Guante details his full-length with Dem Atlas as Sifu Hotman

Guante details his full-length with Dem Atlas as Sifu Hotman
Photo courtesy of the artist

Last year, Guante and Dem Atlas dropped a short collaborative project with producer Rube as Sifu Hotman. The three-song EP has since grown into the full-length album Embrace the Sun, complete with more songs and an exclusive remix from producer Lewis Parker, set for release on July 29.

To premiere the group effort, the trio is playing an all-ages show at Intermedia Arts Friday, and Gimme Noise sat with Guante to get the details.

Gimme Noise: You and Dem Atlas have both had a big year since the first EP dropped.

Guante: I think [he] signed to Rhymesayers [laughs]. Mine has been doing the same work, but just finding more of an audience for it through the whole Button Poetry thing and Upworthy. That's been really huge because of the whole viral economy of how art works today. I wrote ["Man Up"]. It's not my best poem but it had a good hook to it and it just happened to take off. It's cool to have half a million views or whatever, but that ripple effect in terms of people contacting me for shows and people contacting me to send more stuff [has been big]. But mostly what I've been doing is traveling and playing shows: college stuff, poetry stuff, and social justice education stuff. This project was a great excuse to just rap.

To some extent it's very much for the love, but I mean that in a much more specific way than how everyone says. My whole livelihood and the way I make my living has nothing to do with SIFU HOTMAN. I don't intend to make any money off of it or anything, it's just literally to do something that I really want to do, and I hope [Dem Atlas and Rube] do as well. 

Is it to flex that rap muscle, or to build it?

Yeah, it's like the way when people play a game of pick-up basketball. You're working out, but you're not necessarily doing it in order to exercise. It's just fun. Almost everything else in my whole career, from poetry stuff to music stuff to other writing type stuff to activism stuff, is so intentional and planned out and everything fits together in a certain way, but this is really just a side project, in the classical sense of the word. That probably goes for [Dem Atlas] as well because of all the Rhymesayers stuff. I wanted to be very careful not to step on his toes or on Rhymesayers' toes. I assume they want his debut to be his debut, so this was very much framed as a side project. Which also leads to a lot of freedom. You can do whatever, you don't have to fit any type of brand or formula.

What have you learned from working with Dem Atlas? How has he influenced your style?

The thing that comes to mind right away is that, I think I'm a pretty adaptable MC in terms of love songs, political songs, punchline songs, blah blah blah, so when I collaborate with certain people I try to take on a very opposing style. I just did a song with Jared Paul and Ceschi, so I got to be kinda more weird, but then when I work with [Dem Atlas] it's the opposite. I get to be more deliberate and more punchline [oriented], technical MC type stuff, because I know he's going to bring that weird intensity and flavor. That was a lot of fun. I got to flex my punchline rapper muscle, which I don't necessarily get to do when I'm making my own music.

You definitely bring a lot of intentionality to a song, usually defining a strong concept, but Dem Atlas' style feels much looser.

I think our opposing styles blend in an interesting way. This just popped into my head, but to use an "Avatar: The Last Airbender" reference, if [Dem Atlas] is a waterbender -- very free flowing movement in terms of both the content of what he's talking about and the way he raps is very up and down, flowy, interesting -- I would be more like an earthbender. It's cool, the way different styles come together to hopefully create something larger than the sum of their parts.

You've used sci-fi and fantasy references in the past, but in the song "Matches" you directly tie Star Trek to the social justice movement. If you want to get to a future you want to see, it's through the work happening now; it can't just be a fantasy.

I'm glad someone caught that. The connecting tissue there has always been a huge part of how I write, because I'm a pop culture kid. I think when we look at comic books and science fiction and fantasy and all that stuff, it's myth. I'm not saying anything deep or revelatory, but it's a form of myth, in the way we watch these characters move through these situations in a way that reflects on all of us too, I think there's a lot of power there to take those myths and inject them into the art that we make and also just how we live our lives.

Do you and Dem Atlas have conversations ahead of time that lead to specific song concepts? 

The collaborative process has been really interesting because for the past six months when we were creating these songs, our schedules never meet up. He's been on tour with Atmosphere, and I've been going to different places all around. A lot of it ended up being writing in separate places but with some sort of idea. With "First Ave Funeral", each little section of my verse starts with "When I'm dead..." I was like, if you want to do that too, use it as a writing prompt, so the whole song will have that back and forth. He didn't do that, but what he did do was still take the same idea of "What am I leaving here," or whatever, and just phrasing it in a different way. I think the effect turned out really cool. If we had done it my way it might have been a little too on the nose or a little too bullheaded, but it turned out really cool.

You've got some choice words about scenesters on some of these tracks, too.

Like twice. It comes up twice!

Conceptually that's something you come back to, the idea of how people are interpreting the work and what reasons people get into things and what they take away from it.

Yeah, part of it reflects the philosophy behind this project as a whole, in that there's a difference between a community and a scene. One of the reasons we're having our release party at Intermedia Arts -- it's at 7 o'clock and it's all-ages and $5, even though this is a pretty big release for both of us and it could've been somewhere else easily -- is to have a show that really reflects the community and not the scene. Again, there's overlap obviously, and I'm not trying to sit here and complain and be that bitter MC, like there's a bunch of people who don't like it for the right reasons... People can interface with the music in whatever way they need to or whatever way makes sense for them. And that's fine, but I just think it's fun. I I'm going to point my negative energy somewhere, that's just one place I can point it, and that's fun.

Similar ideas you work with on past projects but a little more tongue in cheek.

A lot of those lines in particular come from my experience, I guess our experience even as a group, with different types of shows we've played. We've played a bunch of B-Boy jams; there's this huge B-Boy and B-Girl culture in the Twin Cities that most of the hip-hop "scene" doesn't even know exists and doesn't necessarily go out and watch or support or is cogniscant of. We play shows like that, all those shows that I've played with TruArtSpeaks, the youth poet shows, all the community benefit fundraiser things, it's just a whole different universe, you know? I think we have a really big, beautiful community, and a really big, beautiful scene in a lot of ways. Like I said, there is some overlap, but if we can make that overlap more, make it bigger, make it more present, I think that's healthy. If I never play another 10 p.m. club show again, I'll be fine. I want to play all-ages shows, early shows, shows in community centers, stuff like that. On that note, we're having [House of Dance Twin Cities] at the show. Any show that I organize from here on out, I want to have the dance element represented. One, in the "real hip-hop" sense, it should be represented, but two, it actually makes the show better. It's fun.

What's the structure of the show?

It's a pretty short show, it'll be 7 to 9 or whatever, the dance crew will do a short set, we'll each play solo sets, then we'll play a collaborative Sifu Hotman set. We hardly ever play Sifu Hotman sets because of our schedules and stuff, so this may be one of the last times that people have to see us, which is fun. I love the idea of this as a project that, when both of us are super famous, for probably very different reasons, in the future, people can look back and see this. 

You'd mentioned last time you may never do another solo project after this. Do you have more collaborations planned?

I don't know what [it's] going to look like yet, but there's a lot of ideas floating around and a lot of people I've been talking to. Collaborative stuff is harder. It's not necessarily that I want to do it, part of me loves doing everything myself. But I think there's something important about collaboration, both in a social justice but also in a music industry sense. There aren't rap groups anymore, and we really lose something when that happens. This project is community-oriented, fun, diverse. Diverse in every sense of the word. Not just another rap show at the Entry with the same people that go to every rap show.

Sifu Hotman play the Embrace The Sun release show at Intermedia Arts on Friday, June 25 at 7 p.m. All-ages, $5. With House of Dance Twin Cities.

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