Sean Garrett feat. Pharrell “Patron”

Plain and simple, Sean Garrett is a hit machine. But who is Sean Garrett, you ask? Along with Usher’s smash “Yeah!,” Garrett penned Ciara’s “Goodies,” produced Beyonce’s “Upgrade U,” and is currently working on Whitney Houston’s “comeback” album. It’s no surprise then, that when you put Garrett and Pharrell Williams together on a track, the song has some kick to it.

For good measure, “Patron” was tossed in on Pharrell’s recent Out Of This World mixtape, but the track originally appeared on Garrett’s 2008 debut Turbo 919. While I can’t deny the man’s ability to pen a great song, he has difficulty in carrying the song vocally here. Fortunately, the Neptunes’ beat and Pharrell’s infectious “dah, dah, brrrrah, pa da, dah” more than make up for the weak crooning, turning a mediocre track into one of the most entertaining R&B songs I’ve heard in quite some time.

Yeasayer “Tightrope” (on The Current)

Late last year when the band was last in town playing with Chairlift, Yeasayer recorded a studio session for Minnesota Public Radio’s the Current. Low and behold, one of the handful of songs they played during the recording, “Tightrope,” ends up the mammoth upcoming Dark Was The Night benefit album. Immediately that ugly word bias comes into play here because Yeasayer are one of my favorite bands to come along the past couple years–so it shouldn’t be any surprise that I think “Tightrope” is one of the best tracks from the collection. This session version offers a different taste than the final cut though, the whole thing sounding a little lighter, where the studio version sounds a little more full bodied with drummer Luke Fasano’s beats pulsating a little heavier in tune with the electronics that swirl all around it. While it’s a pleasure to hear the final product, it’s still a treat to look back on this version of the track and take in a bit of the process that goes into making such a fine piece of music.

P.O.S “Never Better” Review

Three minutes into Never Better, P.O.S. has already taken stabs at the government, gawked at the recession, used Macho Man as a verb, referenced The Dude, and gave shout-outs to both his crew (Doomtree) and his label (Rhymesayers). And “Let it Rattle” is one of the mellowest tracks on the MC’s third full-length release. Never Better is an album as highly anticipated as any recent Twin Cities’ releases, but saying that it makes good on expectation might not be doing it justice. Saying that the record meets the standard set by last year’s Doomtree, Cecil Otter or Mike Mictlan and Lazerbeak releases would be true, but might not be true enough. Roughly two years ago, I first heard tracks from an album that has since changed the way I think about hip hop and the way I listen to MCs. That album was El-P’s epic I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, and to express the immediate awe experienced when listening to Never Better, that might be the only fitting comparison.

Following “Let it Rattle,” the first thing that pops out of the speakers is the raging drum loop that introduces “Drumroll (We’re All Thirsty).” Blazing percussion plays a recurring role throughout Never Better, reappearing in full force on “Purexed” and “The Basics (Alright).” To give you a better idea, take the organ intro from Common’s “The People,” introduce the song with a few bars, then dive straight into a thrash-metal snare loop—that’s what you’ll hear with “Purexed.” But it’s not just the drum ‘n bass loops (sans ‘n bass) that draw you in, it’s the entire musical body—“The Basics” delivers a snap that almost overshadows its insane beat, adding another loop that sounds a bit like an elderly version of those chipmunks Kanye used to sample. The whole thing is unlike anything I’ve heard before.

That’s not to discount the other tracks on the album, many of which have beats that shred apart 20 years of influence. “Savion Glover” combines a beat with borderline-lazy scratches, in replicating a sound similar to that of a lot of late-80’s b-boy hip hop. Doomtree’s Lazerbeak provides the powerful beat for “Goodbye,” one that parallels a lot of what was heard on Brother Ali’s The Undisputed Truth—it’s fitting then, that P.O.S. somewhat emulates the MC’s rhyming style on the track. But like When You’re Dead, Never Better thrives on the unusual collaboration between sound and lyrics—something the album is far from short on.

The complicated aspect of the record isn’t just in keeping up with the rapid-fire release with which P.O.S. expels his lyrics, but understanding what message is at their core. Take, for example, the previously mentioned “Let it Rattle;” there are bits and pieces that stand out, but to find common ground throughout the entire song is far from an easy thing to do. Without CliffsNotes, it’s nearly impossible to trace an impression of what the tracks on Never Better are about—but there lies the art behind the sound. On “Drumroll,” P.O.S. speeds through bar after bar of seemingly unconnected lyrics, before unleashing a set buried deep inside: “These preachers speak from their pockets/These teachers reach but can’t stop it/Seedlings poisoned so lost just/Followin’ prophets to nonsense.” That momentary lyrical clarity isn’t exclusive to just “Drumroll,” either, for throughout Never Better are bits of poetry that present relevant themes within a confusing context. That is life, is it not—bits and pieces of truth and thought heavily burdened by surrounding noise and seemingly unconnected themes?

