Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 Guante Year in Review

As always, this is kind of a journaling space for me. I'm not here to break down everything that was important in 2014, just sharing some of the stuff that I got a chance to be a part of this past year. It's a way to both celebrate some victories and be accountable to myself and others.

(photo by Monica Rivera)

Most of my time and energy this year was spent performing at colleges, conferences and other spaces in every corner of the country. I feel honored to have been able to connect with so many people in so many different places this year. And that's all on top of local shows like the "Shut it Down" night of speaking out against street harassment, the "Let the Bars Breathe" poetry-of-rap show, the "Page, Stage, Engage" show which sold out the Whole at the U of MN, and other shows I organized or helped organize. Booking for 2015 now.

2. SIFU HOTMAN (Guante, deM atlaS & Rube): EMBRACE THE SUN
My last year-in-review also kicks off with Sifu Hotman. But where last year's three-song suite was a fun little side project, this extended version is one of the best full albums I've ever helped create. With support from BBC Radio, Ego Trip, Amazing Radio, Bandcamp's "New and Notable" feature, and more blog write-ups than I usually get, it also became one of my more successful projects. And with Josh's new success as part of the Rhymesayers family, I'm hoping even more people discover it; get it here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Some Favorite Responses to the "All Lives Matter" Crowd

I made a collage of some of responses to the "but shouldn't it be ALL LIVES MATTER?" crowd.

Because pointing out and organizing around the fact that black people are disproportionately targeted, harassed and killed by police does not take away from the fact that other people are also affected, that the recent murders of police are also tragic, or that other lives are not also valued.

If you're more offended by the phrase #blacklivesmatter than the reality that prompted it, I would challenge you to reflect on that.


Collier Meyerson at Fusion: A guide to debunking the need for “All Lives Matter” and its rhetorical cousins

Kevin Roose at Fusion: The next time someone says ‘all lives matter,’ show them these 5 paragraphs

And then there's always this:


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Planting Seeds vs. Planting Crops: A Few Thoughts on How Artists Can Support Social Movements

That's a good question. Let's plan. Whether the end-goal is overthrowing capitalism and abolishing the police, or just getting more progressive people elected to office, the medium-term goal is the same: building a mass movement.

Like I say in one of those tweets, building a mass movement is everyone's job, and everyone has to figure out how best to leverage their strengths, passions, resources, access, etc. to contribute to the larger struggle. I think of teachers calling audibles in their lesson plans in order to talk about current events. I think of religious leaders doing the same thing during their sermons. I think of workers organizing anti-oppression committees or even just book clubs in their workplaces. I think of athletes wearing #blacklivesmatter shirts. I think of online communities. I think of students. I think of young people. Everyone has some kind of power or access to space that can help this movement grow.

And for artists, I see a lot of potential. I'm not really interested in the "you have a platform so you HAVE to speak out" argument. For me, it's more a matter of "you have a platform, so why not speak out?" Whether or not it is our responsibility, it is definitely an opportunity. Especially for touring artists-- poets, MCs, bands, etc.-- that have the privilege of regularly being up in front of thousands of people all over the country; that's a platform with enormous potential.

We tour through blue and red states. We tour through cities of all sizes. We tour through colleges, big and small, public and private. We tour through communities that may not have the same kind of access to the programs, conversations, and movement plug-in points that other communities have.

Even beyond the geography, artists have the power to reach individuals who may have zero interest in activism or social justice. When I see five hundred (mostly young, mostly white) kids at a rap show, chanting along to anti-authoritarian lyrics, I see potential. The simple act of standing on a stage and challenging an audience to think critically is a good thing. It is the planting of a seed.

But I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between planting wildflowers and planting crops.

As artists, it's easy to plant seeds. If I play a hundred shows, and I know that my material is social justice-oriented,  or even just critical thinking-oriented, I know that I'm doing something good. I know that listeners will take these ideas and engage with them in whatever way makes sense to them.

But I think the question isn't "is what I'm doing good?" The question is "is what I'm doing as good/powerful/transformative as it could be?" I obviously don't have all the answers, but I am challenging myself to do better. Here are a few practical ideas for transforming artistic space into activist space; this is just where my head has been at lately-- please add other ideas or thoughts in the comments:

1. Connecting the Audience to Concrete Actions and Organizations
One of the first steps, for me, is demystifying the idea of activism. You don't have to a brilliant anarchist mastermind with a black bandana over your face to get involved. You do have to show up, though, and I think one obstacle to building a mass movement is that a lot of people just don't know where or how to show up. Rage is valuable. Critique is valuable. Raising awareness is valuable. But we can do more. A few ideas:
  • Invite a local activist to have thirty seconds of stage time to talk about an upcoming event, or even just have a table by the merch table where they can hand out flyers and collect emails. It's about specificity too; I don't think we always invite every activist group to every show. I think it's about making connections to what's happening in the world right now.
  • If that can't happen, one strategy I've been using lately is just taking a few minutes out of the performance to ask the audience for resources: what are links, organizations, events, etc. that everyone else needs to know about? Use the knowledge in the room.
  • Key word: specificity. Again, it's cool to encourage people to "go out and do something," but if there are opportunities to connect individuals to specific, existing movements, even better. And even if we don't love a particular organization, knowing that they exist helps people envision what could be and build something better.

2. Breaking Out of the "Shut Up and Play" Mentality
You can do a lot with an hour of stage time. Most of us (including myself, for 90% of my career) just perform for an hour, maybe with some awkward banter between songs/poems. But what else can we do?

This may be easier for spoken-word poets, who more often perform in spaces that lend themselves to facilitated discussions or interactive stuff, but I think this is a good thing for all artists to at least think about. Some of the most rewarding experiences I've had on stage have been when I've decided to not just do my ten best songs or whatever and really try to connect to the audience, to have a conversation, to do something together beyond "look at me for an hour because I'm great."

At one show, we took a big chalkboard and I asked audience members to write down actions they could take regarding police brutality and the prison-industrial complex. This was during those twenty minutes at every show between the listed start-time and the actual start-time. By the time we did start the show, the board was full of ideas:
I'm not saying that that's the most transformative thing you can do on stage, but I think it is an example of how breaking the fourth wall and being more interactive can really add to the power of an event. Have a discussion. Play a short video. Stage theatrical disruptions. Be creative. We frown upon teachers who just lecture for an hour straight; I think we can hold performing artists to a similar standard.

3. Taking Signal-Boosting to the Next Level
Retweeting people who know what they're talking about is good. Posting links to articles we think people should read is good. But I think a lot of this is done haphazardly-- we happen to see something, and then happen to RT it.

I think there's room for more intentionality here. And it doesn't have to be any revolutionary reframing of how we do social media, just a little extra thought. A few tactics:
  • Make more of an effort to signal-boost on-the-ground activists and not just media talking-heads. The latter group can have some great analysis, but getting the voices of the people really in the trenches out there is important. This also relates to making sure that we're signal-boosting the people who are directly affected by the issue.
  • Whenever an artist with a lot of followers speaks out about an issue, that's good. But I also think that there is a continuum of value at play. Posting a statement or a rant is good. Posting a rant with a link to an article with more information is maybe better. Posting a rant with a link to an article and info on an upcoming action is better still. It's all about making connections.
There are weeks when I don't post anything self-promotional. Just links and resources. And yeah, I lose some followers who aren't trying to hear that stuff, but I gain more. This isn't just altruism. Especially with how Facebook's algorithm works today (explicitly self-promotional posts are more likely to stay invisible to fans); posting about current events and struggles just makes sense.

