Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Year in Review

 I somehow forgot to write a year-end wrap up back in 2009, so I'm attempting to do that now, here in 2011, by looking over old website posts.  Will probably miss some things.  Here we go:

1. Took first place at the 2009 National Poetry Slam as a member of the St. Paul team.  We performed pieces that we believed in, and we were rewarded for it.  Slam is so imperfect, but it still feels good to be validated on some level-- we did, after all, put a TON of work into our writing and performance.

2. Organized and performed at the very first Hip Hop Against Homophobia concert, along with Toki Wright, Maria Isa and more.  Since then, there's been almost a dozen more.

3. Won the VERVE grant through Intermedia Arts, plus won the people's choice for "Best Slam Poet" and "Best Artist/Activist" at the Urban Griots Spoken-Word Award Show.

4. Played the SOUNDSET FESTIVAL, the biggest and best indie hip hop festival around.

5. Did a ton of music writing for CultureBully.

6. Co-coached our amazing MN teen poets at Brave New Voices, along with Khary Jackson.

7. Released two projects-- the Guante & Big Cats! EP "Start a Fire" and the See More Perspective-produced "Return to Guante's Haunted Studio Apartment."  Technically, "An Unwelcome Guest" is a 2010 release, but we had the release party at the end of 2009 at the Bedlam Theater and it was huge.

8. Started serving as the Arts Coordinator of the Canvas, a St. Paul teen arts center.

9. Toured with Junkyard Empire, played a million shows, facilitated a million workshops, made a million appearances, etc.  I guess these were the important things, though.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why "Hey Ya" is the best song of the decade

So I found this old article I wrote back when Speakerboxxx/The Love Below dropped (2003). I did a close reading of Andre's "Hey Ya" and broke it down. Side-note: being a writer can be scary because anyone can google you and find OLD shit you wrote that's awful. I have my share of awful writing, but also some stuff I still like. Like this piece.

As long as we're all doing end-of-the-decade lists and stuff, figured I'd share some of my conspiracy-theorist rantings concerning why this song is the most insanely brilliant track of the '00s:

Double meanings have always been important in American music, from the slave spirituals that contained secret messages about escape, to some of the seemingly innocuous “love songs” of the Civil Rights Era that, whether intentionally or not, provided inspiration and rallying cries for the marchers in the streets. Inserting potentially subversive comments into popular forms of art is a way to reach the masses and avoid the troubles that go along with actively, conspicuously supporting or commenting on controversial material. It can also be a lot of fun—watching those who “don’t get it” go about their business, not getting it.

A contemporary example of this could be Outkast’s (or more specifically, Andre’s) monster hit “Hey Ya.” A bouncy, euphoric pop song, “Hey Ya” can be heard everywhere, from shopping malls to top 40 radio to your mom’s stereo to every damn house party in the city. It’s simply an infectious track—a catchy melody, a driving beat, and inoffensive, easy-to-remember lyrics. It’s the perfect pop song. Perhaps too perfect.

Listen closely to the song. I generally hate over-analyzing things, but I am thoroughly convinced that “Hey Ya” is a very deep artistic statement, and that Andre is, through the medium of pop music, commenting on pop music and popular culture in general. The song is taking shots at the music industry, at the artists, and perhaps most of all at the fans.

The evidence is mostly in the lyrics, lyrics that to the casual listener deal with the slow death of a romantic relationship. But read the lyrics—on a literal level, the song isn’t really dealing with those issues in any concrete way. Most of the words are just catchy phrases that can be repeated—incidentally, the absolute most important thing for the modern pop song. The chorus, perhaps the most obvious example, is just a nonsense phrase repeated eight times. Here, I think that Andre is commenting on the lack of content in most pop music hooks: does “hey ya” really say any less than the typical Nelly or Ja Rule chorus? (remember, I wrote this back in 2003)

There are more clues: “Shake it like a Polaroid picture” is probably the most popular line of the entire decade, let alone the song. Everyone sings along during that part of the track. A Polaroid picture is a copy. There is no originality left in music, and the fans don’t even care—they’re singing along.

Related to this are the lines: “you think you got it/ ooh you think you got it/ but got it just don’t get it until there’s nothing at all/.” Few people seem to be noticing the what the music industry has done and is doing to popular music. Media conglomerates promote products, not art, and the result is “sure-thing” pop music, music that will be immediately devoured by the public and then left on the roadside to rot.

Another point: “Don’t want to meet your Daddy/ just want you in my Caddy.” This is about lust—not just sexual lust, but artistic lust. It’s about enjoyment without commitment. In a market driven by singles rather than albums, music becomes a quickie rather than a romance. Most pop albums, rushed to release in order to maximize profit, contain one or two sure-fire singles and ten tracks of filler. A song may stay with you for a long time—much like an incredible night of passion—but in the end, if the artist can’t deliver again, you will forget him or her and move on to the next fool with a hit single.

The key, however, is the point in the song where the instruments drop out and Andre sings, “when we know we’re not happy here.” Immediately after that, as the chorus comes in, the careful listener will hear Andre say quietly, “but y’all don’t wanna hear me you just want to dance.” This is not printed in the album’s liner note lyrics, and is buried in the track—I didn’t notice it until just recently. This is explicit: people don’t care about art; they care about a good beat and a catchy hook. Now those two things are fine and there is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying them, but without some substance, without some meaning, even the catchiest pop record is just a product— a vacuum cleaner or a used car.

On top of all this, the sonic qualities of the song hint to a deeper meaning as well. Dre has something cold in his voice—whether it’s desperation, resentment or disillusionment—it’s subtle, but it’s definitely there. The edges of his voice are much sharper and harder than a simple love song warrants. Though jubilant and up-tempo, “Hey Ya” isn’t exactly happy; it’s more of a cocaine high than a genuine feeling of joy. This is particularly evident in the “alright alright alright alright alright” part.

Finally, the video contains a number of clues, the most intriguing being the big green casket in the center of the stage. In an interview, the director said that the casket was actually there for some other idea that they had originally had for the video, but after changing ideas they had simply decided to keep it in. I’m not so sure that I buy this. A casket is not just some random prop—it has very specific connotations. Perhaps Andre is commenting on the death of innovative music.

And “perhaps” is always an important word. All in all, “Hey Ya” can be read in two (or more) ways, and it’s probably true that no single reading is entirely correct. None of this can take away from the fact that “Hey Ya” is a great pop song. All I am saying, however, is that it can be a great pop song and much, much more simultaneously, and that we should be paying closer attention to our music, or at the very least believing that an artist can be capable of creating something beyond a catchy sugar buzz.


