Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Guante Year in Review

It's hard to believe that I've lived in Minneapolis for five years now (see past years-in-review: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). I knew when I moved here that it'd take at least five years to carve a real foothold, and I think I got more than a foothold now. Thanks to Tru Ruts, See More, Big Cats, Claire, Patrick and everyone else I've worked with so far. Here are some highlights from 2012.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE one month later

First of all, my endless thanks to everyone who has bought the album already. Like a lot of artists, I put more into my work than just "hey here are some cool songs." Putting out music always feels like a referendum on my worth as a human being. Yes, I know that's not healthy. But it's working out so far. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and I'm grateful that people are listening. Just a couple updates:

If you want a physical copy of the CD, you can pick one up at Fifth Element or the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis. You can also order a signed copy through Strange Famous Records. Of course, you can also get one from me personally at any performance or if you see me on the bus or at the Chinese buffet. As for a digital copy, the album is still available at our Bandcamp page, on Itunes and on Amazon. Great way to spend that gift card money if you got it.

It's year-end top-ten list time at a lot of publications, and we've been showing up in a bunch of them, which is cool. Critical response in general has been great. A few choice quotes:

"While Weaponize contains sexy beats, biting social critique, and a hard-to-ignore case against apathy, deep down what it really all boils down to seems to be one simple thing: love..." –Jon Behm, Reviler

“Since he emerged in the Twin Cities a half-decade ago, Guante has built an artistic empire of forward-thinking ideals. Assertions on gender issues, institutional racism, class warfare, identity politics, and homophobia, among other progressive causes, show up in his work paired with the haunting stomp of Big Cats! bangers as the backdrop.” –Jack Spencer, City Pages

“Their new album captures Guante at his best as he delivers powerful cultural and sociopolitical theses with a blazing clarity, and it serves as excellent companion piece to P.O.S and Brother Ali's latest records.” –Andrea Swensson, The Current

“Guante establishes himself as the Twin Cities answer to East-Coast lyrical gods like Pharaohe Monch…” –Zach McCormick, The Wake

"Political rap. Conscious rap. Smart rap. Whatever you want to call it rap– You Better Weaponize is exactly what I love about all things hip hop..."

"Honest and disturbing." --Rapper Hooks' mom

We also made the Twin Cities critics' poll and Reviler poll for "best local album of the year," and songs like "The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege," "Lightning" and "Other" made a few "best local songs of the year" lists. Not that lists matter. But still, thanks to anyone who listens.

I'm especially proud of our CD release show, a packed house at Hell's Kitchen in MPLS, one of my favorite venues. We had a one-of-a-kind lineup, including Mankwe, Chantz & 80H20 & Julian from Audio Perm and the New Heist b-boy crew. Plus guest appearances from See More Perspective, Kristoff Krane and Rapper Hooks. Jon from Reviler captured some great shots here.

It's no secret that these days most albums are judged according to their narrative (think "three-word description) rather than through any kind of quasi-objective critical lens. For example, POS's excellent new album gets reduced to "anarchist dance party." Frank Ocean gets reduced to the "anti-Chris Brown." Kendrick is "smart but cool." I understand why critics and music writers feel the need to reduce complex artistic statements to simple narratives-- they're listening to dozens or hundreds of albums every year, and need to make their writing fresh and punchy. That being said, it's obviously a problematic approach to criticism. And it's not just music writers who do this-- fans and listeners do as well, and sometimes the artists themselves.

The way this has played out with our album is that the narrative is "angry political rap." And that's accurate, but it's also an immense oversimplification. Sure, "To Young Leaders," "Until There's Nothing Left" and "A Pragmatist's Guide to Revolution" are kind of angry political rap songs, but the album has a depth to it that is incredibly intentional and I think often overlooked. Who's making songs like "Other," or "Lightning," or "Asterisk," or "Break" right now? Yes, this is a smart album. But I think it's more about EQ than IQ, if that makes any sense. It's about HEART, and this album has a ton of heart and human warmth and vulnerability and originality. It's also, incidentally, one of the best-produced rap albums of the year, another thing that somehow manages to get lost in the "narrative." And guest spots from Toki Wright, Crescent Moon, Chastity Brown, Kristoff Krane, See More Perspective, Chantz Erolin and Rapper Hooks all add even more layers of awesome, if I may say so.

Anyways, that's my final pitch. Thanks again to everyone who bought it, and if you haven't, I hope you'll at least give it a listen.

I'm working on a year-long promo plan for this album. It's not just "release and on to the next thing," although I do have a couple new projects in the works. We'll be releasing more videos, playing big shows and continuing to push the album into 2013. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for regular updates. And as always, if you like the music, please keep sharing it. Thanks!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The First Annual Guante Music Awards

THIS IS NOT A TOP TEN LIST. I have nothing against ranking-style lists; my brain just doesn't work like that. This is just a handful of stuff from 2012 that's stuck with me so far. Here we go:

"Everyone" seems to think that Frank Ocean had the best album of the year, and "everyone" is usually on some bullshit, but I think they hit it on the head this year. Channel Orange is a singular listen-- I think you could nitpick about some production choices, but for the most part I like the minimalism (which also makes the "big" moments in "Sweet Life" and "Bad Religion" hit that much harder). And his songwriting is the best in R&B right now. A nice encapsulation of the depth of the songwriting and poetry on the album is the line "why see the world when you've got the beach?" It's just brimming with alternate interpretations and nuance. And the whole album is like that. And it's beautiful on top of it. "Bad Religion" in particular is my favorite song of the year, maybe the last few years.

Friday, December 07, 2012

New Video: "Action" and men's responsibility to end rape culture

There's a NEW video of this poem, along with some extended thoughts, HERE.

This is a poem it took a very long time to write. I'm still not convinced that it's done. But I wanted to get it out there. For the record, it's not a true story. Normally, I wouldn't tell people that, but I think it's important to move past the attitude that something is only important if it's happened to you personally.

This is a poem about rape culture, and specifically about men's responsibility to fight back against rape culture. It's about how the myth of the "good guy" helps perpetuate rape culture by allowing some of us to distance ourselves from what is too-often perceived as the actions of a few disturbed individuals and not a chronic, persistent, society-wide epidemic of violence against women.

I hope it's clear that what this poem is talking about, not unlike my poem "Neutral," can be applied to other kinds of privilege and oppression too. We can't beat racism by "not being racist." We have to actively take part in dismantling oppressive systems. Homophobia won't magically go away when the older generation dies out; the struggle has to continue. And when it comes to rape culture, it's not enough to simply "opt-out;" we have to confront it, wherever it pops up in our lives, openly and intentionally.

