Guante + Big Cats! roll out ambitious new concept album, “An Unwelcome Guest”

Guante and Big Cats! roll out ambitious new concept album, “An Unwelcome Guest”
By Justin Schell, TC Daily Planet

For you know, and I know, good horse ´mongst the rich ones
How 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 (Trú Rúts), 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 Trú Rúts, 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. Paul rehearsal space, they were quick to emphasize how collaboratively they worked to create An Unwelcome Guest.

According to Big Cats!, “we would start with, ‘hey I have this beat, do you wanna use it?’ But then there was a process from there, ‘Can you change this part of it, can you rearrange this section, can this verse be 24 instead of 16?,’” he says. “It wasn’t just taking a verse and slapping it on a beat.”

“Each beat needed to fit a certain mood,” Guante adds, “to fit what was going on at the story at the time. They make the album as a whole more captivating.”

That attention to detail is evident throughout the album. Something that’s marked Big Cats!’s work since his first beat tapes is his vivid use of sonic color. Part of this comes from the producer’s multi-instrumental skills. “I have a musical background, I know how to play some instruments,” he says—including piano, guitar, and bass, along with the AKAI MPC1000 sampler. “I came up playing other people’s music, writing my own music.”

These details are not just present on drums that bump and hooks that grab, but also on elements like the constantly shifting sonic beds for verses, such as the hauntingly effective auto-tuned voices on “The Stockholm Syndrome.” Elsewhere there is the discordant harpsichord on “Yes, God is a DJ; No, Not a Good One.” This grating musical dissonance matches the social and emotional dissonance of the lyrics, which features a guest verse from No Bird Sing’s Eric Blair, as the two MCs explore the how the events of the album are “going according to plan/but whose plan?” This line is just one of many bursting with meaning, made all the stronger by their unified place in the album’s overarching story.

The idea of doing a concept album is nothing new to Guante. “I’ve been wanting to do a concept record for a long time, just as a challenge for myself. I think it makes interesting listening.” This emphasis on listening is key for Guante. “Music, and particularly hip-hop, has become a very passive listening experience,” he says. “It’s something you just nod and zone out to. We definitely wanted to have beats that anyone could appreciate and rhymes that flowed nicely, but it’s the idea that you could go deeper.”

The basic narrative of Guest, as I understand it and without giving too much away, revolves around a person is escaping some terrible event (although it’s never quite revealed what that event was), and while doing so, explores not just the physical landscapes he traverses on his post-apocalyptic journey, but also the emotions and meanings of that changed world and his place within it. “It’s not super abstract,” says Guante. “The language is very simple. I think where it gets complex is the subtext.”

The subtexts of Guest change with almost every song, invoking numerous interlocking themes. These include contemporary rhetoric about immigration; the reality and ideology of borders physical, national, and emotional; a biological plague; and governmental irresponsibility, conspiracy, and violence, as well as the insurrectionist response from the victims of these actions. There are two themes, however, that provide an inspiring and redemptive power in the midst of so much darkness and destruction. One is an insistent and unwavering emphasis on the power of aggressive social critique and the fight for social justice; the other is the power of love, a love that is neither hokey nor Hallmark, but one that persists and emboldens even through an apocalypse.

“Hopefully,” Guante says, “listening to the album is an experience that demands and rewards multiple listens.” Like the people whom Guante speaks about in “No Capes,” the everyday heroes that don’t need a costume or a mask to fight for what’s right, the messages of the tracks on An Unwelcome Guest possess more power together than they ever could alone, sounding a 21st century battle cry rooted in the righteous hoof beats of Woody Guthrie’s Black Bess.

Originally posted on TC Daily Planet on 8 December 2009.

Free Download from ‘Start a Fire’ on Culturebully.com

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FROM CULTUREBULLY.COM: “Life ain’t short, it’s just a lot of people waste it.” This could simply be coincidental, but it’s fitting that the tracks on Guante and Big Cats!’s Start a Fire EP have been edited and cut down to their most basic, wasting nothing in the process. It’s not that Big Cats!’s beats are any less flowing or robust than normal, or that Guante’s lyrics are any less poignant—the EP simply takes the duo’s abilities and projects them at their most concentrated. One shining example of this is the remix to “One of These Mornings;” the track that the previously mentioned quote comes from. Despite coming in at nearly a minute shorter than the original, nothing feels lost between it and the remix. If anything, the flute-based beat of the remix adds a fresh complexity to the track that allows it freedom while shedding the excess.

