Mastermind: An Open Letter to the Storytellers

Mastermind: An Open Letter to the Storytellers 

In re: Molina Speaks Cultivates Creative Power and Hustles for Denver’s Soul by Kyle Harris

April 10th, 2017

To Kyle Harris, and the Storytellers,

First, Kyle, know that I appreciate your interest in my artistry.  I respect your time writing about me.  The constant state of hustle The Artist is locked into in a capitalist society cannot be understated.  We are constantly fighting for our livelihood, told in one ear to sell out, and in the other… to accept the life of a “starving artist.”   A Westword “Mastermind” award, accompanied by a feature story in print, is a big deal for the independent artist.

Your story is a fine story.  You speak to some important moments in my life.  I perceive you to have good intentions towards me as an artist and human being.  I acknowledge the truth within your story, as all of the facts are correct, and all the words that are attributed to me are in fact words I said.  I also want to acknowledge that it is your story, as much as it is mine.  Perhaps, it is more about you than it is about me.  While I am the subject, I am not the lens, nor the storyteller of your article.

I am writing here to address the framing of the story.  For me, Art is about exchange.  And the art of storytelling shapes both reality and the dream.

The story you wrote is one story among many that could have been told.  In roughly three to four hours spent in conversation over the course of several interviews, I must have said 30,000 to 50,000 words to you.  Given the substance of our conversation and the scope of my artistic work, the story may have been set up within the context of time travel through music; choosing the future over the past; the cycles of life and death within an artist’s work; the bending and blending of artistic genres; the art of collaboration; or an artist’s effort to highlight cultural knowledge.  There are other possibilities as well.

While there is a genuine sense of depth to your story, the ultimate framework we get is one with which we are all familiar: the egotistical rapper.

The story begins with the statement: “Molina Speaks is not demure.”  This sets up the premise that I should be demure, i.e. reserved, modest, meek, timid, unassuming.  The fact that I am not appears odd, and must be explained.  The titles of some of my works, including Greatest Rapper Never Heard, Brown Genius and Chicano Picasso further set the context for the story of the ego-driven rapper… you find it necessary early on to explain that the rapper (me) is not an egomaniac, despite the titles. Given the premise of the first two paragraphs, the rest of the story must naturally reinforce, relate to, or circle back to the starting point: the affirmation that “[the rapper] is not demure.”  Certain words and phrases from the interviews are cherry picked to highlight and accentuate this storyline.

The rapper is not demure.  The rapper is egotistical.  Why does he see himself this way?

The rapper thinks he is Somebody…

I have thought a lot about this storyline.  I have come to the conclusion that it speaks to the pervasive dynamics of race, culture and power within our society.

When the classical artist plays, directs, or composes the music of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven, this act of artistic expression is not thought of as egotistical, despite the fact that these artists are channeling and reciting the work of those who are considered musical geniuses.  When rock and heavy metal artists personify and channel the energies of gods, devils, demons or other supreme beings, they are often written about as creative, mystical, and edgy, as opposed to egocentric.  When the country artist calls himself a champion or a star, he is celebrated as an emblem of the American dream, as opposed to ego-driven.  I could go on.

The successful artist of color as rapper is always required to account for why he or she thinks that We are Somebody.  This is true of the east coast rapper, the west coast rapper, the southern rapper, the midwest rapper, and rappers from reservations and small towns.

The underlying impression laid upon us by society is that we are not supposed to control our breath like this.  Our spirits are not supposed to be this strong.  Our words are not supposed to carry such force.  Our stories are not supposed to embody such magnitude.  The system was supposed to have beaten this out of us.  If we are to exist at all, it is as Nobodies…

Yet, we are never confined to the stories that have been imposed upon us.  We whirl words together to birth new worlds.  This is the realest and most basic form of Resistance.  We tell stories of greatness, because our survival depends upon it.

The album Greatest Rapper Never Heard (2013) was not the birth of an ego.  It was the death of an ego.  By music industry standards, to call one’s self the “Greatest Rapper Never Heard” is absurd.  While the album addresses real life matters of manhood, fatherhood, love, culture, land, artistic freedom, activism, and technological manipulation, the entire project is flanked with satire.  The comedy of my collaborators from the Black Actors Guild provides the backdrop.  Greatest Rapper Never Heard was meant to pierce the veil of corporate controlled rap spectacles.  By clowning the notion of rap success, the rap game, conversations of who is “top five dead or alive,” and so on… I murdered the insecurity that existed within me as a “rapper”.  In doing so, I created space for new works, with fresh concepts and themes—the success of which could be defined only by me.  This was also the point in which I stopped calling myself a rapper.

