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Name: Adam Bernard
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About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Artist Of The Week – Guante
Monday, November 02, 2009

The Midwest is one of the country’s true hotbeds for hip-hop right now and Minnesota is the state that’s leading the way. After former Artist Of The Week Sketch Tha Cataclysm moved out there he immediately told me about Guante, a Minnesota-based emcee and poet who is originally from Wisconsin. I checked out some of Guante’s work and was really impressed. His most recent album is El Guante’s Haunted Studio Apartment, and he just finished up recording a collaboration with Big Cats! titled An Unwelcome Guest. He’s also working on a one-man spoken word theater show he hopes to debut in the spring, tentatively titled The Fist that Lives in Your Neck. Guante’s work qualifies as both unique and intense. A good example of this would be the way he describes An Unwelcome Guest, saying “it’s a concept album, a zombies-superhero-love-story-parable that deals with issues of displacement and violence as a tool for social change.” This week I caught up with Guante to find out more about his work, his causes, and why there’s a good chance he’s on a first name basis with his pizza delivery guy.

Adam Bernard: Start me off with a little background info. What about your surroundings growing up inspired the artist in you to pursue hip-hop and poetry?
Guante: I'd always been a writer and a poet, and when I discovered spoken word I found something that allowed me to actually reach out and connect to other people. I guess I see art as more about communication and less about ME expressing MY magical, beautiful thoughts. I never wanted to be some creative writing grad student publishing poems in literary journals for other creative writing grad students to read. For me, art is about sharing, about opening up avenues of expression for everyone. Hip-hop was a natural outgrowth of that. You can reach people with spoken word, but you can reach even more people with hip-hop.

Adam Bernard: Rap music and poetry, for as many similarities as they may have, are actually very different crafts. When you have an idea in your head, do you automatically know which venue will work best to voice it in?
Guante: I'm glad you said that, because there's an assumption that rapping is just "spoken word over beats," or that spoken word is just "rapping a capella," and that's way, way off. A lot of spoken word poets try to rap, but rap has a certain "swing" to it that goes beyond rhyming couplets. Similarly, a lot of rappers try to do spoken word, but the whole 16/8/16/8 format just doesn't translate well, generally, to a poetry stage. This past year, when I was part of the St. Paul team that took first place at the National Poetry Slam, none of my poems even rhymed. It's just a totally different approach. In terms of content, I usually know which form will be better for a given idea. Rapping requires a certain amount of bluntness, since people are hearing the words at 100 BPM, over music, in a club. If you're too abstract it's not going to mean anything; you're just another drum. That isn't to say that rap lyrics have to be dumbed down, just that they should be understandable in that club context. With spoken word you have a little more freedom to be subtle, to play with dynamics and stuff like that because people are actually, and actively, listening to you. With both forms, though, my goal is to use simple language to express complex ideas, where I think a lot of other rappers try to say really simple shit, like "be yourself," in the most obtuse way possible.

Adam Bernard: You have a blog titled “Why is Guante so Angry?” So… why are you so angry? Or, in other words – tell em why you mad, son!
Guante: I think anger is a healthy emotion, when it's focused properly. We should all be a little more angry. Not angry in the sense that we're lashing out at everyone and kicking puppies and stuff like that, but that we're recognizing what's wrong in the world and being pissed off about it. Anger can be a great catalyst for action; it comes from the same place that love comes from, I think.

Adam Bernard: You seem like you have a thing or two to say. If someone were to only get one thing out of your music what would you want it to be?
Guante: Probably my line "if we are the ones we've been waiting for / what the fuck are we waiting for?" That sums up a lot of my philosophy right there. I don't believe that music can change the world, except in really extraordinary circumstances, but I DO believe that the communities that music/art creates and nurtures can change the world. And yes, we need to act intelligently and effectively, but we need to act.

Adam Bernard: Speaking of taking action, you spearheaded the Hip-Hop Against Homophobia series. What led you to not just get involved with this cause, but to lead it?
Guante: That series was/is a model of how arts communities and activist communities can work together. That's something I've very interested in, how we can combine resources, help one another out, boost each other's numbers, etc. etc. With that specific cause, I just thought it was the right time. Prop 8 had just passed in California, people were pissed off, the Twin Cities has a big, beautiful, fairly progressive hip-hop scene; it just made sense. I think we all need to see how the oppression of one community affects everyone. The success of the series is inspiring; it was my idea, but it was a community effort, and I hope it has a ripple effect. Also, beyond any super-political "movement" stuff, I think homophobia in hip-hop holds us back. When someone goes to a battle and hears a kid saying "faggot” this and "bitch” that, it makes us all sound like a bunch of dumbass little kids. I hope we can gradually weed that stuff out.

Adam Bernard: With everything you do that’s political, do ever find time to make, or enjoy, a song that’s purely for fun? Do you think there’s still a time and a place for fun in hip-hop?
Guante: Well, the easy answer is “of course,” but honestly, the traditional conception of fun isn't what I'm into. Good music has to be entertaining, but that doesn't necessarily equate to "fun." I want to make music that's engaging and beautiful and poetic and captivating, but I think I can do that without sacrificing any of the content. The new album, An Unwelcome Guest, definitely isn't a happy-sunshine-lollipops type of record, but it fits into my personal definition of fun - it tells an interesting story, the beats are monstrous, the lyrics are deep, the music is pretty... you're not going to have a hipster dance party to it, but you'll enjoy it.

Adam Bernard: Finally, what are some of the things that give you the greatest highs in life?
Guante: Food. Chinese buffets, out-of-the-way diners, bar food, fast food, home-cooked food, pizza, ice cream, all that. I eat way too much, which means I have to work out a lot, which is also something I enjoy. When D'Angelo was making Voodoo, he said that all he did, for months was work out, get high and make music. Replace "get high" with "order hella pizzas" and that's pretty much my life right now, and life is good.

Related Links

MySpace: myspace.com/elguante
Twitter: twitter.com/elguante
Blog: elguante.blogspot.com
Blog: deadrunning.blogspot.com
BandCamp: guanteandbigcats.bandcamp.com
Label: truruts.com
FREE Mix: culturebully.com


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:09 AM  
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