Interview: Guante of Guante & Big Cats!

The local hip-hop duo’s new LP features guests Haley Bonar and Big Quarters.

by Jay Boller

Over bandmate Big Cats!âÄôs layered, dark beats, rapper Guante is an avalanche of words. Throughout âÄúAn Unwelcome GuestâÄù âÄî the local hip-hop duoâÄôs recent debut âÄî the spoken word poet/emcee extols community unity, jabs at systematic displacement and flashes his University of Wisconsin -honed verbosity. The finished product channels a novel indie rap vibe, but the accompanying smarts and production value deem it viable. Guante, a La Crosse, Wisc., native, lacks the deep Twin Cities roots of many local wordsmiths. He doesnâÄôt have a visual hook like Brother AliâÄô s albinism, P.O.S. âÄòs punkishness or Slug âÄòs well-documented ugliness. But since 2007 he and Big Cats! have drummed up considerable buzz and the very solid âÄúAn Unwelcome GuestâÄù cements much of the hypeâÄôs validity. Guante (Kyle Myhre ) doesnâÄôt possess a purebred emceeâÄôs effortless flow, but he makes up for it with earnest narratives that weave a complex concept through the recordâÄôs 15 tracks. HeâÄôs heady without treading arrogance and grassroots without nearing Palin-esque callus populism. This political consciousness doesnâÄôt sacrifice artfulness, as the spoken word portraits are constant. âÄúBut take my coffin/set it on fire to warm this night and light this road/and if I should catch a bad one, rig my body with an IED so I can go home,âÄù Guante forcefully spits on âÄúIf It Bleeds, It Leads.âÄù Big Cats! (Spencer Wirth-Davis) is the duoâÄôs not-so-secret weapon and more than lives up to his dual billing. The man has produced for indie gloomâÄônâÄôdoom hip-hop staple Sage Francis and it shows. His dense beats brood powerfully, interconnect meticulously and sample diligently. Lazerbeak and Ant are the Twin CitiesâÄô go-to dudes for beats, but Big Cats! makes a convincing case for his inclusion in local production prominence. Guante took time to chat with A&E about his raps, Twin Cities hip-hop politics and Eminem âÄòs timeless advice to young rappers. YouâÄôve been tabbed with the âÄúpolitical rapperâÄù label. What are your politics, specifically on âÄúAn Unwelcome GuestâÄù? [The political rapper label] is a thing I kind of embrace because I think itâÄôs a positive thing when youâÄôre talking about issues that you care about and matter in the world. My politics, generally, are community orientated. Change comes from people working together to do something. We donâÄôt elect someone to solve all our problems; that can be a piece of the puzzle, but IâÄôm a firm believer in the power of community organizing. âÄúUnwelcome GuestâÄù is more of a specific thesis project. The album itself covers a lot of ground, in terms of stuff I wanted to talk about. On one hand itâÄôs about struggle and displacement. On the other, itâÄôs about violence; can violence be a tool for social change? Whose place is it to say whether or not it can be a tool for social change? ThatâÄôs the main thrust of it: the idea that when the powers-that-be push an individual or community, they canâÄôt predict how theyâÄôre going to push back. They canâÄôt control it; itâÄôs the natural way of things. WhatâÄôs the dynamic of Twin Cities hip-hop culture? Is it cliquey with Rhymesayers and Doomtree or is it more open and supportive? ThereâÄôs an obvious hierarchy that I think everyone recognizes. Ryhmesayers is at the top, then thereâÄôs Doomtree âĦ beyond that is where I think things get really interesting. You have a wide variety of styles and people doing very different things musically trying to get to that next level âÄî whether that is the Doomtree level or the Brother Ali level or whatever. What IâÄôve found, at an institutional level, it can be tough to break in. But on a face-to-face, interpersonal level everyoneâÄôs really cool, nice and supportive. Are you a fan of the Minneapolis indie-rap elite: Atmosphere, P.O.S. and Brother Ali? IâÄôm a music writer (Culture Bully , alt-weeklies in Madison ), and I tend to be a pretty critical music critic. ThereâÄôs no one IâÄôm head-over-heels in love with musically here. But, I think a couple Atmosphere songs are brilliant, a couple P.O.S. songs are brilliant and couple Brother Ali songs are brilliant âÄî but their body as a whole doesnâÄôt bowl me over every time. IâÄôd say IâÄôm a fan; IâÄôm not a die-hard, crazy fan. WhoâÄôs the best rapper in Minneapolis? You have to seriously consider Toki Wright . Particularly after his album came out, just as a pure, bar-for-bar rapper whoâÄôs one: a very good technical rapper, like with rhythms and flows. And two: heâÄôs able to say really on-point things while doing it. YouâÄôve been flirting with âÄúNext Big ThingâÄù territory; is that something you embrace or is there pressure? ThereâÄôs pressure mostly just from myself. This might sound overly dramatic or whatever, but you only get one shot âĦ that kinda sounds like Eminem âĦ I believe âÄú8 MileâÄù covered that. [Laughs] You really only get one chance. I donâÄôt mean that in terms of Jay-Z knocking on your door and saying âÄúHey, do you wanna sign to my label?âÄù You get one career. You have to build that career in not only a sustainable way where you can be successful, but something you can be proud of. Artistically weâÄôre doing stuff that is forward thinking, interesting and innovative; but itâÄôs also listenable. In terms of âÄúNext Big Thing,âÄù ya know, thatâÄôs the idea. Not to be too egotistical or whatever, but we do that balance as well as anyone and we work as hard as anyone. If success is a combination of your work ethic, your talent, your community and just pure luck âÄî weâÄôve had all of those things, and in pretty good supply. Finish these sentences: Minneapolis as a city is âĦ A lot more complex than people give it credit for. Guante and Big Cats! is âĦ Something you can enjoy and also not feel ashamed about enjoying.