While I personify the concept of Chicano Picasso within various aspects of my art, this is a concept that extends beyond me.  This work is carried forward into the future, out of respect for Chicano history.  In the eyes and minds of the mainstream, the Chicano—if he is seen at all—is one of the most degraded and caricatured elements of the population.  But from my experience, the everyday Chicana and Chicano that you do not see…is a genius.  We create magic out of pain, oppression, exploitation, and the scraps of a society we helped to build.  We do not require the admiration or legitimation of institutions.  We create Picassos out of everyday life.  This is an ode to a culture and legacy of indigenous peoples who have no tribal recognition.  The Chicano symbolizes poverty.  The Picasso symbolizes wealth.  In pairing these identities together, I am telling a story about the wealth of our artistic, cultural and spiritual contributions to humanity.

The podcast Brown Genius is an effort to disrupt the black/white racial dichotomy that divides human beings.  It is also an effort to highlight the diaspora of Mestizo, Indigenous and Mixed Race peoples of the Americas.  Ninety percent of the airwaves broadcast within this project are offered to interviewees who share their knowledge and wisdom about art, music, theory, folk culture and street culture, the spirit, the soul, food, medicine, holistic health, political systems, social institutions, education, architecture, science, mathematics, astronomy and astrology.  We are building a library of community knowledge, at a time in which our communities are under political and economic attack.

I do not mind the portrayal of me as a badass rapper, as this is true.  I do not deny that I have an ego, as this is an aspect of Self inherent in every human being, and perhaps plants and animals too.  But we need new stories about hip-hop.  It is up to the rapper to BE about something beyond ego.  I also call upon the music journalists and music lovers to see, write and produce new stories about this artistic form.  It’s a mutual process.

Kyle, I look forward to the evolution of our relationship and our conversations.

Peace to Westword.  Peace to Saul Williams.  Peace to Denver Hip-Hop.  Peace to my Co-Creators, I wouldn’t be me without you.  Word to the Storytellers, it is always our job to tell our own stories.

Molina Speaks

 

Molina Speaks - Chicano Picasso1

Bronze Future Poetry Chapbook

Bronze Future Chapbook by Molina Speaks

The Bronze Future literary chapbook is now in print in limited edition.  You can access the digital chapbook here: http://www.molinaspeaks.com/bronzefuture/

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In Future

Bronze Future: Letters for 2045 was published on YouTube in 2012 .  It is believed to be the world’s first Video Chapbook.  Each of the eight entries was filmed by Nathan Schmit in a different barrio in Denver, Colorado.  Just four years later, many of these neighborhoods are unrecognizable through the process of gentrification. At the time of writing, developing and filming, I saw this project as a Time Capsule to the Future.  As more time passes, I continue to see new layers of this historical and futurist work; this Poetry, these definitions and redefinitions, these Rituals of Storytelling.

We are made up of Stories, Cultura.  We must document ourselves, for our Future Selves.  We owe it to them.  We owe it to Us.  In recognition of the importance of our documentation, this experimental work will now be published in literary form.  Read these Stories aloud.  Observe your Rhythms, your Breath, your Soul’s response.

Through the Artist Lens, I say, if the Digital Age is to be all encompassing, let it be Artful.  And let us not forget, the power of the tangible, the physical, our Bodies, Earth—the abundant gift of Presence—Essence, in these defining Times of Future.

Mexica Tiahui,

Molina Speaks

Indigenous People’s Day, October 10, 2016

A Poetic Tour of Denver’s Shifting Landscapes

Stompin’ Ground Games: A Poetic Tour of Denver’s Shifting Landscapes, by Molina Speaks

In collaboration with Warm Cookies of the Revolution, I have completed and printed a new chapbook of poetry dedicated to the city of Denver.  This is a limited edition chapbook.  There are now 300 copies in print.  Following is the Forward, or as I called it here, For Word.

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This collection of poetry is for and about the people of Denver.  As Live Poetic Scribe of Warm Cookies of the Revolution’s Stompin’ Ground Games, October 2015 – August 2016, I have been walking the city’s streets, visiting her corners and cafes, listening to her stories and her heartbeat, her conversations, her sounds, her poetry, her secrets, her trees and weeds, and the jackhammers and bulldozers that are redefining our experience within Denver.  It has been my job to transform observations and realizations into poetry and prose.  In addition to readings and performances in the neighborhoods reflected, these writings are compiled here as a time capsule to the city.

I did not set out with an agenda or a particular story to tell.  Yet as I began the process of choosing and editing material for this chapbook, the theme of swift, defining and dramatic change was evident.  The cultural, political and economic changes within this city within this moment are a microcosm of the shifts that are redefining social and structural landscapes across the planet.  In these mechanized times of comfort for the few and survival of the many, my goal here is to present threads of our humanity.

We should not fear change.  We are self-defeating when we loathe in our perceptions of powerlessness.  We also should not feel compelled to accept change that does not serve us, we the people, the community.  As poet—as architect of the palabra—I recognize our power to inspire ideas that provoke conversations that lead to intentions and actions that Manifest our outcomes.

