Black & Proud: a conversation with Mon-ty

By KYLE KERSEY

Midway through our discussion, Mon-ty delivers a verse from Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous release, “Come on.” He matches the beloved Biggie’s flow perfectly, slicing through the line “I got seven Mac-11’s, about eight .38’s / Nine 9’s, ten Mac-10’s, the shits never end / You can’t touch my riches / Even if you had MC Hammer and them 357 bitches”

“I’m a Biggie guy because I love the way he played with words,” he says. “I heard that and said to myself, ‘okay yeah, this is what I want to do.’”

It’s been a busy year for Monty Gantt, who goes by Mon-ty on streaming platforms. It began with his first ever live performance, the penultimate act of a February concert at a Tucson staple, The Rock.

“The rock is more known for playing rock or big band performances,” he says. “But when you’re up there as a hip-hop artist and there’s just you, some microphones, and a DJ, it’s so much bigger than you thought it would be.”

Born and raised in Tucson, Mon-ty has lived his whole life in the same west-side house with his family. It’s where we sat down for three hours to discuss his new EP before devolving into other assorted topics like the brilliance of Metallica’s bassists (don’t sleep on Robert Trujillo and Jason Newsted), how Snoop Dogg created the greatest debut in hip-hop history and that time Vince McMahon kayfabe wrestled god on live TV (and won).

He’s a man of many interests, impossible to pigeonhole into one singular clique. He’s a wrestling fanatic who dreams of one day attending Wrestlemania. He’s a metal head with a supreme appreciation for Motorhead’s now deceased frontman Lemmy and Metallica’s 1984 masterwork, Ride the Lightning. He’s a hip-hop head with a love of wordplay and Kanye. And he’s an NAU-bound journalist who formerly wrote for the Aztec Press.

His new five-track EP, “Black & Proud,” runs a little over 14 minutes in length and is available on the who’s who of streaming services like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music, as well as for purchase through Google Play and iTunes. An evolution on his early work (which can be found on Soundcloud), it’s his foray into politically conscious hip hop, where he lays bare his feelings in the closing seconds of the EP’s first track, “Dear Amerikkka”: “I don’t hate America, man / I’m just so sick of loving a country that don’t love me back.”

Released at the end of July, the EP spawned from an outpouring of emotions following the murder of George Floyd by the knee of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.

“It took me less than a week to write the whole thing because I just felt like something was taking over while writing. I felt like I was having an out of body experience,” he says. “I started working with my friend Julian (who goes by the name Jay Cast). He’s been my producer since high school but we’ve been great friends since 6th grade. We go way back like two seats in a Cadillac. I reached out to him and we recorded it in two weeks at the studio in his apartment. We got the mixing and mastering done in two or three days.”

The original plan was different: a project called Thank You 4 the Wait, inspired by Lil Wayne’s 2011 mixtape Sorry 4 the Wait. In the spirit of Wayne, it would’ve acted as an appetizer to supporters asking the proverbial question: “when you dropping?” In the meantime, he would’ve been working on releases for his little brother and cousin. However, the events in Minneapolis, compounded by the killings of unarmed black people like Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, pushed his vision in a different direction.

“I’m hearing about all these beautiful black people being killed by the police or by racists who are open in the streets, and I scrapped everything I had,” he says. “I just started writing some socially conscious songs. I just wrote some songs about being black, about being a black man in America and the experience of others being black in America.”

On June 3, he spoke at a rally hosted by “March for Justice Tucson” at the University of Arizona’s Old Main.

“I feel like it’s important for me to use my voice,” Mon-ty says. “I was 12 or 13 when ‘Black Lives Matter’ started trending as a hashtag. I remember it being just the saying. I remember relating to it so much because it was after Trayvon Martin got killed and George Zimmerman ended up being acquitted. And I remember that was the first trial I ever paid attention to because it just hit so close to home. Trayvon Martin, at the time, was the same age as my older brother. When he got acquitted, it was the first time in my life that I ever felt, as a black person, that my life did not matter.”

Mon-ty’s convictions, both musical and political, are heavily rooted in his faith. A devout Christian, his first Soundcloud release is titled GOD IS GOOD, and his tastes in music are heavily indebted to the steady stream of gospel music his family played while growing up – everything from more modern artists like Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin to old-school acts like John P. Kee, the Clark Sisters and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

“Gospel music was a big thing,” he says. “I’ve been going to church since I was in the womb. When I got into music, I told myself I was never going to shy away from who I was and I was never going to talk about things I don’t know about. So what I know is what’s going on in my real life, struggling with faith and trying to fit in but being different. I can’t talk about gang banging, I can’t talk about killing people or making money or getting girls because I literally know nothing about that. But me, and my faith, and my family, and my friends and the things I’ve seen in my life; I know about that.”

His first real introduction into hip-hop was the Texas rapper Lecrae. More specifically, it was a song from his 2006 album After the Music Stops called “Jesus Muzik.”

“I just remember the beginning of it goes ‘riding with my top down / listening to that Jesus Muzik.’ I first heard it when I was like 7 or 8 and that was when Southern hip-hop was a big thing: the bangin’ 808’s and the slang. So when I heard that, that was the first time I thought “you can talk about god in rap? I thought you could only do that in gospel?”

