The Twin Cities has become a safe haven for fans who are seeking more substance and innovation in their Hip Hop. In the course of a year, one group has found unknown success while hiding in plain sight as Sifu Hotman. Comprised of National Slam Poetry Champion Guante, Rhymesayers’ latest sensation deM atlaS and the heavily underrated producer DJ Rube; they are a group that many have overlooked due to their lack record label or publicist, yet still remind us why we fell in love with Hip Hop. With their latest release, Embrace the Sun, released just over a month ago, we sat down with deM atlaS and Guante to find out more about one of the Minnesota’s best kept secrets.
Embracing the Sun
“This release was a lot like the first one where it kind of just happened in a lot of ways,” said Guante. “I knew Rube for a long time, he sent me beats and I was working on them and then I happened to play a show with Josh and asked him to get on one of the songs, which lead to getting on all three of the songs. And then Rube sent me some more beats and I could have written to them myself or done some more Sifu Hotman stuff. So I just figured we could do it again. And this was before the whole Rhymesayers thing happened. It was kinda like let’s make some good music.”
In what is being described as their “proper” debut, Embrace the Sun brings together the original three songs from their self-titled EP with three brand new songs, and a remix by Lewis Parker (who has produced songs with Ghostface Killah and Sadat X of Brand Nubian).
“I thought it made more sense to package everything together, especially after we remastered the old songs to make them pop a little more,” said Guante.
Fans of the last year’s EP may notice a conceptual difference in the songs as the originally jazzy, bombastic songs have gained more structure in their songwriting.
“The earlier trio of songs was just like paying tribute to the Hip Hop culture,” said Guante. “Having fun and rapping really well. And that was the beginning and ending of what we were trying to do there. Whereas the next batch of songs, that idea is still very much present. I think the difference this time is really just came about in the song writing itself. ‘Matches,’ in particular, I think is one of the best songs I’ve ever been a part of and I’m really, really floored on how it turned out both in the terms of the beat, Josh’s part and what I wrote too. It just came together in a really special way. I don’t think it was about saying something really deep in the song as its still about rapping, it’s just that process as a writer is that you really don’t know where it’s going to take you and that’s a big part of Hip Hop in being super flexible, being super willing to follow the spirit wherever it happens to take you. And I mean that in a super secular way.”
“I feel like these songs are less a show of rapping fast as they are a very intimate and personal view of how we are perceived as artists in the public,” said deM atlaS. “And I think ‘First Ave Funeral’ comes to mind the most as that is a very revealing song, both mine and Guante’s beings. Like when I’m dead, you’ll appreciate me then because when you’re dead, everyone starts clamoring around. It’s a very embittered song. It tells a tale of two MCs who feel under appreciated; don’t feel like they are given the right amount of respect and credibility. Guante’s verses really stand out to me in that song. I think they’re really revealing about the community and about embracing social justice. And mine is more so a feeling about being just a kid that everybody loves, then hates, invisible and fades to black. I feel feelings of invisibility a lot. I don’t know why that is because I’m obviously not invisible, we are appreciated and we make great art, but the new songs are very different to me as they get more to more of the core of us as individual people instead of us rapping fast and having witty punchlines. These songs have more of a hook laden as ‘Matches’ is about building up the community, building up ourselves and embracing the Sun…. The chemistry was there from the first three songs and we already knew our styles as we studied those songs, then we created three more and I think that we play off of each other even better such as ‘First Ave Funeral’ again is a song that we are playing off each other and playing off our verses very well. It’s really great because I really feel that we have great chemistry together, on and off stage. Even though our styles are so contrasting, with my melodicism and rhythm and Guante’s verses are so deep. You hear one line and you have to pause the song and ponder on that one line because it makes you feel a certain way and makes you think.”
As they developed on their chemistry, the matured concepts allowed deM atlaS to give his lyrics a little more weight. As for his verse in the song “Matches,” he raps: “Why am I the only one that’s different?/Paint me as the new eccentric/If I had it my way Minneapolis would be Piss Christ/Suspended in Hell above the lakes/That no one knows the names of/ If you do/ You have too much time on your f***ing hands/That’s why you pace about the room trying not to give a damn.” To which he explained:
“I feel like just around here, where I’m from, I’m mainly speaking on how I sometimes feel isolated in my own head, in my own space. I feel like I’m a spectator just watching people. That’s how I feel a lot. It goes back to that line in ‘All We Got,’ ‘it never once occurred to me that I’d be staring out the window to see me.” It’s a nice continuation on that idea on how I feel…(As far as Piss Christ line) It’s about people staying within this little bubble of Minneapolis and if I had it my way, I’d have everyone look at Minneapolis and St. Paul the same credibility that is given to big cities like Chicago or LA or New York. I feel like we’re overlooked a lot. The innovation is overlooked a lot…It’s great, but I think it’s not given the same sort of flack, but I think it’s on the verge of happening like how Seattle was really big in the 90s. In the 90s, when Nirvana popped off, I liked that even though it was overlooked so much. It had a lot of cool cats come out of it. Jimi Hendrix, Mudhoney, and all these great bands and musicians. And that’s how I see Hip Hop.”
