Reviewing the Neighbors: Guante & Big Cats! - "An Unwelcome Guest"
Post by Emily Mills on 2/3/2010 5:50pm
El Guante has never been the type of rapper to just sit back and go with the expected flow of the genre. From his time as a major figure on the Madison hip hop, social justice, educational, and publishing scenes, the relatively unassuming man known day-to-day as Kyle Myhre has worked hard to create a style and flow uniquely his own. He has also made a habit of exploring issues at greater length and depth than most rappers ever do. On his newest record, An Unwelcome Guest (Tru Ruts | Speakeasy Records), Guante somehow manages to push the envelope even further.
With the help of superb hip hop producer Big Cats! and a handful of guest artists—including alt-country singer Haley Bonar, rappers Prolyphic, Eric Blair and more—Guante creates a nearly fully realized concept album that follows a single, strange journey from track one to 15. The liner notes of the record lay out the idea behind the project: “I wanted to make an album that no one had already made. I wanted to push the boundaries of hip hop narrative. I wanted to rap in ways I’d never rapped before. I wanted to play with perspective and characterization in ways that a single storytelling song just doesn’t have time to do. I wanted to explore issues of displacement, the movement of people and the role of violence in social change…I also wanted zombies to be involved. And a superhero mythology. And a love story.”
An Unwelcome Guest is all of those things, but it also contains some seriously catchy beats and really creative production work. Big Cats! provides Guante with a whole new sonic pallet with which to work, something with considerable depth and diversity but that maintains a beautiful cohesion throughout; from the introductory track’s bombastic, ass-kicking prelude, to the first song’s melodramatic but strangely effective opera sample, to the searching and lonely Bonar backing vocals on “The National Anthem” and straight on ‘til the mourning, anticipatory rhymes of “The Damp, Foggy Midnight.”
It would be foolhardy to attempt an exact explanation of the record’s narrative—that’s something best left for the listener to discover on his or her own—but suffice to say that Guante’s liner note references to the journey of displaced people and of love in the time of zombies (or just some unstoppable, terrible force) are entirely apt.
The production work shows influences from many different traditional and modern musical genres. Everything from water warped blues, opera, folk, hip hop, R&B, rock, and the various flavors of what’s come to be called “world” music find a place in the seamless soundscape.
Guante’s rhymes definitely show growth and a willingness to stretch and try new things in comparison to his older works. There are times when it almost sounds as though his voice is about to careen off the edge of the beats and into another space entirely, but he’s ultimately always able to reign it in and land on his feet. His work as a spoken word artist is very apparent as well, and it’s purely a matter of personal taste as to whether or not that’s a good thing. It mostly comes off as an inspired mash-up of two highly related mediums that don’t always see eye to eye.
When it comes down to it, An Unwelcome Guest is simply a highly listenable, head bopper of a story record. And it’s exciting to hear Madison artists who’ve gone on to new and different things, working with a wider array of talented artists and expanding their horizons.
(info on how to pick up a copy of the album here)
Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at