead, the bulk of us prefer escapism or pure entertainment or whatever can make us feel good for a few moments. Maybe pop culture references are like sprinkles on some giant art-cake, adding sweetness to something that doesn’t always taste great.

But do those sprinkles rot our teeth? Should art be saccharine escapism or should it be a higher form of communication? Obviously, that’s an entirely different conversation.

In the meantime, I’ve been making a point to discuss this phenomenon in the writing workshops I lead, hearing what other people think and starting some kind of dialogue around this. I think it’s important. This whole pop-culture reference thing may seem like an insignificant pet peeve of mine, but I really think it points to something larger. As American culture gets faster and faster, this sort of thing is only going to become more prevalent, and the dumbing-down effect that accompanies it is a real danger to the future growth of, specifically, the spoken-word movement, but also hip hop, film and other media.

But maybe I’m way off-base. Any of you readers psych majors?

Monday, December 17, 2007

my 2007 end of year music list (link)

My list is up now at

Check it out. I forgot a lot of stuff i'm sure, and i actually feel bad about not listening to so many albums this year. As someone who makes a living writing music and writing about music, i probably should do more "research." But i guess when it feels like research, it's not fun anymore, and that's what point #9 addresses.

Oh and here's a video that backs up my final statement in the linked article. I should have done a whole point on Gogol Bordello, but just watch this; what can really be said? This brings tears to my eyes:

Friday, December 14, 2007

SwingShift 1.0 Recap

So for the next few months, Tru Ruts will be doing "swings," mini-tours with 3-5 stops. The first of these swings took place this past weekend and if it's any indication, we're in for a hell of a year. I just hope the rest of the year doesn't look like the photo below, which was our wasteland view on the trip from Minneapolis to Chicago.

But that's how we do: risking our puny lives for hip hop. That's EG Bailey and See More Perspective in the front there. We had a good ride, discussing everything from Panda Express to underground rap beef to ABAB rhyme schemes. We also got a chance to listen to New MC's solo album a couple times through, the Figureheads LP, the "I'm Not There" soundtrack and some other stuff.

Our first stop was Chicago, at a beautiful arts space called Quennect 4. It wasn't a bar, hip hop club, theatre or coffeeshop-- more of an underground arts hideaway with a revolutionary aesthetic-- very cool. I go through my pre-show ritual of awkwardly standing by myself in the back, pretending to write things down or check my cell messages, while other people mill about, get into ciphers or whatever. I hate the time before performing-- i always want to watch the other acts, but i can't talk to people because the damn music is so loud (can't hear and can't be heard unless i scream, which kills my voice); i usually end up in the greenroom if there is one (and until i get famous, there usually isn't). So here, i played the wall and avoided talking to people so i could watch the other acts, who were all great. Nazirah P. Mickey, Phero tha Ill, Gilead7, Philip Morris, Aquil, SeeMore and myself all performed before the night was over. Philip Morris was especially memorable, due to his Pigeon John-like charisma, strong voice and GREAT call-and-response stuff. Turnout was surprisingly high.

The show was very Chicago-ish, if you know what i mean. That scene has a dominant aesthetic, and it was well-represented that night. I pissed some people off with my knuckleheaded shit-talking, out of which came some good conversations, which is always positive. Overall, definitely a success.

We stayed at another amazing arts space and connected with some beautiful people. Be sure to check out Naivete Studios, especially if you're around Chicago.

Next day, we packed up and headed for Madison, where i lived for some six years. I wanted to get there early enough to check out the spoken-word club i used to run at Memorial High School, but we weren't able to make it in time (though a bunch of my former students came to the show later that night, and they're AMAZING). To make the best of things, we stopped at the Parthenon on State Street and had some ridiculously good food (which will be a recurring theme in any tour posts i write): chicken ceasar pita with lots of parmesan-- damn. Best fries in Madison too. A random photo of me looking like a melancholy vampire in the the hotel:
So the first show in Madison was that night-- i was scheduled to lead a workshop and then feature at the Just Bust! open mic series, a monthly joint organized by UW's First Wave Collective. The workshop was very cool-- we discussed cliches and played-out topics and ways to make them fresh again, a subject i think all spoken-word poets should spend more time on. I love leading workshops because it allows me to spread my angry and bitter aesthetic philosophies.

The open mic was fun-- lots of good stuff, both poetry and hip hop. As the featured artist, i got to do a good 20 minutes, four new poems (Starfish, Smalltalk, The Mommy Effect and Love in the Time of Zombies) and some rapping with SeeMore on the beatbox. I also love opportunites to showcase myself as both a non-rhyming straight-up poet and as an emcee. The two forms are really different and i work hard on both of them, so it's cool to be able to highlight their interplay in my work. We took some video but i don't know if i like it-- the ONE thing about Just Bust! is that it's in the Memorial Union Main Lounge, which is a high-ceilinged, bright room. The footage is kind of eh. Heres' a photo though, courtesy of Kimanh Truong:

Went to Genna's afterward, one of the few bars i actually enjoy hanging out at. Partly because i know the bartender, but also because it's just a great spot. Everyone got to make fun of me again becuase i drink Midori instead of "real" liquor. Excuse me if i prefer the cool flavors of kool-aid or ecto-cooler to firewhiskey.

Next day, had lunch at the always phenomenal Taste of Asia and got some work done at Fair Trade Coffeehouse. I had wanted to connect with Mike, who used to work there, but he doesn't now due to his success as the frontman of Pale Young Gentlemen, whom the hipper among you may have heard of. Good for him. I played with them at one of their first shows, and would defintely like to again, now that they're all over Pitchfork and whatnot. Come on Mike, take me with you to indie-fame!

Anyways, that night we were slated to open for Brother Ali, but had some time to kill before rehearsal and soundcheck. EG met with the Figureheads on business, SeeMore got a mohawk, and i bought maaaaad cheap DVDs at a new resale shop: Blade II (the best one), The Chinese Connection, King Arthur (unfairly maligned), Kingdom of Heaven (also unfairly maligned) and Kiss of the Dragon (probably fairly maligned). Now i won't need to buy any action movies ever again.

So, opening for any big-name hip hop act is always a blessing and a curse. One one hand, you get to perform in front of a huge crowd who are amped up (this was a free, all ages show and was definitely packed), but on the other hand, you have to deal with a surprisingly large contingent of celebrity-hounds, people who don't *really* care about hip hop but who are just there to get drunk and see someone halfway famous whom the blogs tell them are talented. I'm not complaining about this-- it's just the way it is, and it really makes it that much more fun to really connect with the people who DO appreciate good art even if the artists aren't all that well-known.

The show went very well-- the space was called the Rathskellar and is in the University's Student Union. It's all ages, but they sell beer. Lots of creepy German art on the walls and a capacity of about 600. The lineup boasted some good opening acts (First Wave, Defcee, Lucha Libre, Figureheads), and we were on just before Ali. Me and SeeMore decided to put together a collaborative set, bouncing back and forth between his songs and mine. This was our first show together, so it wasn't perfect, but i think once we get more comfortable with one another we're going to be a formidable one-two combo. SeeMore is a positive cat, with a lot of charisma and a certain Lyrics Born kind of flow and energy. I'm the brooding, angry smart-ass rapper. It's definitely a kind of Yin/Yang relationship and we balance one another out very well. We're both really looking forward to building in the future. A few photos: Ghostly Guante and crowd by Diane Bezucha; See More Perspective looking dapper by Diane Bezucha, and the Figureheads by me:

Our set that night hype and people really enjoyed it, especially considering that they were getting anxious about Brother Ali (some had been there for three hours already). The ONE thing that bothered me was that they'd cheer for every drop, regardless of the lyrics in that drop. We'd do a killer punchline that they'd miss because of the absence of a drop, but then in one song where we drop the beat to emphasize how BAD the lines are (it's a satirical kind of song), everyone went crazy. Ah well, lesson learned: people love drops.