Thanks to Elliot Malcolm for putting this video together. Contact:

Related writing from me: 
3 Points About Rape Jokes that People Seem to Be Ignoring
How Men Can Disrupt and Dismantle Rape Culture

Related writing from Shakesville: Rape Culture 101


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Get Familiar: "You Better Weaponize" Guest Artists Spotlight

(CD release show pic by Jon at Reviler; see the whole slideshow here)

I've talked a lot over the past month about our new album (which you can stream and/or purchase here),  but I also like to use my website to promote other acts you should know about if you like me. So I wanted to throw up a post featuring some of the artists we decided to collaborate with. The Twin Cities have one of the best music scenes in the country (especially hip hop), and we were privileged to work with some of our favorite artists on the new project. Here's more information on all of them, plus links to videos, free music and more:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Song Spotlight: "A Pragmatist's Guide to Revolution" + a few post-election thoughts

This is a live video shot and edited by Patrick Pegg (who also did our music video); it was the second-to-last song in a 90-minute set, so I'm a little ragged and sweaty, but there it is. Over the next few months, I'm going to highlight individual songs from the new Guante & Big Cats album and talk about what they mean to me (in no particular order). This one seems appropriate for right now. Here's a link to the album version, which is a little more polished:

Before I talk about it, though, here's another video that's definitely worth watching. A bunch of Twin Cities activists (plus me) got together and filmed this the day before the election, to be released the day after the election, no matter what happened:

I think these two videos complement each other. Even though I've talked, rapped and written at length about how elections are not the only-- nor the best-- way to create change, there is something special about them. Elections are about concrete, achievable goals. You see something you want, you work to get it, and sometimes you win. Activism isn't always like that. Sometimes we're shaping trends that won't play out for decades. Sometimes we're winning victories that feel more abstract. It's one thing to get enough votes to defeat a referendum that would ban same-sex marriage in our state constitution; it's something else to fight for the true, total, sustainable liberation of an entire community.

It's like in poetry: a poem about "racism" as an abstract idea is never going to be as engaging as a poem about a specific, concrete act of racism or resistance and the down-to-earth, human reaction to it. And I think that's why we can mobilize millions of people to elect politicians or pass/beat referenda, but when that following Wednesday rolls around, so many of them disappear.

But rather than whine about it, or feel superior and more-progressive-than-thou about it, I think we need to see this as a challenge. How do we keep people engaged? How do we build a sustainable movement that can challenge our leaders no matter what party they belong to? How can we create systems and frameworks for change in our communities? I'm thinking about this at two levels:

I think organizations can take some of these lessons and apply them to their work. Let's give people concrete goals or tasks to hold on to when they join up. Let's frame the work we do in a media-savvy way, to attract new activists and media attention. Let's continue to build coalitions between organizations and entities who don't always see eye-to-eye on every little thing. I think it's possible to take the campaign-model and use it even when the goal isn't to get people to vote for something (when it's appropriate, of course). Let's put energy and resources into outreach-- it's not enough just to "be right" about an issue. We need principles, but we also need strategy, and we also need tactics; those three things aren't the same.

To use myself as a case study, I'm using this post-election glow to re-commit, kind of New Year's resolution-style. I've never been as much of an activist as I get credit for, but I'm figuring out where whatever talents I have can be of the most use. In 2013, I'll be focusing on media and education, doing a lot of traveling, facilitating workshops on social justice concepts and tying what I do as an artist more explicitly to what I want to do as an activist. I have some big plans in the works around media activism, video and social justice education. I'm excited to make some connections between spoken-word communities and media justice communities-- it's going to be a very busy 2013.

Which brings us back to the song. I wrote this song to counter the current of conspiracy theory rhetoric that has infected so much of political hip hop, but I also wrote it as a direct message to whomever listens to my music-- change is hard, but it's not complicated. Change happens when people organize together, using their individual strengths to create mass movements. We can't lose sight of that. We can't get sucked entirely into electoral politics, or drowned in philosophical debates about ideologies and hypothetical situations. We just need to start working. Of course, self-work and self-education and critical reflection are all important, but the work can't end there. We don't need perfection or heroes, and even the "heroes" we have already are really just regular people with flaws and uncertainties and insecurities just like us. Join an organization. Educate yourself. Dive in. That's really all there is to it.


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Guante & Big Cats' YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE Available Now!

1. You can stream/purchase our new album NOW
You can listen to the whole thing at this link, and please buy it if you like it. It’s also on Itunes, Amazon, the Strange Famous store and elsewhere (and you can still get physical copies at shows), but Bandcamp is the best; it has the most artist-friendly profit split. I’ve poured all of my mental, spiritual and artistic energy into this album; I really hope you like it; every purchase means a lot to me personally.

2. Our CD release party is on Friday
Friday, November 9 at Hell’s Kitchen in MPLS, 10pm. Facebook link. If you’re in town, it’s going to be a one-of-a-kind show and we’d love to see you there. It’s 18+, and only $5 if you’re 21+ ($7 if you’re 18-20). Mankwe, Chantz + Julian + 80H20 of Audio Perm and the New Heist b-boy crew will also be performing. If you only come to ONE of my shows this year or any year, this should be this one.

3. A Request for Help, or “What I’m Doing Instead of a Kickstarter”
I don’t want your money (well, I do, but only when you buy the album); what I’m looking for is your social power; this is, incidentally, a big theme of the album. We don’t have a label or a big marketing budget. We’re making music that is beautiful, but also challenging and weird and outside-the-box. If we’re going to have ANY success, it’s going to be through word-of-mouth and independent/social media. If you like progressive, smart, funny, creative art, here are some things you can do to help that don’t cost any money and only a few minutes of your time:
  • Write a review! If you buy the album through Itunes or Amazon, please take a second to leave a review. If you buy it through Bandcamp or in-person, please throw up a Facebook post with why you liked it and link to the album itself.
  • Spread the word! Post our music video or the Bandcamp link on your Tumblr, Facebook wall, personal blog or Twitter. Post/upvote us on Reddit. Play it for your friends in the car. Say something nice; let people know why this stuff is worth checking for. It seems like a little thing, but it makes a huge difference.
  • Book us. If you’re in college, get in touch with me at and we can work through how to bring us there. I have a ton of experience booking shows at colleges and universities and even if you don’t know where to start, I can help.
We hope you like the album. Thanks so much.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Guante & Big Cats: TO YOUNG LEADERS (Official Music Video)

Download the song for FREE and pre-order the album now through Strange Famous Records HERE.

Huge thanks to PCP for all the video work; he also shot and edited a ton of live stuff that we'll be releasing later. I'd highly recommend him (get in touch at and follow him on Twitter: @pcpmeltsfaces). Also thanks to Antonio Schoen for dancing around and being our villain (unless you think I'm the villain; it's kind of open to interpretation).

As always, please share the video! Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. Thanks!

And don't forget about the release party on November 9 at Hell's Kitchen in MPLS. 10pm. 18+. Facebook event page HERE. It's going to be wild, and we hope to see you there.

Monday, October 29, 2012

My Thoughts on the 2012 Election + Link to Voter Guide

Part of the trouble with releasing an album on Election Day is that a lot of my energy and ink is put toward promoting that, rather than the obviously-more-important election. But before we get to a deluge of music videos and promos and reviews and all that, here are my thoughts on 2012:

This one is easy. Both the marriage amendment (which would write discrimination into the state constitution) and the photo ID amendment (which is a costly and dangerous solution to a non-existent problem) are mind-boggling unnecessary. They're both on the ballot this year largely because state Republicans are worried-- and rightly so-- that their straight, white, middle-class male base is shrinking. Photo ID explicitly addresses this for the future by attempting to backdoor-disenfranchise voters (which is scary and which is why we need to defeat it), but both referenda are meant to drive conservatives to get out and vote, especially in a year when no one is excited about the Republican candidate. It's all sinister political BS, and beating back this amendments would be a powerful step forward-- both as a symbolic victory and as a real, concrete victory. See the video PSA I shot at the top of this post for more info, and here's a cool "Vote No on Photo ID" song recorded by a bunch of great Twin Cities rappers:

The League of Women Voters have this handy voter guide that tells you what will be on the ballot in your area, as well as interviewing candidates so you can be more informed. One example of how this guide was helpful: in the race for Chief Justice, which I usually don't pay much attention to, I learned that one candidate (Lorie Skjerven Gildea) is the current Chief Justice, and that another candidate (Dan Griffith) likes to quote Ayn Rand. Now I know how I'm voting.