That's the piece I wrote six years ago, with a few very minor adjustments. I still believe a lot of it, and "Hey Ya" is still one of my favorite songs. Maybe it's crazy to dig that deep into the lyrics of a pop song, but I wish we lived in a world where all music is actively listened to. Who knows what we're missing.

And this is my pick for "song of the decade" because of my two great loves: good pop music and subversive, thought-provoking lyrics, two things that, incidentally, very rarely go together. Maybe my analysis is off-base, but I'll give Andre the benefit of the doubt.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

release party debrief

Rodrigo snapped this photo. More photos and video coming soon.

I feel like I've been holding my body and sanity together by sheer force of will this past week, and now that the release party is over I can finally just fall apart. But wow. What a show.

Packed house, amazing sets by Kristoff Krane (who waded into the center of the crowd and played a song on acoustic guitar, between monstrous hip hop tracks), No Bird Sing and the Tribe, killer guest appearances from Chastity Brown and Big Quarters, great staff and space, a trip to Little Tijuana afterwards-- pretty much everything I could have asked for.

Loved the stage set-up. You'll be able to see it in other photos more closely, but we had a multi-level stage and there were fake trees all around. Very cool. And despite a few sound hiccups (our monitor blew after our second song or so), I thought we played our asses off; best performance of ours, ever. Even got to do my "we are waking up in our caskets (CASKETS!)" call and response thing.

Turnout exceeded expectations. Pretty much a packed house, even earlier, and people stuck around until the end. The Bedlam is a pretty big space too, so I'm not sure what our actual numbers were, but I'm beyond happy. Big thanks to everyone who made it out.

So for now, you can ONLY get the new album through the Strange Famous web store. Our official release date is January 12, so after that it'll be in stores and Itunes and all that, but for now, head over to Sage's house and pick up the special package (signed CD, sticker, instrumentals and PDF booklet) for just $9.99.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Strange Famous Records has our new CD for sale! Now!

With the Twin Cities release party just two days away, we're announcing now that out-of-towners, people who can't make it to the show, or even people who ARE coming to the show can get an exclusive package through Strange Famous that includes:

1. A signed CD

2. Limited Edition Sticker

3. Download Card with a code that unlocks the album instrumentals and a booklet with lyrics, commentary and more.

ALL FOR JUST $9.99. Even if you're coming to the release show, this is the best deal you're going to get.

. Shop around too; lots of good stuff on there. Strange Famous is Sage Francis' record label, and they also have stuff from B.Dolan, Sleep, 2mex, Cecil Otter of Doomtree and many other acts.

“Earnestness can go wrong in hip hop. On this album, it goes very right.” --Sage Francis

On a side note, this is very cool. BIG ups to Sage, SFR and my label, Tru Ruts, for putting this all together. Me and Big Cats poured a whole lot of ourselves into this album, and I'm ecstatic to see so many people excited about it and helping us push it. Please take advantage of this pre-order deal, even if you plan on coming to the release party-- it's really a fantastic deal, and we want to support those people who are supporting us. Thanks!

Friday, December 04, 2009

everything's comin' up guante

Finally, after a grueling year-plus of work, we got the physical copies of the new album. Had to go to Keegan's in NE tonight with Big Cats and e.g. from Tru Ruts to sign a whole bunch of copies. Why? You'll find out soon.

Some lady walked by and bought one, out of nowhere. Good omen?

If YOU want one, you'll have to come to the release party (12/12 at the Bedlam). Nobody gets one before then, and since the show itself is more of a "special Twin Cities preview," you won't be able to get one AFTER the show either, at least not for a little bit. Something very cool is happening-- can't talk about it yet, but soon, like, early next week.

Oh also-- I know everything is digital these days, but you really should get a physical copy. The art (done by Big Cats himself) is beautiful. Get the little booklet that comes with the album too; I make them myself and they have all kinds of cool stuff in them-- lyrics, song notes, more. Fun fact: the mystery figure on the cover is a doctored photo of Truth Be Told from the Tribe.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Only a few people have heard the new Guante & Big Cats album, but one response we've gotten a few times is "I didn't know Guante could rap; I thought this was going to be a spoken-word album over beats." So yeah, so we're all on the same page, let me talk in third person for a second:

Guante raps. Guante is not "a poet who raps." Guante raps really well. Guante also performs spoken-word really well, but for him, those two things aren't related all that much. It is possible for one person to do two (or more) different things at a high level.

And yeah, I like spoken-word, and I like writing songs "about stuff." But like I say in the video below, no one likes to be pigeon-holed. So here's a video of me rapping about rapping while Big Cats plays the MPC:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Favorite Music of the Decade

So for CultureBully, I wrote up a few of my favorite albums of the past decade. I also missed a few. Here are links to the pieces I wrote, plus short write-ups of a few I missed, plus a few more random thoughts. Keep in mind that this isn’t a list of the BEST music of the decade; it’s a list of my FAVORITE music of this decade.

Regina Spektor: Begin to Hope

Saul Williams: Saul Williams

Erykah Badu: Mama’s Gun

El-P: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

The Postal Service: Give Up

Gnarls Barkley/N*E*R*D/Andre3000

The Roots: Game Theory and Phrenology

Phrenology is criminally underrated by hip hop heads. I always hear people talk about how “out-there” and “experimental” it was, but when you take away the little “punk” interlude and the freak-out at the end of “Water,” you have a pretty straight-forward monster of a rap record, probably my favorite Roots album. And Game Theory is just undeniable—super cohesive, dark and beautiful—through Phren is my favorite, Game Theory might be their best.

Fall Out Boy: Infinity on High

If you peel away all the seething hatred for this band—hatred that’s usually based on non-musical factors like who their fans are or who the bass player is dating—you’re left with some of the best pop music of the decade. I wrote more about my love for this album in my review of their follow-up.

K-OS: Atlantis – Hymns for Disco

K-OS isn’t a great rapper, but he is a great songwriter. Though I’m usually all about lyrics, this album got me because of how pretty the music is. K-OS is one of the few emcees to get the whole genre-bending thing right—the music defies easy categorization, but it’s not defined by that. The hybridization is organic, and the music never loses sight of the hooks.

P.O.S.: Audition

This one hasn’t stayed with me as much, but when it first came out it was pretty revelatory. The harsh production isn’t for everyone, but I feel like this album really opened up some doors for other hip hop artists to explore weirder sonic territory. Sounds amazing live, too.

Haley Bonar: Everything

From "The Size of Planets" to “Lure the Fox” to “Big Star,” Haley Bonar is just breathtakingly good. Her lyrics are engaging, her melodies are beautiful and her voice is otherworldly. It’s an absolute mystery to me why she isn’t more famous than she already is—she can appeal to people who just want pretty adult-contempo folk rock, but she can go so much deeper than that too. And yeah, she's on my new album.