I also sold mad books all weekend, which was kind of surprising. I guess people DO still read these days.

The highlight of the trip, for me anyway, was the feast after the show. Me, EG, SeeMore, B-Fresh and a whole bunch of the First Wave crew went to Perkins, a restaurant with an iron-clad sentimental grip on my heart. It was very cool to meet and build with all the First Wavers-- one might expect a bunch of 18-19 year old artists to be kind of annoying, but they're all genuinely nice, fun people, a perfect inaugural class for the program.

So all and all, a beautiful trip. Good food, good music, good people (and good money); can't ask for much more than that. Hopefully there'll be much more this year. I'll probably be back in Madison for a few shows in February, and then all over the Midwest in March for album release parties. See you all soon.

Here are the other fliers:

Monday, December 10, 2007

foods for thought

So we're back from the Swing Shift 1.0 mini-tour. I'll post a full update with photos and maybe some video and a recap of all the crazy from the Chicago show, the Madison spoken-word feature, and the Madison Brother Ali opening slot soon. It was all amazing; sold a lot of merchandise, saw a lot of old friends, ate like gods.

In the meantime, i came across a great quote from an anonymous message board personality the other day. It went something like this:

"These kids aren't into 'hip hop,' they're into 'semi-popular recording artists.'"

How relevant is THAT?

Monday, December 03, 2007

the work is not the workshop

The Work is Not the Workshop by Catherine Jones

I came across this article a while back and figured i'd post it now. I think that, regardless of what's right or wrong within this particular essay, these are the kind of conversations that the social justice movement as a whole needs to be having. Very thought-provoking-- check it out.

Back when i co-facilitated SEED, a course dealing with identity issues, social justice and activism, at UW-Madison, we began to develop a conceptual framework around the idea of "making a difference," or different aspects of action. It went something like this:

1. personal activism (self-education, self-work, reading articles, going to lectures, really challenging yourself, etc.)

2. interpersonal activism (writing articles/blogs, teaching, having conversations around the issues with friends and family, etc.)

3. organizing (challenging institutionalized systems through WORK: grassroots organizing, long-term campaigns, lobbying efforts, community activism, etc.)

And the idea here isn't that these three points are a hierarchy; it's that for change to happen we really need all three simultaneously. Too many people seem to focus on one or two of the points and ignore another. You have workshopaholics who push themselves to be perfect in every way without reaching out into the bigger world to make change, and you have revolutionaries who want to smash the system without dealing with their own shit-- sexism, racism, etc.-- who invariably end up creating dysfunctional organizations and campaigns.

Anyways, check out the article.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

minneapolis hip hop

I really wanted to write a post about how the local media here seems to have a kind of blind, puppydog love for the local hip hop scene, endlessly, hyperbolically praising everyone without really offering any insightful criticism. Sometimes it feels like certain members of the media are just home-team cheerleading because they don't know enough about hip hop to really dig into it.

But it'd be hard to write that essay, because the local scene IS really that good.

I went to a show last night that featured Truthmaze, DJ Drea and Autumn Compton & the Most Wanted, and it was crazy, one of the best shows i've seen in a long time. Autumn and 'em do it EVERY Friday at the Blue Nile too, with different features and guest artists (i'm playing it on the 14th). Just a great vibe, great performances-- a lot of fun. Truth killed it-- people know him as a rapper and poet, but i can't get over how great of a singer he is. Not an American Idol type voice, obviously, but a beautiful stab-you-in-the-heart kind of voice.

The only halfway disappointing thing was that turnout was kind of low because of the Prof and Rahzwell CD release going on at the same time. Now i've never met these guys or seen them perform, but they're interesting. It's the kind of upbeat, goofy hip hop that i absolutely can't stand (could say the same about MC/VL), but it's SO well-done (at least judging from the stuff i've heard online) i really can't hate. Very professional, great production, very fun. I just hate fun. But check 'em out if you don't.

I've also been listening to New MC's solo joint, the Big Quarters album, the POS album, a bunch of stuff that stays in regular rotation. Then of course there's Carnage, Desdamona, the whole Doomtree crew, M.anifest, Kill the Vultures, Toki Wright and his various crews, the list goes on and on, including a million lesser-known acts (young rappers, more street-oriented rappers, hobbyists, etc.) who don't get the media attention yet but are still doing their thing.

Anyways, back to my original point, which i think still has some validity. While this area does have a surplus of talented hip hop acts, sometimes i wonder how many critics and fans are genuinely feeling the music, and how many are caught up in either celebrity worship (when it comes to the big Rhymesayers acts) or simple hometown pride. Nothing inherently wrong with either one, really. It's just that if this scene is to really grow (and with so many rappers at least trying to make a living off music, it has to), i think that at some point we'll need more constructive criticism-- from writers, from fans and from the artists ourselves.

A few points for discussion:

1. People say good hip hop is "hot beats and hot flows," but at what point is that not enough anymore? Where are the songwriters? Where are the rappers who aren't just rapping about rapping or rattling off pop culture references or stringing together impressionistic images and ideas without having a point? Of course, every song doesn't need "a point," but i think we're starting to see more listeners demand SOMETHING deeper than "rapping really well over bombastic production." Punchlines and platitudes get cheap applause, but thoughtful songwriting creates lasting art.

2. How can we tap into the non-hip hop audience? I think of this as the "Kanye Effect." Kanye, when you strip away his celebrity and hype, is basically an underground rapper with GREAT pop sensibilities. I think indie rappers can learn from him in that sense. I for one am not going to be satisfied with sharing the same fans as every other rapper in town, the couple hundred kids who stay going to shows. I love them, but they're not enough. How do we reach out to the college audience, the rock crowd, the activist community, all these different groups? I think the key is in songwriting, which relates back to point one, but also in marketing, which relates to point three.

3. This is now an age where the music is only part of our potential impact as musicians, if that makes sense. How can we become true multimedia artists, intertwining visual art, photography, video, fashion and other elements to create a total artistic package? I know this is thin ice, becuase a lot of cats still be on the "i just do what i do and don't like to think about that other shit" tip, but i really think that other shit is important.

And these are just a few points. It's fun to think about. I get to test ALL my theories in the next three months as we start the promo machine for my album. We'll see how they play out i guess.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

going back to madison for a couple shows

We'll also be in Chicago on the 6th. Check the MySpace for details on all three shows.

Also, check this out. Dane101 will be doing a lot of coverage of the 2008 National Poetry Slam in Madison.

It'll be nice to get back to Madison. Both of these shows are going to be big, and i'll be doing 95% new material, live stuff no one has ever heard before. The show on the 7th will be all spoken-word, and the show on the 8th will be all hip hop. I wish i could be in town for Rhymefest.

Anyways, I'm excited about eating chocolate shoppe ice cream, finishing up the amazing facilitation binder that i started when i was on the UW diversity education program staff, selling lots of books and seeing some old friends.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


***UPDATE*** This was the original post for this poem, which I've since revised and got better footage of. If you want to see it, go here.


This is my new music video.

(old video was here but I deleted it)

Well, not a music video; more of a spoken-word performance art film. Whatever. I thought it'd be fun to experiment a little with film; rather than just have all live footage or studio recordings, it's cool to try something new. Maybe the production values aren't all that, but I don't think that there's anything like this out there.