Poetry within any context is something meant to be appreciated, but not automatically understood. A poet lends their artistic voice towards creating both clarity and opacity, not necessarily aspiring to be agreed with. If you were to ask a guy like KRS-One, he might tell you that the idea of poets lending their voices to an established sound was what built hip hop. Never Better is tight. Not good-tight (though it is), but tight like it’s the result of months, if not years, of hard training—with only the leanest of beats and lyrics remaining. In combining his sharp poetry with the raw sounds of Never Better, P.O.S. has something that, again, can only remind me of I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. The reason for the comparison isn’t simply in sound, but in theory—both albums showcase poets representing unique styles, unique deliveries, and unique sounds somewhere within the context of a now well established genre. And, years from now, if you were to ask whomever it is that follows in KRS-One’s footsteps, they might very well tell you that albums such as these two were some of the first to transition hip hop into what it is yet to become.

Lil Wayne “Prom Queen”

Though it serves as the lead single from Lil Wayne’s forthcoming Rebirth, if “Prom Queen” were released by anyone but Weezy, it simply wouldn’t matter. But it is, and as such it matters. Regrettably continuing the trend of the ‘MC rock record,’ “Prom Queen” is, at best, an utterly boring stab at the lowest level of modern rock. Its chugging powerchords and broken-hearted lyrics are entirely unexpected from a man who is essentially the King Midas of excitement. None of it holds a candle to the body of work that has helped give (at least a shred of) credibility to his ongoing claim of being the best rapper alive. Though, what did we really expect? While being far from his first stab at the guitar, Wayne’s noodling during “Lollipop” on his Saturday Night Live appearance signaled an awkward indication towards what was first thought to be a passing phase. But it was simply a taste of things to come… an unessential, unnecessary taste of things to come.

Lil Wayne, Jim Jones, Twista & NOE “Swagger From Us”

So much hype was given to Lil Wayne’s The Drought Is Over Pt. 6 (The Reincarnation) late last year, most of which was aimed at a mixtape that had more gaps in it than Weezy’s baby-momma’s grill (yeah, I said it). The mix more than made up for its lulls with massive bangers however, such as “First Place Winner,” which is carried over to The Leak 6, which was recently released. Another great track included on the new mix is “Swagger From Us,” which features Jim Jones, Twista and NOE, and takes a direct shot at Jay-Z’s “Swagga Like Us.”

No matter how forgettable his verse is on the song, “Swagger From Us” is expected to be released as a bonus track on Jones’ upcoming Pray IV Reign album, with the modified title of “Jackin’ Swagger From Us.” The song is perfect within the context of a mixtape though, offering itself up as an incestuous beef track taking stabs at T.I. and Jay-Z for supposedly biting the MC’s style. The most amusing part of the whole thing is that Lil Wayne performs on both the original and the remake—you can’t lose if you’re playing for both teams, right? While the premise is a bit ridiculous, the highlight of the track is Twista. His verse is blazing, and serves as a hell of a reminder that he’s still bringing a lot of game in 2009.

Chamillionaire “Best Rapper Alive”

As if it were ever a meaningful boast, calling yourself the “best rapper alive” has now become hip hop’s equivalent to saying that your restaurant’s BBQ is “world famous.” All the same, Chamillionaire might very well be the best rapper alive (in Houston), and he’s set a release schedule over the past few years so hectic that it stands toe-to-toe with Lil Wayne’s insane output. His most recent release, Mixtape Messiah 6, might serve as the last stop on his musical odyssey before his third official release, Venom, drops sometime in February (though I wouldn’t bet on it). It’s a solid mixtape, definitely offering a full-bodied feel parallel to his previous Messiah releases, but buried within is the suggestion that Venom will be his last album if the people don’t “feel it.” Doesn’t sound like something the best rapper alive would say… then again, Chamillionaire has never been one to bite his tongue.

Dead Man’s Bones “In The Room Where You Sleep”

Roughly a week ago, I watched the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall for the first time. And in it, Jason Segel’s character writes an absolutely ridiculous vampire rock opera (to be performed by puppets, no less). To my surprise, however, the songs somehow work within the context of the movie. Furthermore, they reminded me of the haunting echo of Dead Man’s Bones “In The Room Where You Sleep”—so, I sought out the band’s MySpace to learn a little more about them. What I ended up learning, despite a vast majority of pop culture blogs having already discussed this at some point in time over the past two years, was that Ryan Gosling had something to do with the band. It’s a bit funny that it took an actor singing a song in a movie to remind me of a song outside a movie, one that was coincidentally sung by an actor. While I love the song, I might suggest hitting up the video first, as it could very well be the greatest music video to ever feature a chorus of children in Halloween costumes.

Annuals Interview

Initially lauded as standouts amongst a pool of grimly labeled "blog bands," Raleigh, North Carolina's Annuals are now relative veterans amongst a continually shifting indie rock landscape. Following a string of EPs, the band released its full-length sophomore album late last year, entitled Such Fun. The album signaled a shift in direction for the Annuals, showing more restraint and concentration compared to the overpowering sound of the band's debut, Be He Me.

