Is Mtume Gant an artist?

The first time I met Harlemite rapper, producer, filmmaker, and actor Mtume Gant aka Core Rhythm, was in our Harlem Renaissance class at SUNY Purchase College. Gant usually had the most to say when it came to class discussions about our reading assignments. He was so vocal and passionate that I felt intimidated to raise my hand. Thoughtful, and progressive ideas effortlessly sprung off his tongue. There were few places where our opinions diverged. Most times, I was envious of his precise retorts to opposing views. Gant’s intellect was relentless.

As a student of Purchase’s acting conservatory, Gant had a reputation as a promising talent. He had already worked professionally, having small roles in flicks like Hurricane Streets (1997), Side Streets (1998), and Bringing Out The Dead (1999). We graduated together in 2002. I remember talking to him about acting in a short film that I was making (that never got finished). Gant was talking about a rap career. He was going to record a self-produced album. I didn’t take him seriously. I knew him as an actor and his future seemed paved. Rapper? I thought it was odd at the time.

From legendary DJ, Grandmaster DXT, Gant coped a computer installed with music production software. His debut album, Nat Turner Relaoded (2006) was mixed and recorded under DXT’s guidance. Somehow I got a copy, expecting to be underwhelmed. “Slanguage” was the track that convinced me otherwise. At the time I had a crew, Stolen Music Imprint, a collective of rappers and producers, minus myself. I was a poet posing as rapper that couldn’t rap. The nerve of me. I was the main cat getting us shows in the city, but I was plotting a move to San Francisco. The last show I booked was happening after I was supposed to fly to California. I invited Gant to rock in my absence. My boy Zesto! said he killed it, “I would definitely do another show with him.”

Gant and I lost touch, but by some degrees of separation, stayed connected. In 2014 he interviewed Homeboy Sandman for TMG. Gant was mad patient with me since my scatterbrain forgot to give him the record that Sandman was releasing. They had a time catching up though, having worked together. Gant produced several beats on the prolific rappers’ 2010 record, The Good Sun. Working and living in Los Angeles, when Gant talked to Sandman, he was just getting his life together, not thinking about art. Days after the interview, I remember Gant posting a picture of himself holding a sign asking something like, “Am I not an artist?” Months later he was on set shooting his first film.

His debut film Spit (2015), funded by an Indiego campaign, is a short flick about an aspiring rapper trying to make it, “The script just kind of pored out of me,” he said. “It wasn’t very conscious. It was very instinctive.” The main character, Jeremiah “Monk-One” Sinclair played by Gant, is having a moment of doubt. Will he make it? Most rappers don’t, but faith wills the universe. From his perspective, viewers see the world as a market place. The absent of light is infinite possibility and the cold precision of computer code is like a bug plaguing humanity, “Germinate to exterminate,” Monk says to his producer. Spit is about what artists go through for their gifts. The point-of-view film slaps your face up against the complications of a young black creative kid surviving a capitalist economy. Should his music cater to a white demographic? Principles and integrity have high moral fiber, nil for clocking dollars. Monk is tired of suffering for his art, but he doesn’t want to “feed” off his girlfriend to support his craft. It’s a dilemma that some of us are all too familiar with.

Still from “Spit”

Monk begrudgingly looks into the bathroom mirror and tightens his tie like a noose around his neck. “The thing that I wanted to drive home to people is that, from my view point, the situation at hand, doesn’t leave him with any options. If he wants to go the path of being this creative person in this modern neo-liberal establishment, he would have to be a bloodsucker,” Gant said. The film has since, traveled the film festival circuit and won numerous awards. It’s streaming online.

At the moment, Gant is pushing his second short called White Face. Charles Rodgers, played by Gant, hates his black skin. Wanting to escape the prejudices and dangers of his melanin, he seeks out to become a symbol of whiteness. The kickstarter funded feature has already picked up some awards. So far it’s been well received. I haven’t seen this joint yet, but I can’t wait.

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