A Million Other Ideas
Admittedly, these are pretty surface-level actions. There is even more room for arts spaces to be fully integrated into activist movements, and for artists to plug in in ways that are even more intentional and focused. But I think it starts here, thinking about space. Reclaiming space. Transforming space. Leveraging access to space.

I also think it's hard to have a general conversation, since there are so many different approaches to practicing art. What works for some people won't work for others. What is effective for an artist who holds one identity may not make sense for an artist who doesn't hold that same identity, or live in that same community, or have access to that same fanbase. But there is always something that works. Beginning to think more strategically is a first step.

Finally, note that there's nothing here about the art itself. I love explicitly political art, and I encourage artists to talk about stuff that matters in their work, but I also know that you do not have to make explicitly political art to engage with these practices. You do not have to have all the answers or know everything about every issue to engage with these practices. You do not have to make less money. You also do not have to radically change how you do business-- a lot of the stuff here is really practical and easy to do.

We all plant seeds, and that's good work. But while wildflowers are beautiful, crops are revolutionary. Art, by itself, cannot change the world. But art, as one element of a mass movement, absolutely can. Feel free to add more thoughts or ideas in the comments.

A few links:

This Saturday: Million March MN: Million Artist Movement: "Artists and Allies with Black Leadership who are committed to channeling and connecting people and organizations who are doing the work of social justice."

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis: great central hub of local activity around police brutality actions.

This Is Not a Think Piece: Turning Outrage into Action from Ferguson to the Twin Cities: my piece collecting links, resources, and organizational info for people who want to plug in to the work being done here. Updated!

Jeff Chang & Bryan Komar: Culture Before Politics

Demetria Irwin at The Grio: Questlove is right, hip-hop is too silent on Ferguson and Garner

My poem "Quicksand" and some further thoughts on the "continuum of action"

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

December Updates: BE HEARD Youth Poetry Slam, Free Workshops, Ferguson Follow-Ups and More

Some stuff that people who know me might want to know about:

1. The 2015 BE HEARD Youth Poetry Slam Series Schedule Announced!
A lot of my focus in 2015 is going to be on working with TruArtSpeaks, and our first big program of the year is a youth poetry slam series that seeks to identify six young artists to represent MN at Brave New Voices. If you're between 13 and 19 years old, and have some work you want to share, you can come to as many of the January prelims as you want. Top prelim poets move to semifinals, and then the finals are in March. Check out the full schedule here.

2. I'm Facilitating Some FREE Youth Spoken-Word Workshops
The first one was a lot of fun, and there are four more coming up, all free, spread around the Twin Cities. Whether you're a veteran youth slam poet trying to get ready for Be Heard, someone who wants to explore the art and work on their craft, or just someone with something to get off their chest, check 'em out. Dates, locations and times here.

3. Ferguson and Police Brutality Activism Follow-Up Points
There's a lot more I could say in this point, but I'm trying to be intentional about my role and my responsibilities and not get all think-piecey on you. A couple of primary points:
  • I updated my list of links, organizations and resources for people in the Twin Cities who may want to get involved in some way, shape, or form, with the work that is being done. No organization is perfect, and no resource solves the problem on its own, but this could be a useful start for people who want to move beyond what's been done.
  • MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) is a very cool organization, and they're hosting a public meeting on next steps regarding police brutality on Saturday, 12/6. Check the details here.
  • I could post a million articles and links, but I'll just share this one: Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the historical and contextual connections that need to be made to really understand what Ferguson means, and what happens next.
4. Final 2014 Shows
Quick note on a few shows coming up:
  • Friday, 12/5 at Boston University; 7pm in CAS 211.
  • Monday, 12/8: featuring at the University of Minnesota's grand poetry slam finals. 6:30pm in Pillsbury 110.
  • Thursday, 12/18: Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul: Celebrating the final "Soul Sounds" open mic before a big relaunch next year. 6pm.
5. New Music Coming Very Soon
If you've been to a performance in the past month or so, you may already have my new album, "A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry." It's a collection of some of the best songs I've ever been a part of, plus some brand new tracks, some poems, some exclusive remixes and more. I'll be releasing it online very soon as well, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Twin Cities: I Will Be Facilitating a Series of FREE Youth Spoken-Word Workshops Through TruArtSpeaks

The Be Heard youth poetry slam series starts in January, and we (TruArtSpeaks) are going to be in a lot of schools between now and then. But we also want to make sure that as many youth as possible have access to us, in case they want to get some feedback, ask some questions, or just build with one another.

So over the next few weeks, I'll be facilitating a series of FREE workshops open to anyone between the ages of 13 and 19. If you're planning on slamming in January, this will be a space to sharpen your skills and work on your craft. Even if you're not into slam, we'll still talk about writing and performance, do some writing, workshop poems, and just share ideas. Feel free to come to one, a couple, or all five:

Saturday, 11/22 at Intermedia Arts; 1-3pm (2822 Lyndale Ave. S. MPLS)
If you can only make it to one, this one is going to be a little more stand-alone than the others, and we'll cover a lot of stuff. It's also a collaboration with Intermedia, so please register for this one at this link.

Wednesday, 12/3 at Rondo Library Room CH (90 W. 4th St. STP); 3-5pm 

Sunday, 12/7 at the Landmark Center Room 408 (75 5th St. STP); 3-5pm 

Friday, 12/12 at MPLS Central Library Room N-402 (300 Nicollet Mall MPLS); 3-5pm

Wednesday, 12/17 at the Landmark Center Room 408 (75 5th St. STP); 3-5pm

Thanks to COMPAS for hooking up the space in the Landmark Center. These should be fun. If you are a young poet, or know any young poets, please spread the word.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Why I Vote

Sims, Toki Wright, me and Rep. Keith Ellison

This was originally going to be one of those bullet-point lists like "five reasons why voting matters" or whatever, particularly geared toward those of us at the more radical end of the progressive spectrum. Because there's definitely a lot to talk about. My own views continue to evolve and become more nuanced as I get older, talk to more people, and expand my perspective. What I've landed on is this:

Politicians don't create change; mass movements create change.

And if I've learned anything over the past decade or so of being involved in different movements, for different causes, in different roles/capacities, it's that movements aren't built by flawless, air-tight philosophical analyses; movements are built by relationships.

I know that election season has the power to co-opt activist energy. I know that voting for the lesser of two corporate-controlled evils has consequences. I know that even the most liberal major-party candidates are still super problematic about this issue or that issue.

But I also know people. Organizers I look up to, activists with years more experience than me, community leaders I trust, and love, and respect, most of whom are women, most of whom are people of color, most of whom have deeper roots in this community than me: these people are telling me to get out the vote. So I'm going to vote, and I'm going to strongly encourage everyone I know to vote.