Winning isn't just about showing up and voting; it's about getting everyone you know to show up and vote. Have that difficult conversation with your family. Take that commercial break during the the football game to make sure your friends are planning on getting out to the polls. Record your own video PSA or write your own blog/Facebook post about why you're voting on 11/6 and spread it around. Forget that MN-nice "let's not discuss politics" rule and DISCUSS POLITICS. One vote is great, but 10, 50, 100 are even better. You don't need to spend millions of dollars on TV commercials to have an impact.

No matter who you vote for, there's going to be work to do on November 7 and every day forever. We can't let Republican victories destroy our morale, and we can't let Democratic victories make us complacent. I'm not the type to say that both parties are exactly the same, but they are both imperialist, corporate-backed, power-mongering political parties who don't have our best interests in mind. It's up to us to build mass movements to challenge our leaders no matter what party they belong to, and it's up to us to cultivate independent media, community power and real relationships at every social and cultural level. That's where positive change comes from. Organize.

That being said, I believe that elections can be effective tactical tools within this larger movement. To me, the important question is:

Does supporting Democrats enable their unprogressive policies, OR is supporting Democrats a tactical block of Republican policies that would be just as bad and almost certainly worse?

To me, that's the real question. It's not whether Nader cost Gore the election, or whether the two party system isn't fair, or whether both parties are exactly the same. It's not about theory or ideology or conscience-- it's about tactics. What is going to make our world better in a concrete way? And I don't have the answer. If you do, please post a comment.

I also think it's worth stating: some of the smartest, most effective organizers I know are hardcore Obama supporters, and some of the smartest, most effective organizers I know would never in a million years support Obama. I know smart, committed people who aren't going to vote at all, as well as smart, committed people who are going to vote for Jill Stein. Multiple sides to this debate make very good points; as progressives, let's not lose sight of that and tear ourselves apart.

I'm planning on voting for Obama (and other Dems), because when I do the math, I think it's worth blocking Republican policies (and taking a stand against the values those policies are based on). I think the "small" differences between the two parties aren't equally small for all people. I also really want the hateful, backwards, hypocritical conservative movement in this country to be dealt a death-blow, or at least a backhanded slap across the face. Mostly, I want us to be able to build a movement that can be on the offensive instead of the defensive.  It's not a choice I make lightly. Again, if you agree or disagree, feel free to leave a comment.

In the end, it's about what we do more than it is about who we vote for. We have work to do, and I think 2013 can be a great year for the progressive movement no matter what happens in November. Keep fighting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

10 Things I Can Tell You About YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE

The first single is embedded below, and above is a YouTube link to the song that the Current leaked, "Lightning" featuring Chastity Brown. It might be one of the more challenging tracks on the album, since there isn't a catchy hook or anything, but I'm really proud of it, and Chastity is amazing as always.

1. This is the best, most substantive, most fully-realized art I've ever made. These ten points will illustrate some of that. Be sure to pre-order the album through Strange Famous Records or come to the release show on November 9 at Hell's Kitchen in MPLS and get one.

2. It's a very collaborative album, not just in terms of me and Big Cats working out the songs together, but in terms of guest appearances too. The album features Toki Wright, Crescent Moon (of Kill the Vultures), Kristoff Krane, Chastity Brown, Chantz Erolin (of Audio Perm), See More Perspective and Chris Hooks (formerly known as TruthBeTold of TTxBC). You can also hear Claire de Lune (of the Chalice and our collaborative EP "A Loud Heart") as a vocal sample on one of the songs. Guests were chosen based on who fit the tone of the song and who could either add to or contrast in an interesting way with my songwriting style, and everyone knocks it out of the park. If I had to highlight a few contributions, I think Chantz will really turn some heads here; he's brilliant and still pretty under-the-radar. And Chris Hooks might have the coldest verse on the whole album; it's definitely going to surprise some people. They're all Twin Cities artists too, which we're very proud of.

3. Related to that point, Big Cats is a genius. Here's the thing: I think I'm a great rapper, but I could totally understand someone not liking my voice or the patterns I favor or whatever. That's cool. But Big Cats is undeniable. If you've heard our last album, or followed his work with TTxBC, or heard his new solo album, you already know. The beats are beautiful, but they also BANG. It's all very full and dynamic. It'll sound great on laptop speakers or whatever, but we're definitely going to encourage people to listen on a good sound system, in a car or in headphones. Also, the album was mastered by Dave Cooley, whose credits include projects from Dilla, Common, Dangermouse, Madlib and many more.

4. As a songwriter, an important idea for me is that just because a song is well-intentioned doesn't mean that it's effective. Particularly as someone who writes political and social justice-oriented songs, I wanted to make sure that the songs on this album weren't just telling people what they already believed. I wanted to avoid platitudes and rhetoric and really try to get to the heart of some of the issues that I care about. It's a very solutions-oriented album. Most political rap songs boil down to "things sure are messed up," and that's an important message, but I wanted to go further. So the political songs here, like "A Pragmatist's Guide to Revolution," "Fireworks," "The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege" and more all have very specific, focused thesis statements; they're not just me shouting about how the government is corrupt. I'm trying to write songs that people can walk away from holding some specific idea or message-- that can be artistically risky, of course, but I think we were able to walk the line really effectively.

5. Related to that point, the songs are extremely focused in terms of concepts. A challenge I had for myself was to avoid writing a concept album, but still have lots of conceptual songs. There are songs here about mixed race identity, the politics of sexuality, monogamy, white privilege in hip hop, the power of organizing and much more. The philosophy behind all that is that rapping well isn't a challenge. Rapping well about something meaningful is a challenge. Rapping well about something meaningful and still making that stuff FUN to listen to is a challenge. I wanted to write good songs, but more than that I wanted to write memorable, unique songs that stood out from the pack.

6. It's a political album, but they're not all explicitly political songs. The whole personal/political line is something I've walked a lot in my career, and I think it's important that personal songs aren't entirely disconnected from larger ideas and that political songs aren't just cold rhetoric-- you have to combine the two. So a bunch of the songs here are more personal, whether it's me just talking shit like an MC is supposed to talk shit ("Straight Outta Genosha") or reminiscing on a near-death experience ("Everything Burns"). I also think "Asterisk" might be the best straight-up love song I've ever written.  I embrace the identity of "political rapper," but I also like to think I avoid most of the baggage that goes along with it.

7. There is no "spoken-word" on the album, but it's still some of the best poetry I've written. I mean, "Lightning" kind of walks the line between song and poem, but it's still made of rhyming couplets. Everything on the album rhymes (except for some ranting and raving on the first track). We thought about putting a poem or two at the end, but decided against it-- partly just to have a cohesive listening experience (read: lots of people hate spoken-word), and partly to highlight the natural poetry of rapping. I think this is some of the best poetry I've ever written, even if I'm never going to do any of it in a slam or get it published in a book. The album also demonstrates my poetic philosophy-- good poetry isn't about using weird, abstract language to talk about simple stuff, it's about using direct, easily-understandable language to tackle complex ideas.