OutKast: Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Two interesting releases here. One represented the apex of OutKast as a duo; the other, the exact point they started to part ways. Neither release is perfect, but OutKast are so far beyond what most other artists are doing (hip hop or otherwise) that even their uneven, experimental stuff is pretty bonkers. If you took the best songs on these three albums and put them on one album, you'd have the best rap album of the decade. As is, they're still pretty good.

Janelle Monae: Metropolis - The Chase Suite

You don’t hear a whole lot of ambitious R&B music these days; usually it’s throwback retro soul, groove-oriented neo-soul or plastic loverman pop R&B. This album, however, shattered those molds and made something wildly original. Monae is one of the few artists I'm really excited about.

Yann Tiersen: Amelie Soundtrack

I don’t really have anything interesting to say about this one. I don’t really “do” instrumental music. I just really like this album. I think I listen to this more than anything else in my Itunes.

Res: How I Do

Another overlooked gem. Beautifully-produced music, well-written songs and a very cool delivery. An all-time favorite album for me.

Some Singles, Omissions and Random Thoughts:

I didn’t LOVE either of Lupe Fiasco’s albums, but “Kick, Push” might be my favorite rap single all year. He uses really simple language to say some pretty complex things about identity and freedom; I wish Lupe would “dumb it down,” so to speak, more often. Saying deep things with simple language is always better than saying simple things in overly abstract nonsense gibberish.

Another example of this would be "No Regrets" from Aesop Rock. I like Aesop's weird stuff too, but this is his most simple, straightforward song... and it benefits from that.

Amy Winehouse and producer Mark Ronson made some really catchy songs. “Valerie,” “You Know I’m No Good,” and others—it’s not exactly revolutionary music, but it’s really well-done throwback soul.

D'Angelo's "Voodoo" was my favorite album for a long time, but I haven't found myself coming back to it any time recently.

I thought about writing up Rage Against the Machine’s “The Battle of Los Angeles,” but upon re-listening it’s a pretty uneven album. The high points are insanely high, though. “Sleep Now in the Fire,” in particular, is monstrously good.

Nothing deep to say, but Raphael Saadiq’s “Still Ray” might be my favorite song of the whole decade.

“Makeshift Patriot” by Sage Francis is probably the best song dealing with 9/11, at least the best one that comes to mind.

“At the End of a Slow Dance” by Vant Hunt is also a great track, "a tremendously weird blend of ‘80s synth pop, rock and soul that not only defies genre conventions, but is a pretty brilliant piece of songwriting in its own right" --me.

"Lord Willin'" from Clipse deserves a mention, but only a mention. Enough other people have written about them.

Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief” is usually overlooked in their repertoire of albums, but I think it splits the difference between their early, more poppy stuff and later, more experimental stuff just like “OK Computer” did, just not as well. But being “almost as good as ‘OK Computer;” is still a pretty awesome thing. Some killer songs on this album.

Upon further listening, Saul William's Niggy Tardust album is pretty great. Not as good as the self-titled, but not as "eh" as I first thought.

Blue Scholars put out some great music, but they still haven't grabbed me by the throat and demanded my attention. They share this with about 98% of all indie-rap released in the last few years.

I think Ghostface and DOOM are both really talented and put out some great music over the past ten years, but I also think they’re insanely overhyped. You can read about how brilliant they are elsewhere.

Kind of the same for Kanye, who had some amazing tracks this decade, but I don't really feel like writing about.

I want to love The Coup, because I think Boots Riley is one of the best lyricists in all of hip hop, but their music is just too inconsistent for me. Some of it is beyond brilliant, but only some of it.

I’m SURE I’m forgetting some stuff too. It is a whole decade, after all. What about you? What are your favorite albums or songs of the decade?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

new album tracklisting

Just another appetizer:Say what you want about my songs, but I write better song titles than anyone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

this week: Sioux Center, Iowa City, Kansas City

The latest swing in the Verbal Graffiti tour w/ me, Junkyard Empire and e.g. bailey. Sioux Center Iowa tonight, Iowa City tomorrow night, and Kansas City Saturday night. Check my MySpace page for all the details.

Also, if you're in the Twin Cities, be sure to go check out Big Cats at Last of the Record Buyers tonight (Thursday) at Fifth Element at 9pm. He'll be playing some never-before-heard stuff from our new album.

BIG PLANS for the release party 12/12 at the Bedlam. BEYOND. We've added members to our band. Special guests. Much more. Tell your people.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

more release party news!

Here's the new flyer, with supporting acts and sponsors. We're all really excited about this lineup. Me and Big Cats! will be playing with our band, plus a few more special guests.

Also, here's the Facebook event page, if you do that sort of thing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

upcoming shows, release news, new job, more

I'll be featuring at the Macalester Poetry Slam on Saturday (11/14) night. It'll be in 10K, the basement of Dupre. Their slam has been a HUGE success, and I'm excited to perform there. Here's the Facebook event page.

On Sunday (11/15), there's a march for LGBTQ equality (commemorating last year's historic protests) at 2pm in front of the Hennepin County Government Center. From 3pm-6pm, there'll be a show at the Bedlam Theater featuring me, The Tribe, Sleeper & The Sleepless and some really good poets. Here's the Facebook event page.

If you haven't heard, the big release party for the new album will be Saturday, 12/8 at the Bedlam Theater. 10pm. Pre-sale ticket information, supporting acts (they're amazing) and sponsoring organizations will be announced very soon.

Also, I got a job as the arts coordinator for the Canvas, a new, arts-based youth center in St. Paul. We're putting together an amazing slate of workshops and events right now, so if you know teens in St. Paul (or beyond), let them know; if you have connections in St. Paul schools, let ME know. Here's the Facebook page; website coming soon.

Finally, I've got a title for my one-man spoken-word show: "The Fist that Lives in Your Neck." Look for a debut in the Spring.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chantz & Grindberg: The Good Company EP

This is one of my favorite Twin Cities hip hop releases ever, one of a few that I listen to regularly. My label just re-released it, newly mastered and beautiful. GO GET IT HERE.

I also just recorded a song for Chantz's upcoming full-length, which should be even better. Watch out.

Here's Chantz's MySpace page too.

Friday, November 06, 2009


I can tell you with no ego: this is my finest album. If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will nod his fucking head.

Saturday, December 12 at the Bedlam Theater. 10pm. 18+

Opening acts and sponsoring organizations will be announced soon. For now, just mark your calendars. It's going to be a great show. For real.