We're not laboring under the delusion that any politician can "save" us. We are acknowledging the power of voting as one tactical move in a larger strategy. As I've written before:
Elections represent a few important opportunities. First, they’re winnable. Even small victories are something concrete and energizing, which helps sustain larger movements (when these victories are put in a means-to-an-end context and not treated as ends themselves). Second, they’re a great media force-multiplier: because so many people still see voting as the primary way to “get involved,” a specific candidate can sometimes spread the word about an issue further than a broader activist campaign can; they may even be able to mobilize people who wouldn’t otherwise get involved. Finally, elections can put good people into positions of power. We’re not just talking about the president here—this is about school boards, city councils, state reps and more. Local elections are a power bottleneck, and it just makes tactical sense to take advantage of them.
But again, my buy-in to all of this is people-centered. So shout to friends, neighbors and allies at NOC, TakeAction, ISAIAH, MPIRG and everyone locally and nationally doing this work, all of whom know damn well that this work doesn't end on election day.

Monday, October 27, 2014

New Video, Upworthy Again, #NotYourMascot Protest, Big First Ave Show, Other News

I finally reached 10k Facebook likes. In honor of that not really meaning anything, here's one of those "a million things happening at once" posts:

1. New spoken-word video for "Level Up: My Autobiography as a Learner"

I'm in grad school right now, and this was something I wrote for class. I didn't intend to make a video for it, but I think it captures some thoughts, tensions, and questions I've had about education-- and about educational systems-- for a while. If you're a student, staff, faculty or other person invested in education (or you just want to hear me talk for ten minutes), check it out.

2. Upworthy posted my poem "Action"
This is my third time on Upworthy. Grateful for the signal-boost, especially for a poem like this.

3. #NotYourMascot Protest this Sunday in Minneapolis
Washington is in town to play the Vikings this Sunday, and local organizers are preparing what's shaping up to be the biggest protest yet against the Washington team. Starts at 8:30am and ends up at TCF Bank Stadium at 10am. Find all the info here.

4. I'll be performing at Keith Ellison's annual GOTV concert that night
Also on Sunday, I'll be performing at this big show at First Ave. along with Toki Wright & Big Cats, Heiruspecs, Sims and more. Of course, my thoughts on voting, Democrats, and election season are nuanced and complex, but that's kind of why I wanted to play this show. It should be a lot of fun. Click the flyer for tickets and more info:

5. A Million Other Things.
Stay tuned here, and/or follow me on Twitter and Facebook for info and updates on some other big projects, including:
  • A huge year coming up for TruArtSpeaks, the organization I work with.
  • I got published in a book. Like, a real hold-it-in-your-hands, made-of-dead-trees book. The book is about Eminem of all things; Talib Kweli wrote the foreword, and I wrote the afterword: I think it's one of the best things I've ever written. I will post more in-depth on this later, hopefully with some thoughts on the book as a whole.
  • My new sampler CD (including some brand new songs, remixes, poems, re-mastered tracks and basically a collection of the best work I've done so far) isn't officially out for a while still, but it's totally out right now, if you can find me in real life.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Video for "Riverbed," the First Song From My New Project

This song was produced by Ganzobean, and shot/edited by Adam J. Dunn for his #LAAB series. We wanted to shoot something nontraditional, something that might communicate vulnerability, just a straight three minutes of my face, close up. I wouldn't normally do that for a video, but this song and its subject matter demanded a different approach.

If you like it, or if you can relate to it, or if you think someone, somewhere, might find something good in it, sharing is always appreciated.

This also happens to be the first song from my upcoming project, "A LOVE SONG, A DEATH RATTLE, A BATTLE CRY." It's a book, plus a compilation CD featuring some brand new songs, some never-before-heard remixes, some re-mastered versions of older songs, and basically, the best work I've ever done, all in one place. More info coming soon. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wednesday: SHUT IT DOWN: A Night of Hip Hop, Poetry and Action to Disrupt Street Harassment

Twin Cities people: hope you can make it to this show. We're raising money for a very good cause, signal-boosting people through an interactive sign-making/photo-booth kinda thing, and showcasing a hell of a lineup of artists. Facebook event page here.

It'll also be an opportunity to plug into some of the work that's being done here in the TC around rape culture and sexual assault prevention-- organizations like SVC and the Aurora Center will be tabling, with resources and contact info.

This issue is important to me because I've found that making the connections between so-called "little things" and larger realities of harm and oppression is a central part of the work. It's easy for someone who doesn't experience catcalling, or online harassment, or other forms of harassment to write it off as no big deal. But it is a big deal. This stuff directly relates to systems of power and domination that make sexual assault on college campuses, in the military, and everywhere so horrifically widespread.

This event is about continuing to cultivate a platform of resistance, plugging people into organizations, and throwing a beautiful show at the same time. Hope to see you there.

Other Resources:

"Next Time Someone Says Women Aren't Victims Of Harassment, Show Them This"

Interview with Feminista Jones about #YouOkSis at the Atlantic

"Shit Men Say to Men Who Say Shit to Women on the Street"

Zerlina Maxwell on Street Harassment, Catcalling, and Rape Culture at Ebony

Interview with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh of "Stop Telling Women to Smile" at the Daily Beast

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Preview/Review of Toki Wright & Big Cats' PANGAEA

(UPDATE: the album is available now)

I didn't have song titles on my advance copy of Toki Wright & Big Cats' new album "Pangaea." I was about to email to ask for them, but got distracted by the music. And maybe that's part of the point. This isn't just a collection of hot songs-- it's a cohesive, intentional, capital-A Album. A statement. A manifesto.

It's also a left turn. When I heard that my favorite producer (full disclosure: "Guante & Big Cats" also exists) was collaborating with someone whom I've said may be the most underrated MC in all of U.S. hip hop, may be the best pure MC in the saturated Twin Cities scene, and is definitely one of the smartest, sharpest hip hop artists you'll find anywhere... well, I anticipated something different. Maybe something a little more meat-and-potatoes, a high-level "beats and bars" type of rap album.

Because this duo could have done that, and it would have been magnificent. What we have instead, is something just as rich, and just as rewarding, but not nearly so "easy."

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Brand New Poem via Button Poetry: QUICKSAND + The Urgency Gap and How We Respond to Injustice

First of all, thanks once again to Button Poetry for the massive signal boost. The work that they've done over the past two years has been really important, in ways that I don't think a lot of us are recognizing in the present.

As for this poem, I wrote it after #Ferguson, but it's more broadly about how we respond to injustice, especially when we're not directly affected by that injustice. How do white people respond to racial violence? How do men respond to sexual assault statistics? How to wealthy people respond to hunger and homelessness,? Etc.

To be clear, I think there is a continuum of responses-- some of the stuff highlighted in this poem is negative, some of it is fine, some of it is positive, a lot of it is connected-- but it's all about highlighting what I think of as "the urgency gap," how we're so quick to treat other people's life-and-death struggles as an intellectual or emotional exercise.

I'm guilty of this too. Part of the reason I wrote this poem is that it's a reminder to myself that signal-boosting is good and necessary, talking about privilege is good and necessary, writing poems is good and necessary-- but we can't lose sight of the central importance of organizing, working collaboratively to act on these problems. All of those other responses and actions are necessary to support that organizing work, but the issue, as I see it, is that they're not enough by themselves.

And far too often, they're all we give.

Related: my post from last week "This is Not a Think  Piece: Turning Outrage into Action from Ferguson to the Twin Cities," a collection of resources, interviews, links to organizations and more for anyone who wants to get involved in organizing against police brutality.

