Kyle "El Guante" Myhre says goodbye to Madison next week, six years after he moved here from La Crosse to attend UW.
The hip-hop MC and spoken-word poet has been signed to the Twin Cities indie label Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records. Starting Aug. 7, he'll call Minneapolis home.
Summarizing the impact Myhre has had on the local music scene and the larger community is no easy task. He's been involved in a diverse array of artistic and social-justice causes.
He plays an active role in the antiwar movement. He co-founded the Madison Observer. He was a columnist for the Badger Herald. He coordinated after-school spoken-word programs through Youth Speaks.
His artistic accomplishments have been considerable, too. He won Madison's Grand Poetry Slam in 2006. He'll travel to Austin for his second consecutive National Poetry Slam in August. He released a critically acclaimed album, Vanishing Point, in 2005 and has performed regularly at venues like the King Club and the High Noon Saloon.
I met up with Myhre at Fair Trade on State Street last week, where we spent some time reflecting on his Madison years. He described it as a period of "finding my conscience," but more important, "finding the conduit to make change happen."
"I think I learned, not so much from campus, but from the Madison community, that there are things you can do to make a difference. It's not just about voting; it's about creating organizations that help build democracy."
Myhre started trying to make a difference back in 2003, when he joined with other UW-Madison students on a bus trip to Washington, D.C., to protest the pending U.S. invasion of Iraq.
His involvement in the antiwar movement was the spark for many of his Madison endeavors. His debut as a local hip-hop performer happened at a 2003 rally at the Capitol, where he performed for 8,000. But Myhre has been careful to distinguish his music from his activism.
"I think of my activism and my music as two distinctly separate things," wrote Myhre on his blog, Why Is El Guante So Angry? "When I'm talking to a classroom full of middle-school kids, I'm not there as a representative of the United States of Hip-Hop, I'm there as someone who cares about the community and sees hip-hop as a way to reach out to people."
During the past four years, a core of local hip-hop acts and organizers (including dumate, DJ Pain 1, DLO, Arthur Richardson, Rob Dz and Bro DJ) has been noted for substantive music and positive messages.
Does El Guante associate himself with those artists?
"That depends on how you define positive," says Myhre. "If it's all just about butterflies, then it lacks a certain edge. I think hip-hop that does something is usually angry, and being angry can be positive, too."
Myhre's sense of earnest frustration with the social status quo is more than evident on his blog. In an October 2004 entry, he expressed his thoughts after being one of 80,000 people to attend the John Kerry rally on West Washington Avenue.
"I swear, if a FRACTION of all the Kerry supporters actually DID something to support the actual CAUSES that they believe Kerry supports (rather than just supporting Kerry himself), the social justice movement would be in good shape. But no -- that would take too much effort."
Myhre says his work as an MC grew out of his interest in poetry. He earned a degree in creative writing from UW-Madison in 2005. During his college years, he joined a spoken-word poetry group that met monthly at the Slipper Club.
"Coming from a poetry background, I like to write lyrics that can stand as literature," says Myhre.
On a recently composed track, "Harry Potter," Myhre uses the name of the famous book series as a verb. "Let's Harry Potter the system," he raps.
"It refers to the fact that the novel was the author's first," says Myhre. "It came out of nowhere and made a huge impact. The song is about hip-hop, and more generally all art, not being afraid to take big steps."
What's next for El Guante?
"I'll be focusing on writing poetry and music," he says. "I'd like to learn how to write fiction. I have a dream of writing a graphic novel."
He just might. Kyle Myhre has been known for his tenacity since his high school basketball days. Playing defense, he was on players like "a glove."
That's English for "el guante."