Bassist Mike Robinson recently heeded some in preparation for the group's upcoming Minneapolis date. Discussing the band's growth over the past few years, Robinson also expanded on the group's decision to return to a venue they last played in October. The band will kick off a 34-date tour this Tuesday at the Varsity Theater--important then that Robinson also detailed how the group is taking the nation's bleak economic conditions into consideration as the tour rolls out.

This will be the band's second show at the Varsity Theater in the past three months, having played back in October with Minus the Bear. Do you typically make it a habit to return to familiar venues?

Mike Robinson: We do typically try to revisit the places we play, and the Varsity Theater in particular has been very good to us the last year and a half or so as they've let us come back and play more than a couple of times. Easily one of my favorite venues in the US, it's just a very unique and cool place.

What's the first thing that comes to mind from the time spent touring with MTB?

Mike Robinson: MTB left a lasting impression on us for sure—no first thing really comes to mind but that's just because it doesn't feel that long ago and its still a bit blurry. Definitely the most show-packed tour we've done with the amount of dates we played (and show attendance for that matter!)

This time around you'll be joined by Phoenix's What Laura Says and Jessica Lea Mayfield from Kent, Ohio. Have you played with either before?

Mike Robinson: We've played with What Laura Says a handful of times before, and they remain one of our favorite live bands. We've never played with Jessica Lea before but we all think she's great and can't wait to meet her and her band. I definitely think we've achieved a really great balance across the bill for this tour. Both of these acts are sure to bring their own unique energy to the shows and it's hard for me to see things not going extremely well.

What Laura Says released Thinks and Feels through Terpsikhore Records last year, a label that members from the Annuals were influential in launching on a national scale. Has Terpsikhore's focus been primarily on North Carolina bands since first opening as a recording studio back in 2002?

Mike Robinson: We started doing Terpsikhore in high school and never thought moving beyond NC was ever going to be very realistic. But what we've managed to accomplish with Annuals has helped get a lot of people in our circle at home very inspired and working on the label more. We jumped at the chance to work with What Laura Says because we love their music so much and as it would turn out our manager did too! So we've continued to work them and we feel this next tour will be a significant statement as far as Terpsikhore's musical agenda is concerned.

Do you foresee a push for the inclusion of more bands from across the nation (as with WLS) in the future?

Mike Robinson: As far as Terpsikhore reaching beyond the Carolina's again--I'm certain something will come along at some point that will make us seriously consider a move like that. But right now we're very focused on our own scene here in NC.

How much does the current economic uncertainty affect how much you guys have been able to tour and promote last year's Such Fun?

Mike Robinson: We've counted ourselves very lucky to have the support of Canvasback. We have certainly felt the effects of the national and global economic crisis, but there's been uncertainty across the music industry for years now. Everything else seems to finally be catching up in some ways. But it is a bit discomforting sometimes to see how incredibly fast the landscape of the entire music business can change in the 21st century. It gives new meaning to "here today gone tomorrow." We're thankful to be on a label that can still provide support for us and we're sticking to our guns with Terpsikhore in the face of it all as well. Maybe we're naive but we still believe that the music alone can be the path to success.

Everyone will be touring together through March, but have you thought ahead as to what might come after for the Annuals?

Mike Robinson: We're really excited to be holding/playing a Terpsikhore showcase at SXSW this year! That is what we're heading for right now as far as an endcap to our schedule. Beyond that it could be anything at this point--more touring, more recording, more news from the Terpsikhore roster, maybe all of the above? We're going to do whatever we have to do and everything that we want to do as well!

The band has had a few repeat visits to some notable performance spots in the past couple months including Late Night on Conan O'Brien and most recently Spinner's The Interface. Having originally visited each back in 2006 & early 2007—do you find yourself reminiscing on how things have changed? What's your fondest memory stemming from your appearances on Late Night?

Mike Robinson: I'm personally fond of getting to tell Charles Barkley where the men's room was at our last Conan stop. I didn't get a picture or anything but it was a very interesting experience. We always love being thwarted into situations where we meet and see different, completely random celebrities. I think what we notice has changed the most is ourselves, but in the best way. We feel that even though we've been playing together for so many years now, musically we're still growing into something that I can't put my finger on. I personally am still just as inspired and constantly pushed forward by my band as I ever have been, if not much more so.

Though it's most likely far too early start thinking about this, has there been any thought on what sort of songs the band would like to record next? Could another EP be in the works?

It could be another EP or we may just dive headlong into our third album. We took our time between Be He Me and Such Fun, and while we don't know what opportunities may still present themselves, we do know that the next record will be another significant step forward for us as a band. We have completed a new Sunfold EP over our holiday break however, and we plan to have that available digitally via Terpsikhore going into spring 2009.

[This article was first published by City Pages.]

Rift Magazine Interview

Starting a blog or website is a process and usually a tedious task of getting to know how web blog programs and the internet works. After you get that all figured out, then you have keep adding content and then get people to read that content.

Chris DeLine has went through that process and his website/blog Culture Bully has garnered some attention and high internet traffic. As you read below, success in the blog world is sort of a fleeting moneyless endeavor, but like Rift, me and DeLine have found the personal relationships and occasional pat on the back seem to get us through the night.