8. It's not a concept album, but there is an overarching theme. If I had to describe the theme of the album in one line, it'd be the relationship between power and community. Power (represented by electricity, fire, etc. as well as traditional conceptions of political power) comes up over and over again, as does the idea of community and people working together. I think it's an important connection to make in this day and age, even if it wasn't 100% intentional from the beginning. And the phrase "You Better Weaponize" fits into this framework too-- it's about knowing the resources at our disposal and using them to achieve our ends. We may not have millions of dollars or the backing of a big corporation or the police behind us, but we have numbers. We have independent media. We have art. We have so much potential. And people have done so much with less. As the first track says "we got all the weapons we need right here." There's a reason we're releasing this on Election Day. No matter what happens on November 6, there's going to be work to do on November 7.

9. It's a much funnier album than you're probably expecting. Obviously, it should raise a red flag whenever a guy calls himself funny. So sorry for that. But it's always easy for political artists to be tagged as joyless or self-important, and this album is really celebratory and down-to-earth and weird and funny as hell. At least I think it is. My biggest influences are artists like Boots Riley from the Coup, the Pharcyde, the Fugees, the Dungeon Family, etc., all artists who had layers and could mix up the fun stuff and the serious stuff in unexpected ways. I'm not saying that this album sounds like any of those artists' work, just that that's the foundation on which we're building.

10. It doesn't sound like anything else out there. I mean, I could sit here and tell you how talented I am, how I'm smarter than most underground rappers, or funnier than most punchline rappers, or more substantive and creative than most "conscious" rappers and on and on, but that stuff is all subjective. The thing that I'm really proud of is how we were able to create a piece of music that adds something unique to the conversation. It's really not about being "better" than anyone else; it's about having something new and engaging and meaningful to put out there. And by those criteria, we definitely succeeded. I can't wait for you to hear it.

We hope you like the album; it'll be available online on Election Day (unless you pre-order now). If you want to check out some of our older stuff (including a FREE mix of older Guante & Big Cats tracks), check this out.

Friday, October 19, 2012

VOTE NO Concert on 10/23, two songs from the new album, more updates

Busiest month of my life. A few important updates:

1. First of all, this is coming up on Tuesday, 10/23 at the Varsity Theater in MPLS. Click the image to go to the Facebook event page:
It's going be a very special show. A genuinely diverse lineup featuring artists from a whole bunch of different communities and styles, all coming together to encourage people to VOTE NO on both the marriage amendment and the photo ID amendment. Here's a video PSA I shot with my thoughts on why I'm voting no on both.

2. If you missed it, you can pre-order the new Guante & Big Cats album, YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE, exclusively through Strange Famous Records (home of Sage Francis, B.Dolan, 2mex and many more). You'll get your choice of a signed CD or a signed CD bundled with the album instrumentals and a bunch of my spoken-word poems. Also, here's the first single from the album, available now as a free download:

Plus FIVE REASONS YOU SHOULD COME TO OUR CD release party (11/9 at Hell's Kitchen in MPLS) can be found here.

3. Local cool-kids radio station 89.3 The Current leaked another new song from the album too. It's called "Lightning" and features the always-incredible Chastity Brown. Listen to it here.

4. In case you haven't noticed, we've been posting beautiful, brand-new videos of many of my best poems. Patrick Pegg with Unique Techniques shot and edited them. There are more to come, but we've made three available already. They're the first three listed here.

5. As always, please share (over Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or real life) whatever you like, whether that's the link to the pre-sale, one of the new songs, info on the Vote No show, one of the new poem videos, or just this whole page. It all makes a difference. Thanks!

Monday, October 15, 2012

YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE pre-sale through Strange Famous Records, first single, release details!

Check out the first track on the new Guante & Big Cats album, YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE. The song is called "To Young Leaders."

You can now PRE-ORDER the new album exclusively through our friends at STRANGE FAMOUS RECORDS (home to Sage Francis, B.Dolan, 2mex, more). We're very grateful for the support, and this is a pretty cool deal too, especially if you live somewhere else and can't pick up a CD in-person from us. Click this link for details on the standard signed CD or the bonus materials package.

If you're in the Twin Cities, be sure to mark your calendar for our RELEASE PARTY on Friday, November 9 at Hell's Kitchen in MPLS. Here's the Facebook event page.


1. The lineup is unique and beautiful. Mankwe is a brilliant singer/songwriter whom you should all know about. Chantz is probably the most talented local rapper you don't know yet (I mean, unless you do), and he'll be joined by Julian Fairbanks and 80H20 to represent Audio Perm. And we'll also have the New Heist crew in the building to make sure the b-boy element is represented. Plus us, all for just $5 if you're 21+ or $7 if you're 18-20. That's a steal, so arrive early.

2. Hell's Kitchen is one of the best places in town to see a show. The food is great, the staff is friendly, the sound is superb, and they're pretty damn progressive too. It's right downtown, so you can take the bus or park in the $5 ramp that is RIGHT next door.

3. This is your official post-election after-party. No matter who wins, there's going to be work to do. Let's recharge. Our album is dropping online on Election Day to push that message even more-- voting matters, but what we do the day after and every day is what matters the most.

4. Our last release party at the Bedlam Theater was one of the best shows I've been a part of, and Big Cats' solo release party last week at the Cedar was even bigger and better. Our crew, our community, our family-- it's going to be beautiful.

5. This is the best art I've ever made. As a lyricist, as a vocalist, as a poet, as a writer, as a performance artist, whatever-- this is leaps and bounds beyond what I've done so far. I can't speak for Big Cats, but I think this is some of his very best work too. The album also features Toki Wright, Chastity Brown, Kristoff Krane, Crescent Moon (of Kill the Vultures), See More Perspective, Chantz Erolin (of Audio Perm) and Chris Hooks (of TTxBC). It's wild. If you already support us, you're going to be validated in a big way, and if you've never heard of us, you're not going to see this coming. Can't wait to share it with you. Here's the cover and tracklist.

Finally, as always, please SHARE this page. We're doing this DIY (with the SFR assist) and rely on word-of-mouth, Facebook posts, Tumblr posts, Tweets and all that. THANK YOU!

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Video for "Love in the Time of Zombies"

I can't post this without first assuring whatever audience I have that I wrote this back in 2006 or so, before zombies were cool and way before they become so overexposed in pop culture. So miss me with that "here we go, another slam poem about zombies." I got there before the flood, haha.

I think this piece holds up, despite the now-tired subject matter, because it's really not about zombies. It's about love. It's about finding love in terrible circumstances, something that happens every day in this world.

If you like this, be sure to check out my other poetry videos here.

As always, any re-posts, Tumblr posts, Facebook posts, Tweets and whatever are much appreciated. I was going to wait and post this around Halloween, but I have something even better (something album-related) to post then. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

What One Person Can Do About _______

(Syria: photo from AP/The Guardian)

The other day, hip hop artist Dessa tweeted this: "Alright, all you informed activists. I'm moved by the situation in Syria. I don't know how to help. Suggestions?"

