Interview with Chantz Erolin, an excerpt

For those who may be unfamiliar with you, tell us a few things about yourself.

I'm a 22 year old rapper, poet, and writer in South Minneapolis. I went to school out east at Sarah Lawrence College for a minute, then came back here to try to maintain at least a shred of sanity and happiness. I fuck with anarchafeminism, comic books, and fashion. I used to be with a rap group called Audio Perm.

Before Racialicious unveiled “The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege”, I was familiar with you (it’s hard to forget a name like “Chantz Erolin”) How did you get involved with that project?

I met Guante when I was 15 at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. I think he was still living in Wisconsin at the time. We both had backgrounds in Spoken Word, and as such were connected to the Minnesota Spoken Word Association's record label, TruRuts/Speakeasy Records. Him and I often collaborated since that meeting - largely because we had similar values regarding hip-hop and social or political issues. Rapper Hooks I'd met when I was 17 or 18, I spent a short period of time performing with him and his group "The Tribe and Big Cats" as their hype man. I think him and Guante probably met through Big Cats, the producer of Invisible Backpacker. Me and Guante and Hooks were always talking about this sort of shit, white privilege in hip-hop, racism, Macklemore, whatever. Guante came up with the premise of the song and reached out to Hooks and I. I think we were both pretty excited to be a part of the piece.

The track you did with Guante and Hooks really got me thinking. Like…I knew this stuff already, but you guys got me thinking about things a little more in-depth. Racialicious unveiled the video ahead of schedule in light of Macklemore walking off with Kendrick’s Grammys, and your track focuses on debunking the myth of the struggling white rapper. What are your observations of the white privilege factor in hip hop?

I think Guante really already said it better than I could. I guess the complications of it though are pretty varied. On the one hand, the privilege factor is a big deal when considering institutions like the Grammys -- gate keepers and distributers of prestige -- are a mainstream that hip-hop was created to subvert, and if not explicitly to subvert, at least to marginalize. If that makes sense. Like, if hip hop in the basements of the Bronx could become a self-sustained epicenter, then the old guard could be ignored on the periphery. The fear when it comes to Grammys and shit welcoming in and lauding Macklemore or other white rappers ahead of black artists (who make better art, and art that is more important to a culture and the participants of that culture) is that the internal dynamics of hip-hop would shift towards the Grammys's ideas of what hip-hop should be, as opposed to the Grammys appreciating hip-hop unapologetically. Anyway, Guante's verse did a really good job of breaking down some logistical advantages that white rappers could have through the lens of race theorists like Peggy Mcintyre, Rapper Hooks did a great job of approaching personal identity, appropriation and exoticization, and I think my verse was mostly about entitlement and the privilege of ignorance. It's complicated, and it runs deep and it's prolific. That's why I think this song is important, just as Macklemore's white privilege song is important, just as Murs's "This Is For" is important -- the complex, discrete and peculiar instances and occurrences of privilege are important to recognize. To ignore that certain instances or happenings are partially products of privilege is to legitimize the myth of an egalitarian meritocracy. Here in hip-hop, that can look like someone just saying "Macklemore worked harder," or shit like that. It's not revolutionary to say "white people have privilege," of course white people have privilege, we live in a white supremacist culture. Like, of course straight people, of course men, of course. What's important is to look at the means by which supremacy is reproduced and to shatter myths that ensure supremacies. I'm kind of rambling off here.

That’s a fierce track by the way; I’ve listened to it hundreds of times already. Your verse immediately reminded me of the conversation I just recently had with Bao Phi (also from the corner of your sky, if I may point out) about young Asian American men and the police. You rap about feeling “confined” by the police. What experiences have you had with law enforcement?

Hold on, hundreds of times? Wow. That's tight. I think. Yo, Bao Phi is one of my favorite poets and human beings. With law enforcement it's always basic shit. I've been privileged to the point I've never really had to have my hands dirty with anything sustaining... so it's not like police and I are in constant interaction or anything like that, but it's like, one time I got pulled over for having my brights on and the cop came to the window with his gun pointed in my face before anything else happened. When I was 15 and got picked up for curfew like 3 blocks from my house, I got taken downtown instead of brought home. I got kicked out of the uptown art fair for carrying a sign that said "bad advice, 50 cents" by a cop who held my US passport in his hands as he ran my priors, and when he didn't find any warrants or anything he asked me if I was actually a US citizen. The shit on the song is about when I was at my mom's house smoking a cigarette at like 3am and 3 squad cars pulled up on me questioning me about where I'd been for the last two hours, then if any other "native american men" were in the house. I Self Devine said some shit like "police do the dirty work/for a culture in denial about racial outbursts" and that's how I feel about it. Like, I know my end of the racial profiling scale is no where near the horrible realities a lot of people face, but it's just such a telling tragedy--the white supremacy and deep need to police, dehumanize, maim and kill brown bodies is actualized on a daily basis through the police force. On some other shit, I can't get down with the ideological bases for the existence of police. Back to Hobbes and Kipling and all that, the foundational theories of it are flawed and fucked up. And the historical basis in America goes back to night watchmen overseeing slaves and ensuring no "loss of property."

Read the complete version At the Bar.

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