Apr 18, 2007

Breaking It Down Further Than Platitudes

Don Wettach - Motherfools Graffiti Wall

It's Hiphop as a Movement week in Madison, an audio activism experience worth hearing and intellectualizing (all the events are listed on myspace and a few are highlighted in the MP3 Calendar to the right). Organizer and local social prophet Kyle Myhre is a strong force behind mobilizing Madison's movement and if you haven't checked out his music or writing as El Guante, take a moment now. He took some time to send me a few comments about his work... I pitched him offensively simple prods and he unleashed the flow.

Q. What motivates your art?

As far as motivations go, it's all about content first and foremost for me... I think a good artist has something to say, and then finds a creative, engaging way to say it. If you don't have anything to say, why be a rapper?

And that's not to say that every song has to be "heavy;" it's always good to have a fun flexing song or "Esta Tarde" type song in there-- artistic freedom is important too. But the songs I'm really proud of are the songs that are attempting to tackle some real issues-- the poverty draft, the bread-and-circuses effects of the media, the real meaning of greed, nonconformity, the importance of organizing, etc. I also like to take emcee cliches and point them out, because I think being an emcee is a special role that has responsibilities beyond spitting pop culture references, rapping about rapping and getting cheap applause by saying the name of the state you're playing in or talking about how much you love weed.

So I guess in a nutshell, some rappers love rap and then have to figure out what they want to say. I started out with a lot to say and discovered rapping as the ideal medium for me. I think what separates me from a lot of other emcees is a deeper level of analysis-- whether that be political, social or whatever. I'm not the type to do a song that's just "fuck bush, start the revolution;" I'd rather break it down further than platitudes.

And I'm sorry if this is getting long, but my other main motivation is meeting and interacting with people. I like being on stage-- it allows you to come into people's lives, however briefly, however superficially, and that's something you wouldn't be able to do otherwise. It's a pretty beautiful thing. I'd really like to hit the road this summer and play a bunch of shows and just meet people.

Q, Do you find yourself sacrificing (or at least deprioritizing) beauty or artistic emotional expression for the sake of clarity?

I think there's a constant tension for me between pure expression and making sure the message gets across. Hip-hop in particular is an artform that travels at a high speed-- my songs are usually more than 90 beats per minute, so you can't always be as poetic as say, an indie-rock singer because people simply can't (or don't) listen that fast. Sure, some do, but for the most part people are listening to the beats and a few hard-hitting lines here and there.

Some artists just do what they do and don't care if people "get it" or not. I really respect that, but I think that art, especially political, message-oriented art, should be approachable-- not dumbed down to the point of meaninglessness, but not so abstract and artsy that the average person on the street can't get the overall message. Most hip hop fans aren't trying to sit down and sift through their music.

So with all that in mind, I TRY to make music that a casual listener can appreciate-- but I also try to put things in my lyrics that a more careful listener can pick up too. The music should work on both levels. It's hard, and I can't say I'm always successful at it, but that's the idea.

Q. Are you inspired at all by visual art where a similar challenge exists between aesthetic beauty and articulating message?

As far as visual art goes, I'm a big fan of cartoons-- cowboy bebop, samurai champloo, the boondocks, stuff with that style of drawing. More specifically, I'm a big fan of how series like that successfully blend music, visual art and narrative all together to create a total artistic package. A personal dream of mine is to write a graphic novel blending poetry, hip hop, social justice and visual art. Not sure if that will ever happen, but I hope I can find the time.

In celebration of this week, YOU CAN WIN a copy of Saul Williams' book "The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-Hop", a copy of El-P's incredible new album "I'll Sleep When You're Dead" and a bandanna from Young Jeezy's new group USDA... just send me an email with a mailing address.

El Guante - Esta Tarde (mp3)

El Guante - Thought Criminals (Clean Remix) (mp3)


At Friday, April 20, 2007, Blogger Mike said...

Is that a bandana from the Department of Agriculture, or am I mistaken?

At Friday, April 20, 2007, Blogger Kyle said...

A Department of Agriculture bandana would be sweet. Actually (and I love that we're having this conversation, Mike), USDA is the newish group containing Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy (stream the single "White Girl" or listen on their myspace). Yes, it stands for United Streets and Dopeboys of America and you can buy their new album "Cold Summer" out May 22nd.

At Tuesday, April 24, 2007, Blogger el guante said...

hey thanks for the post-- sorry i couldn't get you any newer MP3s to post... it's been hard to work on music lately with all this conference stuff.

good lookin' out.


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