Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records feature by Rift Magazine

26 October 2008 at 9:00 am (Music, News, Press, Releases, Spoken Word) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

tru-ruts-rift-logoWhen artists work collectively to achieve a creative goal, it makes it easier for that group to move forward and to apply that leverage to push their art. While spoken word in the Twin Cities has taken a backseat to the burgeoning hip-hop scene, Trú Rúts Endeavors and Speakeasy Records has been working the connection to help create a larger scene.

If you have seen spoken word performance, you know how powerful and soul bearing it can be. It takes poetry reading and storytelling to a higher level. Trú Rúts Endeavors and Speakeasy Records are trying to spread that message through Hip-Hop, World Music and different forms of media. It hasn’t been an easy road, but as they find their way they hope to find the local audience and local media attention they are looking for and make the Twin Cities a place where spoken word artists can thrive.

Rift: What is the Difference between Trú Rúts Endeavors and Speakeasy Records?

Trú Rúts/Speakeasy Records: Trú Rúts Endeavors is structured as an artistic enterprise within which are various entities that cover various disciplines, including music, film, theatre, visual art, etc. Speakeasy Records is the record label under Trú Rúts. We also do artist management, booking, producing, promotions, and a variety of other things. Speakeasy Records is an artist centered independent label that strives to bring innovative, unique and conscious work, and artists, to the forefront. Unlike many labels in the Cities, it is a multi-genre label that includes not only hip hop and spoken word, but also world music and jazz. It will continue to expand into other genres as it grows. However, it is grounded in spoken word and hip hop because that is where its roots were first planted, and it is the community from which it grew. It was one of the first independent, and now one of the strongest, spoken word labels.

Rift: Who started the labels and who is involved?

TR/SR: Trú Rúts was founded by innovative artist and visionary, e.g. bailey. A multi-disciplinary artist working in spoken word, film, theatre, radio and music, he developed Trú Rúts and Speakeasy Records, while working in the groundbreaking spoken word and music collective, Arkology. Upon returning from a four month pilgrimage to his home in Liberia, and other parts of the world, including Dubai, Amsterdam, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Ghana, and Hong Kong, he re-conceptualized and re-energized the enterprise and the label, releasing the first official release, Words Will Heal the Wound, the first spoken word compilation in Minnesota, in 2001. Currently Trú Rúts is managed by e.g. bailey and his partner and fellow labelmate, Shá Cage aka Lady Sha. The current roster of artists include Truthmaze, El Guante, Quilombolas, See More Perspective, along with e.g. bailey and Shá Cage. However, other projects, which consist of collaborations within the label, include god’s pager, Madiba and Afrika 7. The label has also released albums by Zell Miller III, and Nazirah P. Mickey. In addition to this it continues to release cutting edge compilations including the first compilation to highlight the reggaeton movement in Minnesota, Highstylekyle + Tru Ruts present Lightning + Thunder (Volume One). It also has several UK/US co-releases in the works, including a number of upcoming singles and albums by its roster of artists.

Rift: With the very hot Hip-Hop scene in town, has that help make Spoken Word more popular?

TR/SR: The hip hop scene here has certainly influenced the spoken word scene, and there have been a number of collaborations, along a number of artists that work in and move fluidly between each of the genres. However, the popularity of the spoken word art form in Minnesota is attributed to the very hard and consistent work of artists such as e.g. bailey, Shá Cage, J. Otis Powell!, Truthmaze, Bao Phi, Frank Sentwali and a number of others too numerous to list completely. The dedicated work by these artists, including the commitment of such organizations as the MN Spoken Word Association, S.A.S.E., Edupoetic Enterbrainment, Walker Art Center, The Loft and others, have taken spoken word from “people reading from their journals” to a legitimized art form. In addition, the spoken word community here has been dedicated to not only getting spoken word recognized as an art from but also as an educational tool to inspire literacy and creativity in youth, along with documenting and spreading knowledge about the legacy and tradition of the art form. The community here has also developed the first spoken word grant, the first spoken word conference, and one of the first spoken word radio show and formats. All this has contributed to making the Twin Cities one of the most innovative scenes in the field.

