Justin Schell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and grad student in Minneapolis, working on a book and documentary about immigrant, refugee, and diasporic hip-hop here in the Twin Cities. For more on the project, see WeRockLongDistance.com.
Editor’s Note: Justin Schell was in Wisconsin on February 26, and shared these photos from the protest with TC Daily Planet. For mroe coverage of the ongoing protests in Wisconsin and solidarity actions in Minnesota, click here. Pam Colby contributed a video of a rousing rendition of “This Land Is Your Land,” from the solidarity protest at the Minnesota State Capitol, and The Uptake has an hour of video from the Madison protest, where they estimated the crowd at 70-100,000.Below: two views of the Wisconsin State Capitol, inside and out (also from Justin Schell.) Continue Reading
What counts as the mainstream of hip-hop in the Twin Cities, the Rhymesayers-Doomtree-Heiruspecs segment of artists who get airtime on The Current and play stages like First Avenue, the Cedar, and even the Guthrie regularly, is precisely what doesn’t count as mainstream hip-hop in all but a few other scenes in the country. Each of the past five years, the Twin Cities Hip-Hop Awards, for better and for worse, have revealed how much more hip-hop there is in the Twin Cities and tries to bring all the artists and fans together for at least one night.
In December, Heidi Barton Stink released a free EP, The Familiar Pattern. Her work as a queer- and trans-identifying MC certainly breaks the pattern of hypermasculine—and often grossly homophobic—hip-hop. Featuring production and guest appearances by Soce the Elemental Wizard, Skullbuster, and others, The Familiar Pattern goes far beyond the catchphrases of most so-called “conscious rap,” targeting audiences and injustices with lyrical dexterity and focused rage.What is it about hip-hop that makes it a good vehicle for your thoughts, beliefs, and calls to action?I was trying to rap long before I was ready to come out as trans or even queer, so it’s the skill I know how to do. Had I learned to play the guitar I would probably be writing punk or folk songs about trans rights, but hip-hop is great because it has a strong emphasis on lyrics, which offers the ability to say directly what you are trying to convey.What were some of your experiences in hip-hop as a male artist?Back when i was still “straightish” male identified—in the closet—I had a lot of “holy shit, if these guys knew about who really am…” moments, where I may have had to worry about my physical well-being. Continue Reading
The live hip-hop band Heiruspecs have never shied away from acknowledging their roots at St. Paul Central High School. Now they’re officially paying tribute to their alma mater by founding a new scholarship to provide opportunities for future students involved in the arts to go to college.”It was very much that we met through this program,” Heiruspecs bassist Sean McPherson told me, referring to Red Freeberg’s Recording Arts program. “We didn’t start after school, we started during school. We owe a lot to that place.”Multiple members of Heiruspecs came out of the various Central arts programs. McPherson and MC Felix came out of the Recording Arts program, Peter Leggett came out of the more traditional band program, while fellow MC and beatboxer Muad’dib came out of the acting program. Continue Reading
Equal parts witty, candid, ruminating, and ferocious, M.anifest’s new mixtape, The Birds and the Beats—available for free download on the artist’s Web site—is an unofficial but solid follow-up to his 2007 debut full-length, Manifestations. The mixtape is a wide-ranging and compelling hour-long snapshot of his past, present, and future—where he’s come from, the variety of experiences in his daily life, and what holds for the future, not only for himself, but also for his fans.Born in the Madina neighborhood of Accra, Ghana, M.anifest balances the dope lyricism and bangin’ beats common to damn near all hip-hop, no matter where it’s from, with his own background, always reppin’ where he’s from but also never excluding any potential listeners.There’s quite a bit on this record detailing where M.anifest’s from and what’s shaped him as an artist, whether it be a blown-up Fela sample and extended use of Twi (M.anifest’s first language) on “How I Used to Be,” a brief recitation of the children’s word-game “Che Che Cole” on “Golly Gosh,” or the analysis of the first steps, missteps, and next steps of his home country’s independence on “Ghana ‘52” (complete with vocal samples from Nkrumah himself).Sprinkled throughout the album’s transitions are documentary audio samples of people discussing various aspects of African music and life, including Fela Kuti as well as a number of people discussing the roles of gender and music in African life. This train of thought reaches its conclusion with the album’s conclusion, in a “re-fix” of D’angelo’s “Africa” on “D’Angelo Said,” as M.anifest raps a digital duet with the neo-soul star about their shared African descent.As for the present life of M.anifest, you hear the variety of producers that make M.anifest’s complex and creative lyrics that much better. Production duties on the record are handled by a cast of characters with roots all across the States and on both sides of the Atlantic. Much of it comes from the members of the 4shades production collective, made up of Katrah-Quey, O-D, an, G Mo, and M.anifest himself. Continue Reading