Rift: Why and when did you start

Chris DeLine: The first blog I had was back in 2004, and I lost interest with it almost immediately. I can’t remember what it as called, but I think it was more of a personal blog… dealing with “life.” Around that time, probably in SPIN or something, I had read a list the best music blogs – Stereogum being tops of the pops.

Somewhere along the way, one of my friends had taken an interest in the “finer things in life,” movies and music that were slightly beyond the comprehension and taste of the average consumer. Or so he thought. The idea that you have a better understanding of what life is about because you “get” Sports Night was and is ridiculous to me… in some drunken conversation with friends one night I called him a culture bully jokingly… the name kind of stuck. Shortly thereafter I started the blog, trying to steal some of that sweet thunder Stereogum had… problem was, there were about forty thousand other sites just like mine, and the vast majority were better.

Rift: What has been the best part about doing Culture Bully?

Chris DeLine: I just finished a small project on the site where I worked with some friends from a half dozen countries around the world. A good portion of my real-life friendships stem from relationships that were first built via connecting with people online. The rare occasion that I get to go on trips, I know that I’ll have at least one person I can connect with because of the blog. Recently I met some guys in person who I had talked to sporadically online for a couple years.

I’m now but one of a handful of contributors on the site, and they’re all great guys who I’m honored to have met. Ridiculously, one of the first people I ever interviewed was Gary Numan. I can be honest in saying that I’ve played phone-tag with Todd Evans, formerly Beefcake the Mighty of GWAR. So, I’d have to say that the people I continue to meet is the best part about doing Culture Bully. Though the babes are pretty sweet, too.

Rift: What is your background and why are you qualified to run your site?

Chris DeLine: I’m severely under-qualified to do most things in my life, let alone anything having to do with writing.

I’m a poor writer (let alone editor, I won’t even get started with that), and occasionally commentors will call me out on it (pretty much any time I actually try to write something, actually). I’d like to try to explain to them that while growing up, my parents thought I was mildly retarded because one of my worst classes in school was language arts, but it’s easier just to correct my mistakes, try to learn something from them, and move on.

As a freshman in college, I dug A.F.I, when I was in high school I was a fan of nu-metal, and through most of my formative years 311 was my favorite band.

Combine a lack of journalistic know-how with a fairly bland, generic taste in music and you get me. How that evolved into anything… probably just dumb luck.

Rift: Is Culture Bully a full time thing, or is it a full time thing with another full time thing that actually pays?

Chris DeLine: I’m kind of starting over with life right now, trying to figure out what I want to do with it – and I figured that at the age of 25, why not? (Read: I’m homeless, unemployed, and confused.) Working on turning this into “something,” but who knows what’ll happen. In the past ten years I’ve been a chef’s apprentice, a receptionist, a teacher’s aid, a retail manager, a warehouse worker, a delivery assistant and a customer service rep… but I’m having more fun now that I’m struggling to make anything work in life than I can ever remember having before.

Rift: How come Culture Bully has a better web rating and more web traffic the this site? (I need some advice on how to get more people to my site)

Chris DeLine: I know a guy who knows a guy.

Rift: Do you have a favorite of all the local sites and blogs? Why is it your favorite?

Chris DeLine: You mean besides Rift, Culture Bully and City Pages’ Gimme Noise blog, which has a daily Gimme News feature that details the local goings-on in local music and forecasts the best of the day’s local concerts?

I dig Taylor Carik’s stuff at Mediation, the things that man does with verbs… delicious.

Rift: Any rants, opinions or good things to say about anything else?

CD: I watched The Wrestler last night, the new Mickey Rourke movie… man, that thing ate me up inside. I used to watch some of that extreme wrestling stuff, and was pretty aware of the ultra-violence involved, but there are a few scenes there that made me cringe. I’m a crier, but I don’t cringe – so the movie apparently triggered something inside of me there. The main point that touched me was the loneliness that Rourke’s character battled. There are moments where he’s happy, downright giddy sometimes, but overall he was a sad person. Then relating that role to Rourke’s personal life, his troubled bouts… I sat up last night until almost four in the morning, just thinking about the movie, and life, and the year. It’s been a long year.

[This article was originally published by Rift Magazine.]

Kyle “El Guante” Myhre and Jessica Rosenberg Interview

On January 23, the Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis will host Hip Hop Against Homophobia, a concert sponsored by Culture Bully, Twin Cities arts collective/record label Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records, and activist organizations Join the Impact Twin Cities, OutFront MN and the Twin Cities Avengers. Artists include Toki Wright, Maria Isa, Kredentials, Alicia Leafgreen, See More Perspective, DeeJay Blowtorch, Tish Jones and El Guante, also known as emcee/poet/activist Kyle Myhre.

Myhre sat down with Jessica Rosenberg, an activist with the TC Avengers and Join the Impact, and they discussed their thoughts on the show:

Jessica Rosenberg: What gave you the idea for Hip Hop Against Homophobia?