Related: my post from right after the Zimmerman verdict, about a lot of the same issues.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

This Is Not a Think Piece: Turning Outrage into Action from Ferguson to the Twin Cities

12/6/14 UPDATE: This was originally posted on 8/27/14, but I want to continue to be able to use it as a resource to share with anyone who wants to get involved with activism around police brutality here in the Twin Cities. Scroll down for a list of links, resources, and organizations (like Black Lives Matter Minneapolis) and feel free to add more!

After officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO on August 9, my twitter feed exploded with links, articles, calls to action, commentary and analysis. Right here in the Twin Cities, organizations that had been working on issues of police brutality sprang into action alongside new organizations and concerned individuals; events were planned and executed, and activists of all experience levels got to work answering the question “what now?”

While rallies, marches, social media campaigns and protests can be powerful, their power can only be fully realized when tied to long term organizing campaigns. How can we focus the heightened awareness around police brutality into concrete policy change (like, for example, police body cameras)? How can we plug people who have been radicalized (or at least further politicized) by #Ferguson in to the work that is being done? How can we turn this moment into a movement?

What follows is a collection of interviews, links and resources for anyone in our community who believes that change is needed. Racially-motivated police brutality is a national issue, but from Fong Lee to Terrance Franklin to Al Flowers and beyond, it is also very much a local one. The good news is that we can do something about it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sifu Hotman (Guante x deM atlaS x Rube): First Ave Funeral

We're honored to be part of Adam J. Dunn's #LAAB (Lights and a Backdrop) video series. This is the series' 8th (!) season. I also had a song way back in season 2, and I might have a surprise coming later.

This batch also features new music from Toki Wright & Big Cats, Chantz Erolin, Longshot and more. Check out all eight seasons HERE, and get a great look at what makes the Twin Cities music scene so special.

I love this song. Hope you enjoy it. Get the whole album here.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Spoken-Word Tips Part 3: On Performance and "Poet Voice"

As always, these videos are not meant to be "guides" or teach anyone anything. I'm just sharing tools that have benefited me and the stuff that I think about and try to be intentional about. I'm no expert, but hopefully something in here can be useful for you.

This installment focuses on performance, especially if you're someone who doesn't have a lot of experience. It's an enormous subject, so I've really tried to zero in on some basic, foundational stuff.

This is part three in an ongoing series. Catch the the first two installments here. More to come!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

New Music from Friends, Must-Read Articles, Worthy Campaigns: a Few Early August LINKS

I've been in full-on self-promotion mode lately with the new release, but I also think it's important to highlight other people's work. There's always so much cool stuff to share. And since not everyone uses Twitter, I figured I'd collect a few worthy links from the past week here:

Big Cats made a half-hour mix of ambient and experimental music. I've worked with Big Cats a bunch over the years, and aside from being one of the most purely talented producers around, he also has vision and ambition. This mix is a great example of that.

Monday, July 28, 2014

SIFU HOTMAN (Guante x deM atlaS x Rube): "Embrace the Sun" Available NOW

The Sifu Hotman album is officially out tomorrow, but I realized that we’re not on a label and don’t have to conform to any Tuesday release dates so here it is now:

That’s the new project, including brand new songs, remastered versions of our old songs (which you can still get on vinyl here), and more. If you like it, it's only $5 so please consider buying it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

SIFU HOTMAN (Guante x deM atlaS x Rube): "Matches"

I know new songs have a certain shininess to them, but this is still maybe my favorite song I've ever made. Shout to Rube for providing this beat and deM atlaS for providing his spirit and energy.

And there's more where this came from. Be the first to hear everything at our release show, Friday, July 25 at Intermedia Arts in MPLS. 7pm. All ages. $5. House of Dance Twin Cities will also be performing.

If you're not in the Twin Cities, you can get the whole project, "Embrace the Sun," on July 29. We're all really proud of it. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

SIFU HOTMAN: Embrace the Sun (Release Party on 7/25)

As you may know, SIFU HOTMAN is me, Dem Atlas and Rube. Sharp, uptempo hip hop music. We released a self-titled preview vinyl last year, and now we're coming back with a proper debut.

It's some of the best, most soul-affirming music I've ever been a part of, and I can't wait for you to hear it. The new project features remastered versions of the last three songs we made, plus three brand new songs, plus a remix from Lewis Parker (who has worked with Ghostface, Sadat X and more), plus some instrumental tracks from Rube. I am immensely proud of it, and immensely grateful to Dem and Rube for helping to bring it to life.

The music will be available on 7/29, but you can hear it all first on 7/25 at our release party at Intermedia Arts in MPLS. The show will feature solo sets from us, plus a rare collaborative Sifu Hotman set, plus HOUSE OF DANCE Twin Cities. It's ALL AGES, it's only $5, and it's all about the spirit of community, collaboration, and hip hop.

It was really important to me to have this release be an all-ages show, an earlier show, and just avoid the whole late-night club scene. I hope you'll help me spread the word and continue to prove that you don't need a 21+ club to throw a big, beautiful hip hop show.

Also, because Dem just signed to Rhymesayers and is blowing up, and I'm going back to school this fall, this may very well be one of your last chances to see us live. Hope you can make it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bar Louie, Dress Codes, Aversive Racism, and Searching for the Forest Amidst All These Damn Trees

Some people will look at a Van Gogh and just see a bunch of stupid dots. And no matter how passionately or rationally you argue about the importance of stepping back to see the larger image that all those dots create, they will insist on pressing their faces as close to the painting as possible, inspecting each dot, one by one, convinced that all those stupid little dots aren't really "art."

Lots of people have already spoken out about Bar Louie's new dress code (here's Ryan Williams-Virden's take, and here's an overview from The Root). I won't re-state all of those arguments. The dress code is racist and classist. So why do these dress codes keep popping up, all over the country? Why do the same tired arguments get trotted out, again and again? Why do so many of us insist on pressing our faces right up against the specific elements of each example instead of stepping back and seeing the big picture?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Spoken-Word Tips Part 2: On Concrete Language, Specificity, and Turning Ideas into Poems

Here is the second video in this series sharing strategies for anyone interested in writing and performing spoken-word and slam poetry. Here is part one if you missed it; more coming!

This video also mentions a few poems that I think demonstrate the power of concrete language really well. Here are links:

Ed Bok Lee’s “If in America"
Lauren Zuniga’s “World’s Tallest Hill”
Homeless Ryan K.’s “For Joseph”
Andrea Gibson’s “Letter to a Playground Bully”
Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push”

Finally, here is a list of other resources for aspiring spoken-word artists.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New Song, Free Download: LETTER OF RESIGNATION (Produced by Katrah-Quey)

This is the second song I've made with Katrah-Quey, a producer whom I've been following for a long time. It was great to finally get to work with him. Here's the other one we made together, also a free download.

Thought about calling this "A Pragmatist's Guide to Nihilism," but this title was too perfect. Please share if you like it.

Lyrics after the jump:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The First Installment In My Video Series Sharing Tips, Tools and Tactics For Aspiring Spoken-Word Artists

I've been wanting to do this for a while-- this is part one of an ongoing series of videos where I talk about the different writing tricks and strategies that have helped me. It's NOT about saying "this is how you write a slam poem" (which I'm very-- probably overly-- careful about pointing out in the video); it's really just sharing some ideas that have made a difference for me along the way.

