CB’s Influenza series looks to help dissect the influences that breathe life into music, and in the case of the latest release from Twin Cities-based MC Guante, he not only wears his influences on his sleeve, but has firmly affixed them to a flag which he proudly waves wherever he goes. While being creatively inspired by any number of artists ranging from Toki Wright to Saul Williams, musically the man’s style has developed out of his work as a spoken word performer: A two-time National Poetry Slam champion, he has also been honored by the likes of City Pages, which named him “Best Slam Poet” in 2009. This combination of external and internal inspiration has given him a unique voice that creatively addresses global matters while being respectful of his inner feelings and opinions.
In a time when the idea of a “socially conscious” MC seems to have completely lost its importance, the term largely watered down to a bastardized shell of its former meaning, Guante suggests that, as a matter of fact, simply being conscious is not enough. Sure, without first being informed it is impossible to plant the seed of personal and social growth, but that knowing is simply the starting point: it’s how you act on that knowledge that matters most; a point thoroughly emphasized in the title track of Guante’s new Conscious is Not Enough 2011 mixtape.
In part fueled by the burning dissent in his home-state of Wisconsin, with the release the MC found himself once again turning his attention to the idea that it’s entirely necessary to re-asses not only one’s perspective of the negative goings on in the world, but what can be done to combat any interpreted injustices. One track which confronts this idea head-on is “The Hero,” a song which twists the idea of the superhero in challenging societal ills; it asks us to not simply concentrate on addressing what’s “right” and “wrong,” but what’s causing such social maladjustment in the first place.
Not only does the album serve as a magnificent re-boot of his 2008 release of the same name, but it serves as the starting point for another undertaking which the MC is helping get off the ground: the MN Activist Project. In the album’s final track Guante relates the necessity for the resource, explaining the purpose of the new organization. “We need to return to a culture of organizing in this country, a country that says that when you see a problem you don’t just email the President, you don’t just post a link to that problem on your Facebook wall, and you certainly don’t just ignore it. You get together with some like minded people, formulate a plan and act on that plan.”
To learn more about the MN Activist Project or simply to see the MC live, he has two upcoming dates in the Twin Cities: April 4 at the University of Minnesota’s Whole Music Club and April 7 at Cause, where he’ll be performing as part of the latest installment in the Hip Hop Against Homophobia series. In the meantime, here’s a look into “The Hero” as explained by Guante, himself.
This is one of the songs that I’m most proud of, honestly. I wrote a week ago that we, as rappers, often don’t give our audience much credit, that “political” songs are almost always insultingly simple—platitudes, vague notions of empowerment and empty rhetoric are the norm. But it IS possible to talk about deeper issues within a three or four-minute track. I wanted to write a song about the difference between face-to-face direct service work and the struggle for larger-scale, institutional change.
At the same time, I didn’t want to just shout at people. I like telling stories. I like crafting overarching metaphors and presenting my political views in a more creative way, whenever possible. And I think a lot of people have that conversation, when they’re kids, about what superpower they wish they had and what they would do with it. Would you be the hero, or the villain? Would you protect your city, or fly around the world fighting crime? And to me, that question was almost always about how one goes about fighting for real, lasting change. Batman can punch a mugger in the face, but there’s always another one right around the corner. Spider-Man stays webbing up bank robbers and people who are criminally insane, but no one ever seems to address the question: Where are all these criminals coming from? What is crime? How do we get at the roots of problems—and not just crime, but pollution, war, racism and everything—and not just treat the symptoms? That’s what this song is about—a superhero having that epiphany.
Another reference point for this track is another song about crime, Biggie’s “Gimme the Loot.” I’ve always loved how he plays two distinct characters in that song, just by subtly changing his tone. This song has the narrator, the thief and the superhero, and they each have different voices. I don’t think I did it as good as Biggie did it, but it’s an homage.
I should also mention that this is one of the first songs that me and producer Big Cats! did together (the outro is actually a live recording of our band). It originally appeared as an instrumental on his debut, Sleep Tapes. I had the song written already, heard that beat, and knew that they’d fit together perfectly. It sounds like a superhero song. I’m really happy with how it turned out. This song is a great encapsulation of what the whole mixtape, and really my whole career (haha) is about. It’s about asking deeper questions, using whatever power or privilege or talent we have to try to make a real difference and not settling for band-aids (in activism) and bullshit (in music).
Beyond all that, I just love mixing science fiction, social justice and beats that bang. You can see how this song really sets the stage for the Guante & Big Cats! full-length, An Unwelcome Guest, which really dives into the superhero mythology and radical politics stuff even further. It’s weird, but I think it works.