We only got to do three takes because the neighbors complained about the zombie pounding. Luckily, i think this third take turned out pretty damn good. Martial arts extraordinaire Will Cornell played the zombie horde; we thought about adding background zombie moans too, but that maybe would have been over-the-top. This is a nice understated zombie apocalypse love poem.

Hope you like it. More to come.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

things i learned watching football on thanksgiving

1. Brett Favre is apparently the Chuck Norris of football. He doesn't throw a football, he rotates the rest of the world TO the football.

2. Trucks = men. Your vehicle is an extension of your psyche. And the bigger the truck, the more masculine you are. Hauling airplanes and driving over rocks and brush = enormous penises everywhere. Manly. Also, men don't drink anything but beer, and if they do, they're probably not actually men.

3. Diamonds = love. Also, diamonds = Vanessa Carlton.

4. If you pay with cash instead of credit card, you're ruining everyone's day and disrupting the fragile rhythm of the universe. Also, everyone will hate you.

5. Family Guy isn't funny, and i'm starting to think that it never really was. It is, in fact, the direct OPPOSITE of funny. I am, however, excited about the new Futurama movie coming out soon.

6. The Postal Service (and their many imitators) make the perfect music to use in a variety of commercials-- it's all clean and futuristic and cute... as long as you mute the lyrics. When you get rid of that pesky depth and melancholy and beauty, you have the perfect "WE'RE INVENTING THE NEW WORLD" music. I bet they play that album on a continuous loop at the Apple headquarters.

7. Officially played out: any sign, banner or thought that uses the "something: $10, something else: $20, something else: priceless" formula. Also, same goes for "Got (fill in the blank)?"


9. Athletes, despite having the newest cutting edge excercise technology at their disposal, prefer to work out in abandoned warehouses and industrial wastelands. They're ALL Rocky.

10. How in the hell is there STILL a team in the NFL called "The Redskins?" This is one of those issues that i've written about and thousands of others have written about, so i won't go on about it here, but really, WTF?! On most issues, i can see both sides and at least understand others' arguments. But this is one of those issues where there's really only one right answer and everyone else is just stupid. I guess the NFL (and on another level, sports culture in general) is just THAT powerful these days.

11. For about six hours every Sunday (as well as Monday nights and Thanksgiving), Asian people don't exist.

12. The Packers are still fun to watch, and i don't know why. Maybe it's just the players they recruit, maybe it's nostalgia for 1996, who knows. I shouldn't care, but i find myself cheering when they do well and mildly disappointed when they don't. My superbowl pick: Packers vs. Patriots, just like '96. Brett Favre will quarterback sneak every play and score 100 touchdowns.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

eric mata addresses the idea of "people just being people"


Some interesting thoughts on how a lot of people want to reject identity labels and wonder "why can't we all just be people." Just because we reject labels doesn't mean that the reality that undergirds them is going to go away. I can stop consciously identifying as a man, but i'll still get all the privilege that goes with being a man.

Eric hits it on the head again.

Monday, November 19, 2007

in defense of artists you hate excercise in looking on the bright side of things. "You" may not personally hate the following popular artists, but a lot of people right now do, sometimes for valid reasons, sometimes for stupid ones.

1. Gym Class Heroes. Travis isn't an abysmally bad rapper; he's a thoroughly mediocre one. This band is what happens when you take any by-the-books indie rapper from any city in the country and make him famous. He reminds me of Mike Shinoda in that respect-- not WACK, just really boring and derivative. I'd always wondered what would happen if you took a band like Linkin Park or GCH and gave them a really talented, interesting rapper, like a Carnage or Rhymefest or Joell Ortiz or Qwel or whomever. Anyways, this is a post in DEFENSE of acts like this, so i'll just say this: Travis may not be a great technical emcee, but he can write songs. Well, he or whoever writes their songs can write songs. That whole album has a good vibe and is really listenable. May get some flack for this, but i want to see MORE pop sensibilities in underground hip hop. I LIKE singy hooks. Sue me, but i'd rather listen to this, on most days, than the latest Molemen compilation or NYC mixtape rapper messiah.

2. Fallout Boy. I like this band. I know they're the absolute devil incarnate to a lot of people out there, but i never understood the hate. They write solid songs with lyrics that, while not always "deep" or thought-provoking, are at least original compared to the boring garbage most indie-bands, r&b singers, pop artists and pretty much everyone write. The singer has a distinct, powerful voice, and the band as a whole seems like they're at least TRYING to make memorable music. Apparently the bass player is a jackass, but is that any real reason to hate their music? Prince is a jackass too, but you can bet i'm listening to "Nothing Compares 2U" as we speak.

3. Lupe Fiasco. So the guy never listened to Midnight Marauders and flubbed half a bar of a Tribe song on TV and then came out swinging rather than apologizing and his new album sounds like a mess and his two singles released so far have been unintelligible gibberish over wack beats... hey, at least "Kick, Push" was a great song. Just kidding. I still like Lupe. I admire his commitment to artistry-- the new album DOES sound like a mess, but it sounds like a mess he fully intended to make and will stand behind no matter what. And he's still one of the most talented emcees making noise today, when he wants to be. Remember "Steady Mobbin'?" That was a great song too. I just hope he writes some solid songs on this new album rather than rapping about nothing in a really fancy way. I don't know if he's trying to appeal to the indie kids with that "headless-eyeless-brainless-iris" nonsense or if he genuinely just enjoys being weird, but it gets old fast.

4. Slug. Some will say he's a one-trick pony. Some will say he used to be dope but fell off. Some will say his fans are annoying and are killing hip hop. Some will say he's just wack, period. But i like Slug. I think it's beautiful how he developed his own style and stuck to it through the years, even if its not always my cup of tea (i'm not a huge fan of Slug the Lyricist, moreso Slug the Performer). I think i like every new Atmosphere release a little more than the one that came before, and that's rare in music, especially hip hop. He's become an icon, and rather than destroying him or making him lazy, it's made him attempt to solidify his iconic style. I think that there's something to be said for NOT trying to be all things to all people, as so many emcees try to do. Slug has his niche and he's thriving in it. Also, in a critical landscape where we elevate TI and Lil' Wayne to legendary status because of their swagger, i think Slug should be in that conversation as well.

5. MIA. I've heard a lot of people in the past few months talking shit about MIA because "she can't rap." As if that were her appeal. That's like hating on Chuck D because he doesn't use enough multisyllable rhymes or hating on Lily Allen because she can't sing like Aretha. While i wouldn't really call myself a fan of MIA (i don't own any of her albums), i do like what i've heard, and can't help but think that this is what music will sound like with more regularity in the near future. Some of the credit has to go to the producers, but she's doing a lot of it herself too. And while she may not get the Rakim award this or any year, she knows what she's doing with her voice and lyrics, and it's effective.

Stay tuned for "Hating on Artists You Love," the much more interesting sequel to this post, coming soon...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Love in the Time of Cholera

I had no idea that there was a film version of this coming out. And apparently it's out right now. It's pretty much my favorite book ever (maybe tied with "Watchmen"), and the film has John Leguizamo, which is always good. Okay maybe not "always," but often.

I wonder how something like this will translate into film.

Heres the link

Monday, November 12, 2007


A couple more thoughts on the book:

Actually, no more thoughts. Just wanted to post that picture and remind people that i have PRODUCT. A couple new shows added; come get a book.

On a completely unrelated note, this:

"I can't live the button-down life like you. I want it all! The terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles! Sure, I might offend a few of the blue-noses with my cocky stride and musty odors-- oh, I'll never be the darling of the so-called 'City Fathers' who cluck their tongues, stroke their beards, and talk about 'What's to be done with this Homer Simpson?'"

tokenizing hip hop in the media

My crack team of researchers has been working 'round the clock for the past five years on this project. We've burnt out a lotta grad students and ruined a few lives, but i think the results are worth it.