“He was somebody who identified as a Christian,” he says. “It was like hearing gospel music but it had a hip hop sound. It was like what was being played on the radio, but the message wasn’t guns money, drugs, this and that. It was more faith based. It felt more real.”

A short while later, he first heard who he states as his biggest influence: Kanye West. Mon-ty describes hearing “Love Lockdown” off West’s innovative 2008 release 808’s and Heartbreak as something of a revelation.

“I was like, ‘man, this is something different. I don’t know what this is, but I like it,’” he says. “I felt like I could identify with Kanye. Kanye was coming up at a time where drug dealers were rapping and they were telling their war stories about the streets. And Kanye West – other than being from the South side of Chicago – I mean his mother was a college professor. He was a middle class child. He didn’t really grow up as poor as everybody else. So I felt like I could identify with him. I haven’t seen the things a lot of other people have seen. I haven’t experienced them, but I still got a story to tell.”

Like Lecrae and Mr. West (at least for most of his career), Mon-ty wouldn’t classify himself as a “Christian rapper.” He says he doesn’t want to imply that his music is only for those who hold his faith or limit his reach as an artist.

“It’s not a term I throw on myself because I think ‘Christian’ is a great noun, but it’s a terrible adjective,” he says. “That just limits the message I’m trying to spread. It limits who I’m trying to reach. It implies that if you go to church and you identify as a Christian, then my music is just for you. And that’s not who it’s for. My music is for people who are feeling down and doubtful about life. It’s for people who are feeling some type of way about how things are going. It’s to inspire. It’s to uplift. It’s to make people feel good. And if some people get kind of a Christian vibe and go ‘oh, I want to go to church and turn my life around,’ then more power to you. But my music isn’t beating you over the head…I don’t want to alienate people.”

One of the prevailing themes on Black & Proud is unity: “Black & Brown” features Jay Cast, who is of Hispanic descent, and Mon-ty calling for a united front between the Black and Hispanic communities. He says it’s important to remember that both communities were affected by discrimination in Arizona during the Jim Crow era, and continue to feel that discrimination today.

“My great grandmother, who lived in Phoenix, was alive for segregation and Jim Crow,” he says. “Even though it wasn’t as heavy as it was in the south – in states like George, Alabama, the Carolinas – it was still present. She still wasn’t allowed to eat in certain places. She wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom in certain places. She had to take the back door if she wanted to go into certain places. The whole country had some form of Jim Crow, and it may not have been as heavy and it may not have been as documented and it may not be as remembered, but it was present.”

Mon-ty views the Black Lives Matter movement as a positive influence for change in a country with such a long history of racial discrimination against its minority communities. He says that watching it transform from a simple hashtag to something being displayed all across the country is inspiring, especially to a whole generation of young black artists like himself.

“I feel like a lot of people who look like me are very afraid because they don’t know if they walk out of their houses if they’re going to come back. A lot of parents fear that their kids are going to walk out of the house and never come back. I’m sure Tamir Rice’s mother felt that way. Same thing with Trayvon’s Martin’s mother,” he says. “In this time, we fear being black – and rightfully so – but we should also be proud to be black. To get push back from [the black lives matter movement], it just shows what kind of power we have. We should be proud that we carry such power.”

However, he admits that it can still be disheartening to see push back against the movement, mainly in the form of the reactive “All Lives Matter” hashtag that swept across social media in response to Black Lives Matter. He also notes that it’s important to make a distinction between the movement and the organization.

“I think it’s kind of sad that they get the saying Black Lives Matter mixed up with the organization because it’s easy to get the two mixed,” he says. “If you don’t want to support Black Lives Matter as an organization, that’s fine with me, because they may have some views that you don’t agree with…but it shouldn’t shy away from the message that black lives do matter because, of course, all lives are precious, all lives have value to them, but they all don’t matter because, historically, black and brown ones haven’t… The main problem I have with the statement of all lives matter is that it comes from a place of ‘yes, but…’ It’s a protest of our protest. We’re trying to protest equality for black and brown people. When it comes to a message of equality and fairness, there’s no ‘yes, but…’ We’re not arguing for black supremacy, we’re arguing for black equality.”

He believes that one of the solutions to America’s racial divide ultimately starts with accountability and recognition that the country has “done some wrong.”

“It kind of irks me to hear people call America the ‘greatest country in the world.’ It feels like it’s a very arrogant statement. And it goes back to my faith: I believe in keeping myself humble and keeping those around me humble because I’ve always been a believer that if you don’t humble yourself, god will,” he says. “I encourage everyone to research the truth and reconciliation commission. After apartheid ended, Nelson Mandela and South Africa instituted the Truth and Reconciliation commission. It was a court system holding South Africa for things it did to black people…I think America definitely needs its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission or something related to it so that way we hold ourselves as a country accountable for the sins we’ve committed against black people. There’s a million other solutions, but I think that’s a good start.”

His next single, “Spike Lee” is set to release on September 10. Black & Proud is currently available for streaming and purchase.

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