I get emails and messages every day asking about various aspects of the writing process, so this is also a way that I can answer those messages in a public way, to pass on a few tools that might be useful to any aspiring writers out there, especially those who don't have access to workshops, teaching artists, etc.

I considering going the ultra-fancy route and getting the video stuff done by professionals, but I really want to have the freedom to do these on the fly, to just share the information when and how I feel like sharing it. I hope you don't mind. If you know anyone who wants to get into spoken-word, or who already is, feel free to share this with them. More on the way.

Monday, May 26, 2014

New Song: KNOCK (Blamsiss Remix); Free Download + Some Thoughts on #YesAllWomen

Business first: here's a new song for you. Free download. Blamsiss reached out to me a few months ago about potentially doing a song, and this beat immediately grabbed my attention. Beautiful. Official blurb:

A brand new, original remix of the most cutting song from Guante's 2014 experimental mixtape "DUNGEONS," "Knock" can be summed up in one line: "there's a difference between tragedy and injustice." Over a haunting, hypnotic banger from up-and-coming Minneapolis producer Blamsiss, Guante challenges listeners to dig deeper, to explore how so much of the pain we experience in life has its roots not in "destiny" or "circumstance," but in how society is set up to benefit some at the expense of others.

Recorded/Mixed by Graham O'Brien at Bellows STP, 2014
Download the original version, plus the entire "DUNGEONS" project, HERE.

Normally, that's where this post would end. Download the new song, check out the DUNGEONS mixtape if you missed it, etc. But this is a song I've been writing for a long time. And with everything that's happened over the past week-- the UC-Santa Barbara shooting, the #YesAllWomen hashtag, and the ongoing conversation around how gender-based violence is rooted in specific social/cultural attitudes and practices, the song has taken on new meaning. Here's what I've been thinking lately, pulled from my Facebook page:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Even More New Twin Cities Music: Chantz Erolin, deM atlaS, Bomba de Luz

I've been challenging myself to write more about the local music I've been listening to, mostly because I want to model how we can serve as our own media. I'd love to see a world where artists are always talking about one another's work, thinking critically about it, signal-boosting each other, etc. Last time, I talked about K.Raydio & Psymun, Manny Phesto, Medium Zach, and The Lioness. A few more here. I don't want to just write about people I know or work with, but this batch happens to be that:

deM atlaS: "All We Got"
When deM atlaS signed with Rhymesayers a few months back, everyone knew that was a big deal. Those of us who had seen him perform also knew he was someone special, and the real question was how he would do in the spotlight. This is his first video out on RSE, an if it's any indication of things to come, this will be a bountiful partnership.

As an MC, it's important to have style, technique, songwriting chops, a unique voice, etc. But what deM atlaS really excels it, at least in my opinion, is the intangibles: being able to communicate something that is hard to put into words, being able to create a mood that transcends an emoji. This song is gorgeous. And I think it's gorgeous aside from the lyrics, aside from the beat, aside from the video-- it really captures something that other artists could spend lifetimes trying to capture. What that "something" is, I guess, is up to you. I try to avoid writing about music in such abstract terms, but again, that's what makes this guy special. There's a spirit in his music that transcends his image, his affiliations, and maybe even his music itself.

If you want to hear more, definitely check out the Charle Brwn EP, as well as the Sifu Hotman suite that we did together. It's been a pleasure working with deM, and I'm also proud to say that we have NEW Sifu Hotman stuff coming out very soon.

Bomba de Luz: "Be Minor"
In marketing/promotion strategy, having a "hook" can be really important-- a concept or identity that makes you stick out from everyone else, an easy "in" for music writers, bloggers or fans to latch on to that may or may not have anything to do with the music. With Bomba de Luz, I think their hook has been that they're teenagers, and I wonder how much that's helped them vs. how much that's distracted people from how special their music is.

Because it's easy to frame this as "they're pretty good and they're so young!" instead of "their songwriting is better than most bands, and their vocalist has one of the best voices in any local band, and they've succeeded, over and over again, at making catchy, haunting, unique songs. "Be Minor" is the latest, and it's from their upcoming album. Buy the single and/or listen to their last project here. Oh and I should also mention the song me and Lydia made, which you can get for free here.

Chantz Erolin: "BREAK SHIT AND DIE"
I've made about a half dozen songs with Chantz, and when I tell people that he's my favorite Twin Cities MC, I'm not joking. That is not to say that he's the "best" or most talented, just that he embodies all of the things that I look for in an MC. He's wildly smart, but not in a showoffy or elitist way. His work is edgy and political but human first. His technical chops are some of the best in town, at both the bar-for-bar micro level and total song macro level. He's vulnerable. He takes chances. He's funny. He's real.

In a scene where the appearance of depth is so valued and celebrated, Chantz's music is actually deep. There's so much going on in his lyrics, often about race, class, gender and resistance, even when the songs themselves aren't really "about" that stuff. That's rare, and valuable.

He also has access to some of the best producers around, and the result is hip hop that is forward-thinking and unique but that still bangs. It's not indie weirdo stuff, except when it is. It's not "yet another song about turning up," except when it is. That's another thing I appreciate about Chantz-- he breaks rules, whether those are yours, mine, or his own.

"BREAK SHIT AND DIE" isn't a proper album; just five songs that aren't going to be on upcoming releases. But it's still a great intro to his work. I can't wait to hear what's next. If you want hear more, here's a song we made about mixed-race identity, and here's a song we made about whiteness in indie rap. Both of his verses on those two songs are phenomenal.

There's so much good art being made here right now. Let's keep talking about it.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

TruArtSpeaks presents THE PUSH BACK

Image via the Raise Up Project; click it for more info

This month, I'll be facilitating a series of workshops through TruArtSpeaks called THE PUSH BACK. It's the local arm of a national initiative encouraging young people to share their stories and opinions regarding the dropout crisis. Official info:

Thursday, May 01, 2014

New Music: Manny Phesto, K.Raydio & Psymun, Medium Zach, The Lioness and more

I won't belabor this point, but a quick intro: As much as we need to be able to navigate established media structures, I think we should also be recognizing our own power as media. Tweets, Facebook posts, blog posts, etc.; these are all forms of media, capable of spreading the word about work we value and enjoy. And as a musician, I think reviews or pull-quotes from other musicians I respect are just as valuable as quotes from music writers, if not moreso. So in that spirit, I want to highlight a few recent local releases:

Monday, April 07, 2014

Guante: A Pragmatist's Guide to Faith (New Live Video)

New piece. This was shot by LineBreakMedia at the 2014 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Finals, where I served as host. Big shout to TruArtSpeaks for organizing the series and continuing to do incredible work here in the Twin Cities.

As for the piece itself, it's kind of a song, kind of a poem; I've been challenging myself to blur the lines more lately and really re-think my approach to writing and performance. It's also the second in a series of "Pragmatist's Guide" poems/songs, the first being "A Pragmatist's Guide to Revolution." This one is about legacy, and how even though the obstacles we face are deeply-entrenched products of history, so is our resistance to them; every activist, every survivor, everyone fighting for what they believe in however they want to define that-- we are all the products of something bigger than our own perspective. And we can draw encouragement from that; we can draw power from that.

