As much fun as it is to hear me talk about the art that I love, I thought I’d give some of the artists a chance to speak about their own work. I’ll be doing these profiles, you know, occasionally, most likely whenever I have one to post.
Guante is an amazing spoken word artist and rapper. Since he is a local (to me) artist, I’ve been lucky enough to know him a little and greatly honored to have shared a stage with him. He and the St. Paul spoken word team (I’m sure they have an official name) won the National Poetry Slam competition, twice. Guante is also one of the only poets I know who makes his living on poetry, and he gives all his talent and knowledge away by teaching tons of classes and coaching youth slam teams. If you visit the homepage of this website, you will find a review of my novel that Guante was kind enough to write for me. Here is some about his artwork in his own words.
What do you love about your medium?
With spoken-word, there are no rules. You can say whatever you want in whatever way you want to say it. So it really lends itself to the type of work that I want to do, work that examines the intersection of art, media, rhetoric and education. Sometimes, the most powerful spoken-word piece ISN’T the “best” poem. Sometimes it’s more of a PSA, or an audio op-ed, or (ideally) a compelling mashup of all of these different forms. As spoken-word artists, we get to learn from everyone, but we’re not beholden to any particular style or school of thought. That’s tremendously liberating.
Describe a piece of art that you find superficial or boring.
As a rapper, I’m particularly hard on other rappers; it just comes with the territory. And the thing is, most other rappers are good. If you follow hip hop, there’s a lot of good stuff happening right now. I think the problem is a lack of ambition; there’s a ton of “B+ music” out there. And a B+ is good, it’s enjoyable, it’s well-crafted, but it’s not stunningly original or revelatory or transformative, and that’s what I look for in music. So no matter how good it is, I just can’t get excited about another song about what it’s like to be a rapper, or another song about having a fun party, or another song that just kind of vaguely talks about everything that’s wrong with the world. I want creativity, specificity, focus. It’s important to point out that this is my personal preference; I don’t think there’s anything “bad” about music that isn’t explosively original. I just don’t get excited about it.
Spoken-word isn’t much different– it’s easy to get up on stage and rant and rave about things; but what separates the special work from the rest of the pack is how it moves beyond the surface-level analysis– maybe it examines your own complicity with a given problem, or explores a grey area, or allows us to see something we think we understand in a new way.
When did you first call yourself an artist, and why?
I’m really not sure. My journey has been very gradual and organic. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the term. I think sometimes the word “artist” is put on a pedestal, like artists are magic elves or something. I think we’re all artists, whether it’s our career, our hobby, or something we want to do but don’t have time for. I hesitate to think of it as a specific identity, because there are so many different ways to create art and live artistically. I think you can be a mother who makes art, or a politician who makes art, or an activist who makes art. I’m just a weirdo who happens to make art.
Describe an artist and/or piece of work that you find consistently inspiring.
I’m really lucky in that some of my favorite artists in the world live in the same community as me. I bring Ed Bok Lee‘s book “Whorled” with me to almost every show I play, and sometimes read from it. Same with Bao Phi’s “Song I Sing.” Both poets are very good at doing what I want to do– creating work that is immediately powerful and actually says something explicitly political without sacrificing the craft of it. That’s not an easy thing to do, and I’m grateful to have role models like them so close.
What is your unique purpose for creating work?
I’m a pragmatist, and I see art much less as an expression of my infinite soul than as just another way to talk to people, an avenue for communication. I’m a communicator. I want to talk about things like privilege, and language, and activism, but talk about them in ways that are difficult to forget. So sometimes that’s a poem, sometimes it’s a rap song, sometimes it’s an op-ed. I think art is another form of independent media, and independent media is an integral part of the movement we’re all trying to build. So that’s why I do it.