If we had to choose one word to describe Monte Rezell…. well, honestly, we couldn’t. Monte is a man of many talents: dancer, emcee, DJ, lyricist, producer, teacher – the list goes on and on. But what stands out most about this hip hop artist is the warmth and passion of his spirit. Within moments of meeting Monte, it is clear that his heart belongs to hip hop. Give yourself even more time to get to know him, and you will discover how the culture of hip hop has positively shaped his past, present, and continues to define a bright future.
DancerMusic’s Kristi Licera got a chance to catch up with Monte before he hits the stage with his company, Movement Revolution Dance Crew for Off the Wall: The MJ Remix Experience this Sunday, December 10 at Links Hall in Chicago. Here’s what Monte had to share:
Kristi Licera: What makes you stand out among other hip hop artists and mixed media artists in Chicago and beyond?
I take pride in expressing my artistry in as many ways as I can.
Monte Rezell: I take pride and have fun being an artist with both a music and dancing side. On a music side I am an Emcee and DJ, and on the dancing side I am a hip hop dancer. In my mind, there has never been a separation, because I am a hip hop head. I grew up being so into hip hop, and was part of the University of Hip Hop during high school. We learned to use our movement, as well as our voices as an emcee, a DJ, as well as our hands as graffiti artists. To my mentors and to me, a hip hop artist was just a hip hop artist – none of the elements were separated. That meant participating in the hip hop culture any way that you can. That is what makes me unique in the hip hop scene in Chicago and in general. DJ Khaled is just a DJ, Jay-Z is just an emcee. They only do one specific element. I take pride in expressing my artistry in as many ways as I can.
Kristi: What do you think is lacking most from hip hop artists today?
Monte: Authenticity, knowledge of history, and knowledge of self. It comes out of the fact that the latest generation of hip hop artists and young audiences have little knowledge as to why hip hop started, its purpose for starting, and hip hop’s nature of protest. For many it’s just a fun party and a soundtrack for the nonsense that they are into. It used to be a form of protest — a way to speak up against police brutality.
We need to keep pushing for that evolution, but we can only achieve that if we have a knowledge of ourselves and where we came from.
I grew up listening to artists like The Roots and Black Star. Not only do they have something of value and substance to say, but they are of the generation of the golden age of hip hop – where hip hop was raw and unique. They didn’t just copy – they added something new to the community. Few artists are truly unique these days – most are just following the same formula. Part of it is the record labels trying to play it safe, but as artists it’s up to us to liberate ourselves from that. We’ve fallen into a bad cycle of replication. It’s gotten to the point where the beat is the main part and the lyrics are barely understandable. When you can understand the lyrics, the substance is nonsense. Hip hop artists like Talib Kweli and Rakim changed the flow of rhyming in the 80’s that pushed artists in the 90’s to evolve to their form of tongue-twisting (Busta, Twista). We need to keep pushing for that evolution, but we can only achieve that if we have a knowledge of ourselves and where we came from.
Kristi: How do you intend to change the climate of hip hop culture here in our city?
Monte: One way I can positively affect the hip hop culture is to do my part – to help bring us back to where we started. We have to take it back and learn our roots. That’s the first step. I do this through my Healthy Hip Hop Concert, which I produce for kids of all ages. It teaches the five elements of hip hop, the history of hip hop, and uses hip hop music, dance, rhymes, and emcee to tell the history. Anybody who attends a Healthy Hip Hop Concert gets a lesson in history and is educated as well as entertained. They are able to see the elements in practice on stage and are challenged to learn more about the hip hop culture and immediately share it with their family and peers. It instantly makes them participate in the most important part of the culture, which is passing it along to others and become the teacher. They are able to teach others that hip hop is an entire culture – not just rap songs on the radio.
Another way that I push the hip hop culture to thrive in Chicago is simply by participating in it. Anytime there is a hip hop jam, fest, or anything of the sort, I am there. While there I share my music, vibe with new artists, make new connections, and network. Hip Hop is all about peace, love, unity, and having fun – we can’t have those things if we stop building our community and inviting new people into it.
Hip Hop is all about peace, love, unity, and having fun – we can’t have those things if we stop building our community and inviting new people into it.
Kristi: What inspires you most to continue participating in the culture of hip hop?
Being a part of someone else’s discovery is the most fulfilling thing I have done in my life. To watch their passion grow is phenomenal.
Monte: My biggest inspiration comes from my students. Being a part of someone else’s discovery is the most fulfilling thing I have done in my life. To watch their passion grow is phenomenal. I am doing the most important work I can do by being a teacher, a storyteller, and passing the culture down onto the next generation. It’s how I ensure hip hop lives on. My students keep me on my toes and push me to continue to be the best I can be.
Kristi: It’s evident that hip hop has enriched your life in more ways than we could ever count. Can you expand on what it is specifically that hip hop has given you?
If I had to describe it, it would be a feeling of fulfillment. I feel like my purpose is coming to fruition.
Monte: I don’t know if I can put it into words, but I feel like art is part of my essence and part of my humanity. You always see those bumper stickers that say, “You can’t have earth without art”. We must express ourselves in different ways to be complete. I give a lot to my community and to anyone who wants to share and grow, and I have never tried to put into words what I get back, because it is a feeling. If I had to describe it, it would be a feeling of fulfillment. I feel like my purpose is coming to fruition. When God blesses you with talent, it’s your job to pass it on and share it, otherwise you’re wasting your gift. We have to use our gifts to our highest purpose. Hip hop got me out of the hood, out of a place called Terror Town. I know I can use hip hop to save kids from the worst of their childhoods, and show them a way to empower themselves and enrich their lives.
Catch Monte with Movement Revolution Dance Crew for Off the Wall: The MJ Remix Experience for a one-night-only performance on Sunday, December 10 at 7:30pm at Links Hall in Chicago. For more information, visit www.movementrevolutiondancecrew.com.
PHOTOS (from top): Photos 1,2, 4 and 6: by William Frederking, courtesy of American Rhythm Center • Photos 3 and 5: Monte in Chicago Dance Crash’s The Bricklayers of Oz, Photographed by Ben Licera