This Fourth of July, Garrison Keillor will perform A Prairie Home Companion from Macalester College with special guest JD McPherson. With news of Keillor's retirement plans still fresh (and still murky, it turns out), we decided to mark what may be our last Fourth of July with the proud Minnesota icon by speaking with two unlikely artists who’ve given him shout-outs.
What I’m talking about y’all, is hip-hop.
Yes, Garrison Keillor has been referenced on a few tracks over the years, and we caught up with two artists who’ve name-dropped him — hometown favorite Toki Wright and the wiki-wiki-Wikipedia of references MC Paul Barman — to discuss what inspired their homages and how they feel about Keillor.Atmosphere featuring Toki Wright and deM atlaS - “Color in the Snow”
"Now it's me and Garrison Keillor on the four wheeler /
Sippin' tequila, catching a misdemeanor from this demeanor"
Long before you shouted Garrison Keillor out, you performed on one of his shows back in 2004.
Yeah, it was the Rhubarb Show for Prairie Home Companion. To be honest, at the time, I didn’t know how important or big he was. I was happy to perform at the Zigfield Theater in front of 500 people which was a big experience for me at the time. The more and more I learned about who he is and how big of a following he has, that blew my mind even more. At that point in time, that was the biggest thing I’d done musically.
In the hip-hop world, I don’t know how many people know who he was. But it taught me about sub-cultures and just because something isn’t front page all the time doesn’t mean there isn’t another group of people who isn’t really, really into a genre or style. Working with radio and listening to his show after that and learning about the talkies and old radio storylines got me digging a bit more into radio shows.
What impression did you get from working with him at that show?
I realized how big it was when I got there. He’s one of those cool standout figures from your state. There will be a monument built for him at some point. He totally was nice to me, a good kind dude, and gave me a new platform to present myself with respect and not just, “Here’s a rapping dude!”
You know this, as an MC, you’ll be performing a song and some older person who doesn’t get hip-hop will be like, “Oh, you’re doing the rappity thing” and start making noises or start making funny hand gestures. [Keillor] treated me with respect like anyone else who respected their craft. We had a good rapport with each other. When it came time to do the song with Atmosphere for the tour, it was like, “Talk about being a Minnesotan.” I felt like I owed [Keillor] one. It was playful, funny, not taking life too seriously. Two people who would not be seen in that space, and that’s sort of how being on that show was.
They were cool enough to be open to this rapping, dreadlocked, socially aware black kid from north Minneapolis and give him three songs on his show rapping about social-justice issues and being in love. That’s the Minnesota that I like. That’s the Minnesota I can get behind, people who are open in that way and not a condescending way trying to fill a quota. People who are actually curious about what people are doing. He basically let me come into his home for dinner, we had a conversation, realized we had some things in common and went on our separate ways. That line was my dap to him.MC Paul Barman - “Make No Mistake”
"Pull in our feelers, make comparisons realer than Garrison Keillor's /
In Lake Wobegon, Not Obi-Wan Kenobi on Cineplex Odeon"
You shouted Keillor on “Make No Mistake.” Were you a fan of his?
For me, Garrison Keillor represented an oasis for the lifestyle where NPR is on 24/7. 'Nuff respect due to the other NPR programming, but his stuff was a lot more diverse and creative than the average grueling news broadcast or horrendous classical cliche programming. I thought Lake Wobegon was just an instant transport to an alternative world and his voice was ridiculous. I remember during one Halloween broadcast, he did the most definitive version of The Raven that I’d ever heard.
What lead to referencing him on the track?
We were sampling All Things Considered. I guess what I was trying to say was that the Iraq Wars were such horrendous bullshit that you won’t even get the truth from NPR even when it’s theoretically from the left-of-the-dial and left of the political spectrum. By the way, that’s a shout to DJ Mr. Ten Fingers, it was originally his idea and I asked permission to use that idea. That was the whole thing, “What if we were our own NPR, you couldn’t even say ‘the white CNN!’ We’ll even sample All Things Considered.”