We've been studying how music lists (top singles of '07, best albums of 1992, most overrated artists of all time, hot new releases, whatever, any kind of list) so often tokenize hip hop, sometimes tokenizing black artists in general but definitely hip hop. From national magazines to college newspapers to blogs to alt-weeklies, the pattern is consistent on every level.

For any given list, you will have, on average:

~10 bands
~2 hip hop acts

We've been keeping track of every music list from every kind of publication (omitting, obviously, hip hop-oriented publications) and feeding numbers into the supercomputer for half-a-decade now, and the results don't lie. Even when the lists purport to be all-encompassing.

But the interesting side of this isn't the numbers, it's HOW the genre is tokenized and by WHOM. For example, our numbers show that for every "best new albums" or "best singles" list from the past year, here's how it broke down.

Small-time bloggers and smaller-town alt-weeklies tended to mention Brother Ali and Sage Francis, often relating how different these acts are from the "bling bling stuff on the radio." They used words like "conscious," "passionate," "political," and "actually talented."

Fashionable online sources and smaller-circulation print magazines, seeking to distance themselves from the perceived aesthetic elitism of the small-time bloggers, talked about Ghostface, Clipse and UGK. They allied themselves with a side of hip hop that is decidedly mainstream sonically and in terms of content, yet still not TOO widely known. They used words like "underappreciated," "real," "veteran," and "shabbletastic."

Major publications talked about Kanye and 50, because the Kanye/50 story this year was really EASY to write about. You don't have to understand the music to talk about Kanye and 50, good vs. evil, blah blah blah. They used words like "vitamin water" and "battle" and "controversial." Oh and Jay-Z too, because his album was tied to a movie.

So every sub-level of critic-dom has it's own "kind" of hip hop to tokenize. These hip hop acts are sprinkled in amidst a surging sea of Arcade Fire, Battles, White Stripes, TV on the Radio, Wilco, Radiohead, whatever. When the writing is in list format, the hip hop entries on the list are never #1, nor are they last; instead, they are tucked quietly in the second and fourth quarters of the list. I can send you a PDF of our equations if you want.


Okay okay okay.

Before i start getting nasty comments about how i just don't get it, i'll be serious. I understand WHY this happens. I'm not saying that some great injustice is taking place because hip hop doesn't get equal face-time with indie rock on critics' lists these days. Hell, look at country. Or metal. Or punk. Or hardcore. Or any number of marginalized genres. At least they throw a bone to hip hop, right?

I don't know... I used to get mad when a list would omit hip hop entirely, but i almost long for that time now. If a given writer likes indie-rock, shouldn't we should let him or her write about indie rock and not try to shoe-horn hip hop into their area of expertise? Too often, we get hip hop coverage from people who either don't understand the music or are flat-out using the music to gain some kind of indie-cred or not appear rockist or whatever. Yes, some of these writers are sincere and know what they're talking about-- i'm not saying that ALL rock-oriented writers are incapable of "understanding" hip hop. That's definitely not true. But there is some hackery going on.

And is it good or bad for the music? On one level, it's breaking artists to new audiences. Brother Ali wouldn't be where he is today if it wasn't for the support (both informed and uninformed) of rock-oriented blogs and publications. But is that worth the whole "he isn't like the MTV guys who just talk about guns and cars" talk that accompanies damn near every review and serves to negatively otherize (in a sense) hip hop as a whole? Is the ironic hipster-blog fetishization of coke-rap and southern aesthetics good for hip hop? Or does it just make the bloggers seem cool? Is the elevation of artists like Kanye and Eminem to "superstar-famous-but-not-just-for-music" status serving to build a stronger foundation for hip hop in American popular culture, or is it just by-the-books celebrity creation that ultimately cheapens the art? Would it be better for everyone if we segregated music criticism (hip hop journalism on this website, indie-rock coverage on that website, etc.)?

Are these questions rhetorical and possibly pretentious? Maybe. But i think they're worth thinking about, ESPECIALLY if you are a music writer struggling with this issue. I don't have any answers.

quick links

City Pages covered our "I Couldn't Live at Home Show" this past Saturday. Hat tip to Jeff Shaw.

The Story

The Gallery

It was a fun show, and everyone should go check out the gallery that's still up all month at the Central Library, highlighting art from kids who couldn't live at home in a number of contexts.

Some good MP3 downloads on that first link as well.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

hey you know what's awkward?

Going to Office Depot and asking the nice lady behind the desk to make a ridiculous amount of copies of a book entitled "SHOTGUN SAMURAI VAMPIRE HIP HOP."

But hey, my book is done now.

I think it turned out pretty good. Conceptually, it's more of a mixtape than an album, if that makes sense-- a collection of a bunch of my writing (song lyrics, poetry and essays) that's built up over the past few years. It's not exactly "Cane," but it's cool.

Song lyrics make up the bulk of it, mostly from the new album, but a couple old songs and a couple songs that don't even exist as pieces of music yet. I ended up putting them in block/slash format rather than bar by bar in order to save space (and money, honestly). It would have been cool to have line breaks, but it still works out.

The poems and monologues are different-- some of them are included in paragraph format (which is how i write them), while others are broken up into proper stanzas. Some are really new and have never been heard/read before.

On top of that stuff, i threw in a bunch of essays, writings on hip hop aesthetics, spoken-word culture, art and activism, and more. The book ended up at about 100 pages.

Also also, there are a bunch of pictures of me in the book, which, upon further thought, is perhaps kind of weird. Haha. But hey, i wanted to put images in the book so it wasn't just all text but didn't have time to actually get visual art or anything else. Pictures of me will have to do. And they ARE nice pictures.

Ended up going crazy at office max and springing an extra hundred bucks or whatever for spiral binding rather than staples (the one i'm holding in the above picture is a draft). So you people better BUY THE DAMN BOOK. I need the money.

And it's good.

I'll be selling them at shows for next few months at least, probably longer. The 12/7 show in Madison will be an official "book release party," and i'm working on setting something up here in Minneapolis too.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

In Pursuit of "THE REAL"

(the following isn't fastidiously researched, just some anecdotal observations)

Right before the turn of the century, something interesting happened in the hip hop world. Hip Hop was well into the period where it was realizing its potential as a money-making force and certain entities within the culture were rising to superstar status (i'm thinking of the period well after Hammer and Vanilla Ice, even after the deaths of 2pac and Biggie, late nineties or thereabouts... the "shiny suit/hype williams/no limit hypercapitalism age).

At the same time (or a year or so later), you had the rise of what we today call "the underground," coalescing around Rawkus, Def Jux, Rhymesayers, Anticon, Quannum, Skribble Jam, a whole bunch of labels and artists and events. These were often independents, either consciously rebelling against the Puffy juggernaut or lumped in unwittingly. Though independent labels were (and are) making hip hop of all styles, the group of artists who came to represent "underground hip hop" were largely revivalists of some stripe, heavily influenced by early nineties east coast styles, the Native Tongues movement and Public Enemy.

As time passed, the split between "mainstream" and "underground," a split which wasn't always there, by the way, became more pronounced. While there were real aesthetic differences, it's more interesting to look at demographics. I think sometimes we focus way too much on the artists, who all have different motivations and opinions on this whole phenomenon, instead of the fans and the media, who really, i think, drove the split. Some artists were explicit about being indie/underground (BlackStar, Company Flow, Anticon), but many were just caught up in the shifting tides.

