Interview: Guardians of Balance

Guardians of Balance (Minneapolis)

by Kandis Knight

Everyone knows The Guardians of Balance have paid their dues locally for years. Their first release Operation Clean Dirt Mission Brief is to be followed up in late October by their sophomore project titled Reverse Rappism. After many attempts, I was finally able to track down Mastermind and Slim, the two wise souls behind Guardian, for a few moments of reflection and small talk about the local music scene.

Kandis: How long have the Guardians of Balance been around?

Slim: We’ve been together since 1995. We met at school, St. Paul Central.

Kandis: Music brought you together?

Mastermind: Yes.

Slim: We were perfecting the craft.

Kandis: Oh yeah, what name did you go by back then?

Mastermind: The Cut.

Kandis: What are your favorite songs on the new album?

Mastermind: It changes.

Slim: After every mix down it changes (laughs)! But I’d have to say “Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say.” We performed that song at The [3rd Annual Twin Cities Celebration of] Hip-Hop Festival.

Kandis: Who would you like to work with locally?

Slim: D.A.P.O.

Mastermind: That’s long overdue.

Slim: Buddha Ty, Try D, Unknown Prophets.

Mastermind: I like some of the shit they do.

Kandis: What barriers have you had to face as artists?

Slim: Hateration.

Mastermind: Put that in all capital letters.

Kandis: HATERATION (correction).

Slim: That goes as far as studio time, getting shows. What’s up with these promoters out here that are talking about “you have to pay to perform?” A lot of these national acts want the local emcees to open, but want us to pay?

Guardians of Balance don’t pay to perform. That is a barrier that needs to be broken.

Mastermind: Communication is also a big barrier. A lot of people get intimidated, they make assumptions, people who have had a bad experience with one of us or me personally because I don’t take a lot of shit. If I have a problem with someone I’m going to address it. I address things very well, I’m a fashion expert I address people so damn much. The bottom line is there needs to be better communication between crews and more respect. People need to keep it real and speak their piece and we can get a lot further. People are running around who got beef on the back burner for years. Address it and keep it rolling.

Slim: Another problem is the pipeline cloggers, they clog the pipeline. It’s atrocious. A lot of cats get on stage and they are garbage. A lot of cats got albums out and they’re straight garbage. And when you tell them that they’re wack or garbage they want to huff and puff. But the reality is that they need to come with something more professional. A lot of cats out here just don’t got it. Don’t quit your day job at McDonald’s—keep working (laughing).

Mastermind: The reason why we get into a lot of shit is because of statements like that. And the reason why we make statements like that is because we came from a school where we all would battle, on the bus, on street corners, we didn’t care. We earned our stripes to be called emcees. We couldn’t just wake up one day and go to our rich uncle or auntie and say, “I want to start rapping,” and they give us the money to build a studio. Our shit was from ground up.

Kandis: Do you perceive a racial barrier in the local Hip-Hop scene?

Slim: Yes, there’s a white show here and a black show there, when it shouldn’t be that way.

Mastermind: Hip-Hop is supposed to be about breaking down barriers and it needs to stay that way. Hip-Hop was founded in the hood by black people. As long as that’s understood everything’s fine. The white Hip-Hop community is nothing more than people adapting and acknowledging that this culture works for them. Hip-Hop is the only thing that unites people all around the world. So you’re going to have people who listen to Hip-Hop in Germany and Japan. We don’t segregate them by saying that’s Japanese Hip-Hop. It’s just Hip-Hop. It’s what they do. The fact that they wake up, they dj, they break dance, they emcee, they study the history of what’s gone on. The fact that they participate in that—that’s what makes them Hip-Hop. We’re just dealing with people’s social habits. The social climate of the state.

Slim: White people like going places where white people go, black people like going places where black people go. If you got 1,000 white kids at The Loring Pasta Bar listening to Try D, that is still Hip-Hop. If you got 1,000 black kids at The Quest listening to Guardians of Balance, that is still Hip-Hop. If we got 1,000 white kids at Loring Pasta Bar listening to Guardians of Balance, it’s still Hip-Hop. If there are 1,000 black kids at The Quest listening to Try D, it’s still Hip-Hop. It’s just that some people need barriers in order to function.

Mastermind: Try D is my dog, but I would never classify him as a white emcee. I classify him as an emcee because he earned his stripes. You got to respect the skill. As long as you operate on that basis you keep the bullshit to a minimum.

Kandis: What’s a song on the album people are going to talk about?

Slim: “Negro Shit” (translated in Spanish).

Mastermind: Here’s the challenge when you listen to that song, listen to the whole thing.

Slim: Some people might say Mastermind is trying to be like NAS.

Mastermind: I already had it written before he dropped his joint.

Slim: Cats are going to talk about “Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say.” It’s about personal stuff going on in our lives, how we see shit.

Mastermind: There’s growth in that song. Everything is seasonal, trendy. We always talk about life and the struggles. We’ve been the black sheep of the Twin Cities for awhile, you know what I’m saying? People didn’t want to touch us, people didn’t want to deal with us. It’s getting a little better now—everybody is growing up, everybody is learning. What we strive to do is to make sure people have an understanding of who we are and not just take somebody’s else’s word and run with it.

Kandis: Why do you think it has been like that?

Mastermind: We’re very assertive as black men. When we speak, we don’t speak about running around smacking bitches or pimping, that’s not our m.o. I grew up in the Million Man March Era and I miss the camaraderie of that day. How did we go backwards from consciousness to stupidity?

Slim: I think the Hip-Hop scene is outstanding. What needs to happen now is more unity. We need more unification. No one is going to make it out of here on their own and it has been proven in the past that the cats that have, really don’t get no love. We are trying to pull our resources together. A lot of cats want to deal with us strictly on the fact that we are vets in this game and they know we make hot music. And on the flip side of that, there are cats don’t want to make music with us because they don’t want us to outshine them, because we have a tendency to do that.

Kandis: Are there any collaborations on the album?

Slim: The only Hip-Hop collaboration on the album is with Muja Messiah and the reason is because most cats are not serious. We call him up and he is there when we call other cats and they don’t show up. We also have some singers on the album: Dinah Williams, Andrea Ivy (Minnesota Idol Contestant) and Yvette. I’m doing all the production.

Slim: And for the record, there were some haters saying Guardians of Balance are racist and unmarketable—just want to let you know that is the farthest thing from the truth.

Mastermind: We are no more racist than Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Come and see us for yourself.