This is a very common question-- not just about Syria, but about any number of causes. As someone who people call an "activist" (though I could definitely do more to live up to that, and be more involved in any number of important struggles than I am), I get this question a lot-- from students, from fellow artists and from random people on the internet. I don't have answers, but a few thoughts:

1. The Power of Education and Media
"Media activism" sometimes gets looked down on as a form of "slacktivism," as a bunch of people posting Facebook statuses dedicated to ending world hunger or re-tweeting some vaguely political statement made by Lupe Fiasco. And sure, social media isn't going to save the world. But let's not pretend that every person using social media, writing letters-to-the-editor or designing stencil graffiti patterns is intending to "save the world." Political, social and cultural change is a big, long-term process, made up of many different strands-- some concrete and immediately impactful, others more intangible and long-term.

Media activism is about spreading information. It's about education. It's a bottleneck through which we can have a lot of impact for minimal effort-- and "minimal effort" isn't automatically a bad thing. You can't build a movement around any issue if people don't know anything about it. And you can't win if people don't care.

So yes, whether you have 100 Facebook friends or 100,000 Twitter followers, spread the word about the issues you care about. Find someone more knowledgeable than yourself and help amplify their voice. Write letters and op-eds. Shoot a PSA. Create poetry and visual art and film based on the things you care about. None of this by itself will change anything, but change won't come without it either.

Related: "Beyond the Benefit: 3 Ways Artists Can Have a Concrete Impact on the Election and the Larger Movement"

2. Make Global Issues Local
Whether you're talking about war and torture in Syria or poverty and oppression anywhere else in the world, it is neither possible nor helpful for you to want to "go somewhere and save everyone." That's not the right attitude to have. Instead, research the issue. Figure out the connections between what's going on "over there" and your own community. It's not too unlike poetry-- you have to take big, abstract ideas and make them manageable.

It's the difference between holding a rally to demand that the US stop supporting Israel and engaging in a targeted, tactical divestment campaign within the local university. It's the difference between protesting "war and imperialism" and setting up a counter-recruitment booth at a school or community event where the military is trying to recruit kids. It's the difference between saying "I'm against racism" and organizing a weekly facilitated discussion where you and your neighbors can talk about their experiences and build. It's the difference between supporting LGBTQ rights, voting for LGBTQ rights, and volunteering to campaign to get 1000 people to vote for LGBTQ rights. The list goes on and on.

When problems like the violence in Syria, or global warming, or global poverty are so huge, we have no choice but to think tactically, use the power of own communities and...

3. Organize Together
If there's an issue that you care deeply about, you're probably not alone. Google it. Find an organization. Find a crew of like-minded people with whom you can work. Maybe they'll have ideas about what to do, or maybe they'll be as confused and inexperienced as you. But this is how movements start: people identify a problem, get together, and do something about it. One person may not be able to make a difference when it comes to fighting these huge world problems, but one person can definitely make a difference in the context of an organization. For Twin Cities readers, be sure to check out the MN Activist Project, which lists a bunch of good local activist organizations.

This is also about understanding, however, that sometimes there's nothing you can do. Well, that's not quite right. There's always something you can do-- that's what this essay is about. But there isn't always a clear path, easily-identifiable solution or action point. Using Syria as an example, you can try to pressure your own government to adopt a particular stance (diplomacy & sanctions vs. arming the opposition vs. all-out invasion vs. whatever), or you can donate to a particular charity that is involved with helping civilians, or you can organize a rally for awareness, but you can't march over there and punch Assad in the face. "Activism," as I understand it, is about recognizing both the power you have and the power you don't have, and forming a plan from there.

Whether the issue is intensely personal or big and abstract, local or global, well-known or unknown, it can always be addressed somehow. Movements of everyday people have won, time and time again. I think these three points are important first steps to consider, but there's always more-- anything anyone would add?

Related: "Where Does Change Come From?" and "Five Steps Toward Getting Involved"

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Hip Hop Against Homophobia: Looking Back, Looking Forward

(a photo from the first HHAH in MPLS, courtesy of Jon Behm)

We started throwing these Hip Hop Against Homophobia shows in Minneapolis back in 2009 or so, and have since thrown more than a dozen of them all around the state. While the shows have sometimes raised money for different LGBTQ organizations, the main idea behind the concert series is bigger than that. We wanted to create space for healthy community collaboration. We wanted to highlight the overlap that already exists between the Twin Cities' big, vibrant, diverse hip hop scene and big, vibrant, diverse LGBTQ culture. We wanted to throw fun rap shows that were also explicitly safe spaces for people no matter how they identify.

The power of the HHAH series isn't just about confronting homophobia in hip hop, though that's certainly part of it; it's about the idea that when communities come together, they become even more powerful. When we highlight and cultivate these kinds of overlaps and collaborations, the potential for new connections, new strategies and more increases. Even when people don't come to the shows, seeing the phrase "Hip Hop Against Homophobia" on a flyer or Facebook invite has power.

At past shows, we've tried to feature a mix of LGTBQ-identified artists and straight allies (including Toki Wright, Tish Jones, Mike Mictlan of Doomtree, Heidi Barton Stink, Ill Chemistry, Kaoz, See More Perspective, Maria Isa, Kredentials, Tori Fixx, DJ Shannon Blowtorch, Oskar Ly & Linda Her and more, plus myself). We've also tried to be representative in terms of race, gender identity and style. Apart from all the politics, the HHAH series is really about throwing big, fun, substantive hip hop shows-- without that, there's no point. So even though we're talking about important issues, we're also celebrating each other and celebrating this culture. I'm really excited about the fact that other people are taking this idea and running with it. A while back, I got to perform at a HHAH at Central High that I had no input in planning and it was great. Things keep growing.

It's also been a learning process-- building representative bills while maintaining a quality live experience isn't always easy. Booking spaces that feature gender-neutral restrooms isn't always easy. Balancing the needs of a rap show with the needs of different communities and organizations isn't always easy. But it's all worth doing, and we're still learning, and trying to be better about everything.

With the marriage amendment on the horizon (and a lot of work to do no matter how the election plays out), we're throwing a whole bunch of shows in October (probably more TBA) especially shows outside of the metro, where a lot needs to happen. Feel free to spread the word:


October 6 at the Moonshine Lounge in Brainerd, MN, 9pm. Featuring Guante, Kaoz and See More Perspective. Link.

October 18 at St. Cloud State's Atwood Mall, 5pm. Featuring Toki Wright, Heidi Barton Stink, Kaoz, See More Perspective and Guante. Link.

October 19 at the Depot in Hopkins, MN, 7pm. Featuring Heidi Barton Stink, Guante, Kaoz and See More Perspective.

October 23 at the Varsity in MPLS (not a HHAH show, but a Vote No on Both Amendments show organized by Take Action MN and MN United; details TBA)

October 24 at Inver Hills College, noon. Featuring Heidi Barton Stink, Guante, Kaoz and See More Perspective.

February 22 at Central High School in St. Paul, details TBA.

February 23 at Patrick's Cabaret in MPLS, details TBA

A special shout out to the performers who have been really key in keeping this series going--

KAOZ is an MC, poet and educator who most recently executive produced "Kaoz Presents: Real Talk MPLS,” a full-length album that tackles HIV/STI prevention, stigma and homophobia.

HEIDI BARTON STINK is a visionary MC whose last album, "A Charming Gut," was one of the most unique, creative albums to ever come out of the Twin Cities scene, at least in my opinion.

SEE MORE PERSPECTIVE is one of the more slept-on geniuses in the local rap scene. He produced all of Heidi's album and has some brilliant work of his own. We've collaborated a bunch.

