By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Guante has proven himself a master of words in multiple spheres. In his music, the Minneapolis rapper is informed by pursuits as an essayist, a teacher, a political activist, and a two-time National Poetry Slam champion. So when he talks about his rhymes as activist poetry, hear him out.
"It's not about saying something simple in the most complicated way," he explains. "It's about saying something complex in a really straightforward, down-to-earth way, and I think that's what the album succeeds at."
Guante, a.k.a. Kyle Myhre, is referring to his brand-new You Better Weaponize. Within, the rapper's naked lyricism of spoken-word poetry adds stark power even to bluntly stated positions, but his abilities on the mic twist the songs away from proselytizing. His powerful voice can grandly emphasize a phrase or add slickness to an understated flow, but the lyrical call to arms always takes center stage.
Guante plays a CD-release show for You Better Weaponize on Friday, November 9, at Hell's Kitchen; 612.332.4700
"If you're gonna write something outside of yourself, political or commenting on the world in some type of way, you have to connect it to something that's inside yourself," says Guante of his approach to writing. "The songs on this album work, because they're still connected to either a story or a very specific image or something very honest and internal."
"What you say is more important than how you say it," he remarks on opener "To Young Leaders." "What you do is more important than what you say, and what you build is more important than what you do."
Since he emerged in the Twin Cities a half-decade ago, Guante has built an artistic empire of forward-thinking ideals. Assertions on gender issues, institutional racism, class warfare, identity politics, and homophobia, among other progressive causes, show up in his work paired with the haunting stomp of Big Cats! bangers as the backdrop. The new album is another solid addition to an already stellar year for Big Cats! — his instrumental For My Mother could be his best work to date — but the major strength of the beats here is that they put the lyrics on display.
"I feel like I have more freedom stylistically working with [Guante] than I would most other people," says producer Big Cats!, who also helmed production duties for the whole of the duo's 2010 debut, An Unwelcome Guest. "Because of [his] background in poetry and rap, it allows me to do a wide variety of stuff production-wise. There's straight-up rap songs with heavy drums, and there's stuff where it's mostly acoustic instruments and no drums. It was fun being able to work that around a fairly specific narrative."
Personal is political here, and some of the strongest moments on the record are ones where the listener recognizes how these realms intertwine. "Other" talks of being mixed in a society that doesn't respect dual identity, and verses from See More Perspective and Audio Perm's Chantz Erolin (as well as a luscious hook from Chastity Brown) flesh out the idea by bringing together additional personal stories. Other like-minded guests include Kristoff Krane, Toki Wright, and Crescent Moon. Perhaps the best track on the record, "The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege," finds Guante, Chantz, and TruthBeTold of the Tribe and Big Cats! breaking down white privilege in hip hop and at large, giving discussions they've had among themselves a platform.
"I want to challenge the audience as much as possible, while they can still nod their head to it," says Guante. "[TruthBeTold]'s might be my favorite verse on the album."
The album's ending includes "A Pragmatist's Guide to Revolution," which joins the ideas weaving through You Better Weaponize into a mission statement. "This movement doesn't need perfect/It just needs us to start working," he raps, highlighting that real-world change can come from anyone willing to put in effort.
"Activism isn't magic. You see a problem, you get together with other people, and you think of a plan. Do something about it," says Guante of the larger theme behind his work. "That something doesn't have to be super in-depth or difficult. You don't have to throw your life away. You can have your job and still do something positive in your community." This is not a record to play in the background and pat yourself on the back. This is catalyst music.