Many hip hop fans, especially white hip hop fans (the racial dynamics here just can't be ignored) latched onto this new movement, making stars out of artists like Jurassic Five, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Atmosphere, Sage Francis, Aesop Rock, Company Flow, the Roots, the Quannum Camp, Common and others, artists they felt were representing "THE REAL."

Some of these fans-- not ALL of them, as some may have you believe-- became the infamous boogeymen called "BACKPACKERS." Though that term has been around for a while and has meant different things, today it most often negatively or condescendingly refers to a person with these characteristics:

1. straight white middle class male dressed in a black hoodie.
2. believes that all "mainstream" hip hop is horrible and should be avoided.
3. thinks that you're wrong about hip hop, whatever it is you believe.
5. is a revisionist, wanting to take hip hop back to some golden age of consciousness that never really existed.

These types did (and do) exist, and that's unfortunate. Their overbearing presence, undergirded by the natural, periodic shifting of popular culture, led to the BACKPACKER BACKLASH. During the '00s, music journalists, some fans and others decided that "underground" hip hop had worn out its welcome and that the backpackers were dangerous elitists who needed to be stopped. Coupled with the rising Irony-is-King/hipster movement, this spawned a whole community of people who, while sharing many features of the backpacker (white, male, closed-minded, etc.), instead championed acts like Dipset, Clipse, Young Jeezy, TI, Lil' Wayne and other decidedly mainstream acts.

I think that another aspect of this movement is the whitening of underground hip hop. As audiences at indie hip hop shows became more and more white, the "cool kids" (who were most often white themselves) didn't want to see themselves as part of the co-option of the culture, so they rejected artists with largely white audiences in order to feel or appear to be "down" with what they now perceived to be "THE REAL."

The crazy thing is, as each new movement came into being, the old ones didn't die. Today we have overbearing backpackers AND ironic hipster coke-rap fiends AND genuine fans of mainstream rap AND people who like everything. We're at an interesting cultural point, with all these forces vying for supremacy. Add to this gumbo various race, age and class differences, and every argument about "who are the top five emcees out today" becomes a potential fistfight.

It's interesting to see how identity gets mixed up in music, particularly in hip hop, where the lines between culture and music are fuzzy. It just seems to me that a whole lot of fans, music writers and even artists hardly pay any attention to the music itself anymore, instead obsessing over how liking or writing about a certain artist will make them look to their peers. Big time hip hop bloggers and music journalists don't want to talk about indie acts anymore, because indie hip hop has become synonymous with "nerd-rap" or played out revivalism or elistist backpackery.

On the flipside of that, a lot of indie hip hop IS nerd-rap, played out revivalism or elitist backpackery, so can we blame these writers and fans?

Well, i think we can, to an extent.

Because the obvious point in all of this is that some mainstream rap is garbage and some underground rap is garbage. Some mainstream rap is good and some underground rap is good. "THE REAL" exists all around, from El-P to Ghostface to Ludacris to Lupe. Anyone on either side of the debate who dismisses the other side out-of-hand is really closing his or her mind to some great music.

And that's such an obvious, easy-to-agree-with point that i didn't even want to write it, but time and time again i see people completely ignoring it. I still run into backpackers who have never heard UGK or Lil' Wayne and never want to, and i still run into hipsters who think Lil' Wayne is the Greatest Of All Time and that Sage Francis sucks because his beats don't bang in the ride.

Sure, some of this boils down to taste and personal preference. Some fans just prefer the aesthetics of Timbaland over Ant, or vice versa. That's fine. But it rarely ends there-- these debates are never about personal preference, they're about "YOU'RE AN IDIOT BECAUSE YOU LIKE 2PAC" or "ATMOSPHERE SUCKS BECAUSE THEY AIN'T HOT IN THE STREETS" or whatever. I mean, I don't particularly like the Beatles, but you're not going to catch me saying that they're wack and that their fans are mindless sheep.

I guess the theme in damn near all the articles i've been writing lately is that hip hop is a lot bigger than most people want to admit. It contains within it a vast multitude of styles and movements and currents and identities and avenues through which to interface with it. We're all "experts" on some little aspect of the whole, but few people recognize that whole. And when another "expert" confronts us with his or her knowledge of some other side of the big picture, they come off as completely insane.

"THE REAL" will always be defined differently by different communities under the hip hop umbrella. And i'm not arguing for a cultural relativist stance on what makes a rapper a wack rapper (some things, i still believe, are somewhat objective), i just think we need to examine our own motivations and opinions before criticizing others.

I'll continue this later, maybe by reviving Colin and Jamie from the Hip Hop Panel thing i wrote. They could have a debate-- that'd be fun.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

new Saul Williams


Trent Reznor produced most of it, and sonically, it's pretty much what you'd expect a Saul/NIN collaboration to sound like. It's great. Adventurous, thought-provoking and actually enjoyable to listen to.

I think Saul, even "singing Saul," deserves all the hype he gets. Usually, if you're the #1 figure in your field, i'm going to find a way to hate on you. But Saul Williams is consistently beautiful. Humbling, really. I like his self-titled album the best so far, but i've only listened to this one once through.

He covers "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and it works. All the tracks work, really. Trent and Saul are a natural pair i think. I won't do a full review until i've listened through a few more times, but the album lives up to expectations.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

anti-sexism training: some thoughts

I helped out with an anti-sexism training today at a local college, which was great because i haven't been as involved in that sort of thing since leaving my position at the Diversity Education Program at UW-Madison. It was nice to dive back into "facilitator" mode, even if only briefly.

This training was different, however, from what i've done before. I'm used to going in and just having a big discussion-- getting people's voices heard, raising issues, etc. The thing we did today was skit-oriented. In the past, i'd had a kind of bias against this sort of training because personally, i'm not a visual learner-- people acting out scenarios always seemed to me a roundabout way of addressing issues. But that's just me-- i understand that for some people, skits and theatre stuff are the best way to learn.

I had just never done it MYSELF, and then had to jump in, with two days of rehearsal, and pretend to be an awful person. I've acted before, but not so much improv, which i pretty much hate. The interesting thing i came away from this with, however, was how DIFFICULT it was to even pretend to be overtly, over-the-top sexist. Luckily, i had two other men in the group who could say the *worst* lines and do the fake fondling and all that and i could just play a support role, but it was hard nonetheless. I just couldn't bring myself to embody some of these characters whole-heartedly, even when i knew that it was fake and i knew that the audience knew that it was fake.

Is that just from three or so years of social justice immersion? Is that a real example of "oversensitivity?" Were the roles just too close to home? How the hell do real actors play Nazis and rapists and murderers and all that? I can see how that could play crazy tricks on your brain.

Overall, though, the session went very well. People seemed to be engaged and we had some good conversations. Also, the food was incredible.

On a completely unrelated note, i finished my book. More news coming soon.

Monday, October 22, 2007

a few thoughts from ERIC MATA

Aside from being a pretty damn good poet, Eric also writes articles/essays occasionally. I'm going to start linking to them whenever he posts them. Here's a few i missed:

I Am Not Your Baby Daddy

How Women of Color Are Made Invisible

A Split Along Gender Lines: Teacher/Student Sexual Relations

Eric always has something good to say. I was going to invite him to just join in on this blog (and you can if you want, Eric), but linking allows us all to remain independent. And you know how men are with that rugged individualism stuff. Just kidding.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

a playlist (in no order)

What do these songs have in common?