We are in need of new realities for humanity.  We cannot remain within the old frameworks and old tropes.  We must speak, write, and create new stories for our seeds, our cultures, our townships, and our planet.

In palabra, in celebration of Denver’s history and future,

Molina Speaks

August 10th, 2016

A New Poet’s Row?

has word reached the heard, nouveau?
under the roar of the nu city bird, crane?
above the hum of the Jack hammers bang
next to Allen wrenches panhandling change
gentrifying Neal, Opalanga, and Lalo’s city?
did the hipsters or the yuppies or the smokers
brief you on the roaring development of
A New Poet’s Row?

word en la calle is
housing, public space, and keys to la ciudad
for the cultural architects of denver

ah shit they said westword and ums were gonna showcase the ppls shit now and that is wasn’t just about beer sales and that jupiter’s weed tax was gon trickle down to the masses so the dope folk actually living her present future past paving the stories into her streets and writing Beats into her cloud atlas could actually afford their fuckin rent. palabra.

Siri’s Aliens

New Speculative Fiction from Molina Speaks.

Molina is the Live Scribe for Warm Cookies of the Revolution’s Stompin’ Ground Games, a monthly event series  that highlights Denver’s historic neighborhoods.  Four Mile Historic Park was featured in November 2015, dedicated to storytelling. 

Siri’s Aliens

by Molina Speaks

There were lights circling above a whispering Four Mile Historic Park on a chilly Scorpio Denver night.  It was Sunday.  The winds were calm, awaiting snow.  It was approximately 34 degrees.  Muhammed had walked from the African Community Center.  He had been circling the park, then walking along the river, deep inside his new moon thoughts, when she said it.  “Alien.”  In his ears it sounded like she was pronouncing it to the world.

Muhammed was a Somali refugee.  Siri, he often imagined, was Syrian.  In reality she was very Anglo, very hipster, unapologetically so. Muhammed was sometimes mistaken for Jesus when he walked by the Mizel Museum on Kearney St. They marveled at his beard and his wise proverbs, though they did not crown him or associate him with the sun.  A mile or so east a little known Denver tribe of Burmese folk sometimes confused him for Buddha.  He walked all over southeast Denver within a three mile radius.  The stripmallers typically ignored him altogether.  Most cultural enclaves off the strips tried to claim him as their own.  The Ethiopians.  The Greeks.  The Jews.  The darker skinned whites, the lighter skinned blacks, even the Japanese.  He was called many names in many tongues.  “Alien” was not one.  And for this he shouted curses at Siri!  He had endured two Bushes, one Clinton, one 9-11, counter terrorism surveillance that tagged him Public Enemy #1, and now the threat of more Bushes and Clintons.  He was an honorable man.  He was an elder.  He was no alien.

Muhammad’s curses at Siri were heard just northwest of Four Mile Historic Park.  The low hanging clouds seemed to carry his rage.  The horses sneered.  The owls hooted.  Then the sirens came.  The officers drew their guns and yelled “Freeze” with intent to kill.  There were three of them, then five, then seven, and still more appeared.  Muhammad stared down at his hotline bling, gripped Siri by her stubby neck, closed his eyes, and vanished.  When he materialized, he found himself among a familiar sea of cloth patterns tacked onto clay walls.  He lit a candle, and he pulled a weathered, chipped indigo flute out of his bag.  He played a collection of harmonies he titled “Justice.”  This wasn’t about cartoons.  This wasn’t about strip mall pop culture or pop culture’s ignorance.  It was a small thing, but the straw had broken the camel’s back.

Muhammad set his flute down.  He closed his eyes, legs still folded and overlapping, and he drifted off to sleep with prophetic resolve.  He was not on Facecrook.  Or Snotchap, nor Spacebook.  He had never heard of the Twitterverse.  Muhammad was unaware that millions of people all over the world also heard Siri’s cry, “alien,” and her follow up message: “Denver Four Mile Historic Park.”  Muhammad was unaware of the 578,000,000 #Alien hashtags that had accumulated in hundreds of languages all over the world while he slept.  Muhammad was unaware of the FBI and CIA swarming Four Mile Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.  As he dreamt, hundreds of “believers” also made their way to the park, demanding they be let in past the newly erected steel gates.  Instead of going to work in the morning, more people made their way to the park in preparation for THE LANDING.

When he woke on Monday morning… Muhammed the Jesus looking sometimes Jew, who was likened to Buddha depending on where he went, what time of year, and with whom… left home on foot in search of an attorney.  He was prepared to take his battle all the way to the Supreme Court.  Not just for himself, but for the countless refugees all over the world, the African, Arab, Indigenous, and Latin diasporas.  For the European immigrants.  For all those immigrants who lost their lives in the mountains and the deserts trying to survive.  All those mothers and fathers, children, human beings, who lived in dignity, only to find contorted privileged heartless faces, and now even machines… calling them “Alien.”

