Underground Rapper of the Week: Homeless

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

Sincerity has seemingly gone out of fashion in the past several years, but the upside of this unfortunate trend is that when an artist breaks through the veil of detachment and irony, their impact can be doubly forceful. Emcees like Guante and the now Los Angeles-based Homeless are perfect examples of this phenomenon, rappers with a sense of urgency about the things they want to fix in the world and a healthy humility about how they’re going to do it. Originally from Minneapolis, Homeless has branched out to the West Coast, along with his frequent rhyming partner Just Riley, and since the move he has only gotten more love from his hometown, as evidenced by his recent shout-out on the blog of the beloved Twin Cities radios station The Current.

Self-described on Homeless and Just Riley’s wonderfully titled track, “Trill Cozby,” as “dirt poor, nerdy fresh,” the rapper known to his friends and family as Ryan Kopperud began getting on the radar of local word junkies as a spoken word artist. Work such as the aching, imagery-filled “Manifesto from the Tinman” and the heartbreakingly emotional “For Joseph” brought him to the National Poetry Slam for the first time in 2006, when he was still under legal drinking age, but it was clear even then, in poems like “Run Like Hell (Numb It Down to None),” that Homeless had an insatiable love for the rhyme. As one of the few artists to ever have success in both poetry slam and GrindTime battles, it was clear Homeless was meant to be a rapper, and when he released his debut EP, Patient Makes Lighter, in 2009, that promise was fulfilled.

Using “beats begged, borrowed and stolen,” Homeless fills Patient Makes Lighter with the same gorgeous poetic imagery found in his slam work, mixing childhood nostalgia with grown-up worries on tracks like “Mischief, Mischief,” which evokes a grittier Shel Silverstein when he spits, “Sit fireside at night, hold my skeletons and shiver / Playgrounds gangway to fully grown settlers / Word-junkies, monsters, magic bean peddlers.” Throughout the entire record, Homeless manages to walk a fine line, speaking on social and political issues on tracks like “An Open Letter to Asher Roth” and “The Box” without being too preachy, and digging deep emotionally on “Preoccupied” and “Somniphobia” without being whiny.

Homeless has continued to stay on his grind and up his cachet with a series of raw online cypher videos, before making a major breakthrough with an official music video for the lovely, laid back “Rest in Peace.” As he says in that song, “How easily relaxing turns into procrastination / And you wake up years later, just wondering where your days went.” This is a problem Homeless clearly aims to avoid, and since then he has continued to move forward, releasing a live EP, Right As Rain: Live at 7th Street Entry, and another strikingly original music video for his song “Epic Meal Time.” With a beautiful new track produced by Big Cats! recently released, Homeless is an up-and-coming emcee to watch out for, in Minneapolis, L.A. or anywhere else.

Underground Rapper of the Week: Phillip Morris

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

Chicago-based international emcee Phillip Morris is in a league of his own in so many ways. He celebrates his nerdiness on tracks like “Must Be a Nerd” and “Get Your Nerd On,” but he is not to be pegged as “nerdcore” by any means, and he goes harder than most gangsta rappers on tracks like “Words Are Gunshots” and “True Calligraphy.” He’s an undeniably charming ladies man who actively cautions women to stay away from himself and any other performers on tracks like “Trouble is My Middle Name,” while acknowledging that “I got no swag, so I understand that it must be the words.” He is an unapologetically party-oriented rapper who is also a well-informed activist – see “Pass Me a Light” for the former and “Revolution Knows No Compromise” for the latter.

By the way, that “international emcee” moniker is no joke. Morris has played all over the United States, as well as various parts of Spain and the Dominican Republic. In addition, his excellent 2010 album, The Truth Campaign, was entirely produced by French beatsmith Tha Truth Tella. Morris has shared stages with the likes of Dead Prez, Souls of Mischief, Kool Keith, Devin the Dude and Guante, among many others. He has also performed and led workshops at a number of schools in the U.S., from Columbia College on down to Ella Flagg Young Elementary School, where he presumably focused on his less raunchy verses. This activity points to his efforts to bring his unique style to everyone from inveterate Hip-Hop-heads to folks who normally don’t even like rap. As Morris himself says of rap, “I’m further than that, creatin’ snuff music with the way I’m murderin’ tracks.”