Guante has offered up some commentary on the duo’s site for their upcoming full-length release, An Unwelcomed Guest, including these thoughts on the remixed “One of These Mornings”:

The success that the original version of this track had really caught me off guard. The Current picked it up and was playing it every day this past Fall, and everyone was telling me how it was their favorite song on “El Guante’s Haunted Studio Apartment.” I liked it a lot as a recorded track (Eugene, OR producer G-Force put together a beautiful beat), but wanted a more lively, uptempo version to play at shows. Big Cats! delivered. One note about the lyrics: I think a lot of people hear this as a “slice of life” song, a song about me walking around and talking to random people. The song is about DEATH. The sample in the original (and the hook in the remix), “one of these mornings, you’re going to rise up singing,” is referring to the fact that someday you’re going to die. It’s from Porgy and Bess, “Summertime.” Again, I like this song a lot, but the live version with our band is on another level.

In collaboration with Tru Ruts, Culture Bully is proud to present Guante & Big Cats!’s release show for the duo’s new Start a Fire EP. The duo will be joined by Chastity Brown, See More Perspective, the Tribe and Chantz. The show will be at the Nomad World Pub on the West Bank Saturday, May 9 @ 9:00 p.m. Entry is only $5.

Click here for the free download.

Guante + Big Cats! Start A Fire

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Twin Cities hip hop duo Guante & Big Cats! to release EP on May 9
Seven-track album foreshadows a late-2009 full-length

Above the Fold called El Guante & Big Cats! the Twin Cities’ best up-and-coming MC and producer, respectively. Their first release as a duo, a seven-track EP released through respected indie label Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records entitled “Start a Fire,” will attempt to live up to the hype.

Featuring the remix to Guante’s 2008 surprise hit “One of These Mornings” (as heard on 89.3 The Current), as well as the tattoo-lover’s anthem “Old English Letters,” superhero allegory “The Hero” and bittersweet love song “Dragons,” the EP showcases the depth of thought, gallows humor and political insight that made Guante one of City Pages“Artists of the Year,” URB Magazine’s “Next 1000,” an Independent Music Awards nominee and a CMJ Spotlight Artist for 2009.

Producer Big Cats!, fresh off of producing Sage Francis’ “Black Out on White Night,” as well as his own critically-acclaimed instrumental hip hop album “Sleep Tapes,” is in top form as well. His production is melancholy, multi-layered and cinematic; a definite stylistic departure from the standard TC hip hop sound.

“Start a Fire” is the prelude to “An Unwelcome Guest,” the duo’s full-length concept album due out in late 2009.

“People always talk about how over-saturated the Twin Cities hip hop scene is,” Guante says. “And if you’re just looking at numbers, sure; everybody’s cousin raps. But beyond that, there’s such a wide range of styles, and people really pushing at the boundaries of what hip hop is; it’s a very exciting time and place. I look at acts like Hyder Ali, Kristoff Krane, our band and a handful of other acts, and I see a community of artists who have a fundamentally different approach to making hip hop music: respect the foundation, but don’t be a slave to it. Push people, both musically and in terms of lyrical content.”

The release party for the EP will be Saturday, May 9 at the Nomad. Rapper Guante and producer Big Cats! will be joined for their set by a live band including members of local rock outfit Dragons Power Up; Big Cats! himself plays live MPC and bass guitar. Chastity Brown, The Tribe, Chantz and See More Perspective also open. See http://deadrunning.blogspot.com for additional information on the collaboration. To request interviews or additional images, please contact info@truruts.com or 612-288-9491.

Guante & Big Cats! “Start a Fire” EP Release Party
Saturday, May 9 at the Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis
Featuring Chastity Brown, the Tribe, Chantz and See More Perspective.
9pm | 21+ | $5.

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Guante + Big Cats at Eclipse Records

Guante at Eclipse Records with Big Cats + the band.
[Courtesy of Above The Fold]