Already this month, Kyle Tran Myhre gave a keynote speech at a Macalester College leadership conference, performed spoken-word pieces at a Joe Strummer tribute and Women of the World Poetry Slam, and read his work at a Bryant-Lake Bowl writers series. Oh, and he played a few rap gigs, too.
“The rap sets are the ones I sweat over the least,” said Tran Myhre, better known by his MC and poet name Guante.
This weekend, Guante will assume another title: activist. He started Hip-Hop Against Homophobia, a concert series that raises money for gay-rights organizations while breaking rap music’s once-prevalent anti-gay mold. There are two installments this weekend — Friday at St. Paul Central High School and Saturday at Patrick’s Cabaret. (Due to a death in the family, Guante will likely skip Saturday’s show, but Desdamona has stepped in to perform.)
Granted, speaking out against homophobia may not seem like such a big deal in hip-hop anymore. Seattle indie-rap stars Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who’ve been riding at No. 1 in Billboard with their novelty hit “Thrift Shop,” first got mainstream attention last year with their equality-preaching single “Same Love.” Locally, Brother Ali recently wrote a much-read opinion piece for the Huffington Post shaming himself and others who’ve used the other F-word in song.
But a lot of work still needs to be done, believes Guante, a 30-year-old native of La Crosse, Wis., who arrived in the Twin Cities in 2007. He started Hip-Hop Against Homophobia two years later and has since turned into one of the hardest-working local artists of any genre.
“Gay people still don’t have the same rights I do,” he said. For proof, he pointed out that — like many rappers (or poets or writers or activists) — he relies on his wife and her job for health benefits.
Performance and activism have gone hand in hand for Tran Myhre since his days at the University of Wisconsin. While cutting his teeth at open-mic nights in Madison, he also took part in a media justice organization and war protests.
His diverse pursuits came to a head on his third Guante album, “You Better Weaponize,” a collaboration with producer Big Cats that came out in November and quickly made our Twin Cities Critics Tally as a year-end favorite. The record sounds like a call to arms for his young peers to de-emphasize social media and truly get socially active, with Big Cats’ beats lightening things up musically.
“Every successful rapper has some kind of gimmick, and my only gimmick seems to be writing songs of substance,” Guante laughed. “There aren’t a lot of rappers writing songs about comprehensive sex ed or white privilege.”
The latter topic comes up in “The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege,” in which the half-Japanese MC raises his own mixed ethnicity — “I identify as white enough,” Guante raps — to portray an inherent advantage white rappers have in getting noticed. He and I disagreed on that point, but it was hard to argue with his reply that a good rapper’s job is to at least be provocative. It’s a mantra he seems to apply to his other roles, too.
“It’s hard to lead from the middle,” he said.
Hip-Hop Against Homophobia
Friday: 6:30 p.m. at Central High School, 275 Lexington Pkwy. N., St. Paul. $3.
Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Patrick’s Cabaret, 3010 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls. $8-$10.