Hmong-Americans from Minnesota and around the country ushered in 2010 this weekend at the River Centre in downtown St. Paul. The annual event, now in its 34th year, is one of the most important events for Minnesota Hmong, along with the July 4 (J4) sports tournaments held at Como Park. Both events are organized by Lao Family Community of Minnesota. With opening messages from the recently-cleared General Vang Pao, St. Continue Reading
For you know, and I know, good horse ´mongst the rich onesHow oftimes we go there an unwelcome guest-Woody Guthrie, “The Unwelcome Guest” Earlier this year, Minneapolis MC and spoken word poet Guante told me that he was working on an album that was “about immigration.” This vague, yet full-of-potential germ has resulted in An Unwelcome Guest (TrúRúts), the debut album from Guante and producer Big Cats!. The album is a follow up to the group’s Start a Fire EP, also on TrúRúts, which was released in May of this year. The duo will celebrate its release Saturday, December 12th at Bedlam Theatre, with support from Kristoff Krane, No Bird Sing, and The Tribe. Part Cormac McCarthy, part Woody Guthrie, and part Public Enemy, An Unwelcome Guest is an intricately woven poetic and sonic excursion through landscapes mental, emotional, and physical, cementing Guante and Big Cats!’s status as two of the best emerging artists within Twin Cities hip-hop. When I spoke with them at their St. Continue Reading
This video is a shorter version of one I made for visual artist Susan Armington’s Talking Suitcases exhibit at the University of Minnesota’s Nash Gallery. In September 2009, Hmong and Vietnamese elders gathered at Hmong American Partnership in St. Paul to share stories and memories. For more information on Susan Armington and the Talking Suitcases, see thesusanarmington.com. For information on the exhibit at the Nash Gallery, where it will be on display through December 17, see nash.umn.edu. Continue Reading
The first MC heard on Brother Ali’s third full-length, Us, is not the Rhymesayers heavyweight but rather one of his icons, Chuck D. Chuck intones an introduction for Ali, listing off divisions that plague humanity and offering Ali as “a soldier/ in the war for love,” one who carries “a message of true hope/ and true peace” that might overcome these divisions. There’s an audible hint of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” with Chuck channeling Thomas “TNT” Todd, the voice sampled for the song’s introduction. On that song, Todd intoned, “Matter of fact it’s safe to say that they would rather switch/ than fight.” For Chuck, and in turn Ali, “I think it’s safe to say that we/ are our only hope.” Ali has been preaching across the land and across the world, and this weekend he comes home. He and the other members of the Fresh Air tour will perform twice this weekend at First Avenue: an 18+ show Friday night and an all-ages early show Saturday night. Continue Reading
Three billboards located across the Metro invite members of two of the state’s largest immigrant populations, Somalis and Latinos, to the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” in their own language. The Fair’s slogan, translated in Somali as “Waa Kulankii Minnesota Wayn” and in Spanish as “La Gran Fiesta De Minnesota,” is a way for Fair organizers to more actively engage with and represent Minnesota’s changing population. “The State Fair belongs to everyone in Minnesota,” said Brienna Schuette, the Fair’s Marketing and Communications Manager. “We wanted to reach out to new immigrants, make them feel welcome and introduce them to this state tradition,” as well as “re-welcome the long-time members of those communities.” For Schuette, “these groups are a part of the state’s fabric and culture, which is exactly what the fair celebrates.”
This is not the first time that the Fair has attempted to reach Minnesota’s more recent immigrants. In the early 2000s, they published advertisements and announcements in newspapers and at restaurants amongst the various immigrant communities, but this is the first time the attempt has been made on such a wide scale. Continue Reading