Kyle “El Guante” Myhre: There wasn’t any single moment or anything that sparked this show. I’m a rapper, and I’m a social justice activist. I used to work in diversity education at UW-Madison—teaching classes, facilitating workshops and other stuff. Identity issues, from racism to sexism to homophobia and more, are things I think and write about a lot.

Then there was the November 15 anti-Prop 8 rally. One important function of rallies is that they energize people and get them excited to do more. That event definitely did that for me. I’m a big believer in the importance of activist flexibility; we need to know when “moments” are happening and be prepared to act. At this point in history, there is a lot of energy in the LGBTQ equality movement due to the passing of Prop 8 in California, the election of Obama and a number of other factors. Similarly, the hip hop community is energized from the 2008 elections. It’s the right time for something like this to happen. There’s already more overlap in these two communities than a lot of people realize; this show is about affirming that and opening up new partnerships as well.

Maybe you could talk a little about how you got involved in planning both this show and November and January prop 8 protests?

Jessica Rosenberg: I got involved with the November 15 Prop 8 protest in Minneapolis mostly out of concern for what I didn’t want it to be like. After the election, there was all this discussion, blaming black and Latino voters, blaming religious folks, and the rallies sounded like they were starting to take on this tone. Now, while this was legitimately what was happening, that evil mainstream media focused on it in a hyped up in a way that ignored other issues. Gays vs. Mormons and gays vs. blacks is way more exciting than gays vs. Human Rights Campaign, though that discussion was happening too. There were really high profile cases and articles and images of racism in the gay community, and that sends me into angry, angry fits. It happened before, during and after the Prop 8 campaign, it happens in all sorts of queer activism. It is wrong on a moral level, and completely counterproductive on an activist level.

Meanwhile, as a progressive queer, it was weird to suddenly see all these people all riled up about gay marriage, and to hear that discussed as if it is the only LGBTQQI issue there is. There are lots of queer folks who don’t care about the right to marry, who are actively against it, or who believe that the fight for same sex marriage has been part of the Bacardi-sponsored-pride-weekend-let’s-look-straight-in-order-to-gain-acceptance, corporatizing, mainstreaming of the movement. The post-Prop 8 rallies and discussion appeared to be single-mindedly focused on same-sex marriage as if it were the only issue. There are many queer folks involved in activism that has nothing to do with marriage, and I wanted that voice to be represented in the rally.

I wasn’t sure if I was even going to go the November 15th rally at first, and very last minute I decided that I could either bitch about everything wrong with the movement, or I could show up to the meeting and try to make it into a rally I would want to go to. While it may not have been the greatest rally of ever and ever, I’m proud to say that everyone involved in the Minneapolis rally was committed to fighting racism. While the four days of planning didn’t allow for as much of this as we’d have liked, we tried to get a diversity of voices represented.

I have often stayed away from activism because I get paralyzed by absolutes. The messages that can come across at rallies have to be so simple, and issues aren’t simple. How do you, as an activist, work with that?

Kyle “El Guante” Myhre: Rallies are just that: rallying points. They’re points of entry, community-builders and networking opportunities. Events don’t have to do all the work; they can simply open up a lane of communication, spark some thoughts and/or give people a place to plug in and hopefully spearhand further action. Of course it’s bad when we just want to act act act and don’t put any thought into the events, but it’s just as bad to overthink every little thing and never actually get moving.

I really believe that there’s no magic key when it comes to balancing a direct message with a nuanced understanding of the issues. Every situation calls for different tactics. I don’t want to go off into abstract activist land, so I’ll focus on our concert. Hip hop, homophobia and the LGBTQ community are all very big, complex things, and books could be written on all kinds of cultural undercurrents and relationships between these entities. With this show, however, our message is simply “Hip Hop Against Homophobia.”

Whether you think all hip hop is inherently homophobic (which is wrong) or that all hip hop is progressive and radical (which is also wrong), this is a message that is easy to understand. We, as hip hop artists, fans, promoters, writers and community members in general, are recognizing that hip hop is often associated with homophobia, and whether that’s fair/accurate or not, we are standing up to break down that perception… and that reality, where applicable. It’s simple, but it’s also pretty profound, as this sort of event definitely isn’t the norm.

It’s really hard, but I think an important element of effective activism is utilizing absolutes, even when you understand that they’re flawed. You can’t be afraid to make big statements. I have no problem saying that if you’re homophobic, casually or actively, you’re not really progressive, much less radical/revolutionary. It’s the same with white liberals who don’t engage with issues of privilege and racism, or college activists who can’t work with working class people, or male activists who refuse to follow female leadership; we need to be calling people out. Not out of altruism, but for the simple fact that we’re never going to get anywhere as a movement if these things are tearing us apart.

Switching gears a little, what do you hope this show will accomplish? Is it asking too much to ask a show to “accomplish” something? What do you hope we, as a community, as a coalition of communities, and as people in general, will get out of HHAH?