AN UNWELCOME GUEST is a hip hop concept album from Twin Cities producer BIG CATS and rapper GUANTE. Over fifteen tracks, the album tells the story of one man moving from east to west in the wake of a man-made disaster and his own personal tragedy. Also, there are zombies.

The album features guest appearances from HALEY BONAR, PROLYPHIC (of Strange Famous Records), BIG QUARTERS, CHASTITY BROWN and ERIC BLAIR (of Hyder Ali and No Bird Sing). Through the album’s unique narrative frame, these artists join Guante in exploring issues of displacement, authority and the difference between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed. Also: zombies.

Stay tuned. Much more (including the first single, some exclusive video stuff and more announcements) coming soon!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A FREE album for you


See More Perspective produced the whole thing, and the two of us take turns, more or less, on the vocals. It's got a Halloween/Day of the Dead theme, and will only be free until Friday the 13th in November, so grab it now.

We actually released a version of this last Halloween, but this one has some new tracks, and everything is re-mastered. As I get ready to put out the Guante & Big Cats album and See More preps his debut full-length, we wanted to get something out now for all the people who have been supporting us. We're very grateful. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Halloween PSA

I'm about to head to Chicago for a show, but first, a little Halloween PSA:

Dressing up like a stereotype of someone else's ethnic/cultural heritage isn't just insensitive, it's fucking stupid.

Many of us have learned, over the past ten halloweens or so, that it's pretty much pointless to argue with someone wearing a poncho, sombrero and fake mustache who is carrying a bottle of fake liquor about why his costume is innappropriate. You can talk politics with the fratboy in the fake locs and Jamaican hat or the girl in the "Asian Dragon Lady" costume until you're blue in the face. They probably won't get it.

So rather than debating with some drunk guy in blackface, or calling the PC police on that friend-of-a-friend wearing the turban and fake beard, why don't we try a new approach:

"Hey idiot-- you had all this time to think of a costume to wear and the best you could come up with is this? How boring. How unoriginal. How fucking stupid. Yes it's offensive on a political level, but it's also offensively uncreative. You went to the store and thought 'duuuude this mexican guy costume is hilarious, dude; everyone's gonna love me' and you bought it. You're an idiot."

More reading here.

And more here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Verbal Graffiti Tour: WI, IL, IA, NY, more!

Along with Junkyard Empire and e.g. bailey, I'll be going on a few swings in the next few months-- Midwest in October and November, East Coast in December, West Coast in January. More dates are being added. Doing hip hop sets on the dates with Junkyard, and then maybe hopping off to do spoken-word stuff between dates.

Also just added a Halloween weekend show (10/30) in La Crosse, WI with See More Perspective at the Root Note.

For the press release, CLICK HERE.

For a full, updating calendar, CLICK HERE. Here's what we got so far:

• 10/22 – The Kinetic Playground – Chicago, IL

9:00pm • 21+ • $7

10/23 – The Reptile Palace – Oshkosh, WI
9:00pm • 21+ • $5

10/24 – Java 101 w/ Diagram of Truth – Dekalb, IL
8:00pm • All Ages • $6

11/19 – Doc’s – Sioux Center, IA
8:00pm • 21+ • $5

11/20 – The Industry – Iowa City, IA
9:00pm • 19+ • $7

12/05 – Red Square w/ Broadcast Live – Albany, NY
8:00pm • 21+ • $5

12/06 – Fat Baby – New York, NY
9:00pm • 21+ • $8

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Preview the new Guante & Big Cats album!

CLICK HERE (and scroll down for the MP3 download)

Noam the Drummer put together this megamix of our new album, An Unwelcome Guest, essentially condensing an hour-long zombie-superhero-love-story concept album into 15 crazy minutes. In it, you’ll hear some flashes of the story, a few of our guests (Haley Bonar, Chastity Brown, Eric Blair of No Bird Sing; the album also features Big Quarters and Prolyphic, though they’re not in this mix) and an idea of how the album as a whole sounds. We’ll be releasing the LP in December on Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records. Think of this as the trailer.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

album update, new writing, goings-ons


1. New post at CultureBully listing our favorite "political" songs: add to the list here.

2. Guante & Big Cats! are on BandCamp now. You can hear our whole EP, "Start a Fire" for free, and buy it track by track if there's a shred of a human soul rattling around in your hollow frame. My favorite songs off that project are "The Hero" and "Dragons." There's a slightly different version of "Dragons" on our full-length, but you'll see.

3. Speaking of our full-length,"An Unwelcome Guest," big news this week. Stay tuned. The album is done, and we're looking at a December release. But like I said, we'll be leaking something cool this week.

4. We shot a video for "One of These Mornings" with the amazing One Light Collective. Because of the concept, there's going to be a lot of post-production, so it might not be out for a few months still, but it should be worth the wait. Big thanks to everyone who came out in the cold to be extras-- Rodrigo, Bryan, Jillian & friends, SeeMore & Sarah, Sha & EG, plus all the actors and crew.

5. Big shows this month: the Fong Lee benefit show at Macalester was huge, and full of amazing artists coming together to speak out against police brutality and honor the memory of Fong Lee. His family was inspiring. I also performed at Bryan Thao Worra's book release show, which was a lot of fun. Bryan's one of my favorite poets, and his new book is fantastic (it's called "Barrow"). Also played a show at Sobriety High School for their Fall Ball, which is always fun. Next up is a political prisoner benefit gig at the Bedlam on Sunday, and then we're off on a short tour-- details announced very soon.

6. I've decided that if the Packers don't have a good season, I may as well root for the Vikings. But if I'm going to do that, they'd better win the damn Superbowl, and not get knocked out in the second round of the playoffs like they always do when they're good.

7. Finally finished some new poems. Think I might slam in November. Did you know that the National Poetry Slam is going to be in St. Paul in 2010? Should be pretty wild.

8. If I had been smart and voted for myself in the City Pages "Picked to Click" poll, I think I would have cracked the top ten. Blessing in disguise, though; gunning for #1 in 2010. Let's hope people enjoy this crazy-ass album about zombies and superhero mythology and love and displacement.

9. Found myself at an Old Country Buffet the other day. The food wasn't very good, but I did enjoy having lots of different drinks (choosing one drink is so confining). On second thought, the nacho bar was quite good. Been spending all my money on Amazing Thailand, Quang and Jasmine Deli.

10. Late-pass, I know, but the funniest thing about the whole Kanye situation is that that Beyonce video he loves so much is just your standard "women dancing in front of a white background" video. GREATEST OF ALL TIME.

11. Yes, I officially dropped the "el" from my name. All the websites still have it, so i'm thinking of it as a more formal version. But from here on out, on fliers, press releases and albums, it's just "Guante." Thanks.

