“Be real; conscious rap failed us”
– Busdriver, 2009
If we as rap fans can be real for a second, we bring a lot of this frustration on ourselves. Unlike most (all) other types of music, hip hop’s Larger Conversation includes every imaginable subgenre, obscure offshoot, regional scene, or stylistic variation rap’s got to offer. That’s rosy and reductionist (rap coverage is still dishonest at worst and incomplete at best) but the principle holds true: Jay referring back to Talib Kweli made sense because we’ve made it so they exist in the same universe. That Gucci Mane and Richie Cunning share a spectrum at all is a testament to our sense of community, the idiocy of false equivalencies, or both.
Obviously, this has its benefits. But it also breeds ungodly amounts of hostility between groups of fans and between rappers themselves. The commingling is the biggest factor in the perpetual whining about how something’s “wrong with hip hop” or whatever, and certain fans demand certain rappers take corrective measures. But the Native Tongues didn’t kill early gangsta rap–the mafioso crew just took over. The turn of the century backpack movement didn’t kill the shiny suit era–that died out on its own. But at the end of the day, that’s more than fine because we still have Midnight Marauders and SONOGRAM and 3 Feet High and Rising and Black On Both Sides–the fact that we also have Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and Hell Hath No Fury is hardly a failure.
I say all that to say this: There’s no compelling reason to dichotomize music this way. At least, there’s no reason to pit different groups against one another. And that brings us to SIFU Hotman, a collaborative project from Minneapolis including producer Rube and rappers Guante and Dem Atlas. Over Rube’s smooth, jam-session-style instrumentals, the emcees give us sparkling, darting verses that sound at first like off-the-cuff musings that could come from coke rappers or b boys, but are filtered through a politically- and socially-conscious lens.
That leaves us with a three song suite (available for free digitally and on motherfucking vinyl from Fifth Element) that’s endlessly palatable and satisfying on every level, from background music to heavy listening. Guante and Dem Atlas make a quality pairing. The former is a mainstay in the Minneapolis rap and poetry scenes, while the latter is a newcomer whose (exceptional) Chrle Brwn EP made a lot of noise locally when it was released.
Guante stands a notch or two above most of his stylistic peers for his ability to present challenging ideas in a clear, conversational manner, and that’s what drives the first two songs, “Outnumbered, Outgunned, Outmaneuvered and Winning” and the remix of “Limb from Limb”. That said, he’s a little bit out of his sonic wheelhouse, which is a more deliberate, aggressive pace. This lets Atlas’s unpredictable, post-Kendrick delivery take center stage. Ironically, Guante is at his best on closer “Whose Planet? Our Planet” when he commits fully to a less emotive, more clipping delivery.
Sonic qualities aside, the tape is endlessly quotable whether the subject is the politically apathetic or the invisible wack emcees. I’d highly recommend it to people on any end of the rap spectrum, and I’ll be petitioning my congressman for them to do a full length LP.