Jessica Rosenberg: It isn’t too much to ask a show to accomplish something. Besides, shows accomplish things whether they mean to or not, and I like intentionality. Articulating goals will help us to shape the show into something that does a few things really well, rather than accidentally doing lots of things half-assedly. Here’s what I’m thinking:

#1) We are re-affirming that Hip Hop and Queerness are not opposite. Queer hip hop artists: They’re real! Straight hip hop artists: They’re not all homophobes! And I hope we can spark some discussion/acknowledgment that not only isn’t all rap homophobic, but that hip hop, insofar as it is a music of struggle, is a form that bucks the status quo, with serious anti-authoritarian shit going on in it. And if it is going to be really radical, then it has no room for homophobia, and is in fact a perfect forum in which to talk about LGBTQ issues.

#2) Activism takes many forms. Sometimes it looks like dancing. And it can be damn fun. More diversity of tactics is always good.

#3) Information! Diversity of information! OutFront MN is the biggest LGBTQ lobbying organization in the state, and they are sponsoring and sharing info. The Twin Cities Avengers is an all inclusive queer direct action group committed to dismantling all forms of oppression, and will be there with info and treats. Not all events have lobbyists and direct action queers side by side.

#4) Coalitions! It was mad cheesy and didn’t happen quite as well as I wanted it to, but my favorite part of November 15 rally was getting to talk to strangers. I met an old man who’d traveled miles to be there, and I met the kids trying to start the Luther College GSA. They all had a lot to teach and tell me. I’d love for this to be an event for both personal and organizational coalition building.

#5) A Safe & Positive Space. I’ve been seriously feeling the lack of safe queer space, at a time when I need it more than ever. Violence against queer people feels way up lately. The Twin Cities Avengers, Join the Impact, and OutFront will provide info about what’s going on, and how to be more involved, but I’m in serious need of some life-affirming shit right now. So I want it to be a time to get news, but I also really want it to be fun for the people there, amazing for the performers, and, yeah: queer hip hop dance party.

Tell me: what are your thoughts on my goals? Are yours similar, different, additional?

Kyle “El Guante” Myhre: For me, the biggest goal has little to do with the show itself (I’m sure it’ll be great) and is more about the media coverage and ripple effect. Before we started organizing this, I googled “Hip Hop Against Homophobia” and nothing came up. If you google it now, a whole bunch of links to this show will come up. I’ve already been contacted by the national Join the Impact group about replicating this event in other cities, which was a major goal. I’d also like us to do this again here in the Twin Cities, maybe even make it a regular thing like the “Hip Hop for the Homeless” shows have been. A second, all ages show is already in the works.

It’s funny; I just wrote an article about how “hip hop activism” needs to be less event-oriented and more campaign-oriented, and here I go throwing an event. But I think the nature of this event is special, and I think it can have an impact beyond the night of January 23rd. It’s really just about opening doors and creating space; queer artists and allies have already been doing this for years now; we just want to continue in that tradition in a very visible way.

It was important to me to book a mix of out, LGBTQ-identified artists and some straight allies. On a larger level, I think we can’t have only gay people fighting for gay rights while the rest of us happy liberals sit on the sidelines smiling politely. We have to realize that “an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere”—not just as an expression, but as a physical, measurable reality. Holistic thinking is the future of progressive activism; I don’t think of myself as a hip hop activist or antiracist activist or media activist; I’m a social justice activist, and that means, more than anything else, understanding how all these different struggles are intimately connected.

I have a million other things I could say, but most of my thoughts can be found in this article I wrote a couple years ago, “‘Conscious’ Hip Hop, Homophobia and Hypocrisy.” It ran at and got linked to all over the place. Overall, I just want to say thanks for all the press we’ve already gotten, to the artists for playing the show, to the artists who wanted to play the show but weren’t able to, to our great sponsors and to everyone who is going to attend. It should be a great time. Oh and also thanks to you, Jessica, for doing so much.

Any wrap-up thoughts for you? How can people get involved in the struggle if they can’t come to the show? What are you looking forward to the most? In ten words or less.

Jessica Rosenberg: How can people get more involved in the struggle? Check out OutFront, Twin Cities Avengers and Join The Impact. Support the artists. Get outside your comfort-zones.

What am I looking forward to most? Some sort of glorious, unplanned queer hip-hop connection, never predicted.

The Lemurs “Yours, Mine, Ours” (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here, guitarist and vocalist Mitch Billeaud dissects “Yours, Mine, Ours” from The Lemurs’ latest album Million Little Bits.

On “Yours, Mine, Ours”:

Though I often write in the first person, I have made it a habit to avoid writing about my own life. I think it’s because it is too plain, or maybe I am just too used to it, but I usually rely on fiction (often) or nonsense (less often but with reliable effect) for lyrics and try to use music as the real emotive vehicle. With “Yours, Mine, Ours,” I felt a bolt of autobiographical inspiration, and despite my early reservations, brought it to the band to check out. The source, although admittedly depressing, is real, and where I normally find it difficult to legitimize my own feelings as being relevant or authentic, I thought that in this case they had cleared the bar.

