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

The Uncomfortable Truth about the Arts in Schools

Following is a guest blog by artist HK, who is an artist in the way she writes, plays piano, dances, and expresses all aspects of life.  Following is a critical essay she shared with me about the relationship between arts and education, two aspects of life she is most passionate about.  I asked her to share her writing with The Artist Lens.  ~ Molina Speaks

Guest Blog: “The Uncomfortable Truth about Arts and Schools”
by HK
Artist and Educator

hjk.photo3

The arts have always been used during times of protest to tell a suppressed story. The arts are provocative and raise questions from even the most disengaged and timid. There is more to the story than budget cuts when it comes to the arts being removed from our schools.  In search of the full story, we must be willing to be uncomfortable. We must be willing to seek out and listen to long-silenced voices within our system of education.  Artists and underserved students know discomfort well.  I say we must be willing to be uncomfortable because when we are uncomfortable we instinctively begin to seek relief. When the environment is right, this leads to questioning, collaboration, and eventually the creation of a new possibility.

I’ve coordinated, participated in and observed many artist residencies in schools.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these experiences and the tension that often exists between the visiting teaching artist and the classroom teacher. I’ve seen residencies arranged with little to no planning, teaching artists placed in a room insufficiently sized for what they are trying to create with students, and artists left alone with very large groups of students they don’t know. During some incredible assemblies and performances in schools, I have found myself as the only adult (outside of the artist) in an auditorium of students. In these moments I wonder: Where did all the teachers go? Where is school leadership? Why isn’t anyone concerned that there might arise an issue that the teaching artist cannot manage alone?  Most importantly perhaps, I wonder why none of the adults are interested enough to prioritize the time and/or stick with their students through a fresh, creative experience.  (And yes, as someone who has always worked in schools, I understand that opportunities to “get work done” [without students] can feel few and far between).

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The Art of Massage

Following is a guest blog by Elena Davis, owner and massage therapist at Peace of Mind Massage in south Denver.  I met Elena at my “poetry burial” for dias de los muertos (Days of the Dead) in November 2012.  I retired five poems from performance.  Elena then came to the community“poetry burial” I hosted for winter solstice that year.  I was inspired by the way she spoke about the healing art of massage therapy.  I experienced injury from a car accident in August 2013.  Elena and the therapists at her practice have been extremely helpful to my healing process.  They have also taught me a lot about the art that is inherent in our bodies and basic movements.  I asked Elena to write about her art for The Artist Lens.  ~ Molina Speaks

“The Art of Massage”
by Elena Davis, LMT, NCTMB, Owner
Peace of Mind Massage, INC.

Elena Davis - Art of MassageI could say that I found the healing arts when I was 18 years old and went to Massage Therapy school. But, that would imply that one can not be born with the healing arts as an innate talent like other traditional art forms. As a child I naturally rubbed my parents feet and hands. As a teenager I comforted friends with shoulder rubs. It was a natural gift that took me 18 years to comprehend as something I could actually do for a living. Massage Therapy is often a second career for people as I discovered when I was one of the youngest in my class. The slogan for the school I attended (Central Florida School of Massage Therapy) was “A life evolving experience”. And, it truly was for me and many of my classmates. The technical application, anatomy and physiology, and pathology education is very important to building a strong knowledgeable foundation. However, the third eye opening, spiritual experience that one can go through in Massage school is what really helps form the healing art portion of bodywork. A therapist who does not go through spiritual and artistic growth during their career may deliver a technically precise massage but it will lack in creativity.

The creative aspect of Massage is similar to painting, writing, and playing an instrument in many ways.

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Ten Reasons I’m Unfamous

Dope intro track to #GreenChileInTheAir Vol 3 by Diles and Anacron.

A couple lines I like from this unapologetically unfamous track:

Ya like “don’t forget us when you blow up” / Then you forget my shows and never show up…

We don’t do hype we don’t do trends, we don’t / feel like the means should bend for ends and we / kept the friends that actually notice / instead of dissin’ em for yes men that practically blow us…

There are some other gems on the project too:  Jungle One is a lyrical Beast.

**Purchase #GreenChileInTheAir3 HERE
**Don’t “Support”… Get it cuz you owe it to yourself to enjoy the best of the Southwest.

Ten Reasons I’m Unfamous:

1. I don’t do enough drugs.
2. I don’t kiss enough ass.
3. I’d rather eat the fancy food at the fancy party than act fancy.
4. I don’t smile enough at rich people.
5. I don’t have enough outbursts.
6. I don’t like having my ass kissed.
7. I like everyday people too much to play paparrazi in the sandbox.
8. I don’t wear enough clothes.
9. I wear too much clothes.
10. I’m an Artist. I will properly wait til’ I’m dead for that.

WOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRLLLLDDDDDD FAAAAAAAAAMMMMMOOOOOOUUUUUUUSSSSSSSS!!!

Ha!

