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.


Locksley: Be in Love

RIYL: The Beatles, The Strokes, The Kinks

The Brooklyn-by-way-of Madison quartet Locksley still holds a dubious honor in the Bullz-Eye/ESDMusic camp for the press release that announced the release of their debut album Don’t Make Me Wait. It was, without question, the worst press release we’ve ever seen, dismissing the entire Midwest as beer-drinking fatties with lousy taste. Here is the opening sentence. Try not to choke on the condescension:

Wisconsin is one of those Midwest states that we all assume is running rampant with overweight Miller High Life drinking blue collar boys at the Lambough Field.

We later learned that the person who wrote this is from, yep, Wisconsin. (To set the record straight, the band had nothing to do with the press release.) We’re pretty sure misspelling ‘Lambeau’ is punishable by death there, but we’ll have to get back to you on that.

At any rate, the press release did a terrible disservice to the band, as their debut was a smoking hot mixture of ’60s pop rock with modern-day attitude, and singer Jesse Laz can do spot-on impressions of both Lennon and McCartney. The band’s sophomore effort, Be in Love, is more of the same, and that’s perfectly fine. (You hear that, Vampire Weekend fans?) However, the songs don’t quite pop like the first batch did. There are some standout moments, notably the handclap-happy “It Isn’t Love” and surefire first single “Darling It’s True.” In the end, though, the Strokes comparison proves rather fitting, as Be in Love is their Room on Fire; it sounds just like the debut, only not as exciting. (Feature Records 2010)

Locksley MySpace page