Sifu Hotman: It's important to go off brand and do something different


A collaborative effort that expanded from a single song to a full-blown group, Sifu Hotman is rappers Guante and Dem Atlas over beats by producer Rube. Today, the trio releases a self-titled, three-song suite that captures their collective energies, and recalls some of the great rap teams from the past.

Gimme Noise caught up with the group to hear about the new direction.
Gimme Noise: How did the three of you come together and what sparked the formation of the group?

Guante: I'm a big proponent of intentionality. When I write songs, I tend to write for a particular project, but with this it was the opposite of that. I've known Rube for a long time, and he was just like, here's some beats. I wrote a couple of songs. I invited [Dem Atlas] to do one of the songs anyways, and then it was like, let's just do all three, a little side project thing.

Dem Atlas: It just felt really nice, that chemistry. The beats represent something I really like about the golden era of hip-hop, that old school boom-bap sort of feel.

Rube: I didn't know what to expect; not everyone can sound good over these beats.  "Outnumbered" is not your typical hip-hop groove. Guante always brings the socially conscious lyricism to his projects, but I was surprised just how beautifully he and Dem fit together over my beats. They really locked into the grooves. That fun, high energy/tempo style of hip-hop is really missing from the Minnesota scene.

Did the sound mesh right away?

Dem Atlas: Pretty much. It just seemed very natural almost. At first, working with an artist like Guante, who I really respect dearly, it was kind of intimidating. But that intimidation subsided and what replaced that was just, dude, this is exciting, this is good music that we're creating.

Guante: There's a lot of freedom that comes from just doing three songs. We don't necessarily have to crack out the arc of the album, let's just put three songs together and put it out. I love those type of groups where the energy works in a different sort of way, instead of when you put two rappers who sound sort of similar next to each other. It allows you to see elements of a particular artist that you maybe never noticed before. That's especially important for me, because I tend to get pigeonholed. People notice the content of it, which is great, the poetry of it, the politics of it, but they don't necessarily notice the technique, the rhyme schemes. It's important for me to go off brand a little bit and do something different. 

Dem Atlas: It was a cool contrast, man.

Guante: For me, it's about re-conceptualizing the type of projects I want to create moving forward. I may never do another solo Guante project. I want to work with different people. I want to do a project with Heidi Barton Stink in a couple of months. Bring back that group energy. I don't know if you're sick of this comparison because I bet you hear it all the time, but one of the reasons I wanted to work with you because, when I grew up listening to hip-hop, one of my favorite groups was Pharcyde, or Souls of Mischief, Freestyle Fellowship. You have this weird energy that captures a lot of that. I thought it would be a cool contrast with my kind of straight-forward style. 

Dem Atlas: I agree. I think that really shows itself in the music. It just feels right. A big reason why I love these beats is it did reference Pharcyde to me. Souls of MIschief, Tribe Called Quest; I'm obsessed with that stuff. It really helped me to write to it. When I first got into hip-hop, that's all I listened to. Their tonality. I liked the way they sounded, like they were in this box and they were just trying to get out of it. How they manipulate their voice, it's like singing. They were like jazz players.

What prompted the vinyl release? I know that's a first for each of you.

Guante: That was Rube, he's a very old school hip-hop head. He texted me to make sure we gave a shout-out to the SP-1200, his weapon of choice. He's the kind of guy that would text me to make sure to shout out the SP-1200 [laughs]. He wanted to do vinyl, and he hand-screenprinted all the jackets. It's a limited run so every one is a little bit different. It also comes with instrumentals and an accapella.

Rube: Releasing songs digitally is cool and all, but a release doesn't seem official to me if it isn't on wax. I want something to hold in my hand as it revolves on the turntable. I want to hold the jacket and look at the detail of the cover art and read the liner notes. That aesthetic experience is important to me. I want something that is unique. That's the reason we hand screen-printed the record jackets. I could have had the pressing plant do the job of printing the jackets and they would have looked uniformly great. Instead, I scavenged thrift-stores, garage-sales & my basement for materials and equipment. I used old wood picture frames for the screen frames. My press is an old checkerboard game! The jackets are recycled chipboard. Wherever I could, I used recycled and repurposed materials. I used imprecise tools and equipment to introduce randomness in the process so the imprints are never the same. Each jacket has it's own personality and flaws.  

The Sifu Hotman 10 inch vinyl is out now; you can order the album here. Sifu Hotman plays the Fifth Element parking lot sale on Saturday, August 24.