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.

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