~Black Ice (Goodie Mob w/ Outkast)
~Swing (Camp Lo w/ Ish)
~Runnin' (Pharcyde)
~One Love (Nas w/ Q-Tip)
~Steady Mobbin' (Lupe Fiasco)
~Thought Process (Goodie Mob w/ Andre3000)
~Crumblin' 'Erb (Outkast)
~Sharp Shooters (Dead Prez w/ Talib Kweli)
~Hate it or Love it (Game w/ 50 Cent)
~Pearly Gates (Mobb Deep w/ 50 Cent)
~T.R.O.Y. (Pete Rock & CL Smooth)
~Say Hey There (Atmosphere)
~Fucked Up (Dead Prez)
~Travellin' Man (Mos Def)
~Same 'Ol Thing (Tribe)
~Moment in Time (Pharcyde)
~Speed Law (Mos Def)
~Baby (the Roots)
~Pour Me Another (Atmosphere)
~Bread and Butter (the Roots)
~Fu-Gee-La (the Fugees)
~Shook Ones pt. II (Mobb Deep)
~Bleeding Hearts Club (P.O.S. w/ Slug)
~The City (Wu-Tang... well, Deck specifically)

I do dishes a lot because my sink is the size of a shoebox. I also work out every day. These two activities require an ITunes playlist that doesn't have to be babysat, something i can just listen to straight through while i'm not at the computer. The above songs are all rap songs i can listen to at any time, in any mood. There's no "look how cool i am" factor or songs added simply because i respect the artists rather than like listening to them (no Coup, no Brother Ali, no Blue Scholars, no PE, etc.). It was an interesting excercise.

I didn't transcribe the whole list, just a healthy selection. A few random observations:

1. Lots of Pharcyde, lots of Dungeon Family (Outkast, Goodie Mob), which i think is telling. Both groups had the perfect formulas of beats + emcees for the time, and they knew how to write actual songs-- interesting lyrics, creative flows, pop appeal, personality, the total package. And on both the Goodie Mob songs, Andre kills it-- his verse on Thought Process was my favorite growing up.

2. A suprising amount of 50 Cent, a surprising amount of Mos Def (two artists i'm not big fans of). But i guess they can make solid songs. Pearly Gates is the only song i kept when i deleted that awful G-Unit Mobb album.

3. Remember the Fugees? I know, dumb question. But remember how superlatively great Lauryn Hill was? Remember when Wyclef was a genius? Hell, i even thought Pras was dope. I think Fu-Gee-La is my favorite song of theirs. That pre-chorus is ridiculous.

4. Exposing my backpack: when it comes to both the Roots and Atmosphere, i guess i really prefer their later work. I think both acts have gotten better and better with age, though i doubt i'll find many people who agree with me. Game Theory was an absolutely brilliant album, better than anything they've ever done (at least sonically... the lyrics i could take or leave). And Atmosphere's last album was so solidly put-together, really inspiring.

5. I could have picked any three Camp Lo songs really. That's how good Uptown Saturday Night was. I think i like Swing because of Ish's verse and the "welcome to new york the illest of all places" line, which is just monsterous. But that whole album is never far out of rotation.

6. There were a couple songs i had on here at first but took off because of the "fast-forward" factor; when listening in mixed company (or just by myself, really), i ain't really trying to hear Gangstarr's "The Militia" or UGK's "International Players' Anthem" or Mobb's "Burn." They're all amazing songs, but i always have to cringe at one or two spots in them.

7. Can i just say that P.O.S. is a beast? I think he gets written off sometimes because of the punk rock connection, on some "oh he's just a punk kid trying to rap," but he's really a great emcee. From his albums to a bunch of different guest appearances, he always has something interesting to say and presents it fresh.

8. T.R.O.Y. is still a perfect rap song. Cliche choice, sure, but absolutely undeniable. And honestly i think CL is what does it for me, as great as the beat is. CL's verses are just so powerful-- kind of impressionistic, just hinting at deeper ideas, beautiful.

9. I guess all in all, it's a pretty predictable, almost boring list. Not a lot of left-field stuff. It's all American. It's all men (except Lauryn). Mostly either underground stuff or underground-friendly (like Outkast) stuff. Mostly late 90s stuff. It's very "hip hop," for lack of a more appropriate term. Maybe i'm not as weird as i think i am.

But again, an interesting excercise. Try it sometime.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

on "equal opportunity offenders"

This post is going to be all over the place.

Do you know someone who believes that because he or she is racist/homophobic/sexist/whatever against EVERYONE that that makes their racism/homophobia/sexism/whatever okay? Like white people who roll their eyes when your jaw drops after they say the n-word, saying something like “oh relax, I say offensive things about every group of people; I dislike everyone equally.”

South Park embodies this sometimes (sometimes ironically, sometimes not). Carlos Mencia, sure. Well-known blogger Brandon Soderberg, whom I just started reading and already can’t fucking stand, has explicitly stated this:

“As for the f-word, meaning ‘faggot,’ well besides me dropping many other derogatory terms for races/genders on this blog that go unchecked- this is a rap blog. Have you burned your Raekwon/Ghostface albums? They say the dreaded f-word too.”

Wow. That’s just dumb on a number of levels. But I won’t dwell on him here—maybe a future post.

The larger point is that “equal opportunity offenders” represent something sad about our culture. Aside from being an incredible leap in logic (“I don’t like your mother, but it’s cool because I hate your whole family too”), it’s also a manufactured hipster edginess that seems to say that as long as you’re honest about your prejudices, you don’t have to work on them. You’re just keepin’ it real, dude, and honesty is way more important than, oh I don’t know, being a decent human being.

And sure, there’s something to be said for hateful pricks who are open about it versus hateful pricks who only hate you behind your back, but people seem to forget that those aren’t your only two options. How about “making an effort to NOT be a hateful prick?”

But it’s not hip these days to make an effort at anything.

And I’m not just talking about hateful pricks (phrase of the day); well-meaning people often seem to use the “yeah, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m racist” statement as an escape pod, an excuse to disengage. Because it’s so “enlightened” to admit your prejudices, you’ve already done the work and can now sit back and relax, basking in the glow of your myriad imperfections.

But it’s not the hateful pricks or the well-meaning liberals I want to focus on, it’s the edgy hipsters who are usually neither. Considering themselves progressive by being above political correctness or “leftist extremism,” they’re the ones throwing ironic “ghetto parties” and ironically singing along to Rich Boy and freely using racial/homophobic/sexist slurs in an ironic fashion, and then rolling their eyes when you challenge them, as if to say “I’m so OVER racism, I can do this.”

I guess it all sprouts from the backlash against the PC movement. Privileged people didn’t appreciate the fact that they suddenly had to play by new rules, so they rebelled. “PC” suddenly became a euphemism for “oversensitive warm and fuzzy little baby language,” when all it really means is to try and be decent and respectful (how awful!). And I’m sure there were cases where the PC police went “too far,” but if you listen to some conservative commentators or edgy hipsters (funny how much they have in common), you’d be led to believe that ALL political correctness “goes too far,” that our cultural commons should be a Darwinist free-for-all and everyone should just toughen up, that the privileged should never have to give anything up, no matter how trivial, so that some disadvantaged group can feel better about themselves.

These days, our folk heroes are people who reject political correctness, courageously breaking down the walls of the establishment to tell it like it is. And while that’s a romantic notion, I think that sometimes we value the style of the “it” that they’re telling more than the “it” itself. For example, Aaron McGruder (creator of the Boondocks) and Carlos Mencia are both politically incorrect. But McGruder tends to make valid points in his humor about life, society and culture, while Mencia just does an offensive Arab impression or makes that “retard sound” he does.

But in the chaos of the PC backlash, we’ve lumped together EVERYONE who is anti-PC, regardless of what they’re saying, and made them heroes.