12. Follow me on Twitter for more frequent updates, because I'm sure that's what you really want.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Up in Arms: A Night to Honor Fong Lee and End Police Brutality

Saturday, October 3 at 8pm at Macalester (Kagin Commons). Click here for the Facebook event page.

Fong Lee was a 19-year old kid killed by Minneapolis police. More info. Latest news on the case here. Some troubling questions here.

This is a pretty incredible line-up of artists. It's really inspiring to see:

Magnetic North I Nomi of Power Struggle I Michelle Myers of Yellow Rage I Maria Isa I Blackbird Elements I Guante I Rodigo Sanchez-Chavarria I E.G. Bailey I Tou Saiko Lee with PosNoSys I True Mutiny I Sha Cage I Kevin Xiong with Pada Lo I Tish Jones I Maipacher I Logan Moua I Bobby Wilson I Hilltribe I Poetic Assassins and Special Guests

Sponsored By:

SPEAK! I Lealtad-Suzuki Center I Asian Student Alliance I Ua Ke I DJ Club I History Department [Macalester College] I Coalition for Community Relations I The Loft Literary Center I Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network I Minnesota Spoken Word Association I Minnesota Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign I Shades of Yellow I TakeAction Minnesota I Communities United Against Police Brutality

Emcees I Amy Hang and Tou Ger Xiong


* All proceeds to benefit the family of Fong Lee for legal costs.

For more information

Joseph Hang I 612.747.3768 [p]
Tou Ger Xiong I 651.738.0141 [p]

Sunday, September 20, 2009

How to Write About Hip Hop

(Originally posted at Culture Bully; this is the updated version.  Also, be sure to check out the sequel, "How to Read About Hip Hop.")

I’m completely aware that “explaining the joke” makes it less funny, but I want to point out right away that this essay is satirical. So stop sending me angry emails.

1. Before you even get to the reviews themselves, remember, just because hip hop is a global cultural force enjoyed by billions doesn’t mean you have to treat it like it is. If you run a website, alt-weekly, college newspaper or whatever, one token hip hop review per month should just about do it. Too few, and people might accuse you of rockism or even racism; too many and, well, that’s never going to be a problem, is it? Not sure what to review? Just check Pitchfork and see what they’re into; they have their finger on the pulse.

2. If you're an editor, assign the newest mainstream hip hop release to the nerdy white guy on your staff who listens to Wilco and Fleet Foxes. Assign the newest underground hip hop release to the other nerdy white guy on your staff who listens to Wilco and Fleet Foxes. If you have a "hip hop guy/girl" on staff, fire him/her immediately; this troubled economy is no place for luxury staff positions.

3. Remember, music journalism is the opposite of regular journalism. Avoid "scooping" other music writers, and instead focus only on artists whom everyone already loves and knows about. There may be a brilliant yet overlooked indie MC in your city, but hey, Common has a new hat!

4. Your goal as a writer is not to talk about what you see as the positive and negative aspects of the music; it's to prove to people how well you personally understand hip hop, how "down" you are, and how out-of-touch everyone else is. Insinuate one of two facts: that everyone who listens to underground hip hop is an elitist, headwrap-wearing backpacker, OR that everyone who listens to mainstream hip hop is either a wannabe thug criminal or 14 year old white girl. There is no middle ground, and the boundaries between the two hip hop sub-genres are always clear and well-defined.

5. When reviewing underground or socially-conscious hip hop, make a point to emphasize how the artist "doesn't just talk about bitches and bling." This will make your readers' heads explode, because no hip hop artist has ever rapped about anything other than "bitches and bling" in the history of the genre. It doesn't matter what the artist actually does talk about.

6. If you're based in the Midwest, be sure to compare every MC who utters anything remotely introspective or emotional to Slug, and any MC with any shred of political awareness to Brother Ali, no matter how different their actual sonic or lyrical qualities may be.

7. Use the word "organic" a lot.

8. Don't try to actually understand the music, much less the culture behind it; use the same criteria you use for any release when reviewing hip hop. Talk about how it's not melodic enough. Or how the loops are too repetitive. Or how the rapper is too boastful. Or how live instruments automatically make hip hop much better. Be sure to sneak in a few sucker-punches about how sampling is just glorified theft.

9. If the rapper is expressing a political thought of any kind, it's "preachy and overbearing." Remember, we have a black president; these hip hop guys should rap about partying or love or something now. Conversely, if you're one of those "down for the struggle" types, compare any and every amateur MC who mumbles "fuck the police" to Chuck D and KRS-ONE, if not Malcolm X.

10. When you have a gimmick to write about, you don't have to actually engage with the music itself. Maybe the rapper has a funny name that you can fill up three paragraphs explaining. Or maybe his/her album is a mixtape about pirates; they're in right now. Or maybe you can just make something up based off a throwaway bar on a random track; did he reference a character from "The Wire?" I think we have your lead-in!

11. Compare white MCs to Eminem, no matter what they actually sound like. Similarly, compare female MCs to Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim, despite their growing irrelevance.

12. Use the words "deep," “socially-conscious” and "revolutionary," even if the messages on the album all boil down to "be yourself," "don't trust the government" and "I like rapping."

13. When writing about "street hip hop," you can only take one of two stances: you can either say that rapping about selling drugs and shooting people is absolutely evil and devoid of any and all artistic value, or you can say that it's ultra-edgy "ghetto reporting" and that these MCs are our new protest poets, performing an invaluable public service. Again, there is no middle ground, and everyone is going to judge you by the stance you take.

14. When mainstream rappers say sexist or homophobic things, it's not worth talking about because we should all just expect it. When underground rappers say sexist or homophobic things, they're just displaying their realness; they're not like all those indie-rap nerds. Either way, never criticize anyone for sexism or homophobia.

15. When you open up the press kit of an unknown indie hip hop artist and read things like “Artist X is the new face of hip hop, blazing trails worldwide with his rabid fan base and mind-blowing live show” or “Artist X is the perfect combination of 2pac, Biggie and Kanye, but with that southern flavor that’s so hot right now,” BELIEVE IT. Why would they lie to you? A good press kit writes the review for you. How nice!

16. Music writing isn’t so much like other kinds of nonfiction writing; it’s more like poetry. If you like the beats, don’t talk about what samples are present or what producer is an obvious influence, say things like “The undulating, chicken-fried bassline meshes perfectly with the twittering hi-hat chirps while every snare is a far-off supernova—distant yet magnificent; the overall effect creates a ghetto-gothic gumbo of post-9/11 paranoia, neo-throwback boom-bap and objective subjective reality.”