Anyway, about six years ago, my dad began suffering from dementia, which doctors are now diagnosing as Alzheimer’s (which from a practical point of view, is kind of the same thing). After being left by his second wife, my wife and I picked up what feels like a handful of sand and flailed to care for him as the disease took on a deeper hold. He is now in the late stages of the disease, in a home, beyond our grasp to help, and only 69 years old (which is quite young for where he is cognitively). Pretty ironic that this kind of lesson on life lost has been delivered by the living. It’s weird to remember all of this stuff happening at about the time the band was trying to get things going after spending a lot of 2007 on the road and I don’t guess I was much fun to be around. One morning, during one of the final few months my dad would spend in our house, I woke up to the sound of his rummaging through our kitchen. I can’t even remember any other events of the morning except that when I went to see what he was up to, he turned and glared at me with this confused, somewhat angry, but totally empty look that I’d never seen from him before. The picture in my head is more than worth the words it’d take to describe, but hope I’m in the ballpark with the song. It definitely got me thinking about how we save images, whether we want to or not.

Lyrically, I wanted to empathize those things that my dad couldn’t express, to talk about what my own feelings were (notably despair with some embarrassment thrown in for good measure), and then most importantly, I wanted to somehow relate that his disease, while it resides mostly in him, has an aura and effects everything around it within some diameter. Writing from multiple perspectives seemed like an obvious choice. By using multiple angles, I could keep some depth while still trying to get at the confusion and ambiguity that goes along with what a life like this creates. I figured a lot of what was left over would have to be literal or left to delivery. All of that said, I needed the music to do a lot of heavy lifting and speak to a simplicity, urgency and directness that I felt the lyrics could only partly deliver on. As a result the song is simply an A/B repeated pattern, and completely diatonic in the key of D Maj. The guitars are obviously very big and rocking, with a Flaming Lips sort of drum pounding going on, so the tape strings (mellotron) from Josh give a pretty dramatic lift to the music. Real credit goes to Davy, our guitar player for finding the economical (and memorable, if I do say so) hook that starts the song and repeats throughout much of it (Da dum dum, Da dum dum….). This hook, which I think is one of our coolest, cannot be removed from the song without it losing its feel. [Mitch Billeaud]

Antony and the Johnsons’ “The Crying Light” Review

Despite the adulation generously thrown at Antony and the Johnsons for 2005’s I Am A Bird Now, the album is far from easily accessible. And up until the release of last year’s Hercules and Love Affair album, to which Antony Hegarty contributed, I stood firmly by my initial reaction to his music. Upon the first listen, Antony’s voice sort of sounds like your grandma, standing in the front row of her Sunday morning sanctuary, warbling along with the church choir. Of course there are variations to that warble, but you can’t underestimate grandma, either. The main diversion to his primary vocal styling on The Crying Light comes with “Another World,” a track carried over from last year’s EP of the same name. It’s gentle, yet it offers a crisp emotional commentary - something that isn’t primarily heard through his often overwhelming approach. Another interesting detour comes with “Aeon,” in which Antony gives his best stadium-sized rock-ballad. The description sounds disastrous, though it’s anything but - “Aeon” oddly sounding a perfect fit for the entire group. As much as I’d like to say I can enjoy the variation and gripping delicacies of the album, I can’t. The moments where the group reaches beyond its normalcy are the moments that grip me, those are the moments that I find myself returning to. Aside from that, the other eight tracks are far too close to sounding like a chorus of blue-haired beauties for me to honestly appreciate. Nothing against grandmas, of course.

Chin Chin "GG and the Boys" (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here, the guys from Chin Chin break down the circumstances that led to the creation of the first single from their forthcoming album The Flashing, The Fancing.

Background Noise Crew “Funk Yo Monk (We Red Hot)” (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here, Phingaz of Minneapolis’ Background Noise Crew dissects the group’s interpretation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Funky Monks.”

On “Funk Yo Monk (We Red Hot)”:

I had the idea to remake a bunch of Red Hot Chili Pepper songs for a while – “Funky Monks” (off of Blood Sugar Sex Magik) was at the top of my list. The original song has such a hard hitting bass and drum line – [it] just cooks through the whole song. So I decided to replay the guitar and slap in a huge kick drum with hand claps. I’d been listening to Camp Lo a shit-ton around that time and loved “Krystal Karrington.” The beat has this nasty chain-like shaker in it, I wanted a similar sound in the “Funk Yo Monk” song. I grabbed my house keys, a shaker and a tambourine and just went to town.

I sang the first part of the first verse of the original song. It’s perfect and I think it works as a hook by its lonesome. I sent it out to the whole crew and said “You have to spit 16 bars on this – no exceptions.” They all came back with the crazy stew of styles and such. It’s a good thing everybody comes so differently – it clocks in over six minutes but you don’t really notice it cause every ones style is so different.