Also, a quick shout to B.Dolan, who released this song/video addressing homophobia in hip hop and the CeCe McDonald trial:

And Tish Jones, who isn't rapping in this clip, but is always great (and she hosted the first HHAH):

Finally, a few relevant links:

Monday, October 01, 2012

Kristoff Krane & Guante: "Pushing Boundaries" (prod. by Big Jess): Free DL and a Close Reading

Big Jess of the Unknown Prophets is creating an ambitious series of projects called “Honorable Mention,” wherein dozens of different MCs are rapping over his beats across multiple installments. Me and Kristoff Krane (who will also appear on two songs on the new Guante & Big Cats album) got together to record this track, “Pushing Boundaries.”

Our song is track 14; Kristoff is the first verse and I'm the second.

For fun, I’m going to share a “close reading”/analysis of my verse. I think sometimes we skim over MCs’ work, just appreciating the rhythm or the tone of voice or whatever and only vaguely paying attention to the content underneath. As someone who puts a ton of energy into the craft of rapping and constructing substantive lyrics, I wanted to share some of the process here.

Partly, this is to show how talented I am (I mean, let’s be honest, haha), but it’s also to show that a lot of rap bars you hear probably have more in them than you catch—it’s not just me. Rapping can be an incredibly complex form of poetry, but it can also be very rewarding because of that. There are a ton of really wildly smart MCs out there and I’d love it if we all starting to pay closer attention to what they’re saying. So here are some footnotes for my verse:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Guante: The Family Business

This is one of my strongest spoken-word pieces, but there are a half-dozen or more versions of it floating around online. They're mostly shaky early performances, rushed slam performances, or just not that impressive. But this one, put together by Patrick Pegg for Unique Techniques, is just about right. If you were ever going to share/post just one of my videos, I'd probably vote for this one.

This was shot with the assistance of a grant from the MN State Arts board, and we have a bunch more coming, including the definitive version of my zombie love poem, my Twin Cities poem, my indie rapper poem, my cockroach love poem and a bunch of Guante & Big Cats music stuff. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Guante & Big Cats: A Refresher

So as you may know: our new album, "YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE," will be released November 6. For those who are just now hearing about us, here's a look back.

I'm a hip hop artist, two-time National Poetry Slam champion, activist, educator and writer. Big Cats is an award-winning producer, DJ and multi-instrumentalist who has worked with Sage Francis, P.O.S., TTxBC and more (he also has a solo album coming out 10/2). Together, we form the indie-rap duo GUANTE & BIG CATS. Our music is explicitly political, but it's also weird and fun. It's smart, but it also bangs. I guess that's the style-- lots of conceptual, storytelling tracks, gallows humor and substantive punchlines, all over some BIG beats.

We started working together in 2008 or so. Since then, we've played Soundset, performed on the Current's Local Show, played a bunch of gigs all over the Midwest, released an EP, mixtape and a full-length LP.

That LP, "AN UNWELCOME GUEST," was a concept album-- part love story, part zombie apocalypse, part exploration of superhero mythology, part political manifesto... not exactly an easy or straightforward listen. But it was beautifully produced and I'm still very proud of it. We got to work with some of my favorite local artists-- Haley Bonar, Big Quarters, Chastity Brown and Joe Horton from No Bird Sing, plus Prolyphic from Strange Famous Records (Sage Francis' label, who also helped us out with some digital distribution stuff; the album was officially released on Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records). The most enduring track from the album is probably "No Capes," which I still perform regularly:

And here are videos of some of the other highlights from that album:

Performing "The Damp, Foggy Midnight" on the Current's Local Show, backed by a band featuring members of Dragons Power Up! and more:

Music video for "A Hug From a Stranger:"

Performing "Dragons" live at the 7th St. Entry:

The album got some stellar reviews, and while there are a couple of things I would do differently, it was a great launchpad for our future work and still holds up. Our semi-immediate follow-up was the free mixtape "Don't Be Nice," a less serious collection of punchline raps, remixes and live tracks. In that spirit, here's a FREE mix of some random songs of ours:


These songs are cool, but I can't wait for you to hear the new stuff. It's definitely exciting to reunite with a few more years of experience under our belts. More info (including the first single and video) to come. For now, check out this footage of me performing "To Young Leaders" (the first track on our new album) live at Occupy MN:

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE Cover, Tracklist and Release Date

Guante & Big Cats:
01. To Young Leaders
02. Until There’s Nothing Left w/ Toki Wright, Crescent Moon
03. Lightning w/ Chastity Brown
04. Underground Sex Party w/ Kristoff Krane
05. Other w/ Chastity Brown, See More Perspective, Chantz Erolin
06. Fireworks
07. Everything Burns
08. Straight Outta Genosha
09. Break w/ Kristoff Krane
10. A Leap of Faith into a Bottomless Pit
11. The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege w/ Chantz Erolin, Truth Be Told
12. A Pragmatist’s Guide to Revolution
13. Asterisk

The album will be available November 6, election day. The release party will be November 9 at Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis. Lots more details, singles, videos and all that coming soon. But mark your calendars.

For now, let me just say this: even in a year filled with great indie-hip hop releases, I have no doubt that this album will stick out. Big Cats is one of the best producers in underground rap, and these songs are like nothing else you're going to hear, locally or not, this year or whenever. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Some Super High-Quality Videos of the 2012 Twin Cities National Poetry Slam Team

I threw a show a few months ago at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater in Minneapolis and got a MN State Arts Board grant to have the whole thing filmed.  Patrick Pegg of Unique Techniques led the charge, and the footage has turned out beautifully so far.  I'll be releasing more of my poems and songs soon, but in the meantime, check out these videos of my opening act, the 2012 Twin Cities National Poetry Slam team.

Khary "6 is 9" Jackson: LEAVE





I'm beyond excited to share the rest of the footage from the show. It'll include about eight more of my poems, plus a bunch of songs, including some of the new Guante & Big Cats songs. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why I'm Voting NO on BOTH referenda this November

I know it's only August, but we need to be talking about this:

I recorded this straight off my laptop with zero editing; I'd love to encourage other people-- especially artists and double-especially artists with bigger fanbases than mine-- to copy me. Post your own video about why you're voting "no." It only takes a few minutes. We can also be talking about these referenda at our shows, ESPECIALLY shows outside of the Twin Cities. If anyone is touring in-state and wants some "vote no" flyers, stickers or information, get at me.

For more information on getting involved (organizations always need phone-bankers, canvassers, etc.), here are some links:

MN United for All Families (fighting the marriage amendment)

Take Action MN (fighting photo ID)

ACLU Photo ID Talking Points (very good review/overview)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Artist/Activist Partnerships: Five Tips For Booking Your Benefit

(photo by See More Perspective, who has a new song out)

A few months ago, I wrote this essay for WIN Magazine, and now it's out: Artist/Activist Partnerships: Five Tips For Booking Your Benefit.  It also includes a basic history of the Hip Hop Against Homophobia series.  If you're an activist event organizer, it may be worth a read.  I think it's important to be very intentional (a word I use about a hundred times in the essay) about collaboration, and that's really what the piece is all about.  Feel free to share.

A few other random updates:

1. My poem REACH is featured at Indie Feed (audio) and at Button Poetry (video). If you like spoken-word, these are both major resources you should know about.