17. If you call an artist by their government name (especially first name only), it elevates you to his/her status in the minds of your readers. This is good, because writing about hip hop is a lot like hip hop itself; it’s not so much how talented you are as it is how people perceive you.

18. Pretty much everything even halfway good is a “classic.”

19. If you choose to write about hip hop in a format beyond an album review or interview, perhaps a scholarly paper or book, feel free to use the culture to validate any agenda you already have. Also, don’t write about hip hop after 1997 or so; just regurgitate what Jeff Chang has already said about the Bronx and whatnot. Finally, assign complex literary, aesthetic or philosophical meanings to everything—samples, throwaway punchlines, album covers, everything. When you overanalyze a piece of art, you can talk about it using your language, on your terms, completely out of context. It’s much easier than actually trying to understand where the artist is coming from.

20. Once your piece is published and people start posting comments on it, be sure to respond to every single one of them. Also, take every comment personally. If someone didn’t like your positive review of the new Slaughterhouse or Esoteric album, insinuate that they MUST love Soulja Boy and the Black Eyed Peas. WRITE IN ALL CAPS TO ENSURE THAT THEY KNOW YOU’RE SERIOUS.

Any other tips people want to share?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

recent writing: Jay-Z, Regina Spektor, The Postal Service

Yeah, I know posting my thoughts on Regina Spektor and the Postal Service after my less-than-glowing review of the new Jay-Z album might hurt my credibility in some circles. Good thing I have an enormous ego and ignore all criticism. Three recent pieces of mine over at CultureBully:

And I didn't write this one, but check out JonJon's review of the new Raekwon here.

Keep checking CultureBully for more "Best of the Decade" posts... I wrote some on Erykah Badu, Saul Williams, El-P and more. Coming soon.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

very special show on 9/9: slam team homecoming/Kibera school fundraiser

So I know I promote myself a lot. I'm not ashamed of it. If you don't know how to promote yourself, you'll never make it. It's just part of the job. But for 99% of the shows I put in my Twitters and Facebook statuses and all that, I'm really just saying "hey, this is happening; you might like it." I very rarely ASK people to come to shows.

But this is one of those shows where I'm kind of asking people to come out. Aside from being a GREAT show (three incredible poetry slam teams from MN: Minneapolis, Quest youth team and National Poetry Champion St. Paul; plus others), it's raising money for a really amazing cause, the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy. This is a school in Kibera, Kenya (the second largest slum in the world) that's doing some unbelievably good work.

Read up about it. Donate to it. Come to the show.

Wednesday, September 9th at the Music Box Theater (1407 Nicollet) in Minneapolis. ALL AGES. $5. 7pm. See you there!

Monday, August 17, 2009

three big upcoming shows

Friday, 9/4 at the Cedar Cultural Center (all ages!): Junkyard Empire's CD release:
Saturday, 9/5 at Intermedia Arts: 2009 Clapperclaw Festival (get tickets now!):
Friday, 9/11 at Eclipse Records (all ages!): No Bird Sing CD release show:
September kicks off with a bang. Very excited about all three of these. We'll likely be adding some spoken-word-only dates to capitalize on the national championship, and will be touring at the end of the month. Tremendous.

Monday, August 10, 2009

slam team photo and links

Your 2009 National Poetry Slam champions: St. Paul Soap Boxing.
Photo by Arrian Wissel. L-R: Khary "6 is 9" Jackson, Jenn Sparks, Sierra DeMulder, Kyle "Guante" Myhre, Michael Mlekoday, Matthew Rucker (coach).

Sunday, August 09, 2009

we won! and other national poetry slam thoughts

Well that was fun. My team, St. Paul, took first place at the 2009 National Poetry Slam. Kind of a shock, but I'm cocky so not that much of a shock. But yeah. A bunch of random thoughts:

The trophy is a big sword going through a stack of books. Pretty cool.

Somehow, once we got to finals we still had some of our best poems. And we had to fight like hell to even GET to Finals (had to beat Austin, DC, Oakland, NYC Urbana twice, and a bunch of other great teams in prelims and semis). Goes to show the importance of not only writing lots of good poems and having deep pockets, but knowing how and when to play the pieces you have. It was nice to have an experienced coach on our side.

We took a 1 in every one of our bouts, without using a single group piece. That was a point of pride for us. Nothing against group pieces; when they're done right they're incredible... but they're so rarely done right.

And that's really the most satisfying part of winning: I think our team writes and performs beautiful, meaningful, thoughtfully-constructed poetry. Maybe I'm just overly critical, but hardly anything touched me this year like poems have in the past. Too much of this year's nationals fell on two extremes: loud, blunt, not-so-poetic shouting pieces, and overly flowery, imagery/metaphor-packed-for-no-real-reason, capital-P Poems. I think our team finds the happy medium between these two styles and we got rewarded for it. No offense to anyone out there; just my opinion. I like storytelling, persona poems, new angles to familiar subjects, etc.

I did like Seattle's statue of liberty piece, Jared from Urbana's entomologist love poem, Oz from Boston's devil poem, Albuquerque's work poem (which preceded me in finals), and a few others. Obviously, we didn't get to see every bout; I'm sure there was amazing stuff all over. Really wanted to catch the two Denver teams; never got a chance. Chicago and Hawaii are usually fun too.

The second most satisfying part of winning was repping the Midwest. I know so many people and poets from the Twin Cities, Madison, Milwaukee, Columbus, Chicago and all the other spots in between who have really helped me develop and grow as an artist and as a person, so it was real nice to represent for all of them. Also, we get to remind our flyover-state brethren that we can succeed just as much as the teams from the Bay, from NYC, from Texas and anywhere else succeed, especially when we support one another. The amazing Minneapolis team in particular was crucial for giving us energy and support.

This year, I got to do Starfish, the Family Business, Handshakes and Love in the Time of Zombies. That's a quartet of poems I'm pretty proud of. Did the first two last year as well, and the latter two are new to NPS. All four went over very well.

The Minnesota air on my face after I stepped off the bus was surprisingly comforting. Maybe just because it's not 130% humidity.

Yes, Josh, Brave New Voices is better. But we still had a great time.

I wish there had been more workshops. Open mics and slams are good, but next year it'd be nice to have something different.

Need to get some sleep. More thoughts and pictures later.

Friday, August 07, 2009

my team is in the National Poetry Slam FINALS!

So I'm on the St. Paul team this year. We won both of our prelims, won our semifinals bout, and now are going to the National Poetry Slam FINALS for the first time, ever.

We'll be facing San Francisco, Albuquerque and NY's Nuyorican team. And we have most of our best poems left. It's going to be wild.