I'm grateful for the chance to get to perform this piece in a number of very appropriate spaces over the past month. Yeah, it's kind of loud and growly. Might seem too much on video, but this was a very cathartic piece for me to write, and continues to be every time I perform it. Find all of my spoken-word work here. Full transcript below:

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Thoughts on a Few of the Questions Surrounding the Fitzgerald/MPR/TPT and Local Hip Hop Situation

Big, bold-letter caveat: this is not an official press release; I am not speaking for anyone but myself here. Just sharing a few thoughts.

Brief background: MN Public Radio, Twin Cities Public Television and the Fitzgerald were going to throw a big event on May 10 to celebrate the local hip hop community. After a panel discussion on local hip hop’s relationship with local media on Monday, March 24, however, as well as many conversations beyond that panel, a lot of questions and concerns were raised. Soon after, a group of people from the Twin Cities hip hop community got together to begin to address those questions and ultimately to ask the organizers to postpone the event.

I was part of that meeting, and while I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I thought I’d share a few of my responses to common questions:

MPR and TPT both have pretty solid track-records when it comes to organizing and promoting big, successful events. Why call for postponement of this one?
First of all, it’s important to note that the organized response to this event is bigger than this event. The Fitz show is a convenient focal point, but what’s happening right now is in response to larger issues-- not just of media’s relationship to local hip hop, but of representation, self-determination and all of the forces at work at the intersection of art, race, and culture. Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

This whole situation is a great example of examining the difference between working for a community and working with a community. I can’t speak for anyone else who signed the letter, but I genuinely believe that the organizers’ hearts are in the right place, that they really want to throw a big, beautiful show that can reach out to their audiences and show what a unique, diverse, talented hip hop scene Minnesota has. And that can still happen. I just think it can happen in a more intentional way.

Because the organizers did a good job reaching out to a lot of artists to get feedback and advice. A bunch of people filled out online surveys. Had the event happened as planned, I’m sure it would have been successful by the organizers’ standards. What we’re talking about here, however, is not just critiquing what was, but recognizing the potential of what could be. “Getting feedback” and bringing people in as consultants is not the same thing as working in solidarity with a community to organize together, and this is an opportunity to forge a lasting partnership. That’s a lot bigger than figuring out which dozen acts get to perform at the Fitz.

That’s kind of vague. The original open letter just called for more time and nothing else. Are there more specifics you can share?
There absolutely are more specific proposals involving both the show itself and the future relationship between these media entities and the hip hop community. As people continue to meet, and as we all meet with representatives from the media, those bullet points will be revealed. Calling only for “more time” was an intentional strategy. Now that we have more time, we can really build something.

I, for one, appreciate the organizers’ willingness to postpone. They didn't have to. As someone who has dealt with grant-writing and event-organizing, I know that probably wasn’t an easy choice to make. But it was the right one.

What makes hip hop so special? You don’t see indie bands pulling this type of stunt.
I’d argue that other genres of music can spawn cultures and subcultures, but hip hop is one of the few genres of music that is a culture FIRST. The local hip hop community isn’t just a bunch of rappers. It’s also the b-boys and b-girls, the DJs, producers and beatboxers, the visual artists and photographers who work in a hip hop aesthetic, the mentors and educators using critical hip hop pedagogies, the promoters and entrepreneurs trying to make a living, the artists who also work in activist campaigns, the elders who blazed the trails, the youth coming up, everyone.

It's important to note-- it's not just that a group of artists think that their particular "thing" is special. Institutions treat hip hop differently. There's no "State of Indie Rock" event in the works, after all. There's not a steadily increasing number of special college programs devoted to the study of shoegaze, or thousands of educators across the country (including here in the Twin Cities) using rockabilly to engage in critical education work. This is not to say that hip hop music is better than any other kind of music; it is to say that hip hop culture is a fundamentally different animal than other musical subcultures, and if you want to engage with the hip hop community, the rules are different.

As Andrea Swennson thoughtfully pointed out in her piece for the Local Current blog, “One thing I’ve realized in this process... is that it’s difficult to separate the culture of hip-hop from the larger issues that we face as a society.” Hip hop has history. As was mentioned in the original open letter, we can’t talk about that history without talking about racism, classism, exploitation, appropriation, condescension, and tokenism. That is not to say that any specific individual in the local media is consciously engaged in any of that; it’s bigger than what individuals do or say-- it’s about how institutions function, and how that history impacts where we find ourselves today.

So what’s next?
More meetings. More discussions. Getting more people into the room. Hopefully a rescheduled event (or events). We’ll see.

Beyond that, though, I think it’s worth pointing out that while many people are seeing what transpired here as negative (“nothing’s ever good enough for those mean hip hop people!”), I see it as really exciting, positive and potentially powerful. This is an opportunity to have a deeper conversation. Media isn’t just “the people who write about other people;” it’s an institution, a culture, a force. And when media can forge a stronger alliance with local hip hop, that helps everyone. When the hip hop community itself can come together and organize around this, I’m hoping that that opens the door to organizing together more often, around other issues.

Communities-- especially arts communities-- don’t just happen. We shape them, whether through our actions or inactions. I think this situation is a great example of what can happen when people work together in the spirit of building something-- intentionally, sustainably and respectfully-- and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Support "Creating Home," a Youth Arts Program For Adoptees

This summer, I'll be working with Land of a Gazillion Adoptees and COMPAS on a youth arts program aimed at creating spaces where adoptees can share their stories while also having access to tools and resources to help with that process. Check out the full Kickstarter page here.

The project is being driven by the adoptee community, especially young people, who are identifying community needs. My role is really just on the arts side of things-- facilitating writing and performance workshops, helping to organize performance opportunities, etc.

The idea is that this can be a pilot for a larger, sustainable, state-wide program. To make that happen, we're raising money to ensure that this pilot year can be as powerful as possible. Whether or not you can give, check it out.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Few "Next Steps" Regarding Local Hip Hop and Media

(this was the only photo of the event I could find, via Rob Callahan's blog; I'm stealing it, but only so I can also direct people to his post on the event too)

Last night's "State of Hip Hop" preview panel sponsored by the Current was a lot of fun. Hip hop panels are always messy, especially when it's a packed house (as it was last night), but while there are bound to be tangents and nonsense, I think some really good stuff was said. Thanks to Andrea Swensson, Kevin Beacham, the Lioness, Desdamona, Toki Wright and Slug, who were all on the panel with me, as well as everyone who spoke from the audience (including a number of bonafide legends, plus up-and-comers, plus youth, plus more) and continued the conversation after.