Status Regin is a perfect starter for a song like this – he always has a crazy amount of energy in his verses, so him up front was the most obvious choice. Everyone had to match up to him. TQD’s verse is a HUGE stand out. If people aren’t familiar with his cataloge – he NEVER sounds like this. It’s nice to hear him switch up his style a bit. Tone always cracks me up with his verses – he had this rhyme pattern that was just jumping out of my ears, so I told him we should really capitalize on that. So Analyrical, TQD and I all yelled along with his pattern to give it that ‘large gang’ effect. We must have done about five tracks of us all yelling. I think Analyrical spits my favorite verse – I really dig it when MC’s play around with letters, patterns and sounds. I’ve never heard so many S’s and P’s in a verse before. Phaust is my homeboy – we’ve been though some shit, put out three Albums with Sinthesis and he is part of the BNC extended family. He always blows me away with his verses. He can be super cryptic and vague [or] he can be direct and literal. I picture him spiting this verse with a stupid grin on his face. Like he just stole two packs of cigs from the corner store and sweet talked his way out of it.

One for the Team "Best Supporting Actor” (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here, Ian Anderson of Minneapolis’ One For The Team dissects the spiral of thoughts which formed the theme to one of the group’s most recent singles from their latest release, Build It Up.

On “Best Supporting Actor”:

I wrote “Best Supporting Actor” after one of my buddies drunkenly slapped me on the back and said, “Ya know dude, you’re a really good boyfriend.” I always thought it was a funny thing to say to someone, because, after all, how would he know? I mean, sure, he may have formed that opinion based on the stellar boyfriend-ish things I’ve done for my lady, but he wouldn’t really know the intimate details. However, there was more to it. He continued to explain that I was almost such a good boyfriend, that it was a fault. That I ended up neglecting my needs and own well-being in order to put the relationship first. This shocked me and we began to dissect my role in my bf-gf relationship at the time. I came to realize that, in fact, I moved my life around quite a bit to accommodate the relationship.

Granted, all relationships require a certain level of sacrifice and compromise, but as I started to tally up the major events of the relationship, I started to feel less like a great boyfriend, and more like a big pushover. This song is a bit about self-deprecation, but it’s also about learning to be honest with myself within the context of a relationship. [Ian Anderson]

Eminem “Crack A Bottle (Number 1)”

“Crack A Bottle” was first dropped on Big Mike & DJ Neptune’s 4th Quarter Pressure Part 2 mixtape last month as “Number 1,” but a few days ago a cleaned-up version of the track leaked, sans mixtape shout-outs.

Presuming that Relapse comes out before October, Shady is going to be 36 when it drops. Oh, how time passes… I remember when “My Name Is” was first getting heavy rotation, and I couldn’t help but think that Eminem was a passing gimmick. He was an angry white kidspitting aggressive, taboo-ridden lyrics in a time when aggressive white kids were getting behind white bands with aggressive lyrics. But not only has he outlasted the Fred Dursts of the world, he now plays the role of a generational elder, not too distant from the role Dre held when he first helped break Eminem… but hell, Shady passed that years ago when he broke 50 Cent. This year is going to be big for both men, with both Relapse and Detox (theme?) expected to finally see release. With this version of “Crack A Bottle” Shady changes tones between rapping his verses and those expected to be filled in by Dr. Dre on the final version… whose album it’ll end up appearing on, I don’t know (can someone enlighten me here?) - but it’s solid enough in its unfinished state to lead me to believe that Shady is going to bring some bounce to his lyrics this year.

Since “Crack A Bottle” is a completely unfinished track though, and will probably end up sounding far from the original, it’s a little out of line to judge it. I will say this however, if you’re listening to it and are really getting into the beat, it’s coming directly from Aesop Rock & Del The Funky Homosapien’s contribution to 2005’s Wu-Tang Meets The Indie Culture. If it’s been a while since you’ve revisited that album, or worse, if you’ve never heard the album at all - you’ve got to do something to change that. Aesop’s verse here is one of my favorites of his, and the beat explodes, generating far more energy than in Eminem’s track. This leads me to the believe that “Crack A Bottle” is just using it as a stand-in for something else, just as Shady stands in for Dre’s verses, because with the combined production talent of the two MCs, there’s no reason to dig so deep into someone else’s pockets.

Anya Marina “Two Left Feet”

In addition to being a singer-songwriter and one-time aspiring actress, Anya Marina is a radio DJ in San Diego, California. It would make sense then that Marina’s forthcoming release, Slow & Steady Seduction Phase II, reflects the great range of exposure to culture she’s had in her life. The album sways between styles using Marina’s voice to accentuate the sounds around it rather than becoming the focal point of any particular song. To some degree Marina sounds like a young smoker - a few thousand packs in, with a foggy rasp, seductively embracing each song with everything she has. Touching again on the subject of Marina being a radio DJ though, I don’t think it’s wrong to believe that she’s keen to a lot of modern rock, especially so considering her current role with the rock-based KBZT. With that, it’s hard to believe that Marina hasn’t heard Bloc Party’s “The Prayer,” a song that starts off with a beat that almost identically reflects that of her “Two Left Feet.” Not to put down her publicized features in MTV’s The Real World and Grey’s Anatomy, but despite any connotation those programs might suggest, her album is surprisingly vibrant and well-rounded… if you can look past the whole “my songs might not be completely original” thing.