Just got back from semis. We faced off against Oakland, NY's Urbana team, Orlando and Austin's NeoSoul team. A big, challenging bout. Khary and Sierra both got perfect scores on two absolutely mind-blowing poems. Mike did a brilliant piece and kind of got robbed. And by the time I got up as our anchor, we had a comfortable lead so I did "Love in the Time of Zombies" and closed it out for us. We're all very pleased with how we performed, and more importantly with the quality of the pieces we brought this year.

Personal aside: it's weird-- back home, I'm probably the most famous person on the team. I get the most press; I'm our Grand Slam champion-- not saying I'm the best; just that I'm the most well-known. HERE, however, I'm like the faceless nobody on this team. Both Khary and Sierra are superstars in the slam community, and Mike knows everyone from College Nationals. It's kind of fun being the weird guy nobody knows anything about. Or talks to. Or looks at. Haha.

Overall, this Nationals has been a great experience. It feels so good to be on a team that's writing and performing high-quality work and not just pandering and doing easy bullshit. There's been a lot of that this year, by the way. I'd like to say I've seen dozens of brilliant, inspiring pieces, but I'd be lying. Some really good stuff here and there, to be sure, but all in all it's been frustrating.

But at least we're doing well. We'll see how Finals shakes out. It'd be great to rep the Midwest and take home a win. Personally, though, I just hope the poetry is good. I know we'll be bringing some pieces we really love and have confidence in. Thanks for all the support!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

quick national poetry slam update

Borrowing Khary's (6is 9) computer for a quick second. As some of you know, I'm on the St. Paul team this year, and we're going to semifinals!

We took first place in both our preliminary bouts. I think we're ranked in the top five (out of 68).

Most importantly, we've killed our pieces. High scores are great, but I'm really happy this team is writing and performing quality work. We have a KILLER semifinals setlist, and it would be very cool to make finals this year.

Will post some photos later.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

googled myself and found a bunch of cool videos

My poem "Smalltalk" LIVE at First Ave.:

"Land of the Sandpeople" LIVE at SoundSet '09 (w/ See More):

The video that ran with my feature in the Pioneer Press:

And there's this, some footage of our band opening for Brother Ali at the One Day in July Festival.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Friday: summertime hip hop barbeque jam for the WORLD

This is a pretty ridiculous lineup (Toki Wright, Maria Isa, Guante & Big Cats!, DJ Itch13, See More Perspective) and there'll be free food too.

Friday at the Nomad in Minneapolis. Food starts at 7pm, music at 9pm. $7. Should be a lot of fun. Itchie is one of my favorite DJs; he'll be up from Chicago just for this show.

Also, if you're reading this note from my facebook, go to the original post so you see the image of the flyer. It's very nice.

And as long as I'm wasting your time promoting myself, I'll also mention that Sunday is the annual EROTIC SLAM at the artists' quarter in St. Paul. 8pm. Big raffle, lots of dirty/beautiful poetry. I'll be competing. It's always (for some reason) the biggest slam of the year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Brave New Voices recap

(Photo by Moira Pirsch)

So I'm back in Minneapolis now after a week in Chicago coaching the MN youth slam team at BRAVE NEW VOICES. Both me and Khary (aka 6 is 9, the other coach) are very proud of our team. They all performed their pieces on stage more powerfully than they ever have anywhere else, which just blew me away.

For example, I was completely in tears during Hieu's piece about saying goodbye to a baby being given up for adoption, a poem I'd heard at least a dozen times already. But I guess that's part of being a great performer: stepping up when the stage demands it. I noticed so much in the piece that I hadn't before.

But yeah, the whole team killed it. Brittany was our tank, going first in every bout and giving us a lead right away. Aimee was our secret weapon; a quiet, challenging poet who contrasted very well with the bombast of everyone else. Sol and Spencer (along with Hieu) proved that solo poems with HEART and CONTENT can always beat intricately choreographed, screaming group pieces. We made semifinals, and missed finals stage by a heartbeat. Everyone left the festival happy with how we did.

That was the coolest thing for me: coaching a team that only performed two group pieces the whole week, when other teams were doing ALL loud, flashy group pieces. I have nothing against group poems on principle; it's just that most don't truly justify the need for multiple voices-- they're just a little louder, a little bigger, whatever. I like well-written solo pieces: just the poet and the mic; no dancing, no pointless stage movements, no fancy stuff that doesn't actually add to the poem.

Other highlights: the Bay Area's piece about losing language (don't know the individual poet) was one of the best poems I've every heard. Guam's group piece at finals was stirring. Denver had a few brilliant poems. Skokie was cool. "Switch," of course, a New York piece about being black and gay. Robbie Q's set in someone's hotel room was breathtaking. I got to perform my cockroach poem twice during the workshops me and Khary facilitated, and it's fun to scare little kids with evil poetry (joking). Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Epic Burger was fantastic. Rock/Paper/Scissors with Chinaka Hodge was ridiculous. The "fuck HBO" poem was a great moment at Finals, though I don't know all about the controversy. DJ Itch13 (who will be here in the Twin Cities for our show 7/31 at the Nomad) was phenomenal at Finals. TISH JONES.

It was also fun hearing how "weird" our team was, in terms of the mix of people. We probably had the single most diverse team fielded; identity-wise and style-wise. That's always fun. It was very cool putting Spencer, Aimee, Sol and Hieu in a single poem ("Prom," which was also one of the only funny poems we heard all week).

All in all, a great experience. I know both me and Khary are very excited for adult nationals (NPS) this August in Florida, though I know the vibe won't be quite the same.

Monday, July 13, 2009

in Chicago all this week!

Coaching the MN youth slam team (along with Khary "6 is 9" Jackson) at BRAVE NEW VOICES.

Me and Khary are also facilitating a workshop on persona poems on Wednesday.

I'm hoping there'll be at least a minute here or there to catch up with some of my long-lost Chicago friends. Everyone can come hang out in our hotel/dorm room; I have trail mix.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Free song download: "Harry Potter" REMIX

Guante & Big Cats! featuring Chantz: "Harry Potter" Remix

Just a fun song. Check it out; download it for free. That link goes to the Tru Ruts (my label) blog, where there's a direct download link AND a listen/download link. Blurb:

Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records presents a FREE download of the remixed/re-worked “Harry Potter,” a song that finds emcees Guante and Chantz using the book/film series as a metaphor for smashing down the walls of the literary/musical/artistic canon. Over a brooding, propulsive Big Cats! beat, the two rappers touch on hip hop, culture and much more, all the while dropping punchlines that play off of the book’s many characters and ideas. Fresh off their appearance at Soundset ’09, Guante & Big Cats! are dropping this song for free as an appetizer to their upcoming zombie-superhero-love-story, the concept album “An Unwelcome Guest.”