However, the scene has still had a difficult time garnering support from media, and even audiences. The kind of support that has thrust the hip hop scene in the national spotlight. Or the New York, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco scenes into the national spotlight. In someways it is due to the popularity and focus on the hip hop scene. In the wake, a number of other disciplines and artists get overshadowed. Therefore there has not been the emergence of an artist such as Saul Williams or Jessica Care Moore, Mark Bamuthi or Talaam Acey, Beau Sia, Ishle Park, 2Tongues, Regie Gibson, Ursula Rucker, Sekou Sundiata, Carl Hancock Rux and numerous others. Without the support, the Minnesota scene will continue to be innovative and cutting edge but largely overlooked.

Due to these kinds of obstacles, a number of spoken word artists in the Cities have ’stepped away’, or have moved primarily, or exclusively, into hip hop, sometimes disavowing spoken word and their connection to it. This often gives the art form a sense of being a stepchild, when in fact it’s the most native of art forms, the most native of sons, without which hip hop would not exist, or exist as we know it today. Part of the work of Speakeasy Records, and it’s commitment to spoken word, is to surmount some of these hurdles, and continue to push spoken word in Minnesota into the national consciousness, while at the same time continuing to evolve into the complete and multi-genre it strives to be.

Rift: Since Minneapolis has a pretty diverse music scene, have you found it easy to fit in our have there been some barriers?

TR/SR: Fitting in has never been our goal, and often when you are part of the advance guard, working at the cutting edge, it can be a difficult and lonely road. So there has been barriers, often those that come with the stereotyping of what you do, whether it’s spoken word or hip hop, world music or jazz, being an independent label or even being from Minnesota. However, you persevere, and you find your niche and your audience, which we are starting to do. If there is anything that defines labels and artists like us, it’s making something out of nothing. Whether it is making a dollar out of fifteen cents, or as Atmosphere puts it, gold out of lemons. The struggle defines and divines you.

Rift: What are your upcoming releases or events?

TR/SR: We are currently working on a number of releases slated for late summer through the winter, including singles by Quilombolas, See More Perspective and Truthmaze. A mixtape by El Guante, called ‘Conscious is Not Enough’ that will debut during the RNC. After years of bring other endeavors to fruition, e.g. bailey will release the EP, ‘American African African American’. Also forthcoming is a remix of Shá Cage’s debut album, Amber People; a US/UK hip hop compilation, which will feature artists from around the globe, including several noted special guest artists; and a Speakeasy Records label compilation. www.truruts.com

Posted on www.riftmagazine.com
October 26th, 2008 by Riftyrich

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Spoken Word takes root in MN

26 November 2003 at 9:00 am (News, Press, Spoken Word) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

spokesman recorder article - eg + sha - cover 1 (700pxl)

Spoken Word takes root in MN
By: Shannon Gibney
Managing Editor

Local ‘master plan’ helps new art form flourish

Spoken Word: An artistic form that accentuates the rhythmic (musical, percussive, vocal) elements inherent in a poem. (Definition of spoken word created by e.g. bailey.)

Perhaps the primary paradox of being an artist is constantly pushing the envelope of existing expression without having a space or an audience to receive it (think Kahlo, Hurston, Van Gogh). Most of the time, artistic genres have to evolve over a long period of time, and artists even have to die, before many of us realize their value.

Thank goodness we didn’t have to wait a whole lifetime for spoken word to come of age in the Twin Cities; the efforts of interdisciplinary artists and spoken word advocates Sha Cage and e.g. bailey have ensured that the relatively new genre has firmly taken root in Minnesota in just three years.

The duo credits mentors such as J. Otis Powell!, Alexs Pate, Laurie Carolos, Louis Alemayou, and Ancestor Energy with laying the groundwork for the form.

