Guante & Big Cats!: “You Better Weaponize” Review
I recently watched the Phil Ochs documentary There But For Fortune, and it got me thinking about the politically active musicians of the 60’s in contrast with those of today. The documentary is namely about Ochs, but it also depicts a sort of tiered spectrum of political music. In the 60’s you had guys like Dylan basically at the top – the “celebrity activist.” At the other end of the spectrum were musicians like Victor Jara, the Chilean artist/activist who died under Pinochet’s thugs (and had he lived would probably not be making Victoria’s Secret commercials today). The documentary itself centers on Ochs and his own struggle at the center of the spectrum – on one hand wanting to be as famous as Dylan while on the other wanting to be as ideologically “pure” as Jara.
I couldn’t help but to apply the same spectrum to local rapper Guante while listening to his most recent record (recorded with producer Big Cats!). Guante is a Jara, through and through, and You better Weaponize contains the kind of unrelenting, uncompromising rhetoric that’s targeted squarely on the current socio-political landscape. There is no single, no anthem, no flippant party track. While many “political rappers” lighten the blow of their hectoring with “lighter” tracks (Killer Mike’s “JoJo’s Chillin,” being a recent example) Guante isn’t at all concerned with making his bludgeoning more palatable. The track “Underground Sex Party,” even satirizes such tracks – it’s a ruthless takedown of the superficiality inherent in so much music today. In it Guante takes on the facsimile of an artist desperate enough to do anything to get famous. Facebook, Twitter, even local radio station The Current get caught in the crosshairs.
Guante doesn’t just tackle the low-hanging fruit either. “The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege” is a razorblade dissection of institutional racism that deals with the taboo subject of recognizing privilege. Guest emcees Chantz Erolin and Truth Be Told offer up an Asian and African American perspective respectively, and the song accomplishes the rare combination of uncomfortable truth and logic that’s so iron-clad that it makes getting defensive about the subject a fool’s errand.
That doesn’t mean the message isn’t always easy to hear. In a deep fried, triple cheese hamburger word Guante and company are making a pretty convincing case for spinach and kale. Don’t be apathetic. Participate in your community. Recognize that being human comes with responsibilities. It isn’t sexy but it’s the truth. Listening to “Lightning,” (which features guest vocalist Chastity Brown’s bluesy purr) is almost akin to listening to your parents (assuming you are lucky enough to have parents that encourage you to make the most of yourself). You know that they’re right but at the same time what they are suggesting is hard.
While Weaponize is full of a lot of hard truths, that doesn’t mean it’s not also an enjoyable listen. If Guante’s lyrics don’t pull any punches, at least those punches land with flawless facility. And they’re funny! Defying the humorless social critic stereotype, Guante packs a whole hell of a lot of wit and humor into his rhymes. Big Cats!’ contribution cannot be overstated as well – if Guante’s lyrics are healthy vegetables then they go down all the easier with for the fact that they are accompanied by healthy doses of delicious beats – best exemplified in single “Until There’s Nothing Left,” a perfect storm of beats and lyrics that also features Toki Wright and Crescent Moon.
While Weaponize contains sexy beats, biting social critique, and a hard-to-ignore case against apathy, deep down what it really all boils down to seems to be one simple thing: love. Pure, unfettered, unadulterated love – for a cat, a friend, a partner, or for all of humanity. Guante’s message, and Guante’s ethos, comes from a place that emphasizes human bonds and human understanding. Whether he’s rapping about running for office, community organizing, or just recognizing each other, the message is clear: we are all in this together. And while that’s a phrase (and an idea) that has been cliché’d to the extreme, it doesn’t necessarily mean that its wrong.
— Jon Behm
You can pick up a copy of You Better Weaponize via Strange Famous Records today. Don’t forget to vote!