Do we really need a recap? If you know anything about local hip hop and media, you probably know what the issues are. I want this piece to be more forward-looking, with practical, concrete things we can do to make things work better. But very briefly, a few points that stuck out for me:
  • We have one of the biggest, most diverse, most talented hip hop scenes in the country, but there are a small amount of music writers in town and maybe one or two are hip hop-focused. The rest might cover the scene, but it tends to be a fairly shallow look at a small sliver of the scene.
  • That leads to a kind of gatekeeper effect based largely on association: the acts that get the most quality coverage are very often associated with another famous act or a fashionable behind-the-scenes presence. In short, it's cliquey.
  • That also leads to tokenism-- if media swoons over a particular Black male artist (or female artist), it allows them to not have to think about the other 50 out here making good music.
  • Music journalists can always "do better" (and I think most are genuinely interested in that) but real progress has to be bigger than individuals "doing better." It's about representation; it's about the culture and especially the hiring practices at media institutions.
  • And as much as we don't want to let local media off the hook, another common theme was artists building our own media, sharing resources, signal-boosting each other and understanding that getting local press or getting played on the radio isn't as powerful as we often make it out to be.
A few things to consider as we continue this conversation and make it more than just a conversation:
  • As I mentioned, if we really want to fix these problems, it's about seeking out, hiring, and paying writers of color, writers who are hip hop heads, writers from underrepresented neighborhoods, and ideally intersections of those identities. Reed Fischer from the City Pages told me that if I knew of any writers to send them his way. So if you're interested, get at me or him.
  • Writers who are already in position to cover hip hop can always do more outreach, expand the scope of their personal hip hop definitions, and strive to make the amount of hip hop coverage match the amount of hip hop here. Jack Spencer at City Pages is doing a great job. Rob Callahan from Vita.MN told me that he'd like to do more if we reach out to him.
  • One really simple thing could be more regular hip hop features-- there will always be album reviews and concert announcements when they come up, but stuff like Jack Spencer's local mixtape roundups, or producer showcase playlists, or any recurring feature with a hook like that can be an easy way to institutionalize hip hop coverage.
  • As for this May 10 event at the Fitzgerald, I think MPR can do a number of things to increase buy-in from the community:
    • Make the planning meetings open to the public.
    • Barring that, posting the meeting notes publicly so that the planning is transparent.
    • Be super-wildly-mad-stupid intentional about the lineup. Let's get the other elements represented. Let's get the pioneers represented. Let's get the Northside represented. Etc.
    • Work to secure a whole bunch of comp tickets that those of us who work with youth, particularly youth of color from underrepresented neighborhoods, can get those tickets out to anyone who might be interested.
    • Make sure that this big event isn't the end of the relationship. As Tish Jones mentioned last night, let's get more hip hop acts on the Fitz stage (if the acts want to). If the Current really reps local music, let's get more than one hip hop show per week. Let's get a wider diversity of artists into the playlist.
A common theme last night was "we can work harder." And that's true, but I don't want that to be a copout. This discussion was/is about holding media accountable, and so we shouldn't turn it back on ourselves and put all the burden on our shoulders. That being said, sure, there are a few things we can do better:
  • I think more of an understanding of how media actually works can be helpful. We should push the media to do better, BUT that doesn't mean we should have a sense of entitlement. They don't come looking for your brilliance; you have to make your brilliance available to them. So how do you do that? The next point:
  • Even when the game is BS, it can help to know the game. For anyone out there who doesn't know how to write a press release, or who to send it to, or how to effectively manage your presence on social media, and all the other practical things that go along with succeeding as an artist, I'm interested in sharing that knowledge. You can get in touch with me, but this is also about collaborating more in a general sense. When we crew up, when we pool resources, we all do better.
  • Guante: Six Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Getting Started as an Artist
  • Big Cats: How to Get Local Press
  • Finally, we can build our own media, leveraging social media power while creating new outlets. Even more than that, we can understand that "media" isn't just newspapers and radio stations; it's how we transmit any ideas-- so word-of-mouth, flyers, however we promote. As Toki said last night, going directly to your people to spread the word about your work is going to be more effective than any write-up or radio play.
Here are a few concrete ideas that came up last night:
  • Why isn't there a blog dedicated to MN hip hop? I mean, I'm sure there are a bunch out there somewhere, but I mean one that is intentional and well-trafficked and curated by people with an authentic relationship to the culture? I could see one with 3-4 posts per day (maybe a couple local features-- new songs, reviews, concert previews, etc., and one"from the vault" feature of an older song); with the right people involved, that could be really powerful.
    • I know: "so why don't you do it Guante?" I think a project like this would have to be a crew of people's main project. I'd love to contribute, but to do this right would mean to do it with laser focus.
  • Toki mentioned getting a room at McNally Smith once or twice per month to continue these kinds of conversations, plan for the future, and organize together. So look out for that.
  • Toki also mentioned bringing back the TC Hip Hop Awards, and someone else mentioned bringing back the TC Celebration of Hip Hop. Personally, I'm all for big events, but I also think big events can be a time/energy/money drain. I'd rather see big events arise organically from new organizations, which relates to the previous point. Still, something to consider for anyone interested.
  • Me and Big Cats, and me by myself, have run workshops on introducing media skills to any artists who want them-- so again, press releases, using social media effectively, getting your work reviewed, etc. Feel free to be in touch if you run a youth program or have access to a community space where that could be useful.
To wrap up, I keep thinking about the difference between a "scene" and a "community." We have both here, but I'd say that right now, the scene gets all the attention, and we could do a lot more to build the community. And part of that is the same old "hip hop is beautiful and brings people together" stuff, and part of it is practical too-- a more supportive, intentional, deeply-rooted community with respect for the elders, the youth, all the elements, etc., is a breeding ground for success. Media can't be the driving force for that, but it can play a role.

What else? This is just my take-away from last night, but it's absolutely not everything that needs to be said. Feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I'll be hosting the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Finals on March 29, plus other updates

A million things happening at once, as usual. New music coming, a ton of April shows all over the country (see the calendar on the right), various projects in-progress. One highlight of everything, though, is the Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series, organized by TruArtSpeaks. We've already seen dozens of wildly talented young people sharing their work in the prelims and semis, and now the top ten will compete for a chance to represent MN at Brave New Voices 2014.

I have the honor of hosting the big Finals slam, and DJ Stage One and BdotCroc will also be performing. Here's the Facebook event page.

As always, it's not really about the competition; it's about the community. Regardless of who gets on the team, TruArtSpeaks will continue to organize open mics and provide other opportunities for young writers and performers to share their work and build with one another. And this show should really be something special. I'm hoping we can have a full house to support these young voices. See you there.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Guante: DUNGEONS (free download + thoughts)

Here's my new project. It's one 30-minute track. Download it for FREE here:

Experimental mixtape. Nine brand new songs mixed into one track. All beats jacked from Dungeon Family (Goodie Mob, Outkast, Cool Breeze, etc.) songs. Mixed by Big Cats.

1. Chill Touch
2. Knock
3. Fireball
4. Crushing Despair
5. Raise Dead
6. Chain Lightning
7. Prismatic Spray w/ Homeless, Heidi Barton Stink, Tony the Scribe, Kaoz, Just Wulf & See More Perspective
8. Greater Shout
9. Mage's Disjunction

All I ask in return is, if you like it, to sign up for my email list. And to go along with all this new music, here are pretty much all my thoughts on it:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Next Project: DUNGEONS (Cover Art, Tracklist and Notes)

This is my next project, and my first completely solo project in forever. There are a lot of clues in that image as to what it's all about. It's a mixtape. The title is a reference to two more obvious things and one not-so-obvious thing. You'll see.

It'll be free. Nine brand new songs, all released as one 30-minute track. No videos, no singles, no release party. People will just have to download it and listen to the whole thing straight through. There's a reason for all of that. Excited for you to hear it.

Release date: soon.

In the meantime, please join my mailing list. I should have set this up years ago, but have been relying on social media; this is more dependable, though. I'll only send out updates very infrequently, only for the big stuff, and you'll get access to new music, videos and more right away (or, sometimes, early):

Guante's Email List

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A Loud Heart to be featured on "The Best of The Best Love is Free" vinyl release

Back in 2011, me and Claire de Lune (whom you may recognize from the Chalice, or her solo work, or her new band, Tiny Deaths) released "A Loud Heart," an EP that I'm still really proud of. The one actual video we shot (directed by PCP), has been on Vimeo since then, but I just got the file and put it on YouTube too, along with the whole EP in this playlist:

If you like the album, you can get it here. It's still some of the best songwriting I've ever done, and Claire is great on every song. Check it out.