2. I'm currently booking shows for Fall, Winter and Spring, both spoken-word shows and/or Guante & Big Cats shows. If you have any contacts (especially at colleges and universities-- activist organizations, hip hop or spoken-word organizations, social justice student centers, performing arts committees, etc.), shoot me an email at and we can set something up.

3. We didn't win the National Poetry Slam, but we did eat a lot of southern food. I have some great videos of my team-- will post them this month sometime. Also got into a constructive discussion on my Facebook page about slam, democracy, elitism, sexism and more.

4. Ayo I'm on Wikipedia now. I don't know who set up the page, and there are a couple of small errors, but thanks. Here it is. Guess I can retire now.

5. Finally, big new Guante & Big Cats album announcement coming up soon. We finished the second round of mixes today and now just have to send it away to get mastered and duplicated. We'll be releasing the tracklist, album cover, release party details and some videos and songs over the next two months. The album is called YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE and it's the best thing I've ever done.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

National Poetry Slam 2012 and a new video for "Smalltalk"

L-R: Kait Rokowski, coach Sam Cook, Guante, Shane Hawley, Khary Jackson and Hieu Nguyen.

After taking a year off, I'm going back to the National Poetry Slam (NPS) this August as part of the first ever united Twin Cities team. It'll be my sixth time going in five years. As part of the St. Paul team, we won twice. This is one of the strongest teams our scene has ever put together, and we'll be trying to bring a third National Poetry Slam title back to the Twin Cities. Whatever happens, I'm incredibly proud of the work we've produced this year.

On a related note, I got a grant this past year from the Minnesota State Arts Board to film a special performance and release the videos online for free. There's a BUNCH more coming (both poetry stuff and music stuff), but here's a special sneak preview, courtesy of Unique Techniques. This is my token "what it's like to be me" poem, SMALLTALK. It's one of the weirder poems I have, but it's 100% from the heart. If you're an artist, you can probably relate:


by Guante

When my girlfriend’s parents ask me what I do for a living…

I pull a straight razor out of my back pocket. I don’t tell ‘em I’m a poet; I sure as hell don’t tell ‘em I’m a rapper. I just pull a straight razor out of my back pocket.

And sure: I could lie, I could say that I’m a pilot or a handsome man or a teacher or the change that I want to see in the world or a pipe-smoking grad student. I could go on and on about all the locked doors I can open, or the exotic locales that have crawled up my nose, or the blinding glossiness of my resume paper. I could give them joyful heart attacks; I could Santa Claus their systems.

But I don’t. I pull a straight razor out of my back pocket.

And yeah: this is overly dramatic. But I’ve never been very good at smalltalk. I’m always too busy wondering where interesting scars come from. Too busy asking myself how many poorly aimed arrows and casual brushes of skin and drownings and split seconds of eye contact over the past ten thousand years have constructed this moment. Too busy imagining the soundtrack to my life dominated by smiling, adult contemporary alterna-rockers, and saying no; give me hip hop dressed in leather, knuckles cracking. Give me whatever the opposite of novocaine is, let it pulse beneath my skin and make every cut and lick and bruise unbearably magnificent.

Because we could talk about the weather, we could deaden our colors and round our jagged corners so that we may fit more precisely in our own carry-on luggage; I could rattle off a string of pop culture references and we'd all have a good laugh, but I don’t; I pull a straight razor out of my back pocket.

And just as her father begins to say “so, you’re a barber?” I SLICE MY LITTLE FINGER OFF.

They jump back, instantly, like characters in a poorly edited student film, their lines caught between their teeth, their eyes staring straight into the camera. Levitating with pain, I pick my discarded digit up from the Olive Garden floor, and with the black sharpie I always keep in my other back pocket, I write my name on it, and I say:

“Give me ten dollars and I’ll let you keep this. Not the finger. The moment. Give me ten dollars as tribute to the truth that we once stood here, that I did something worth remembering, that you on this day witnessed something larger than traffic, or stormclouds or time passing. For the price of a fancy breakfast, press your fingers to the wet cement of my tombstone. Stand in the background of my iconography. It’s only ten dollars; tell my bones they’ve done a good job keeping me upright—tell yourself, that this day did not blur by, that this journal entry would be more than an absent-minded doodle. For ten dollars I will carve my initials in your brainstem.

“What do I do for a living? I am an artist. I am a turtle without a shell, and I have the scars to prove it. I am pulling myself from the magician’s hat night after night and I have the scars to prove it. I am leaving fragments of my body in every dusty corner of this country and I have the scars to prove it. Give me ten dollars, and I’ll show you everything.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Guante + Graham O'Brien: "This is the Opposite of a Suicide Note" REMIX


New song. Download it for free. And please spread the word-- Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, whatever.  This song is also in a "Guante Sampler" set; you can download the whole thing for free if you want to.

Graham is one of my favorite producers-- if you don't know him, he's the drummer in No Bird Sing and Junkyard Empire, and he also produced Kristoff Krane and Sadistik's "Prey for Paralysis" album. Graham also put out a solo album called "Live Drums" that's unlike anything else out there. He's super talented, and I'm honored and humbled to work with him.

This is a song I wrote a while back. The original version was on the Guante & Big Cats' mixtape "Don't Be Nice." It's a pretty personal song, and touches on some familiar subject matter for me-- the idea that you don't have to be happy all the time to be a good person; it's okay to be angry. We can use these negative emotions as tools to build something positive.

Aside from the subject matter, though, the real trick here was structure. I wanted to create a song that was all verse, no hook, but that didn't get boring. So some of that is in the beat, obviously-- the way it builds and breaks down and builds again-- and some of it is in the delivery and in the writing itself. I have other tracks like that-- "Winter is Coming" and "Lightning," and it's an approach that I like because it kind of bridges the gap between rap and spoken-word-- it's definitely rapping (AABB and all that), but it uses the slam poem's three-minute narrative arch instead of the standard rap song's 16/8/16/8 verse/chorus structure. Don't get me wrong though, the new Guante & Big Cats album will be full of hooks. It's just fun to try something different.

Thanks for listening.  Watch out for the first single from YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE coming soon.

3 Points About Rape Jokes that People Seem to Be Ignoring

Recently, comedian Daniel Tosh dealt with a heckler by saying “wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her?” This touched off a firestorm of both criticism and defensiveness and knee-jerk reactions. And this is nothing new. Comedians (good ones and bad ones) have been making rape jokes for a long time, and Tosh is just the current lightning rod. But I think this is a good opportunity for dialogue, especially among artists—comics, poets, rappers, writers of every kind. Here are three points I think are important:

1. We’re not picking sides between “pro-censorship” and “anti-censorship.” We’re picking sides between “pro-rape jokes” and “anti-rape jokes.”

This is not a free speech issue. As a comic (or poet, or rapper, or singer or whatever), you have the right to say whatever the hell you want to say on stage. But your audience has that same right. If you say something hurtful or offensive, they can heckle you, call you out, start internet campaigns to ban you from clubs, whatever. And you have to deal with that.

No one is trying to make it illegal for a comic to say offensive shit; we’re just trying to hold you accountable. That’s a huge difference, and people hiding behind the “free speech” argument are really missing the point. I want you to take chances on stage, to challenge people, even to deal with hecklers harshly—but there are a million ways to do that without joking about something that is extremely hurtful to so many people. Less offensive ways, sure, but funnier ways too.

2. “Edgy” comedy or art shouldn’t just be about saying naughty words and pissing people off; it should be about pissing people off in order to make a larger point.

