What started in the Bronx in the early 1970’s spread from the ghettoes, to the skyscrapers and became a billion dollar industry by the end of the century. For some people it is more than just music, it’s a culture and a lifestyle called hip hop.
In 1996 the drum sounds had reached the Hobbema reservation in Alberta where MC Rex Smallboy formed the award winning group Warparty. By 1999, hip hop had spread to Six Nations with the formation of Tru Rez Crew, this began a new era of cultural exchange for indigenous youth.
Hip hop actually consists of four elements with DJ ‘turntablism’ being just one. MC rapping is perhaps the most popular aspect of hip hop today but break dancing (B-boying), and graffiti artwork are like the little brothers that go unrecognized.
Hip hop wasn’t always received with open arms on reserves. “Stop acting like the black people, it’s not our way” was a common criticism heard by native youth in the 90’s, but young native rappers were being empowered by hip hop and were eager to share their culture with the world in a different way.
Hellnback a founding member of Warparty made observations on the appeal of hip hop for native youths, “It gives us hope that there’s a different lane to take care of [our] families. Talent is not that rare, it’s the drive that makes us who we are and gentlemen like us are proof that you can make the world listen.”
Ernie Paniccioli is a Cree photographer of hip hop culture who was born in Brooklyn NY and has taken photos of the most famous icons in rap music, from Notorious B.I.G. to Public Enemy for publications such as XXL, New York Times and the Source.
“Hip hop is only the latest incarnation of a power and an energy that was given to us many many (years ago)” he suggests. Perhaps this would explain the mystical draw that indigenous people feel towards hip hop music?
Recently Six Nations has had its own people in the spotlight. Tru Rez spawned a generation of artists such as Chief who wrote and performed a song with Snoop Dog. That one song received over a million views in two days on WorldStarHipHop.com. Tru Rez had the song “I’m A Lucky One” that also has over one milion views on YouTube.
Tim “2oolman” Hill of Six Nations got his start producing songs for Tru Rez and is now a member of A Tribe Called Red and is a professional producer based in Winnipeg. James Blood of Tru Rez is currently writing his highly anticipated solo album, that is already generating buzz.
When asked about a connection between traditional songs and hip hop music, Plains Cree rapper Iam Drezus said, “I feel like anything with a drum is connected because it’s like a heartbeat.”
Both rappers Hellnback and Drezus are long time friends and are both nominated in this year’s Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards and you can find their music on Amazon.ca and iTunes.
So now in 2015 with the mixture of diverse styles and rhythms hip hop is just one of many different beats to the drum. A Tribe Called Red has fused traditional indigenous sounds with Electronic Dance Music (EDM) combining elements of dubstep, hip hop and trap for a mega mix that has been a breakthrough sound reaching across cultural barriers.
This leaves the future open for a new generation of producers on Six Nations. If you know anyone between the ages of 13 and 24 the Youth Empowerment Summit (Y.E.S.) is happening Friday, August 14th. Register your newphews and neices today by calling (519) 445-3030. Space is limited. Kids will be taught music production, video production and hear a special presentation by A Tribe Called Red. There is also a prize draw for a Mobile Studio worth over $2,000 for students in attendance.
Y.E.S. is presented by Thru the Red Door Studios, Dreamcatcher Foundation and the Two Row Times.
Tru Rez is performing with other guests Friday August 21st at Therapy Lounge in Brantford at 10pm.