Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Things I Did in 2010

I know some people read these kinds of lists and scoff or whatever, but New Year's is not a time for humility; it's a time for honest reflection.  And if you're awesome, it's hard to be humble about things, haha.  Of course I had a lot of help and support from my label, friends, co-workers and collaborators, but I'll admit: I'm halfway awesome.  So here are some things I did this year:

~Released "An Unwelcome Guest" w/ producer Big Cats!, one of the most ambitious, original, quotable, poetic hip hop albums to ever come out of the Midwest (biased, but stop me if I'm lying).  Don't take my word for it, read the press quotes... or better yet, listen to it.

~Released a free mixtape ("Don't Be Nice") w/ Big Cats! (all original beats, even though it's a mixtape) that proved that we not only do what we do well, but we do what other hip hop acts do well too, probably better.  Also designed the cover, which I think is really cool.

~Took first place at the National Poetry Slam, as part of the St. Paul team, for the second year in a row.  Performed "The Family Business," my best poem, on Semifinals stage and "Handshakes," a poem deconstructing how masculinity is performed, on Finals stage.  Also helped organize a bunch of workshops on spoken-word and activism and education during the week-long festival.  Got a ton of press too-- feature stories in the Pioneer Press, got to go on the Current and even on the TV.

~As arts coordinator, helped build the Canvas, a teen arts center in St. Paul, into one of the most dynamic, high-quality after-school programs in the area.  Aside from coordinating a lot of the programs there, I personally facilitated a weekly writing circle, an MC workshop and a couple of different social justice-oriented workshops, hosted numerous events and built a lot of relationships.

~Played in multiple cities in the Midwest (often multiple times)-- St. Louis, Des Moines, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, La Crosse, Brainerd, Stockholm and more I'm probably forgetting.

~Played dozens of shows here in the Twin Cities too, from Kristoff Krane's CD release party to opening up for Dead Prez at Voices Merging's hip hop conference to debuting a snippet of my one-man spoken-word show at the Bedlam to playing numerous progressive events from the Defend Public Education rally to the IWW's Fall Feast to much more.  Not a lot of rappers can say that they got booked to perform at the CONvergence sci-fi conference, the Dragon Festival, the Twin Cities hip hop awards, the Loft Literary Center and the Uptown Pride Fest all in the same year.

~Also hosted some big events, something I'd like to do more of in 2011.  This year, hosted the big No Bird Sing/LookBook/Kill the Vultures show at the Cedar, the Twin Cities Spoken-Word Sampler at Honey, Kristoff Krane's other CD release show at the Cedar and more.

~Continued the successful Hip Hop Against Homophobia concert series; the last one featured Mike Mictlan from Doomtree, Heidi Barton Stink and Kaoz and was held at the Canvas.  The next one will be a two-day joint in June at Patrick's Cabaret.

~Got written up in a very flattering City Pages feature.

~Got one of my poems featured in The Progressive.

~My label, Tru Ruts, secured national distribution.

~Laid a ton of groundwork for the MN Activist Project, a database and promotional campaign aimed at getting more people involved in progressive organizing.  Not public yet, but look for a launch in the springtime.

~Completed writing/performance residencies or single workshops in a dozen schools in the Twin Cities and beyond, on top of visiting almost every St. Paul high school and talking to students as part of my Canvas duties and mentoring a young poet one-on-one.  Even got to go to my own high school and talk about spoken-word to students who had never heard of it.  Hopefully I can get famous once all these kids turn 21, haha.

~Performed on 89.3 The Current's Local Show:

~Freelanced for Reviler, one of my favorite local music blogs, on top of providing all kinds of original content right here and on my Twitter.

~Facilitated workshops on topics from writing and performance to privilege and oppression to how to write a bio and more at the Giant Steps conference, the Minnesota OUT Campus Conference, the St. Paul Youth Commission's Youth Summit, the Vices to Verses Conference (where I also got to sit on a panel about hip hop and feminism) and elsewhere.

~Performed live in-studio on Radio K with Big Cats!.

~Wrapped up the first/second draft of a book of essays and creative nonfiction that I might go get published.  Weighing options right now.

~Released a music video that I'm proud of:

Guante + Big Cats! - A Hug From a Stranger from Tru Ruts on Vimeo.

~On top of the two aforementioned albums, recorded some of the best music of my career; you haven't heard it yet.  But soon.

So again, big thanks to all the people who have been around this year, supporting the work that I do.  You're only as good as the community that surrounds you.  It's been a great year (not even getting into my personal life, haha), but it's still really just groundwork time for me.  Looking at the long-term plan right now, and things are good.  Lots of big stuff planned for 2011.  Stay tuned.  Let's build.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New FREE Song w/ See More Perspective & The Rube

Hella posts lately.  But that just means life is busy.  Here's a new song.  Download for free:

"Shotgun Soliloquy REMIX" by Wake the City (Guante & See More Perspective), produced by the Rube.

It's a fun track; I finally got to use that stupid "woozle wozzle" punchline I've been saving.  The actual song (this one is a remix) is a monster, though.  We just can't release that one yet.  Someday.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Some Guante & Big Cats! Live Footage

Some footage from a Guante & Big Cats! show at the 7th St. Entry.  Audio by Empty, video by Pure Optics, edited together by Rangel Arts. The band is Mike Ries (drums), Mike Coyne (guitar & bass), Chris Tures (guitar), Eric Blomquist (keys & saxophone), Big Cats! (MPC & bass) and Guante (vocals).

We are a very big, loud, angry band; I'm not sure how well that translates here (particularly in the instrumental parts of "Bleeds" and "Midnight" where it just goes nuts), but you get the idea.  Come to a show.  Most of these songs are from our debut LP, "An Unwelcome Guest."

If It Bleeds, It Leads:

1 10 20 200:


Red States:

The Damp, Foggy Midnight:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter Break Spoken-Word Institute

Instead of visiting my family and relaxing like a normal person, I'll be doing this from 12/27 - 12/30.
I'm not mad though.  It's actually going to be very cool.  As some of you know, I serve as arts coordinator of the Canvas, a teen arts center in St. Paul.  This year, we're having an intensive four-day spoken-word workshop over winter break, with a big open mic on the last day.  While this is targeted at teens, I have a pretty broad definition of youth.  If you're interested in spoken-word and want to get some pointers from some of the best in the Twin Cities (Tish Jones, Khary Jackson, Sierra Demulder, me), feel free to stop through.  It should be a lot of fun.