The State of Hip Hop & Scene VS. Community
Along with the Twin Cities being unfairly overlooked, Guante also weighed on how the Twin Cities Hip Hop community can be under estimated. In the recent aftermath of the The Current/MN Original’s “State of Hip Hop” concert, which Minnesota Public Radio had originally arranged to celebrate local Hip Hop artists with a concert at the Fitzgerald Theater, but after concerns were raised over MPR and their lack of outreach with the local community in planning the event, many local artists (including Slug, Toki Wright, I Self Devine, Desdamona, Brother Ali and Guante) sent a letter requesting that the event be postponed until a more transparent and sustainable partnership was reached. Although the show was respectfully postponed indefinitely, Guante remains hopeful on the future of the Twin Cities Hip Hop community.
“The positive that came out of that was that it showed that when the Hip Hop community worked together, it can accomplish some really interesting things beyond selling CDs at the shows. It really showed the impact it has on the lives of the people living within these communities. A lot of the stuff since then has gone behind the scenes, but I can tell you that there’s a lot happening right now which is really exciting. People may not see the effects of it until a few months down the line, but there are a lot of meetings, a lot of people organizing around the idea of ‘how can we be more effective community in terms of supporting each other and in terms of how we leverage our power as local celebrities. Actually look at how we can make our neighborhood’s better.”
As more meetings and discussions continue to take place, one element of the distrust stemmed from the differences between the scene and the community, where people will attend a club for a Hip Hop show but will not support the neighborhoods that have birthed the music and the culture.
“We have a really, really strong scene in terms of Hip Hop acts who have been able to be successful,” said Guante. “We have really big shows that happen here i.e. Soundset and all the First Avenue shows…The community is really, really strong and really, really big and power. It’s just often behind the scenes. And my thought is can we combine those things more and get some of the cool things that happen behind the scenes to shine a spotlight through the power that the ‘scene’ has.”
In a way to help bring the two together, Sifu Hotman has found favor with the local Breakdancing community and managed to incorporate the House of Dance Twin Cities into their album release show at the Intermedia Media Arts Building in Minneapolis.
“The B-Boy & B-Girl community is a huge part of the Hip Hop scene in the Twin Cities, but you won’t see them at events that cater to the ‘scene,’” said Guante. “It’s really important to me that any Hip Hop show I organize from now on, I want to include the dance element because it’s Hip Hop. It should have the dance element represented, but also for more selfish reasons, it makes the show better. And our shows are a lot of fun because of the House of Dance. And they’re doing cool things too such as lessons for people to go to learn more about breakdancing.”
“It’s great,” added deM atlaS. “Now cats are coming to a Sifu Hotman show, so now you can come watch some music and what how these cats move their bodies. That’s really important because it gave people a reintroduction into the B-Boy culture.”
The Future of Sifu Hotman
In accordance with all of Guante’s releases, Embrace the Sun has been self-promoted through grassroots marketing via their social media accounts and word of mouth by fans.
“I think we make the stuff that we can stand behind politically, philosophically, artistically…and then we have to work to get it heard by people,” said Guante. “If it doesn’t pick up and get a 100 million views or listens, then it’s always a combination of factors. There’s the larger culture that we really can’t do anything about as far as how people consume music these days and then I have to point the finger at myself and then be like ‘am I working hard enough to get to the priority.’ So there’s a lot of balancing acts going on here right now in the release, from being excited, to work hard to get it heard by people, but also being realistic about how marketing works and trying to hold those two realities together in my head at the same time.”
Although making money off of their art is a necessity, they have agreed that it does not measure their level of success.
“It isn’t to say that good art is never successful and all successful art is bad,” said Guante. “I think it’s more about recognizing the ripple effect that you have from the work you create you don’t always get to see. Like when you play a show, you don’t know who’s in that audience who hears something that they need to hear in that moment and then goes on and does something else. You just don’t know and I think that’s true for the most successful acts and the least successful acts. It’s not always about instant gratification in terms of success. I think success can be defined in a much more interesting way rather than ‘oh I got a lot of youtube views.’”
