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.