Also, if you work in the Twin Cities with youth in any capacity, please spread the word about this and the Canvas in general.  We offer a ton of high-quality, free arts programs for teens, from photography to hip hop to dance to drawing and much more.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The best thing I ever wrote

I know it's super weird to find your own work hilarious, and I'm not exactly known for being funny, but I laugh out loud every time I read this.  It's a one-act play I wrote about hip hop, bloggers, academics, rappers and much more.  If you've ever gone to a hip hop conference, studied hip hop in school or sat on a panel, you might be able to relate:


It's an older piece, but I just updated it with some new content.  Getting ready to put out a book, and this will probably be in it.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

12/17: two all ages shows; one poetry, one hip hop

It's going to be a busy night.  First, I'll be at the Black Dog Cafe in St. Paul at 6:30pm doing a full poetry set for a COMPAS for the Arts fundraiser.  Immediately after that, I'll be headed to Tarnish & Gold in Minneapolis for this:

Isn't that a nice flyer?  Four acts, four different genres, in a beautiful all ages art gallery/sound space.  Friday, December 17 at 7pm.  I'll be playing a couple of new acoustic songs, plus the usual bangers.

Here's the Facebook event page.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Wednesday at the Loft Literary Center

On Wednesday, I'll be performing with Imani Woomera, a spoken-word artist from Hawaii who has done a ton of work around spoken-word and slam throughout Africa.  She'll be debuting her one-woman show in Minneapolis.  I'll be performing a spoken-word set to open the show up.

It's 7pm at the Loft Literary Center.  $12/$6 for students, but no one will be turned away.  Hope to see you there.

Where does CHANGE come from?

So as some of you may know, I'm currently working on this big project dealing with activism, involvement and social/political change.  More details on that later.  For now, here's some stuff that I've been kicking around in my head for a while.  Basically, it's my philosophy of change.  I'll be using it as an intro for the project.  Any thoughts?

Change happens at four levels:
  • Personal: critical self-reflection and education (reading books, taking classes, thinking about issues).
  • Interpersonal: face-to-face direct service work, volunteering, raising awareness, starting conversations with friends and family, etc.
  • Institutional: organizing to challenge oppressive or unjust systems; attacking the root cause of a problem rather than its symptoms.
  • Cultural: broad-based "hearts and minds" change.
This project works from a pretty basic philosophy.  Real, meaningful, lasting change comes from people working and struggling together to attack the root causes of problems.  That isn't to say that volunteering at the homeless shelter, voting once every two years, writing poems about the issues you care about or reading lots of books don't do anything-- it's just that none of those things can create real change if they are divorced from organizing.

The four points above are really an activist ecosystem-- we need all four (not necessarily in equal proportions in a given context) if we really care about making the world a better place.  That may seem pretty simple, but a whole lot of people get wholly caught up in one or another.  Some people are all about knowledge and being the perfect more-progressive-than-thou super genius; they know the issues inside and out, but they don't ever do anything about them.  Others are all for "smashing the state" or whatever, but never take the time to do the critical self-reflection that effective activists need.  As the old saying goes: "thought without action is a daydream; action without thought is a nightmare."

At the end of the day, understanding is not enough.  "Raising awareness" is not enough.  Winning some abstract debate about an issue is not enough.  Waiting for the previous generation to fade away is not enough.  If we want to create real progressive change, we're going to have to struggle for it.  We have to be smart.  We have to be proactive.  We have to be relentless.

That's all meaningless, however, if we don't know where or how to start.  This project is about streamlining the process, about turning liberal thinkers into progressive activists by making it as easy as possible to plug in and get involved.

...more information to come.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New See More Perspective Album Available Now!

We're having the release party Friday night at Hell's Kitchen.

You can get the new album now, from here.

I'm on a track (it's my rarely-performed architecture-themed love poem, with See More's music behind it).  And the whole thing is just bonkers.  Favorites: "Self Taught," "FLW" and "Bottleneck."

See More is one of those rare artists who truly deserves your support.  And he makes great music, so supporting him is easy.  Pick up the album.  Come to the show.  Hugs and Kisses.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New Guante & Big Cats! Music Video!

Guante + Big Cats! - A Hug From a Stranger from Tru Ruts on Vimeo.

Big thanks to Tony Perkins and everyone at the E-Squared Cafe. This turned out pretty cool. It's one of the more understated songs on the album, but it's also one of my favorites. Hope you like it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

BIG show December 3 at Hell's Kitchen

Friday, December 3 at Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis:
See More Perspective's "Architextual Design" Release Party
w/ Guante, Mayda, Heidi Barton Stink, Fresh Squeeze and the Rube
10pm.  18+.  $5
(affordable parking is available in the ramp right next to the venue)

Here's the Facebook Event Page.

Now, I realize that there are a couple of other big shows in town that night.  But let me make an argument for this one:

1. See More Perspective is very talented, and talented in a way that really sticks out from everyone else in town.  The new album has been three (!) years in the making, and it's worth the wait.  The music is smart, sincere and funky all at once.  Much more in the tradition of acts like Lyrics Born and Blackalicious than most Twin Cities acts.  He's also a hell of a live performer.

2. The supporting acts are honestly some of my very favorite performers in town.  Mayda is a pop/soul/rock singer/songwriter who should be internationally-known, and hopefully she's on her way.  Heidi Barton Stink and Fresh Squeeze make fun, radical hip hop that's incredibly refreshing.  The Rube is one of my favorite DJs in the world.  And I'm f'ing awesome.

3. Hell's Kitchen has quickly become our favorite place to play-- great food, staff, drinks and atmosphere.  And this show is only $5, so you'll definitely be getting your money's worth, and then some.

Really hope to see you all there.  See More has been putting in work for years, as a producer, studio engineer, rapper and activist, and this show is going to be bonkers.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Hip Hop

(Updated/revised 1/21/15)
I’ve been an MC for about ten years. I don’t say that to position myself as any kind of scholarly hip hop expert; I’m not. I’m a practitioner. And as a practitioner, I’ve noticed that there are a few fairly basic things that a whole lot of people seem to regularly get wrong about hip hop—at conferences, in classes, in online debates and just in conversation. So what follows are ten simple-- but important—foundational things that I wish everyone knew about hip hop.

1. Hip Hop is Big
Hip hop is bigger than rap music (more on that below), but even just focusing on the music: everything that you hear on the radio or see on TV is less than 1% of what is actually being made in the world. To dismiss all hip hop based on that kind of superficial exposure is like saying "film is a worthless art form" after seeing all four Transformers movies and nothing else. Hip hop is bigger than any stereotype, caricature, or preconceived notion.

2. Hip Hop is Diverse and Dynamic
Once you acknowledge that hip hop is bigger than the half-dozen artists they play on the radio over and over again, you can begin to appreciate the vast stylistic diversity present in the music. While there are commonly shared elements (rhymes, verse/chorus structures, drums, etc.) individual artists can and do have wildly different approaches to the form in terms of style, subject matter, delivery, etc. The complex, ever-shifting geography of hip hop’s many subcultures, undercurrents and call-and-response aesthetic debates is one of its greatest strengths.