Success has followed each member of the group. Since the release of their self-titled EP, deM atlaS was sought out and signed to Rhymesayers Entertainment where he has performed on the main stage at Soundset 2014, Welcome to Minnesota Tour 2014 and is currently on tour with Atmosphere and Prof; Guante became an internet sensation through Buzzfeed.com featuring his poem “10 Responses to the Phrase Man Up” and generating over half a million views on youtube; and DJ Rube has been tireless at work creating new beats and perfecting his techniques at a skilled DJ.
With all of their personal feats, the fate of the group has gone into question.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” said deM atlaS. “I’m open to the idea but for now, we both have kind of agreed that we want to focus on our lives a bit more. You know this Sifu Hotman project is something that we just did for fun. And I respect Guante and Rube a lot. It’s just another outlet.”
“This is probably last Sifu Hotman release….I shouldn’t say last since I like working with them, but I’m just trying to be realistic,” said Guante. “I feel like (deM atlaS) is going to have a very full schedule over the next few years and I don’t want to step on any toes. I’d love to keep making music together. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
As each member turns their sights to their next projects, many see the potential with deM atlaS as he continues to work on his Rhymesayers debut.
“It’s not an album, said deM atlaS, “but it is a collection of songs that I’ve sequestered up until this point. It’s coming along just fine. When I get back from the road, I’m going to get back to the booth and work on new music. The music I have right now is a lot of sing-songy Hip Hoppy happy sad material. It’s very hook driven, it’s very melodic. It’s not a showcase of lyrics, but it’s a showcase of how powerful hooks and choruses can be. And some verses that I think are my best. I don’t have an official release date yet, but it’s coming really soon.”
With the newly acquired Rhymesayers imprint to his name, deM atlaS has been taken under the wing of many of the label’s heavyweights from touring advice from Slug and Ant to constructive criticism from RSE CEO Siddiq Sayers.
“I get the feeling that these cats really want me to succeed,” said deM atlaS. “If I don’t succeed, then they don’t succeed. It’s a very mutual partnership and it’s family. I’m definitely lucky to be learning a lot from these cats and they’re nothing but support. They’re honest. I’ll show them a song and they’ll be honest with me about it. Like Siddiq will be like ‘I’m not feeling that verse, it sounds like you freestyled that shit.’ And they are like ‘don’t cheat, you want this to be a classic so don’t half-ass it.’ So it’s nice reminders like that. And it’s not that I would half ass my music, but there is a charm to not trying in certain songs because a lot of the music that I like to listen to is proof of that point…Daniel Johnston who would play these songs that sounded like murder on the ears but if you listen closely, they’re really beautiful songs. I’m still trying to find my process in creating these songs. It’s surprising, it’s different, it’s a rollercoaster. So I’m still trying to work out the kinks, but the two coincide greatly, music and life. My life revolves around music and music revolves around my life. The two are inseparable.”
As deM atlaS continues to hit the road, Guante has decided to hit the books by going to grad school at the University of Minnesota for a master’s degree in liberal studies.
“What I’m doing is combining the media work that I do such as social media, video and op. eds with the art stuff that I do in terms of spoken word and Hip Hop,” said Guante, “then combining those two things in the youth education, youth development work that I do. I’m trying to find a way to combine all those things in a way that makes sense and have a powerful effect.”
Although he will be traveling less, fans shouldn’t fret as he is also planning on releasing his first book and CD, A Lovesong, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry this fall as well.
“I should’ve released a book by now,” said Guante, “in terms of all the poetry stuff I’ve been doing, but I really wanted to take my time with it. So this book that’s coming out is a capstone of the last 5 years of my career and it’s also cleaning the slate so everything I do from 2015 on is going to be like brand new stuff. The book will contain the text of all of my spoken word poems I’ve been doing over the past few years, plus a few new poems that no one’s ever seen before. Plus a bunch of the essays I’ve been writing and I’m trying to make connections between the poems and the essays. It’s like two different types of writing talking about the same idea, which I think can be pretty cool. But also, it will function as a lyrics booklet for my next CD: a compilation of all the best songs I’ve ever made. Many of them re-mastered or remixed. Plus a few brand new songs on top of that. The idea is that it’s a book and a CD that will go together.”
Embrace the Sun is available exclusively on their bandcamp. Be sure to stay up to date on the latest from Guante (www.guante.info, Facebook, Twitter), deM atlaS (Rhymesayers, Facebook, Twitter) and DJ Rube (Twitter).