Green Chile In The Air Vol 3

Nightdreams and Daymares

This is not an album review.
Just my reflection, listening…

 

shooting golden arrows, vibrations tongue in cheek
karmic shine up in your head

a balance beam of light
night
swallowing days
under shadows we ignite seasons
change

up in your head
these ballots and coffin boxes
sing ballads away and away
while character assassins talk
talk away

fly by maps my own spells
i put my heart on your scales
and weigh wise cracks
against these laws
that crash skulls

up in your head, this human
plucks heart strings
playing chess
inside a music box
fuck you 

and me, i save the best
for last, lost ones just(?)
whistling away you strays
cuz one way or another we all pay
for this fame…

Dreams.

 

Felicidades to a skilled emcee, Bianca Mikahn on her new release Nightdreams & Daymares.
Happy to see her co-creating with my long-time collaborators Diles and Hakim Be.
EP mastered by my main man DJ Icewater.

- Speaks

Bianca Mikahn - Nightdreams & Daymares

Who Killed Jigaboo Jones?

I recently made the mistake of calling Jeff Campbell “Apostle” when he walked into my Social Solutions (Social Problems) class at Lincoln High.  This was after he told me to introduce him as Jeff…  What can I say?   The past is slow to die.   As guest speaker, Jeff did not spit rhymes or talk about hip-hop.  He didn’t even talk about his play.  He spoke about Identity, Purpose and Vision, and he had every student identify theirs, loud and proud.


This past Friday, I went to Jeff Campbell’s one man mockumentary of the hip-hop industrial complex: Who Killed Jigaboo Jones?  If you have ever been affected in any way by hip-hop, and let’s face it, at this point, who hasn’t… you need to see this play.  There are three dates left in Denver this fall: October 17th, 18th and 19th at Shop Works in Five Points.  If you’re outside of Denver, I have no doubt national dates on the horizon.

DJ Icewater told me in an Oakland recording studio in 2008 that hip-hop is about taking something old and making it new.   Simple.

True to form, artist Jeff Campbell has done so with the following themes:
* Mass media is mind control.
* Hip Hop is Dead.  And if you want to know who killed it, you should probably look in the mirror.
* Corporate rap entertainment is modern-day blackface / minstrelsy – practiced by all races.
* You can only know a man by knowing the various faces of a man.  Dualities.
* Identity is bought and paid for in the digital age.

With Who Killed Jigaboo Jones, Jeff Campbell proves that every activist is truly a comedian.  Laughing your ass off at the smoke and mirrors may be the only way to stay sane.  True comedy is tragedy.  We like to sing and dance too.

Jeff reinforced recent reflections that there are two types of artists:
* Those who master and perfect a form, so they are known to embody it.
* Those who break it, because they are beyond it.

Hip-Hop artistry is not necessarily about rapping, even for the emcee.  Not necessarily about spinning records, even for the DJ… And well, you know the rest…

Following the play, Jeff invites his audiences to talk back and ask questions.  I would have left them in the dark…

Brilliant.

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The Soul Pros

The Soul Pros

I never sold out a show, or my soul
They say never say never but low and behold
Ever isn’t ever so forever I’m a glow
Dough or no dough my endeavors are a GO
- Mike Wird

Billboard vs. masterpiece up on the streets
Big money studios vs. home-cooked beats
Sex sells vs. b-girl skill
Studio thugs ballin’ vs. real souls rottin’ in jail
- Pablo Kee

The Soul Pros present a conundrum: Selling out vs. being Soul’d Out.  OG emcees Mike Wird and Pablo Kee lace DJ A-L’s soulful beats with down-to-earth flows and clever word play.  Classic hip-hop samples and audio snippets from old business seminars provide context.

When’s the last time your soul smiled at hip-hop?

This isn’t an album review and I’m not a music critic.  I’m an artist, often frustrated with the shady business aspects of this work I love.  At a moment I thought I needed a break from the game, $OUL’D OUT reminds me why we create.   I’m ready for more work.

Blessed to contribute to this project and add it to the cannon.  Soulful.  Professional.  Get it.

About The Artist Lens

The Artist Lens blog experience is curated by Molina Speaks, dedicated to Poetry, Image, Muse, Open Letters, Arts Education and Profiles of artists and their work.  If the digital age is to be all encompassing, let it be artful.

Molina Speaks is a writer, poet, hip-hop artist, and event producer. Molina is the Performance Director and a Lead Instructor for Youth On Record. He is a TedX fellow and has been an Artist In Residence with the National Hispanic Heritage Center, Mizel Museum, Journey Through Our Heritage and Noel Community Arts School. He has worked on National Endowment for the Arts projects and has accepted invitations to speak and perform and dozens of universities, including Columbia University, University of California at Davis, UT Austin, CU Boulder, and the University of New Mexico. Molina Speaks has taught master artist classes at Boston Arts Academy and Colorado Academy. He has collaborated with the Denver Spirituals Project and was recognized as a keynote poet for 2013 Lalo Delgado Poetry Festival. Molina is the music supervisor for the documentary film Papers. He is a member of the Cafe Cultura artist collective. Molina has released over a dozen poetic and musical works, which have been recognized and critically acclaimed by the Denver Post, 5280 Magazine, Westword, Colorado Music Buzz and other publications.

For more information about the Artist visit www.MolinaSpeaks.com.

Email contact: molina@molinaspeaks.com