3. Hip Hop is Global
Every city in the U.S. has a hip hop scene. It’s not just New York, and it’s not just major population centers. Even suburbs and smaller rural communities often have one or two kids who rap, or at the very least take part in the culture in some way. On top of that, just about every country in the world has a hip hop scene, with MCs rapping in many different languages and dialects, b-boy and b-girl communities sprouting up all over the world, and hip hop as a major driver of youth culture just about everywhere on the planet.

4. There is a Difference Between “Hip Hop” and “Rap” But It’s Probably Not What You Think
Individuals will often try to differentiate between the two terms based on content/quality (like rappers just rap while hip hop MCs represent for the culture); I’m not saying that that’s wrong, but I do think a less subjective, potentially more useful definition is this: “Rap” is the physical act of rapping, of speaking lyrics over beats. “Hip hop” is the larger culture that includes rapping, but also includes many other elements, traditions and practices (see next point).

5. Hip Hop isn’t Just Rap Music
The traditional four elements of hip hop are DJing, rapping, graffiti and b-boy/b-girl dance. KRS-ONE and others have identified other elements that are sometimes thrown into the conversation: vocal percussion and beatboxing, street knowledge, entrepreneurialism, fashion, slang and language, music production, and more. I know hip hop photographers, hip hop educators, hip hop activists, hip hop playwrights, etc. What makes them “hip hop” is a larger conversation (related to generational identities, geography, aesthetic approaches, and much more), but it helps to think about hip hop as this impressionistic landscape, not just as “rap music.” It’s much bigger than that.

6. While Practitioners Today Come From Many Different Backgrounds, Hip Hop is Part of Black American Musical Tradition
Hip hop was born out of the black and brown struggle in the Bronx of the 1970s, and is very much a piece of African-American musical tradition. But practitioners of the art today come from every community—every racial/ethnic group, gender, sexual orientation, immigrant status, nationality, class background, geographic origin and any other marker of identity. Some see this as another example of black art being co-opted; some see this as a truly multicultural art form capable of transcending borders. Some see it as both.

7. Hip hop is Not Inherently Violent, Sexist, Homophobic, or Materialistic
To be clear, I’m not saying that there isn’t violence, sexism, homophobia, and materialism in rap lyrics. But the key word here is “inherently.” To re-use the film metaphor, there’s a whole lot of violence, sexism, homophobia, and materialism in Hollywood too, but that doesn’t mean that film is an inherently debased medium, or that there aren’t thousands upon thousands of examples (indeed—the overwhelming majority) of movies that break from that trend. This point is not to minimize some of the aspects of the culture that can (and I would argue, should) be seen as problematic; it is to say that those aspects are not wholly representative, and also that violence, sexism, homophobia, and materialism are deeply embedded in this country in ways that hip hop reflects, and sometimes perpetuates, but is not responsible for.

8. There May Be a Difference Between “Mainstream” and “Underground” or “Conscious” and “Ignorant,” But It’s Often Not that Simple
While it’s convenient rhetoric to state that independent, underground hip hop is all revolution and consciousness and eating vegetables, while mainstream hip hop is all guns, cars and pimps, that’s wildly oversimplified. There are plenty of underground MCs saying ignorant or otherwise meaningless stuff, and plenty of famous MCs who are pushing boundaries in terms of both style and substance. Clearly, an artist with major label backing and a multi-million dollar promotional budget will have a different approach than a kid making beats in his basement, but for the most part, “Mainstream vs. Underground” is a false binary that simplifies the culture in a way that makes it easier to not authentically engage with the art itself.

9. Hip Hop History is Complex, Fascinating, and Above All, Important
If you want to better grasp ideas like benign neglect, gentrification, institutional racism, the relationship between artistic expression and American capitalism, or the power of popular resistance to oppression, read Jeff Chang’s “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” the best hip hop history book I’ve come across. There are a lot of good books about hip hop out there, but I’d recommend starting with that one.

10. Hip Hop is Beautiful
I know, this one is subjective. But the older I get, the more I move away from the “here are the three artists I like so I’m going to compare everyone else to them!” framework. Instead, it’s really about active listening and critical thinking. There is something to appreciate and something to critique in every song, every album, every artist. And when you do that, when you take the time and energy to actually engage with the culture (even if you’re not actively part of the culture) it’s indescribably rewarding. As much as hip hop heads like to romanticize the past, I find that I am continually surprised by hip hop culture, and increasingly excited about its future.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

videos you should take a second to watch: Eyedea, Toki Wright, more

This is video from Michael "Eyedea" Larsen's tribute show. I never knew him that well; we just had some mutual acquaintances and he came out to a few of the events that I did, but over the past few weeks I've just met tons of people who were affected by his life somehow. It's one thing to be a beloved artist; it's another thing to have a physical, measurable impact on other human beings, which Eyedea really, really had. In all this sadness, that's definitely something to celebrate. Check out this piece that Andrea Swensson wrote about the show.

This is the video for Toki Wright's "A Different Mirror," which I think is one of the most well-written rap songs of all time. There's so much going on in those lyrics, and the way he ties the past to the present is just chilling. Toki is one of the best MCs in the country right now.

Here's Kristoff Krane's Local Show performance. I've written about Chris on my site before, but he remains one of the most creative, engaging, genuine artists I know. He's a phenomenal rapper, and this song shows he can also sing.

On a less serious note, here's a quick little YouTube link for the "Harry Potter" remix that me, Big Cats! and Chantz did. Figured it'd be a good time to post it, with the new movie coming out. I'm seeing it Friday night. Here's a link to our free mixtape too, if you don't have it already.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Support Equilibrium, lyrics essay, See More Perspective, random news

1. Hey-- first of all, you can donate to Equilibrium here.  If you don't know, EQ is one of the best spoken-word shows in town.  Creating a space for spoken-word artists-of-color, EQ has won all kinds of awards and consistently puts on a great show.  In these rough economic times, they need support.  Check out this video too:

2.  Our show last night at Honey went really, really well.  It was beautiful to see so many people from so many different scenes and communities come together.  Hopefully, there'll be some photos up soon at MN Mic.

3. I wrote a point/counterpoint on the importance of lyrics over at Reviler.  Guess which side I'm on.  You can read it here.

4. Friend and label-mate See More Perspective if FINALLY releasing his album, "Architextual Design."  The release show is scheduled for Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis on December 3 and I can honestly say that it's going to be one of the best shows we've ever put on.  Not announcing the lineup or sponsors just yet, but please mark you calendars.  The album is phenomenal, and this show is really going to be something special.

In the meantime, check out some FREE stuff that See More has released at the Boombox Emporium.

5.  There is just SO MUCH going on right now.  I'm involved in a dozen different projects, between music and poetry and activism and youth work and residency stuff and just life in general.  For more up-the-minute updates, follow me on Twitter or get at me on Facebook.  Thanks!

