men of Motivational Speakers strike an ironic pose.
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
“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,
If successful, Motivational Speakers might just end the confusion.