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