Friday, November 05, 2010

good stuff by people I know

My friends are very talented:

This is a free download, and one you should grab right now.  A weird mix of spooky indie-pop, indie hip hop and jazz, this group/album is a collaboration between multi-instrumentalist Dameun Strange and MC/producer See More Perspective.  It's very atmospheric without being too melodramatic, maybe a little less Halloween and a little more Dia de los Muertos, if that makes sense.  Through all the doom and gloom, the album retains a sense of absurd positivity, a playfulness that's really refreshing and fun.  And they put on a killer live show, too.

Graham O'brien: Live Drums
Graham is the drummer in two of my favorite bands, No Bird Sing and Junkyard Empire.  He's also a producer, and one of the few people I really trust when it comes to forward-thinking hip hop aesthetics.  His debut solo album mixes dark, brooding production with crackling live drums, and the result is incredibly engaging.  Think a less-busy El-P meets Thom Yorke's solo material.  Most of the album is instrumental, though the few guests (including Kristoff Krane, Eric Blair from No Bird Sing and Adam Svec) really shine.  The last track, in particular, is starkly beautiful-- it's a remix of Svec's "Wolves in Milwaukee."  Get the album here.

Idris Goodwin: These Are the Breaks
I'm cheating on this one, since I haven't actually read it yet.  But there's no doubt in my mind that it's brilliant.  Idris is one of the smartest, funniest, most talented hip hop heads in the country, and his work as an MC, as a poet, as a theater artist and as an essayist is always great.  You can order the book now from Write Bloody.

Monday, November 01, 2010

live video: Guante: Your Boyfriend's a Republican

Some footage that filmmaker, actor and beat-maker Daniel Rangel caught at my last show.  A fun little song over a jacked Amy Winehouse/Mark Ronson beat.

This song is from my 2008 mixtape, "Conscious is Not Enough."  My label, Tru Ruts, is actually going to be re-releasing that mixtape this month, but I'm re-recording a lot of stuff to make it sound better and be more relevant to today.  So be on the lookout for that.

Finally, make sure to check out my last post here, about progressive voter guides.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Voter Guides

Hey.  So if you're voting on Tuesday, but you haven't really been following the races or whatever, there's a site that posts user-made voter guides.  You can find an organization or entity that you trust and see who they're endorsing.  Whatever state you live in, there's a guide (probably multiple guides).

Here's the link:

The site was set up by the League of Young Voters, a very cool organization.

My only obligatory "get out the vote" pitch is this.  Voting isn't the only way to create change.  It may not even be the most effective.  But it is the easiest.  There really is no excuse; I've come around to the idea that important tactical and short-term gains really CAN be created through the ballot box.  I still believe that we all need to get involved in progressive organizations that work on important causes all year-round, no matter who is in office, but I ALSO believe that voting really is as important as everyone always says it is.  So don't just vote; get everyone you know to vote-- family, friends, co-workers, whatever.  Organize your social circle.  There's going to be a lot of close elections this year; let's be ready.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tour Update

So far, we've been to Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago-- five shows down.  It's been great.  Milwaukee is one of my favorite places to visit-- so many beautiful, genuine people there.  And Madison is my second home, so that was fun too.  I'm writing this from Chicago, where we've played two shows and have one more to go (Sunday at the Green Mill, ground zero of poetry slam culture).  It's fun.

I'm touring with Inky, who is a good poet and also a vegan, which means I get to eat at places I wouldn't otherwise.  Total blessing in disguise.  I had some Chicago deep-dish last night while she was out, but I actually didn't enjoy it as much as the black bean burger, mashed potatoes and vegan shake I had at the Chicago Diner the other day.  Maybe she's on to something.

All in all, this tour has been great for making me rethink certain strategies.  As much as I enjoy rapping, spoken-word shows are really special for me-- more of an attentive audience, more room to be creative, less drama, more profitable... This might be the future.  I'll take a smaller crowd who is actually interested in what you have to say over a big crowd who just wants to drink, flirt and nod their heads any day.  I know that's a false binary, but still.

Mostly, I just wanted to post that picture Inky shot in Madison.  It's a sad bear.  Go Packers.

P2C fallout: new Twin Cities hip hop acts you should look out for

Since Picked to Click didn't feature any hip hop acts, and the Twin Cities has one of the strongest hip hop scenes in the nation, I figured I'd highlight some of the newer artists that have potential.  As with P2C, it can be hard to define "new," but I'll give it a shot:

The Tribe & Big Cats!
A Chicago transplant (Truth Be Told) backed by some of the most epic, radio-ready production the Twin Cities has ever heard, this group has dropped a great EP and a very entertaining mixtape, and their debut, "Forward Thinkers Movers Shakers," is slated for January.  It'll feature Abstract Rude, Phil da Agony, Toki Wright and more.

Also a member of the Usual Suspects, I.B.E. is just a beast on many levels-- smart, technically proficient and a good songwriter.  Check out his video for the song "Make the Road by Walking" featuring Toki Wright. 

Heidi Barton Stink
One of my favorite new artists, Heidi is unabashedly political and also a very strong songwriter.   She also picks some unique, engaging production to rap over.  There aren't a whole lot of artists repping for the trans and queer communities, but Heidi should be one to watch over the next few years.

Audio Perm
A three-person production collective, Audio Perm is responsible for some of the best beats that all these younger TC acts are using.  The Ants and Lazerbeaks and Medium Zachs of our scene have a very worthy heir.

Culture Cry Wolf
In a scene that values brooding, angry, dark hip hop (I know I do), a band like CCW can be pretty refreshing.  They've got a strong singer on top of their MC, make great use of horns and put on one of the best live shows in town.

Fresh Squeeze
Radical politics and party music.  That'll get me every time.  These three kids also have the most energy of any hip hop act in town.  A very exciting act to watch.

Wide Eyes
Good old fashioned underground rap.  Nothing revolutionary, but this group's energy, charisma and pure rhyming talent is infectious.  Great beats too.

Mally, Mike Dreams, Lipset, Just Wulf, Max Haben, Bobby Richardson, D'Allen White, Irenic, Lazlo Supreme, Mnemosyne and more I'm forgetting
There's a whole crop of really solid MCs and hip hop acts coming up; I can't write about all of them.  But you can hear many of them on the same track here.  While time can only tell which ones will break out from the pack, they're all very talented.

I'm excited to see all these acts reach out and do new things-- that's really what the TC scene is traditionally about; being fearless and unique and different.  I don't see that happening as much with this newer crop of artists yet, but it'll be very fun to watch that develop.

And that's not even to mention the "not-quite-new-but-new-to-a-lot-of-people" artists like No Bird Sing, Junkyard Empire, Kristoff Krane, Kill the Vultures, M.anifest, See More Perspective, Chantz, Ill 3, Ill Chemistry, Usual Suspects, Maria Isa and (of course) Guante/Guante & Big Cats! who are all making some really great, original, creative music.