I’m not against any kind of joke on principle. A good comic can make anything funny. But if you’re going to make jokes about rape, your excuse has to be something more than “it’s okay to hurt people because the bit landed, it was funny.” If you’re going to make jokes about potentially offensive topics, there’s an easy way and a hard way. The easy way is to just shout out offensive things in the name of free speech and “pushing people out of their comfort zones.” The hard way is to provide an unflinching, in-depth analysis of the way that people deal with these painful topics, to really explore them, in order to make some kind of profound point about them (and be funny).

Most people who make rape jokes (or gay jokes, or racist jokes, or whatever) aren’t smart enough to have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation. They’re hacks. It’s like a little kid shouting “poop!” in the grocery store and then grinning. Truly edgy writing pushes people out of their comfort zones, sure. But it pushes them toward something, some deeper truth or observation about humanity.

3. Rape jokes don’t magically turn people into rapists, but they do contribute to a larger culture of normalizing rape, blaming the victim, shaming, silence, etc.

If you’ve never heard the term “rape culture,” that’s really what we’re talking about here. No one is arguing that you’re worse than Hitler because you made an off-color joke; they’re saying that rape jokes are yet another “little” thing that contributes to a society in which women (and men) are raped. A lot.

These “little” things add up—maybe it’s a rape joke at the comedy club, plus a newspaper op-ed blaming the victim, plus a music video turning women into objects, plus a fellow student saying “that test raped me,” plus movies or TV shows that glamorize the “tough anti-hero taking what he wants without apology,” plus a family culture of silence and shame around sex, plus a police force who just goes through the motions when it comes to investigating or working to prevent sexual assault, plus a million other things—it’s a tsunami of shit. And you can add to it, or you can fight against it.

With Tosh, sure, his whole shtick is that he’s an offensive jackass; his joking about rape shouldn’t be surprising. But that doesn’t mean we should all just ignore him. If you’re against rape, you have to be actively against rape culture. There is no neutral. And just like rape culture is a tidal wave of “little things” as well as big things, fighting back against rape culture can take that same form. Call people out. Start conversations. Hold yourself accountable. Maybe something positive can still come from all this.

~Responding to Common Arguments About What Is or Isn't Offensive
~Eight Invalid Pop-Culture Arguments

Thursday, June 28, 2012

New Video: "Five Horsemen," basketball, and the difference between tragedy and injustice

HUGE thanks to Jessica Roelofs for shooting and editing this. She's great.

This is a poem/story I've been writing for years. At its core, this is about how some of the bad things that happen to us are just bad luck, or fate or whatever... but many of the bad things that happen to us-- often the things we THINK are just bad luck or fate-- happen for specific reasons.

It's like... getting struck by lightning is bad luck. Tripping and falling down the stairs is bad luck. But when we start talking about war casualties, hate crimes, sexual assaults, shootings and more, that's something very different.

A family losing their home to foreclosure isn't just bad luck. Someone, somewhere, profits from that.

A little kid getting shot while he's sleeping on the northside isn't just tragic. Gun violence doesn't just happen. Poverty, gun control laws, lack of opportunities, a messed up education system-- a million other factors play a role.

A trans woman of color being assaulted by a group of white drunks isn't just an unfortunate circumstance. It's the product of a culture that encourages, whether explicitly or implicitly, the oppression of people who aren't straight, white men.

A black teen getting shot by a vigilante isn't just the work of one horrible racist. It's the work of a media that demonizes black and brown youth, a messed up Florida gun law and other factors.

A polar bear starving to death because of the destruction of its habitat shouldn't make us sad.  It should make us angry.

A friend or relative giving his or her life while serving overseas isn't just a horrible thing to have to deal with. It's the product of a system built on war and imperialism. It's the responsibility of the politicians who vote for war, the media who promote it, the people who let it happen. It's bigger than what we can see.

But when we start to see the systems and institutions at work, we can start to fight back. When we see how the little, everyday, concrete, face-to-face elements of our lives intertwine with theses larger, sometimes-abstract institutions, we can find the power that we have to change things. That's what this poem is really about.

You can't avoid tragedies. But you can work to change injustices.

As always, please share this-- tumblr, twitter, facebook, blogs, email lists, whatever. I really appreciate it.  And you can check out my other poems here.

UPDATE: here's the text:

Monday, June 11, 2012

'Occupy Homes' Anti-Foreclosure Activist Fights to Save Mom's Home

(Re-posting this must-read press release from Occupy Homes MN)

Colleen McKee Espinosa, a single mother of three -- including Nick Espinosa, a volunteer organizer who has helped other homeowners fight foreclosure -- hoped that negotiations with officials at Citibank would allow her to catch up on her mortgage and keep her home. But Citibank still has the home scheduled to be auctioned off at a sheriff sale at 11 on Wednesday, June 13th.

McKee Espinosa, a registered nurse, has owned her home for 16 years. Last year, she attempted to pay her Citibank mortgage to catch up on three past-due payments on the indicated due date. The bank told her the home had already been sent into foreclosure.

“I’ve come up with the money I owe them but they refuse to take it,” McKee Espinosa said.

Colleen's son Nick Espinosa is a volunteer organizer for the group Occupy Homes Minnesota, a group that has waged successful campaigns that saved the homes of Monique White and US Marine veteran Bobby Hull.

Despite her son’s activism, Colleen McKee Espinosa was initially reluctant to speak publicly about her case. But after meeting and finding support from others fighting to stop their foreclosures, McKee Espinosa joined forces with homeowners and Occupy Homes activists to begin a community campaign to ask Citibank to negotiate a fair settlement that would let her keep her home and finish paying a mortgage that, until recently, had only six years of payments left.

After the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the blog Crooks and Liars, and others covered the story, Citibank officials contacted the family, assured them they were doing everything they could to resolve the case, and assigned them a contact in the "executive response unit." Despite this, the bank is moving to auction the home at a sheriff's sale this Wednesday at the Hennepin County Government Center, after which time the bank would have no legal obligation to work with the family.

"My mother has struggled her entire life to keep our family afloat and give my siblings and I a better life than she had," said Nick Espinosa, "I've dedicated the last 8 months of my life to helping families fight against unjust foreclosures and the greedy banks that would rather leave homes vacant than work to keep families in their communities even after being bailed out with our tax dollars. CitiBank won't be stealing the home I grew up in from my mom--it stops here."

The family has seen a huge outpouring of support from the community since the campaign started. McKee Espinosa's union of 20,000 nurses statewide, The Minnesota Nurses Association, St. Anthony East Neighborhood Association, and hundreds of neighbors have called for Citibank to negotiate with the family and signed an online petition asking Citibank to work out an agreement with the family. Most neighbors on the block have sent letters to Citibank and display yard signs in support of the family.

"I have decided that I'm not leaving my home until we get a good faith negotiation. I'm fighting to send the message to other people not to give up, because if you're isolated you can't fight these people,” said McKee Espinosa. "I'd tell the banks they better watch out because people are catching on to their game and a lot of people are going to fight back now."

(One additional note-- we'll be having an Occupy Homes-themed poetry slam and open mic on Tuesday, June 26 at Kieran's Pub in MPLS.  Sign-up at 7:30, show at 8pm.  Bring poems about economic injustice, activism, fighting back or just social justice in general.  Proceeds will go to Occupy Homes)