“What defines an artist?” asks bailey. “An artist is somebody who makes choices about what they’re going to do. Somebody can wave their hand, and that’s not really art. But when you make choices, when you have intention, and you have a philosophy and a foundation behind what you’re doing, then you’re moving into the realm of articulating an art, an artistic work.”

And intention is something that bailey and Cage have in abundance.

In July 2000, the duo sat down and created a “master plan” for the next five years of spoken word in the Cities. The plan included everything from the formation of the Singers of Daybreak spoken word conference [which led to the now-flourishing Minnesota Spoken Word Association (MNSWA)] to various tentacles of Trú Rúts Endeavors — a film, visual arts, spoken word, and theater production entity.

Says Cage, “We mapped out everything — all the tentacles and everything that’s in place — which is just kind of wild. We’re on track for the five years.”

Cage and bailey were spurred to create the plan because of the disorganization of spoken word artists at the time, and the widespread lack of understanding many encountered from other artists, club owners, funders and the community at-large.

“The concept of spoken word artists at the time was, ‘Well, they’re just getting up and reading their journals. They’re just getting up and reading poems — what’s the art?,’” says bailey. “But there’s certain decisions that go into [spoken word]. It’s not just reading the words on a paper; you have to take it to the performative level.”

One of MNSWA’s main goals is to inspire dialogue about and between practitioners of the art form. A key question that had to be hammered out was, “What is spoken word?”

“There was confusion [among artists] — am I a poet or am I a spoken word artist? What makes me which one?” says Cage. Through discussion, the group was eventually able to agree on a definition they could all live with.

“Spoken word is accentuating the rhythmic elements inherent in a poem. That rhythm can be music, it can be percussion, it can be your own voice,” says bailey.

“There’s all these decisions that have to go into how you best exemplify that poem — to take it beyond just the reading of it, so you understand the meaning of the poem. Because meaning can come through other ways — it can come through a jazz rhythm that you use. [Amiri] Baraka will use a minute and a half rhythm from a Thelonius Monk piece, and then read a piece about Thelonius Monk. Where, if you were just reading the poem, you wouldn’t get that. And you get a deeper understanding because you’re actually hearing Monk’s music,” he continues.

Although bailey has been searching for spoken word’s roots for some time, he says he has not been able to pin them down. However, he sees a clear lineage from the African griot tradition.

Says bailey, “It’s not to say that that’s the only thing that makes up spoken word, because it’s not. I call spoken word the American prodigy of the oral tradition, because it’s a distinct art form and it’s an American-originated form. Out of it evolves the verbal dexterity of hip hop.”

bailey and Cage look towards Generation Y to take the art form to the next level.

The duo helped organize and judge the Walker Art Center and MNSWA’s “Below the Belt: Battle of the Underage Finals” hip hop and spoken word competition this summer, and were stunned by the work they heard.

“A lot of the youth that were practicing we’d been mentors to,” says Cage. “But also, some of the references that they were making showed that they were knowledgeable not about just what’s happening nationally, but just locally. They were grabbing words that Truthmaze would use in his poetry, or Arkology or Edupo, and it was like, ‘Wow, they’re making the connection, and they understand.’”

She adds, “They were like, ‘We realize that this is the platform to talk about our lives and what’s going on with us.’ That was the consciousness that many of them that we were talking to were coming with, and they feel like spoken word is really a forum that allows them to have voice.”

For more information on MNSWA, or to find out about upcoming spoken word events, visit [www.mnspokenword.wordpress.com] or call [612-288-9491]. For more information on Tru Ruts, visit http://www.truruts.com, write info@truruts.com or call 612-288-9491.

Catch the duo’s radio show Tehuti Sundays on KFAI from 11 pm to midnight, or tune into MNSWA’s spoken word show on KMOJ every [Saturday at 10:00pm].

Shannon Gibney welcomes reader responses to sgibney@spokesman-recorder.com.

Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 11/26/2003

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