Again, I'm sure I'm forgetting some great ones, but the bigger point is that it's a beautiful time to enjoy hip hop in the Twin Cities.  Go see some shows.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Going on tour: Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago, Indianapolis, La Crosse

Me and Inky are going on a quick midwest spoken-word tour.  Here are the dates:

10/14: Still Waters at Sweet Black Coffee in Milwaukee, 8pm
10/15: Voltage! at Milwaukee Public Library, 6pm
10/16: Genna’s Lounge in Madison, 7pm
10/18: Mental Graffiti at the Butterfly Social Club in Chicago, 8pm
10/19: Young Chicago Authors workshop and feature, 6pm
10/22: Root Note in La Crosse, 8pm
10/23: Indianapolis, details TBA
10/24: Green Mill in Chicago, 7pm

For addresses and more info, check out my full performance calendar here.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Bricks and Bones Tour, Rally to Defend Public Education, Halloween, more!

What a week.  Facilitated a workshop on race and music at Inver Hills college, visited a bunch of schools promoting The Canvas, slam team showcase at McNally Smith and the "Don't Be Nice" mixtape release party at Hell's Kitchen.  Even more exciting stuff coming up this month:

The next show I'm performing at is a rally/concert to defend public education on October 7.  6pm in Loring Park in Minneapolis.  The Usual Suspects, Junkyard Empire, Fresh Squeeze and Poetic Assassins are also performing.  It'll be a great show, but it'll also be a great opportunity to get involved in this very important struggle.  Check out PJAM.ORG for more information!

After that, I'll be going on a short midwest tour, the Bricks and Bones Tour.  We haven't made the official announcement yet, so look out for that soon.  In short, it's a spoken-word tour through Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, La Crosse and elsewhere, with multiple shows in the Mil and Chi.  I'll be on the road with Inky, who runs MN Mic.  Again, more info soon.

Finally, I'll be finishing up the month with a monster show Halloween eve at Hell's Kitchen.  It's the debut of Strange Perspective, a collaboration between See More Perspective and Dameun Strange, two of the most creative, wonderful people I know.  Costume contest, fortune telling, burlesque, sideshow oddities and more, plus sets from me and the always-amazing Mayda.  Definitely a can't-miss kind of show.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

FREE Guante & Big Cats! mixape, DON'T BE NICE (w/ link)

So today is the day. CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE DOWNLOAD PAGE. Once there, just click "Free Download" and all 13 tracks are yours. It might take a minute or two to prep, depending on your connection, but the DL itself should be pretty quick (it's less than 90 MB and also includes some photos and press materials).

One note-- in Itunes, it'll list the artist as "Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records" so you may have to change it to "Guante & Big Cats!"

And if you like the free mixtape, please check out our full length album, AN UNWELCOME GUEST, here.

Thanks! Let us know what you think at

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

National Poetry Slam odds and ends (video)

A few odds and ends related to last week:

1. Want to see something weird? Here's me on Kare 11's Showcase Minnesota.

2. Here's the poem I did in Semifinals, courtesy of 3 minute egg:

3. Here's some footage of one of our prelim bouts, focusing on us and Urbana:

4. Here's some footage from Finals stage, focusing on us and the Nuyorican:

5. Matt from 3-minute egg also captured some of my teammate's poems. Explore his website here-- lots of good Fringe stuff too.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

We Won the National Poetry Slam Again (thoughts)

(I grabbed this photo from the Pioneer Press article). A few thoughts:

1. For those who missed it, my team (Saint Paul) just won the National Poetry Slam for the second year in a row. We faced NYC Nuyorican, Durham and Austin Neo in the Finals. It was a close bout.

2. NPS, all in all, was a good time. A few teams I'd have liked to have seen in Finals didn't make it, but that's how it goes. Hip Hop Headquarters was a great time. The Asian/Pacific Islander Open Mic was the most inspiring event I went to. The bouts themselves were pretty good, at least ours were. As the home team, we had lots of people at each one-- definitely an advantage, but whatever-- it was fun.

3. Quick note on the "victory lap" poem. It was actually my idea. Not conceptualized as a victory lap. Just wanted to get our fifth member on stage, and he happened to have a PERFECT "thank you and safe travels" poem-- the HOST said "victory poem." Sorry if it came off differently.

4. Did the new repeat rule make Finals a better show? Probably. No, it wasn't the most mind-blowing finals ever, but I doubt the no-repeat rule would have fixed that. It's weird. We won last year largely because of the no-repeat rule, but Finals suffered for it. I like the idea of forcing poets to have deeper pockets, but I hate an underwhelming Finals. It's arguable that this year was still an underwhelming Finals, but I don't think we can blame the repeat rule. We all just have to step our game up as writers and performers.

5. That said, I performed my handshake poem tonight. Not my favorite/best poem, but very strategically useful. I want to have something more suitably epic next year. That's the best part of NPS-- being inspired to get better. Lots of writing to do.

6. I have to immediately get back to work. A show tomorrow night at the End Slavery Now Conference at the U of M, finishing up the new mixtape, setting up a Fall tour, organizing workshops and events for the Canvas' fall schedule, a million other things. Please don't ask me how it feels to win nationals. I ain't got time for feelings!

For real though-- huge thanks to everyone who has supported us this past week. Winning NPS is cool, but it's only worthwhile if we can USE all that attention and press to BUILD our local scene-- poets can grow as artists, new poets can emerge, audiences can multiply... that's what I'm really excited about.

Below is the transcript of my handshakes poem:

Friday, August 06, 2010

We made NPS Finals!

What a week. I may post some extended thoughts later, but in short: we won both our prelims and our semifinals bout, beating some great teams. Next up is the National Poetry Slam FINALS.

It's Saturday, August 7 at the Roy Wilkins. 8pm. $25. I know it's kinda pricey, but we'll be up against Durham, Austin Neo Soul and NYC's Nuyorican team, the last of which is, by all accounts, a monster team. As an added bonus, Doomtree's P.O.S. is playing a short set too.

Also, watch out for us tomorrow on Fox 9 in the morning. Also also, in the afternoon, I'm going to be at the Asian-American/Pacific Islander open mic-- 1pm at the Lowry Lab Theater. Should be a great show.

Huge thanks to everyone who has been supporting us. Go Twin Cities!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

National Poetry Slam update (we made semis!)

Wow. Very good week so far. My team (Saint Paul) took first in both our prelim bouts, so we're going on to semifinals on Friday night at 8pm. I don't know which venue yet, but check late tonight and tomorrow to find out. We've been performing pretty flawlessly, if I may say so, and are very excited for semis.

If we win our semifinals bouts, we'll move on to Finals on Saturday night at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium. P.O.S. will also be performing at Finals, so there's that.

A few random highlights:

~I facilitated a workshop on "Engaging Youth with Spoken-Word" and it was AMAZING. No broad philosophical rambling about nothing-- just smart people sharing concrete, practical tips, strategies, activities and more. I'm going to email out our notes to every teaching artist that I know-- there's some GOLD in there. If you want to be included in that email, leave a comment.