Our song "The Illusion of Movement" is also going to be featured on the upcoming "The Best of the Best Love is Free" vinyl. That's been a concert/compilation series for the past few years featuring a whole bunch of talented people. This vinyl release will also feature k.flay, Kristoff Krane & P.O.S., Dem Atlas and more.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Resources for Aspiring Spoken Word Artists

***Updated July 2019; check out the ZINE VERSION of this post (here are folding/cutting directions); if you have people in your life interested in spoken word, please share!***

PDF link of this zine here.
Spoken word isn't about a handful of "great" artists who have lots of video views or publishing accolades; it's about how everyone has a story, and every story has value.

In that spirit, I wanted to consolidate a few resources, links, and tips that I've shared with young (and not-so-young) people all over the country. If YOU are interested in spoken word (or poetry, writing, art, more generally), whether that means finding somewhere to share your work, getting feedback to sharpen your craft, or just being around poets and building community, here are a few thoughts. Feel free to add more in the comments below.

1. Show Up: Attend an Open Mic or Poetry Slam
One of the best ways to get involved is to simply dive in—whether as a performer or just as an audience member. Spoken word is built around open mics, poetry slams, and other spaces in which anyone can show up and share something. While I realize that not everyone reading this lives in the Twin Cities, here is my big list of Twin Cities open mics, slams, and other opportunities. If you're here, use it. If you're not here, do a little searching and find the similar events in your community. Specifically, I want to shout out two of TruArtSpeaks' programs:
  • The Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series (happens every January-March); a huge opportunity for MN youth poets to meet each other, tell their stories, and have fun.
  • The ReVerb Open Mic (free, all ages; happens every Thursday night, year-round, from 6-8pm at Golden Thyme Cafe in Saint Paul); one of the most community-oriented, supportive open mics I've been to.
  • There's also Button Poetry Live, The Free Black Table, the OUTspoken open mic, college slams, and much more. Here's the full list.
  • This list is more spoken word-oriented, but if you're looking for information on how to dive into the publishing world, here's a potential starting point.

2. Build Your Cypher: Connect with Other Writers
Writing is about community. Many high schools and colleges have spoken word clubs, and showing up to those can be a great first step. If you’re a student and your school doesn’t have one, start one!

It doesn’t have to be as formal as a club or student organization. What counts is community—maybe it’s just a circle of friends who meet up once a week to give each other feedback. Maybe it’s an online document that multiple people can edit. But getting feedback from other writers, having someone to bounce ideas around with (and not just trade Instagram likes)—that’s vital.

Revision is 85% of the battle. First drafts are not ever as good as they potentially could be. Break out of the mindset that the poem is this magical, perfect thing that just bursts fully-formed from your head. Your peers, friends, and mentors can have a lot to offer.

3. Read More, Watch More, Write More
The deluge of poetry on Instagram and YouTube over the past five years or so has meant that there's more poetry than ever before, right at your fingertips. I'd argue that this is a good thing, but the flipside is that there's a lot of not-so-great work out there too. That's natural; that's fine. But it can make learning and growing as an artist a challenge: is the IG poem with ten thousand likes a "good" poem? Is your poem, that didn't win the poetry slam, a "bad" poem? What does that even mean?

There aren't easy answers to those questions, if there are answers at all. The key is to never stop developing your critical eye/ear. This is work. Almost every poet or artist I know whom I would call successful has years and years of work under their belts. That work doesn't have to be some fancy, inaccessible degree or whatever-- but it does have to be work. That work can be fun, though. Here are a few thoughts and resources:
  • Some good background info: Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Spoken Word and Slam Poetry
  • While online video providers have thousands of poems you could potentially watch, I wouldn't necessarily recommend just typing "slam poetry" into a YouTube search bar. Here are a couple of lists of poems that might provide good starts:
  • In terms of books, there are too many great poets to shout out here, but a couple of presses that regularly publish work by poets who also participate in spoken word: Write Bloody, Button Poetry, Coffee House Press, Haymarket Books-- I could go on and on; feel free to add more in the comments. There are also journals and zines like Poetry Magazine, Paper Darts, Mizna, Muzzle, and many, many more.
  • Lots of social media accounts share poetry; a lot of is bad. There are some, though, that regularly share good, curated stuff: @PoetryMagazine@SlowDownShow, @POETSorg, and Litbowl.
  • Check out the VS podcast w/ Franny Choi and Danez Smith.
  • Every April, TruArtSpeaks shares a daily writing prompt. Other sites, organizations, and accounts do this as well. Try to find some you like, and potentially try writing a 30/30 (30 poems in thirty days).

4. Take Advantage of Opportunities to Sharpen Your Craft
For artists, growth can happen both inside and outside of formal spaces. Classes, workshops, conferences, festivals, cyphers, e-classes-- wherever you can find that support, take advantage of it. Again, to use the Twin Cities as an example, a few shout outs:

If the opportunities in the last point aren't as accessible to you-- there are some good tools on the internet too. This video series is about sharing some of the ideas that have been helpful to me as a writer and performer. Honestly, when people send me their poems for feedback, 95% of the time, my feedback is based on video #2 and video #5. More videos on the way.
  • Intro/Five Things I Look for in Poems
  • On Concrete Language, Specificity, and Turning Ideas into Poems
  • Spoken Word Performance Tips and a Note on "Poet Voice"
  • On "Diving In" and Getting Involved with Spoken Word
  • On Revision
  • Even though my TEDx Talk isn't specifically about poetry, it does contain a lot of insight into my writing process and may be worth a watch.
A running theme through all of these points is the idea that craft matters. Of course, if you're just writing poetry for your own healing or enjoyment, whether some other poet or critic likes it or not is beside the point. But if you're someone who is trying to make a career out of it, or really wants to find some measure of concrete success (book sales, publishing credits, a larger audience, etc.), then I hope these links, thoughts, and resources can be useful.

(BONUS POINT) 6. Live Your Life
Writing is important, but the best poems don’t come from locking ourselves away in a cabin and just writing for 20 hours every day. They come from engaging with our community, showing up to things, experiencing the world, having conversations, organizing and rabble-rousing, thinking critically, and then writing. Have fun.

(BONUS POINT) 7. Quick/Basic Writing Advice
There isn't enough space here to go too in-depth with writing tips, but if I could share anything with an aspiring poet, it'd be this. The poems that stick with me...
  • ...tend to be driven by images, not just ideas. They're not just "deep thoughts" or manifestos; they use imagery, storytelling, and metaphor to go beyond the surface of an idea.
  • ...tend to have creative HOOKS: the concept or angle that makes a poem fresh. How is your love poem different from all the other love poems out there? How is it uniquely yours?
  • ...tend to be focused and specific. They don't try to tell "the whole story." They take one moment from that story, zoom in, and explore it.
  • ...tend to be more concerned with being timely than timeless. You are free to agree or disagree with this one! I appreciate poems that comment on the world as it is, and/or try to help me envision a better one. 
Check out the zine for more!