And usually, these “equal opportunity offenders” are in the Mencia group-- saying dumb shit so they can appear edgy, without any larger point or analysis. Rejecting political correctness can be a constructive thing, but it is, unfortunately, all too often used merely as an excuse to be openly and proudly prejudiced.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Saturday: Youth Activism Summit!

Yeah, my name is spelled wrong, but i ain't mad because this is going to be great:

Workshops all afternoon, big show at night, all at the Capri Theatre, Free and All Ages!

I'll be there all day, facilitating some workshops early and then performing at night-- very exciting stuff.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

just thinking out loud about hip hop again

Interesting discussion over at Culture Bully on Brother Ali. I made a somewhat short remark on how as talented as he is, i'm tired of hearing him talk about himself-- how he raps, how he's great, how he's great at rapping, etc.. It maybe wasn't entirely fair, especially considering the fact that he's one of a very few emcees out today whom i think is worth a damn, but it raised some interesting points.

For me, particularly as a rapper myself, the most interesting is "what separates great emcees or albums from transcendent emcees or albums?" Because as great as Ali is talent-wise, he rarely ventures outside the box. And that's perfectly fine-- most people don't want to and there's nothing wrong with making straight-up hip hop. But it got me thinking.

The last "exciting" hip hop albums i can name are El-P's I'll Sleep When You're Dead," K-os' "Atlantis: Hymns for Disco" and P.O.S.'s "Audition." That isn't to say these are the only good hip hop albums to come out in the past year, but they're the only ones that have made me really stop and say "damn" or listen to more than once.

What do they all have in common? Let's break it down:

1. Musically, they all challenge conventional notions of "hip hop." K-os sings most of the time, "Audition" has incredibly dissonant and harsh production, and El-P is really on another world production-wise. It's all very much grounded in hip hop aesthetics, but it's taking hip hop somewhere new and interesting.

2. They're all definitely "albums," not just loose collections of songs. All three are remarkably cohesive and almost cinematic. I'll add to this the Roots' "Game Theory," which i think is brilliant for what it is, and is also extremely well put-together. I love concept albums, and while these don't exactly qualify, i think hip hop could use more of them.

3. They all feature creative songwriting. I'm not talking so much about content or lyricism here (K-os isn't a very good lyricist by any stretch of the imagination) as i am talking about song structure. There's not so much 16/8/16/8 stuff going on-- you hear long verses, pre-choruses, bridges, all those elements which make songs more dynamic.

By this criteria, i'm kind of excited to hear Jay-Z's "American Gangster," and i still have to pick up that Grayskul album, which looks promising. Maybe Lupe's album will be good... not really feeling the singles so far. The Wu are the Wu, and kind of sit on their own plane in the hip hop universe-- i'll probably pick that up too when it drops. Haven't heard much about Rhymefest's next album in a minute, but from what i remember it sounds really interesting.

Anyways, i think i'm just in the process of figuring out for myself what kind of music i like and what kind of music i'm going to be making in the next few years. I love straight-forward, throwback boombap or soul sample hip hop, but i have to admit i think it's getting kind of stale, particularly when you consider that thousands upon thousands of people are making it at this very moment.

I felt like i had heard Brother Ali's new album before, with the exception of the trio of songs that close it out. "Shadows on the Sun" was such an incredible piece of work, with concept songs and an emcee actually taking some risks, i felt that "The Undisputed Truth" was kind of a step backward-- rather than reaching for the stars (more concepts, more creativity, more risk-taking), he made an incredibly "solid" album (monumental intro, a bunch of shit-talking songs, some simple political songs, a few concepts, the emcee at the center of it all), which i think is what the indie hip hop crowd idealizes and demands these days.

And there's nothing wrong with that, really.

But Ali is talented enough to get away with that, for the most part. But at what point do we move on from these formulas? Why aren't there more hip hop concept albums? Why aren't there more low-key, folky hip hop artists? Why are there so few hip hop love songs compared to other genres? Why isn't there more hybridization with electronic music or bhangra or indie rock or industrial or whatever? Why do 90% of hip hop live shows sound and look the same? Why is subject matter so often limited to: rapping, being a rapper, wack emcees, or everyman struggles? Why are lyrics, whether simple or ultra complex, so often devoid of that spark that says "this is important shit you should listen to?" This is a music born of innovation; why are we (with a few notable exceptions, of course) so content to color inside-the-lines these days?

These are rhetorical questions-- anyone with some knowledge of underground hip hop culture and history knows the answers. But they're still important questions to think about. Everyone keeps talking about how attendance is down, CD sales are down, it's getting harder to be an indie-rapper (at least the people i've talked to). Do you think it has anything to do with the above questions? Has the average concert-going and album-buying fan seen and heard it all before by now?

And because i can already hear the negative comments, let me say that i can't stress enough that this post isn't about "what el guante thinks hip hop should be;" it's about my personal preferences. Because rapping-about-rapping over boom-bap beats while wearing hoodies IS hip hop. It always will be. It's just not ALL that hip hop can be. And THAT's what i'm interested in-- pushing those boundaries and trying to create something new and interesting. Shout to Outkast, Public Enemy, Atmosphere, the Pharcyde, Lauryn Hill, Lyrics Born, Busdriver and the Coup.

This is something i'll continue to struggle with here on the blog for a long time, probably changing my mind and overthinking this forever. I also devote a chapter to this in my book, which should be out in late November or thereabouts.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

more and more bullet points

1. I realize now that, as i've been doing these "bullet points" style posts for months now, i should have kept the numbers going instead of starting over at "1" each time. That would have been cool. Oh well.

2. Big shows coming up! I'll be performing at the downtown Minneapolis library this Saturday at 3pm, part of the "I Couldn't Live at Home" exhibit and performance series which examines community responses to children and youth in crisis. That same night, the Figureheads will be in town at the Dinkytowners-- i'm not on the bill, but i'll be there and it should be a great show. The next night, i'll be playing at the Candleabra with Broadcast Live, a hip hop band out of upstate NY. Next Saturday (the 13th), i'll be performing and facilitating workshops at the Youth Rising Twin Cities Youth Activism Summit. If you can't make it to any of that, be sure to come out to Club Underground on Saturday 10/20 to see me with the Scabs, Thosquanta and OBCT. That last one should be fun-- a punk/hardcore/genre-blending show with RollerDerby people everywhere.

So that's a library, a hip hop show, a youth activism conference and a punk show. That's gangsta. If you can't remember all this, check out the calendar at

3. As long as i'm promoting myself anyway, i'll mention that the album is just about finished and i'm aiming for a Halloween release date. I'm confident it'll be done by then, but the manufacturing may push that date back to early November. Either way, the first single will be out this month. Also, my book is now almost 100 pages of poetry, lyrics, essays, one-act plays and assorted writings. Look for that before the New Year.

4. Is there anything exciting going on in hip hop this month? I know Saigon is coming out (pass, thank you), the Wu (maybe), Lupe at some point (probably) but i'm drawing a blank now. I think making this album and writing this book has forced me to think so hard about what makes "good" music that i'm now able to hate on everything no matter what. Nothing is really exciting right now. Still haven't heard that Grayskul album yet though.

5. Did you know that season two of the Boondocks is starting up soon? And i don't have cable. Maybe when the album drops and i have a quasi-regular income i'll have to splurge.

6. Got robbed in a slam last night and i have absolutely no qualms saying it. It really doesn't happen as often as you might imagine, but every once in a while you just draw a weird group of judges, and it's like whatever. But i love my new material-- it's the best stuff i've ever written. Maybe not the most approachable, but definitely better than what i'd been reading at shows and slams. But that St. Paul slam is interesting. I know i have old, more cliche stuff in the arsenal that could win there, but i'm trying to avoid that temptation and just focus on the new, more creative material.