~I also hosted the Hip Hop Headquarters open mic and-- though I sometimes have misgivings about (other) poets trying to rap-- the event was beautiful. Local and national artists blessed the stage, from Eyedea to Desdamona to Jive Poetic to Kristoff Krane to Bamboo MC to No Bird Sing to Sean Anon to Ezra to Bugs to Tish Jones to See More Perspective and many others. Even a poet named "President Obama," played the piano and rapped Lupe's "The Cool."

~Our bouts were both packed-- shoulder to shoulder sweaty packed. Thanks so much for the love. Home field advantage.

~It's been disgustingly nice outside, at least today and yesterday. There was a freak windstorm during Albuquerque's bout, but that's about it.

~I got to be on the Current, KFAI, Kare 11 TV, the Star Tribune, Vita.MN and the Pioneer Press, which also published my op-ed about why slam poetry matters. Whatever happens in the tournament, I'm getting lots of press, haha. More importantly, the Twin Cities spoken-word SCENE is getting lots of press. Our September and October slams had better be huge. Oh also, Khary and Sierra got to go on Kerri Miller's show on MPR.

~Chocolate-covered potato chips aren't my pre-bout ritual-- I just like them. Candyland is right around the corner from the AQ.

~ @wardrubrecht and @fishdesmith have been live-blogging/tweeting bouts, and are going some great play-by-play analysis. Ward, in particular, is being a hard-ass, which I whole-heartedly support.

~Follow the #NPS2010 hashtag on Twitter for all kinds of random thoughts.

More soon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How to support my team at the National Poetry Slam

Just posted time and place details for our two prelim bouts at my MySpace page. GET THERE EARLY.

Come see my team (Saint Paul, 2009 National Champions) try to get into semifinals. We have two prelim bouts, one on 8/3 (Artists' Quarter, 7pm) and one on 8/4 (Wild Tymes, 9pm). If we do good, we'll make semifinals on 8/5. If we win our semifinals bout, we'll make finals on 8/6. They're all going to be bloodbaths. NPS is crazy this year.

Also lots of great side events. I'll be co-hosting Hip Hop Headquarters with Tish Jones that Wednesday night. The APIA open mic on Saturday is going to be amazing. Lots of workshops, open mics and discussions. Full schedule at

Friday, July 23, 2010

Guante on Facebook

Two ways to get at me: is for my solo stuff, poetry and music. is for Guante & Big Cats! music.

"Like" both of them and maybe you'll win a million dollars. Maybe.

Just wanted to post this now because MySpace is a wasteland and Facebook isn't a wasteland yet. Get at me!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hip Hop Against Homophobia volume 6, NPS 2010, music video, other updates

Hey-- just a few exciting updates.
1. Hip Hop Against Homophobia volume SIX is this Friday the 23rd at the Bedlam Theater. All the info is in the flyer. The Bedlam, in case you haven't heard, will be relocating this Fall. It's always been one of my favorite places to both perform and watch events. Wherever they end up, I'm sure they'll continue doing great things.

2. The National Poetry Slam is shaping up to be one of the best ever. The side-event schedule is up now, so be sure to check that out. Lots of great workshops, open mics and discussions. Our team (Saint Paul) will be facing Dallas, NYC Urbana, Chino, Palatine, Baton Rouge and the Twin Cities' own Punch Out Poetry team in two preliminary bouts. Both will be tough, but we've been practicing 'round the clock and are going to represent.

3. We shot a music video. Going to announce it soon. Check back.

4. Two really cool Canvas events coming up: This Thursday (the 22nd), I'll be leading a workshop on identity, privilege, oppression and social justice. Next Thursday (the 29th), Desdamona will be leading a workshop/discussion on women in hip hop. Both are for teens, so if you know any, spread the word. Both will be held 6-8pm at Canvas (1610 Hubbard Ave., across Snelling from Hamline University).

5. New Guante & Big Cats! mixtape coming along. Will announce soon. It's a collection of a few older, lesser-known tracks, a few live tracks and a few brand-new tracks. Storytelling, shit-talking, progressive politics, gallows humor, love songs and more, all in about half-an-hour. Can't wait to release it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer So Far: 8035 fest, CONvergence, the Roots, Janelle Monae, Canvas, etc.

I thought summer would be less busy, but it hasn't been. But that's good. A few updates:

1. Yeah, expect a Guante & Big Cats! mixtape this summer. Mixtape in the sense that it's some new songs, some old songs and some live songs, though all the music is original. Details soon-- but let me just say, with complete humility, that's it the best mixtape anyone has ever done, ever.

(Greg Swan from Perfect Porridge took this photo)

2. Lots of great shows. Just finished a busy weekend with a show in Chicago with Melissa Czarnik, a Milwaukee rapper who is definitely worth a listen. I won the geek slam at the massive CONvergence sci-fi convention, despite being very, very cool. Then me and Big Cats went down to Des Moines for the 8035 festival, a huge music festival featuring Spoon, Yo La Tengo, Modest Mouse, Psalm One and many more. It was a beautiful day, until it spontaneously started raining during our set. But that's my fault. At least the crowd didn't leave, which was great. Big ups to Maxilla Blue for the hookup.

3. Canvas, the teen center where I serve as arts coordinator, is doing some really cool things. We just had a Hip Hop Against Homophobia concert (volume five, I think) featuring Mictlan from Doomtree, Heidi Barton Stink, Kaoz and me. Lots of fun. Also had a great community organizing workshop with Melvin Carter and a screening of Slingshot Hip Hop. That's all in addition to the weekly writing circle, drawing studio and dance ciphers. If you know teens in the Twin Cities, send 'em our way. More good things happening.

4. National Poetry Slam organizing and practicing is going great. We have a killer team this year, and are looking to repeat on our home turf. I'm especially exciting about the side events, and how we'll be plugging in local poets with national poets to host and run things. It'll be a beautiful mix. Side events include: LGBTQ, women's, Black, Latino/Indigenous, APIA, grief & remembrance, parent poems, group pieces, hip hop showcase, erotica slam, youth slam, rookie slam, limerick battle, haiku battle and more, plus workshops on writing, performing, activism and education. Full schedule will be up soon.

5. I'm kicking off a big project dealing with activism in the Twin Cities. The first phase of it is simply compiling a list of organizations who are doing good work. Do you know of any?

6. Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria's chapbook release show at the Loft has really pushed me to try to finish up my new book, which will be a companion piece to my one-man spoken-word show, The Fist that Lives in Your Neck. More info soon, hopefully. Will also be touring in October! Details TBA.

7. Labelmate and friend SEE MORE PERSPECTIVE has a new instrumental single, the harbinger of doom heralding the arrival of his new beat-tape, Breaks in the Clouds. The song is called What's Kraken, and has some really great album artwork.