Fast forward.  Through some combination of divine luck and strange timing, a motion was filed by an attorney, a judge reviewed the motion, and an injunction was issued by a federal court by noon. The injunction required Siri to cease her use of the word “Alien.”  If she did not cease her use of the word by midnight, all Apple products would become illegal devices.  With this success, the same attorney began to work on a similar Android injunction.  Later, as the world waited on Siri’s alien prediction, protestors and conspiracy theorists would question the motives of the lawyers and the courts.  This was surely a grand cover-up. 

Clouds of space dust now swirled overhead at Four Mile Historic Park.  Thousands of photographers descended upon the quiet, seemingly rural nostalgic park treasure. They fought to be let in.  Two billion people were now live tweeting in anticipation of the big landing.  They speculated about what the aliens would look like.  They tweeted about Denver International Airport, claiming that it was New World Order headquarters.  Denver tweeters bantered about alien gentrification, and some speculated it all had something to do with Snoop Dogg’s new marijuana home delivery service.  It was 12:17PM and the word “alien” had now been hashtagged approximately 3.4 billion times since Muhammad’s encounter with police the night before.

News of the cease and desist injunction reached the Internet at 12:26pm.  Swarms of stripmallians took to the streets, forming human chain links around all digital device stores on Colorado Boulevard.  No ridiculous, politically correct, overreaching lawsuit was going to destroy their way of life.  Who could even remember what life was like before Siri? Muhammad and his multicultural band of friends and followers, Black and White, Christians and Jews, Muslims and Monks, Mexicans and Vietnamese, walked up and down the streets, stunned, speechless, wordless, admiring Siri’s supporters.  If only they themselves had such comradery among their fellow human beings.

As the fast paced legal battles intensified, people all over the world asked each other the same questions.   What did it mean to be “human?”  What did it mean to be “alien?”  Who deserved protection? Who could be trusted, when it was always uncertain who was who, when bullets flew in all directions, without regard, as though they were immune to blame?

The most challenging question of all: What if Siri was actually silenced for her insensitivity?  Or was she being silenced for her prophecy?  In any case, what would the people do without their devices among foreign visitors?  The day marched on.  The low hanging winter sun continued its descent.  It was four p.m. at Four Mile Historic Park.  Some had dubbed the landing event “The Stompin’ Ground Games.” The skies were quickly changing.  The curious looked on from inside the park welcome center, eating homemade ginger cookies, drinking soy milk, listening to stories about their reflection.

Stompin Ground Games: “Own Your Story”

This poem was written for Warm Cookies of the Revolution’s Stompin’ Ground Games, storytelling edition at Four Mile Historic Park, November 2015. 

Own Your Story

who are you if not a story
growing legs
that cannot
be seen
walking memories
among the particles?

a story
can
slip out the back door
of your mouth
never to exist
again.

hold
your stories
protect
your stories
tell
your stories
to your children
coded
with values.

tell them
they are butterflies
their stories
they are boulders
their stories
they are wings
carrying colors
you can plant
into the land.

you
own
your story.

~ Molina Speaks

Stompin Ground Games: Ruby Hill Park

Molina Speaks is the Live Scribe for Warm Cookies of the Revolution’s Stompin’ Ground Games, a monthly event series 2015-16 that highlights Denver’s historic neighborhoods. 

Ruby Hill Park was highlighted in October.  Molina is accompanied on these poems by Randy Runyan on trumpet.

“Dear Ruby Hill”

“South Fed”

Identity: An Open Letter to Bioneers (2016)

Following is a open letter written to the Bioneers community.  I read this open letter during my Live Poetic Scribe session on Sunday, October 25th to conclude conference proceedings at CU Boulder. 

This was initially inspired by a keynote lecture by Lisa Calderon of the Denver Community Reentry Project, who spoke on the prison industrial complex and over-incarceration of people of color and poor people.  She later sat on a panel in which she challenged us all to envision a world in which there are no prisons. 

[Bioneers is a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. ]

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Bioneers 2015 Live Poetic Scribe

Intellectuals Interested in Post-Dystopian Post-Dichotomous Discussion, Discourse, and Dialogue to Determine a Different Destiny for Interconnected Intersectional Intergenerational Humanity and Harmony…
 
…this is actually an abbreviated title of this poetic reflection (jaja) – a live scribe piece derived from panels, workshops, lectures and conversations at the Bioneers Conference at CU Boulder on October 24th.  There was a call and response audience participation portion which has been left out of this transcribing (appropriate for this medium of translation). 

[Bioneers is a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges]

I concluded Saturday’s conference proceedings with some poetry, spoken word, and live scribe musings. 

(read on…)

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