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.

  

The Jayhawks: The Jayhawks


RIYL: Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, pickin’, grinnin’

That squealing sound you hear is the Jayhawks’ steadfastly loyal fan base wetting themselves over the long-overdue release of The Jayhawks, a.k.a. The Bunkhouse Album, on CD. Those who discovered the band with later albums like Tomorrow the Green Grass or Rainy Day Music will be surprised by just how countrified the goings are here. This is clearly Mark Olson’s band – guitarist Gary Louris, who would run the band after Olson’s departure, doesn’t get a single lead vocal here – as the songs contain more pedal steel and banjo than the rest of the band’s catalog combined. It is also, fittingly enough, stuffed with drinking songs, from the bouncy “Misery Tavern” to the cluckity guitar picking on “Six Pack on the Dashboard.” Louris does make his presence felt, though; he contributes several trademark harmony vocals along with his trademark tasteful guitar.

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The end result is, quite frankly, the birth of the alt-country scene that would take shape roughly a decade later. Even those who prefer the pop-oriented Louris years to the folk-driven Olsen era will want to explore this Bunkhouse, stat. (Lost Highway 2010)

The Jayhawks MySpace page
Click to buy The Jayhawks from Amazon

  

Greycoats: Setting Fire to the Great Unknown

We love to see publicists promote records released in the previous year because they believe in them, mainly because it takes us back to a time when record labels had more patience with their artists, and would take the time to groom them, drum up some geniune buzz for a band rather than fabricate fake buzz, etc. (We’re well aware that those days weren’t as innocent as we might think, but they’re our memories, and we’re sticking to ’em.) We’ll see how this old-school approach works for Setting Fire to the Great Unknown, the debut album by Minneapolis quartet Greycoats. Their bio boasts comparisons to Arcade Fire, Radiohead and Sigur Ros, but a better point of entry might be a more guitar-oriented Keane. “Goodbye, Sweet Youth, Goodbye” sports a soaring chorus that the boys from Battle would kill for, and singer Jon Reine has nicked a few tricks from Tom Chaplin’s playbook in terms of vocal phrasing. It’s gorgeous stuff – Thom Yorke will surely mutter obscenities under his breath when he hears “An Echo in the Dark” – and, in an ideal world, the band is only a soundtrack or “Grey’s Anatomy” moment away from vaulting to the next level. (Greycoats 2008)

Greycoats MySpace page

  

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