8. NEW MUSIC. A few reviews I wrote:

Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid (Four Takes at with Mayda, Dessa and Jon Behm): I gave it a glowing review, but haven't been coming back to it as much as I thought I would. This might end up being one of those albums I respect more than I enjoy.

The Roots: How I Got Over (Four Takes at with Sean McPherson, Ali Elabbady and Jon Behm): This one has been growing on me, though I liked it well enough at first listen. I'd maybe rate it a little higher than I did at first.

Kristoff Krane: Hunting for Father: a review I posted here a while ago. In case you missed it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

National Poetry Slam Site and Twitter Go Live

The National Poetry Slam is in Saint Paul this year. It's going to be big. The OFFICIAL SITE is now live, and you can also follow NPS on Twitter.

Aside from the tournament, there will be dozens of open mics, themed readings, workshops, panels and other events related to slam and spoken-word in general. If you volunteer (see site for details), you can get in to everything for free. Lots of updates and information coming soon.

And yeah, if you didn't know, I'm on the Saint Paul team again this year. We took first place at NPS last year (held in West Palm Beach), so we're both defending our title and competing on our home turf. It's going to be a wild week.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Have you heard of Chastity Brown?

Get familiar. Aside from guesting on my album, she's one of the top talents in the Twin Cities. CD release party on Saturday, June 12 at the Cedar w/ Roma di Luna and No Bird Sing. That's one of the best lineups you'll ever see. Some videos:

City of Music: Chastity Brown from MPLS.TV on Vimeo.

And here's a City Pages feature.

So yeah, go to the show. Buy the album. Like her on Facebook. Friend her on MySpace. All that stuff. Chastity is a special artist-- at once deeply personal, searingly political and musically talented; she really is the total package. I'm very excited to hear the new album.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Various New Videos (a cute cat, Guante talking, friends, etc.)

Finally got the proper firewire cable. Here are a bunch of new videos for various things.

Here's a music video I put together for my song "Spirit Bomb," the remix version that See More Perspective produced. You may not like the song, but you can't front on the million dollar production values:

Also, here's a video of me being interviewed about my art and my job for Springboard for the Arts:

Here's Chantz Erolin performing at the Fineline. Medium Zach on the beat:

Here's footage from the same show: Quilombolas featuring Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, Truthmaze and others for a special rendition of "Revolucionario." From what I hear, this might be the very last song they ever play as a band; glad I was able to capture it:

Finally, here's the newly touched-up version of Juliana Hu Pegues' and Tatiana Ormaza's "Under the Table," a very cool duo spoken-word piece about immigration and much more:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

VIDEO: Guante & Big Cats: "DRAGONS" live

Guante & Big Cats - 7th St. Entry (Live) from Pure Optics on Vimeo.

Big ups to Pure Optics for the footage and Empty for the audio. This was shot at Kristoff Krane's CD release party at the 7th St. Entry on May 15, 2010.

The band is:

Big Cats!: Bass (on this song)
Eric Blomquist: Keys and Saxophone
Mike Ries: Drums
Mike Coyne: Guitar
Chris Tures: Guitar
Guante: Vocals

Mike, Mike and Chris are also in Dragons Power Up!.

The song is from "AN UNWELCOME GUEST," which can be purchased HERE.

Monday, May 10, 2010

I'll be performing at both Kristoff Krane release parties

If you don't know about Kristoff Krane, here's what I wrote about him a while back. In short, he's a great guy, and he makes some of the most original music you'll ever hear, a mix of hip hop, folk and more. I'm posting the flyers here; when it imports to facebook, they might disappear, so check out the original post at

On Saturday, May 15, Kristoff Krane will be releasing his new album "Picking Flowers Next to Roadkill" at the 7th St. Entry. The album features Slug, Eyedea, P.O.S. and others. I'll be playing the release party along with Big Cats and our band. We haven't played a full band set in a while, and we've got some very cool stuff planned. There's an all-ages show at 5pm, and a regular 21+ show at 9pm.

On Friday, May 28th, he'll be releasing his OTHER new album, "Hunting for Father" at the Cedar Cultural Center. This one is a little more experimental-- less pure hip hop-- but it's incredibly engaging. I'll be hosting this show and performing spoken-word between sets. This one is all ages!

So really, it's three shows. All should be great. I'm honored to be playing them.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

National Poetry Slam news

First of all, I made the (defending national champion) Saint Paul team again. The Grand Poetry Slam was last night, and it was pretty wild. Khary took first. Someone told me I tied for second but I don't have the scores. It was a pretty great show-- lots of growth in our scene.

For the record, I performed (in order): Handshakes, Cartpusher, The Family Business and Heartland. And yes, three of those titles are going to change when the poems are formally published.

For those who don't know, the National Poetry Slam is in Saint Paul this year. It's a five-day festival of competitions, workshops, open mics and more featuring the top slam poets from around the country (and beyond). The fact that it's in the Twin Cities this year, coupled with the fact that our team (Saint Paul) took FIRST place last year, means that there's a lot of pressure on us to be brilliant. I think we have a great team, though: Khary Jackson, Sierra DeMulder, Shane Hawley, Sam Cook and myself (assuming the people who also qualified for the MPLS team don't go over there).

It'll be August 3rd through the 7th. Here's the official website.

Lots of fun events planned for before the big slam, though, including special themed slams every first Monday of the month at the Artists' Quarter, and also this event:Really excited about this lineup. Fresh Squeeze is literally that "best crew nobody knows about," and everyone on the bill is dynamite. And the show is FREE, so come out.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

City Pages Feature: "Guante: A Warrior With Words"

Here's the link.

For those who don't know, City Pages is the big Twin Cities alt-weekly. Village Voice kind of thing. One excerpt:

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

M.I.A.'s new video, with some thoughts about radical art

This is very graphic, very disturbing, and-- I would argue-- important to see:

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

So a few thoughts:

This is the kind of art I've been talking about (see previous posts about poetry). At best, it's transformative; even at worst, it makes you feel SOMETHING BEYOND a rush of endorphins from a pretty melody, a tinge of nostalgia from a sad song or a smile from a clever punchline. To me, this is what art should be.

That being said, I feel that it's a missed opportunity to present images (or words) that are so impactful, and then just leave them. As a socially-conscious artist, it's tempting to tell an audience/listener "here's this; do something with it," but I think the reality is that almost everyone has no idea what to do with these feelings, these thoughts, these impulses.

So that's why it's doubly important to tie radical/progressive art to an actual radical/progressive movement. Here in the Twin Cities, this was a big conclusion that came out of the recent "Vices to Verses" hip hop and activism conference: how can people who care about their community plug in? How can people who are pissed off about police brutality, American imperialism, Arizona's immigration laws, the public school system, the prison/industrial complex or a whole host of other issues get involved and make a difference? And when we, as artists, stir up these kinds of sentiments in our fans and listeners, what is our responsibility to point them in a particular direction?