As innovative and complex as Morris’ rhymes are, perhaps the best way to experience his work is a live performance, where he blends his consummate rapping skill with a wildly expressive and idiosyncratic stage show. He is often known to engage the crowd directly, which may or may not include crowd-surfing while wearing a kilt, which he did at a recent show with Minneapolis-based “Hippie-Hop” collective Wookiefoot. His next live show is in Holyoke, Massachusetts, which he informs me is where volleyball was invented, and he has a new album in the works with Minneapolis-based Hip-Hop crew Wide Eyes (Morris has almost as big a fan base in Minneapolis s he does in his hometown of Chicago). In the meantime, I highly recommend picking up any or all of his four albums, especially The Truth Campaign and his latest full-length, Lady Liberty is Wasted, which is available on a sliding scale from free to whatever you want to contribute.

Underground Rapper of the Week: Guante

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

Photo credit: Jon Behm

Sitting down to write a few hundred words about one of Minneapolis’s best and most important rappers, I was unexpectedly led down an hour-long rabbit hole of procrastination, or “research.” That is because Guante (aka Kyle Tran Myhre), in addition to being a stellar emcee and spoken-word poet, is also a prolific and essential writer on the state of Hip-Hop and many other aspects of pop culture, and I was overdue for a perusal of his latest blog posts. Just to give you a good starting point on those, and some good talking points with which to pick apart this very article you’re reading now, check out his satirical, insightful and very funny looks at “How to Write About Hip-Hop,” “How to Read About Hip-Hop” and the exceptionally hilarious “Hip-Hop: A Panel Discussion.”

Done? Good. Let’s get on to the man and his music. Guante originally hailed from Madison, Wisconsin, where he was a formidable figure in their poetry and Hip-Hop scene, spitting fierce, politically charged poems and raps with uncommon artistry and humor. It was upon moving to the Twin Cities of Minnesota in 2007, however, that he really started to make his presence known. After signing to Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records, he dropped his debut album, El Guante’s Haunted Studio Apartment, a massive, 27-track manifesto that showcased his talents both over beats and a capella, including the wildly original love poem, “Love in the Time of Zombies” (in my opinion, he actually topped this one for creative brilliance with “The Last Words of a Roach, Underfoot”). That same year, he helped lead the St. Paul National Poetry Slam Team to 13th place, out of approximately 75 teams; teams from St. Paul, both also including Guante, then proceeded to take the #1 slot the next two years in a row.

Lest you think Guante some kind of coffeehouse, hipster, “conscious” rapper, though, witness the ferocity of his free mixtape, Conscious Is Not Enough 2011. On this record, which served as my introduction to his music, Guante takes aim at “music writers [who] love political emcees, conspiracy theories, pandering and rhetoric that’s empty,” while retaining the dry, satirical humor of tracks like “Your Boyfriend’s a Republican,” which first appeared in a different form on Studio Apartment, but appears here over the wonderfully buoyant instrumental from Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” Even on self-professed “super-serious” work like 2010′s collaboration with producer Big Cats!, An Unwelcome Guest, Guante’s deadpan humor can be found, especially in his frequent employment of superhero imagery and references to the cult sci-fi series Firefly. Some of this might not be caught on a single listen, but that’s fine because Guest, a dense and complex concept album about no less ambitious a topic than the end of the world, demands repeat listens. A free companion mixtape to that album, Don’t Be Nice, is also highly recommended. Until next time, I’ll leave you with this, a live performance of “Dragons,” which is quite possibly my favorite love song ever written.

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