In other news, we were in the studio for four hours last night recording "AN UNWELCOME GUEST," and it's going to be a wild, wild year.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

things that are happening

It becomes increasingly difficult to Twitter when there's so much happening at once.

1. The annual "Big Slam" is this Sunday at Pepito's Parkway Theater. Check out a 4x4 Nationals-style bout between the St. Paul national team, the Minneapolis national team, the Quest for the Voice youth national team, and the reunited 1999 MN national team. Always one of the best poetry slams of the year.

2. My team, the St. Paul national team, will have DVDs available at the Sunday slam, at our Erotic slam on August 2, and anytime I have shows. Justin Schell put the DVD together, and it looks beautiful. Perfect resource for educators who want to show good spoken-word in the classroom, slam fans who want to take something home with them, or anyone else who just thinks I'm cute.

3. Going into Crazy Beast studio TONIGHT to record a big chunk of "AN UNWELCOME GUEST." Very exciting. Will leak a very special non-album track in the next couple of days too, so watch out for that.

4. Lots of big show announcements:
~7/23 at the Barfly for Mill City Scene (w/ Big Cats! and our band playing a 90 minute set)
~7/25 "One Day in July" Labor Festival w/ Brother Ali
~7/31 at the Nomad: See More's SUMMERTIME HIP HOP BBQ JAM FOR THE WORLD w/ Toki Wright, Maria Isa, and free food! (don't miss this one)
~9/4 at the Cedar: Junkyard Empire's CD release show
~2-3 other BIG shows that are 99% confirmed, as well as a fall tour in process-- as always, check my MySpace for full calendar.

5. Heading out to Chicago for a week this Tuesday to co-coach the MN national youth poetry slam team. We got a great team this year; should be a good time. Me and Khary (the other coach, better known as 6 is 9) will also be leading a couple workshops on persona poems.

Yeah, and even more. Been a lovely summer so far.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

playing a show with Brother Ali 7/25

"One Day in July"
A Street Festival for the Working Class
Remembering 1934--When Minneapolis Became a Union Town.
Saturday, July 25
7th Av N & 3rd St N, Minneapolis Warehouse District

Youthful supporters of the struggles of union labor will gather again at a street festival and concert they are calling a "counter-Aquatennial" in the Minneapolis Warehouse District on Saturday, July 25 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the historic 1934 Teamster strikes.

The festival site at 7th Ave N and 3rd St N is one block away from an intersection where Minneapolis police gunned down 67 strikers on Friday July 20, 1934. Two strikers died of their wounds. "We will never forget the sacrifices the strikers made," says Jim McGuire, coordinator of the festival and a union shop steward. "After the strike was won, Minneapolis became one of the strongest union cities in the country. We have been benefiting ever since."

"We call our One Day In July celebration the counter-Aquatennial," McGuire says. "The Minneapolis Aquatennial was created in 1940 by business interests concerned about the tens of thousands of working people who flocked to annual summer picnics organized by the Teamsters union, heard pro-labor speeches and celebrated union culture. At One Day in July, we take back our working class history, culture and traditions."

Here's the Indymedia Post.

Friday, July 03, 2009

album update

Photos by Hoainam Tran. Big Cats! and Guante at the Depot for Hip Hop Against Homophobia.

We're going into the studio today with a VERY special guest to record the first song on AN UNWELCOME GUEST, our upcoming album. We'll be finishing up all the recording next week. While the album should be done this summer, we won't be releasing it until late in 2009, but we have a few special treats that will come out before then. Keep checking back.

This album is something very special. I'll be posting/talking about it a lot in the next few months. Stay tuned. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

a poem for MN Mic

I very rarely post my poetry, since I write it as performance poetry and just reading the text alone is more of a supplement. But MN Microphone is doing a special project examining "political poetry." This is my submission.

I wrote this poem in response to the ICE raid in Postville, Iowa back in May of 2008. It just seemed like such a blatantly unjust attack on people who were simply trying to make a living. This kind of stuff happens all the time, but this raid was just such a big, clear example of the wrong-headedness of U.S. immigration policy that it made a very natural entry point for a poem.

I didn't, however, want to just regurgitate the news story. I think too many poems do that; it's easy to hold up a current events story and say "this is good" or "this is bad" and get a high score at a slam. Instead, I wanted to touch on immigration issues, but really have the poem be about privilege, about how even good people benefit from terrible, hurtful policies, whether or not they agree with or understand them. This is a more challenging topic to think about, and something I continue to struggle with all the time.

Here's the actual essay that inspired the poem:

And some basic background info:


The interpreter is crying.
I’m not sure he even realizes it. The tracks of his tears
like blood from a bullet hole. They call this the heart
land. Between us sits a third man,
openly sobbing. Through the interpreter
I explain to him that he has two options:

Plead guilty of knowingly using a fake social security number and receive a five-month jail sentence immediately followed by deportation, or plead not guilty, wait six to eight months for a trial with no bail, be deported anyway and risk a minimum two-year sentence for aggravated identity theft.

He does not understand. Begs
to be deported immediately to take care of his family. See
he’s innocent, but five months may as well be a
death sentence. Our fourteenth
client today. And I’m thinking back to law school,
trying to pinpoint a ruling that doesn’t exist, section
something, paragraph something,
anything that makes sense. I’m thinking back to the initial hearings,
ten men at a time, shackled
together like constellations. I’m thinking
because I can’t act. I’m thinking back to my tour of this meat-packing plant
just after the raid;
I’d never seen so much blood.
They call this, the heart

The man is staring
at the paper in front of him though he can’t read it.
I see a prayer caught in his neck,
a curse lost in his trembling hands, as if his words
know the way to his lips
but panic on the way there,
squeezing through capillaries and erupting
silently through pores. There is no choice
here, no lesser of two evils.

So he cries.
A stronger man than I’ll ever be. He talks,
and the interpreter doesn’t bother. We all know
what’s being said. For a moment
we drown
in the Guatemalan sunset over Iowa.

I used to think
that some people were haves and others have-nots,
and that it was my responsibility
as a moral man
to help those less fortunate than me.

But I see now that some people are haves
some people are have nots; the very rhythm
of this land is built
on up beats and down beats. Dance
with me to the killing floor,
and I may not be the one who cuts you,
but I will drink,
and be sustained.

The man is staring
at me now, peeling back cotton,
peeling back skin, desperately
chipping away at my sternum, hoping
to find something underneath
to hold on to.

They call this the heart
land. If these walls could talk,
they would bleed.

He signs the paper,

and I am left wondering how I would plead.