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/

***

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.

***

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.