say your piece
ISSUE NO.154 23 OCT. 2003
Open Minds on the Mic
Motivational Speakers Spreads it Message Through Hip Hop
By Jamie Gadette
The men of Motivational Speakers strike an ironic pose.  
The RED Interview

The denizens of mainstream rap are being called out. The local hip-hop trio Motivational Speakers has made a point of exposing the harm in glorifying thug life.

Ryan Stanfield, aka Stamina, Ryan Martin, aka Live, and Paul Martin, aka Express, are focused on establishing an alternative to music that lends limited stereotypes to a multifaceted genre.

“I think that many people forget that there is a difference between rap and hip hop,” Live says. He sees the former as creatively and intelligently malnourished. “I can’t understand why songs with weak beats, rhymes kids could write in kindergarten and verses that last about 20 seconds get all the airplay.”

Instead of fuming idly in their discontent, the group members have gravitated toward the roots of hip hop, seeking deeper meaning in the movement’s original focus.

First impressions of the group have been mixed—audiences are unsure how to respond when three unassuming white boys play against type. The impulse to compare Motivational Speakers with the Beastie Boys is understandable, but the similarities are restricted to post-Check Your Head-era quests for peace—Stamina, Live and Express aren’t fighting for their right to party.

“This band isn’t about the music,” Stamina says. “I think our main goal is education.”

Although their working relationship didn’t solidify until New Year’s Eve 2000, Live and Stamina’s formative experiences ran parallel. The two were solid devotees of the straight-edge movement, drawn to its emphasis on a clean living. Each spent the greater part of his youth devouring material by Minor Threat and Fugazi (Stamina still cites Ian MacKaye as a lasting influence on his own political views). However, when violence shattered their ideals, they turned to other outlets to satisfy the need for positive vibes.

For Live, the transition into hip hop was a logical one. During the late ’80s, hip hop and hardcore enjoyed a somewhat symbiotic relationship. The straight-edge crowd accepted his interest in such groups as A Tribe Called Quest and EPMD.

Live’s love of turntables and emcees runs deep. His initiation into hip-hop culture began at age 10, when a friend handed him a copy of Run-DMC’s Raising Hell.

“That was the coolest stuff I had ever heard,” he says. “I just couldn’t get enough of the beat.”

Stamina, on the other hand, was not as eager to embrace a different medium.

“I wasn’t ever really into rap or hip hop just because of the negative connotations that [they] carried,” Stamina says. “I’ve always involved myself with positive or educated cultures and actions.” However, after a few jam sessions with Live, Stamina started seeing another side to hip hop—one that offered potential to educate and enlighten a diverse audience. They decided to formalize collaborative efforts, settling on the name Motivational Speakers as the ultimate expression of their objective.

The result is a fusion of straight-edge-influenced political and social ideals with the aesthetic qualities of sampling, scratching and the open mic. Live lays down beats using computer-generated tracks while Stamina augments with bass and guitar lines. The experience is alien territory for the musician accustomed to live instrumentation—it evokes a sense of obvious exposure.

Fortunately, Stamina has plenty of onstage support. The recent addition of Live’s younger brother, Express, has resulted in a sound with a richer edge. The Cottonwood High School senior learned by observation, taking notes on Live’s interest in hip hop. He turned fascination into active participation and has quickly become an integral part of the group. Although his membership in a new generation offers a different perspective than that of Stamina and Live, Express shares similar concerns about popular culture: “It seems that a lot of kids my age don’t really get into the music as much—they’re just like, ‘Oh, it’s cool, it’s on the radio.’” The group is trying to dispel such sentiments.

So far, Motivational Speakers has only appeared at all-ages and outdoor venues such as Kilby Court and Uprok. “Our live shows have always been great, which never ceases to amaze me,” Stamina says. “A lot of the things we talk about in our songs get very political—and very anticorporate or anti-media.”

It’s not exactly fodder for a wild, carefree night. But the majority of pleasure-seeking concert-goers who listen closely have responded favorably to lyrical content. After one appearance at an Uprok open-mic night, a few tough-looking rappers approached Stamina to voice their appreciation—that it was something people needed to hear. Hip hop has proved to be an ideal platform for opening minds and relieving ignorant thought.

Some of the group’s songs are direct comments on substandard aesthetics. “The Art of Sampling,” for example, is a comment on the content of contemporary rap music, songs that are simply a string of hooks and repetitive choruses. The track’s construction involved taking pre-existing lyrics and working backward, building up to a mocking climax. It’s just one of the many problems the members of Motivational Speakers want to address.

Live, who is working toward a master’s degree in public policy at the U, best explains key issues in respect to corporate ethics and Capitol Hill: “All hip-hoppers see is big business and government out to get them. All business and politicals see is urban culture out to destroy,” he says. “So unfortunately, ignorance prevails.”

If successful, Motivational Speakers might just end the confusion.

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