Lots of questions. Working on the answers. Big things happening this year, and I'm not talking about music.

Finally, here's another video that had a big impact on me, in terms of how I see music and art in general, Dizzee Rascal's "Sirens:"

Saturday, April 17, 2010

MORE thoughts on writing, slam and spoken-word

I had the pleasure of traveling to St. Louis with Khary Jackson and Sierra DeMulder for a couple of shows and a workshop this weekend. Had a great time, got to perform our favorite pieces for people who have never heard them, and got to just TALK... about slam, about writing and about the purpose of art.

You may have seen these points I posted a few days ago. Here's an addendum, spurred by some of our conversations and my own private thoughts:

11. One of the things I love about slam is that it's participatory. The audience is supposed to respond to the poetry. Ooooohs. Aaaahs. Snaps. Whatever. This is fun. But what's been happening lately is obligatory audience response, not sincere audience response. Audiences are being shepherded by a poet's friends or team members, who are "oohing" and "aaaahing" to pieces they've heard a million times before IN ORDER TO shepherd the audience. On top of this, all too often, these audience responses are undeserved. A poem could start with "it was a dark and stormy night," and someone in the audience is going to say "OH SNAP" or "WHAT" or "OH MY GOD." It's getting ridiculous. It's BEEN getting ridiculous.

And me and my team were guilty of this at Nationals, I'll admit. You get caught up in the moment, looking for any possible edge or tenth-of-a-point in the scoring. But I'm done with it. No more.

12. Related to that, audiences have recently been conditioned to respond to the rhythm of a poem as much as its writing or content. They laugh if a line should be funny, whether or not it actually is. They'll "ooh" and "ahh" at the poems rhythmic climax, whether or not it's well-written or meaningful. Again, this is a function of the participatory nature of slam, and it's cool that the audience is so READY to be entertained. But it's just kind of weird. That's one of the reasons it's been so much fun these last few months to perform for audiences who have never seen slam before, or who are used to a very different style of spoken-word (as opposed to Minnesota Emo Literary). You have to really earn positive responses.

13. Innovation is generally talked about as a form thing, though I prefer to think of it in terms of content. I agree with people like Marc Smith, who call for (paraphrasing) "more weirdness" in slam. However, weirdness doesn't have to be about form. It doesn't have to be about writing in ultra-complex meters or using obtuse nosebleed imagery or talking in a funny fucking voice. It can be about saying something new. Attacking an issue or idea from a new angle. Telling a story from a new perspective. It seems simpler, but it's probably harder to do. I'm focusing on spoken-word here, but this point is even more relevant for rappers.

14. I think it'd be good to start seeing more "spoken-word music videos," as opposed to performance footage on youtube. We can be creative and do some cool things. Ed Bok Lee has a good one. Ryan Hurley has a good one. There are more out there, but not as many as you'd think. I'd like to explore this.

15. Come to the events! Here's the info:

~April 22 at the Bedlam Theater is the Hip Hop and Spoken-Word Theater Festival/Preview. I'm debuting a segment of my one man show, "The Fist that Lives in Your Neck."

~April 27 at Kieran's is the Minneapolis FINALS.

~April 30 at Peach is the Punch Out Poetry Slam

~May 3 at the Artists' Quarter is the St. Paul FINALS. (I'll be competing in this one)

Anything can happen. If nothing else, all the shows are going to be good. The National Poetry Slam is August 3-7 in St. Paul.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

You Should Know About Kristoff Krane (w/ new video!)

First of all, here's the new video for "Miracle?" from Kristoff Krane. There's a long story behind the making of and eventual release of the video, but I'll just say it's really soul-affirming to see it actually complete and available for people to watch. Big congratulations to Chris.

Also, pay attention to the promos at the end. Yes, me and Big Cats are playing the "Picking Flowers Next to Roadkill" release party on May 15, so you should come to that, but DEFINITELY DO NOT SLEEP ON "Hunting for Father." the OTHER album Kristoff Krane is releasing in May (on the 28th at the Cedar). I got an advance copy, and it's one of the most revelatory listening experiences I've ever had.

Stylistically, Chris mixes rapping, singing, live instrumentation and a kind of "wall of sound" sampling technique. None of those things are new or innovative in and of themselves. But what he DOES with this sonic palette is unlike anything I've ever heard. The songs on "Hunting for Father" are at once completely weird and out-there AND immediately catchy and listenable. His ear for pop hooks and singalongable melodies is out of this world. And somehow, he makes an acoustic-guitar driven folk song next to a monstrous, bass-heavy hip hop track next to a ridiculous mash-up of it all work, and work insanely well.

Honestly, it's like El-P meets Regina Spektor. And that's not a crazy comparison for a crazy comparison's sake-- that's really what this album sounds like. In a good way. MAYBE mix in a little K-OS. Some people might hear some Buck 65 in there, or some Kimya Dawson, but there's a sledgehammer sincerity and earnestness to Chris' vocals, not to mention his technical mastery as a rapper, that makes the prior comparison more apt.

But more than all that, the album is about WHAT Chris is saying. I've made no secret of my personal dislike for impressionistic rap (lots of cool-sounding phrases that don't really mean anything... or maybe they do, but the meaning is buried underneath a million layers of gibberish) and "oh my feelings are so important" rap, and this album traffics in both of those things to some extent, but in a way that really transcends that approach. There are a few songs that make no sense to me, but the warmth and humanism and (for lack of a better term) REALNESS of the writing makes me WANT to come back and figure everything out.

And where a lot of hip hop these days tries to be clever, and some tries to be intelligent, there's a real wisdom in this album, and that's a very different thing. Not in the sense that it's going to solve all your problems for you, but it deals with issues of perspective, love and community in an absolutely enthralling way.

It'd be very easy for Kristoff Krane to relax. He's one of the best freestyle emcees on the planet (again, I don't think I'm exaggerating). He's a brilliant rhyme technician and could make album after album of punch-you-in-the-face underground hip hop if he wanted to. He could ride the coattails of his more famous friends and make a comfortable living in indie-rap land as a really good emcee. But what I love most about Chris is that he doesn't want to be "a really good emcee." He wants to make innovative, original, life-changing, beautiful MUSIC. And with "Hunting for Father," I think he's really succeeded.

This is a very exciting time for Twin Cities hip hop, especially if you can get past Rhymesayers and Doomtree (no disrespect to them, but they get enough love). Chris is releasing two amazing albums. No Bird Sing has one of the best live shows I've ever seen. Call me crazy, but I really like that Guante & Big Cats album that came out in January. The new albums from Big Quarters, See More Perspective, The Tribe, and many more are going to be monsters. I could rattle off the names of everyone I know who is doing big things this year, but that would take too much space. And the two Kristoff Krane shows happening in May should be a perfect entry point for anyone looking to explore what this scene really has to offer. See you there.