7. I've been getting into the schools here finally to do some poetry workshops, and those have gone very well. It's amazing to see how these kids respond to some of my stuff. I think it's important to challenge them, even the middle school kids, and am really looking forward to starting with the high schools this month. And that, to me, is what spoken-word is really about. Slams are fun and performances are cool, but poetry has really given me an avenue to work with kids and do something good in the community. I also can't wait to visit Madison and see how my old students as Memorial are doing.

8. Very interesting article on Teach for America at the New York Times: . Interesting because it deals with both the good and bad aspects of the program. While i don't think it's a monstrous demon that's killing the nation's children like *some" people i could name (wink), i do think it's definitely flawed. This article sums it up pretty nicely.

9. Another interesting article at Slate dealing with Wes Anderson and his film's casual racism. I love his style, and i think he's made a couple of great films, but this article is extremely valid and a must-read for Anderson fans: . I'd like to actually see the movie and be able to write about this more in-depth.

10. More brilliance from Jay Smooth, one of the few people in the universe i respect:

by the way, newish black sheep

This isn't exactly new, but this blog is rarely about breaking stories-- just sharing some great stuff. Dres is a fantastic rapper, always has been. He really hasn't lost a step.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Idolator live-blogs the Congressional hip hop hearing

Check this out.

Wow. It's good to know Big Brother doesn't want us listening to the whisper song. I guess that's one thing we can agree on. ha.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Nas told me hip hop was dead, so...'s a bunch of other songs i like. Some good live stuff from the Youtube abyss. And remember, i'm a hip hop head, so i don't want any scenesters criticizing me because Muse isn't cool anymore or anything like that. Enjoy.

1. Saul Williams and Nine Inch Nails: List of Demands LIVE

Best-dressed man ever. And he sounds perfect with NIN-- i'd actually pay money to see that concert.

2. Regina Spektor: Apres Moi LIVE

This was my favorite song on her big breakthrough album. There's better footage out there, but i like this performance better because it includes the rest of the band-- when they come in toward the end it's just chilling.

3. Gogol Bordello: Start Wearing Purple LIVE

Tell me this ain't the greatest song ever. I dare you. I like the recorded version better, but you can find a youtube of the video out there. Figured i'd post this live clip.

4. Muse: Time is Running Out LIVE

Yeah, an old song, but i got to thinking about Muse again after hearing another of their songs on the trailer to that vampires in alaska movie. They might be a Radiohead ripoff and they might not be the most technically amazing band ever, but they sure can write hooks and build suspense.

5. The Easy All Stars: Let Down (Radiohead cover) LIVE

Again, the album version is better-- it features Toots and the Maytals, but this is cool too. If you haven't heard this album (it's all of OK Computer covered in dub and reggae style), check it out. Radiodread.

6. Yoko Kanno and Seatbelts: Tank! LIVE

Yoko Kanno is my hero. She's just amazing. This is, of course, the theme song to Cowboy Bebop. I really don't know what i'd make of this song without that prior knowledge.

7. Wilco: California Stars LIVE

I'll stop here with a decidedly less hype song. This is from the Wilco/Billy Bragg album of songs written by (or at least the lyrics anyway) Woodie Guthrie. This is the most relentlessly heartbreaking song ever. I didn't like the live version at first, but when he gets to that third verse and plays with the melody it really hits.

I could keep going-- maybe this will be a regular thing: "Some Rapper's Favorite Non-Rap Songs" or something. I wanted to find good live footage of Pedro the Lion's "The Poison," but couldn't. Maybe next time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jena 6 backlash, some good links

Of course a backlash is bound to happen. And i don't mean so much individual actions (though those will happen too), but a broader sense of white resentment. And not just white people in that area, but white people all over the country. It's a cycle of rationalization and illogical, short-sighted notions of fairness and equality, a cycle that comes into play every time something like this gets attention in the news.

It's like they...we (i never know which pronoun to use for articles like this-- that's a post unto itself) see Jesse Jackson on TV and just shut down, no matter what the issue is. We want to talk about legal minutiae (but how many times was the kid punched? how heavy were his shoes? how much time elapsed between the noose incident and the fight? blah blah blah?) rather than look at the big picture (legal lynching, cruel and unjust punishment that doesn't fit the crime, etc.). We resent being painted as racist to the point of complete intellectual, ethical and logical collapse.

We just want so badly to believe that America is a fundamentally fair place, that we all have an equal shot at success, that we are indeed the masters of our own destinies same as everyone else. Because if we start to question all of this, if we dig deeper into the myths that have been implanted into us since preschool, it gets scary.

And it's not just conservatives, of course. It's liberals and progressives and even radicals as well. Even if we're speaking out about the Jena 6 or going to rallies or whatever, are we making the connections? Are we seeing this as one outrageous incident that deserves our attention, or as the completely predictable result of a society that systematically grants privileges to one group while oppressing others? Are we exploring our OWN racism? It's easy to take a courageous stand against the out-in-the-open, obvious racism going on in this case. But are we willing to look inside ourselves, to do the self-work necessary to become principled, effective anti-racists?

Particularly ridiculous cases like this one become media firestorms, which is great on one hand but also somewhat dangerous. Any cause celebre (Mumia, anyone?) is. While we need to get all the media attention we can, we have to be extremely careful to be constantly invoking the bigger picture, making the connections, building the foundation of support necessary to move against these larger forces. If we don't, the case will end (in either victory or defeat) and the thousands of other cases just like it all over the country will continue to be ignored.

Because we DO need to win these small battles-- people's lives depend on it. But we can't forget that Black boys and men all over the country are being locked up and killed over bullshit every day, that cases like the Jena 6 aren't anomalies, they're just the tip of the iceberg.

So how do we fight against or organize around these larger demons-- the prison-industrial complex, institutional racism, the white-lens media, capitalism, etc.? I don't think there's any easy answer for that. It's a combination of self-work (reading, educating yoruself, reflecting, etc.), interpersonal activism (having conversations with friends and family, writing articles and letters-to-the-editor, etc.), and larger-scale collective organizing. I think one without the other two is a dead-end.

I know this post evolved from "racist rationalization" to "how to save the world," but i guess it's just one of those days. Been feeling antsy up here, just working on music and poetry and writing. I think i'll spend the day researching organizations around here who are doing good work. There must be a few.

A few good links loosely related to the above:

"Carving Jena in Anti-Racist History"

"Have a Glimmer of Understanding, or Go Home"

The True Front of Progressivism

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jena 6 National Day of Action

Obligatory-yet-still-important Jena 6 post. I assume that if you're reading THIS blog, you probably already know the deal. If not, here are some good starting links:

The Story

Action Links

I won't rehash what's been written elsewhere-- check out the above links, as well as a wealth of other information online. It's interesting to see the kind of impact bloggers seem to be having on this one; if ever there were a cause that "media activism" could really affect, this is it. Also, check out the relevant facebook groups in your area.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Professor Guante: Intro to Spoken-Word

A friend of mine asked me to do a presentation on spoken-word for her class at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School in Chicago. Since i'm in Minneapolis, we're using the miracle of Youtube. Here it is, along with some additional clips. I feel like i'm forgetting a lot, but i think this will do at least as a start. And yeah, i know i say "beautiful thing" a lot during this presentation.. I'm just so full of love. Ha. Anyways, i hope this works.

Part ONE:

Part TWO:


Part FOUR:

Get at me on MySpace at Also have a few more videos up at