Canadian rapper Drezus (Alias: Jeremiah Manitopyes) has had a massive year. His recently released “Indian Summer,” a take-no-prisoners masterpiece on modern tribal life in North America, took the hip hop scene by storm.
Last September, he killed it at the Indigenous Music Awards last year, taking home four awards, including Indigenous Entertainer of the Year, which put his career on blast. When he’s not on tour, the 34-year-old Plains Cree can be found at the gym with his son. Recently, Drezus spoke with Indian Country Today Media Network about life as a Native man, writing and his playlist.
Your music has touched a nerve for its raw portrayals of the reality of life for Indian people in North America that aren't usually discussed. Was that your intent when you started in the music business?
Honestly, I started making music because I loved it. The idea of creating my very own piece of history excited me. Once I figured out that I had a real voice for my community, it became more than a love?it was more like a responsibility. One that I felt was necessary to uphold while I grew in the music, and even as a Native man.
I want to add that I am in no way perfect and I still continue to mistakes. The only difference today, is that I'm actively striving to learn from these mistakes so I can turn around and speak on 'em in song form.
As a writer, who were your biggest influences?
Life is my biggest influence in my writing today, now that I have my skill set intact and growing. When I first started out, artists like Run DMC, Ice Cube and LL Cool J were my faves. Run DMC kept it hip hop through and through, and were very direct. Ice Cube kept it street, but political. LL had the ladies, with the street mindset. I wanted to be LL sooo bad, haha.
What single person influenced you the most?
My late uncle Robert Manitoyes, aka Bobby Jones. He was my uncle, father, brother, friend, mentor, inspiration, guide and critic. I still think about him everyday.
How do you stay grounded from being on the road and in the public eye?
I like to get in the gym with my brother or my son. Play ball, let off on the weights and hit the steam. Which of course leads me to taking part in sweat ceremonies to cleanse my body, mind and spirit. I try to smudge daily now so I can hold on to that positive mindset. That’s the key.
If you could time travel, where to?
For selfish reasons, I would love to travel back in time to teach my younger self about the future and ways to achieve more from my time.
For purpose, I would go back in time to the days before commerce and money institutions. So I can tell them why it is probably the worst mistake of mankind and how we can avoid disaster. Pretty deep, eh?
You've talked about how taking your son to the library lit the flame of your protest against C45. What made you want to get politically involved? Did Idle No More play a part in the shift in your music?
I had just come back to my son after being in a dark frame of mind, for over six years. I felt how much my son needed me to be strong and aware of the things affecting us and the world. Idle No More gave me a community to build with and from, it gave me a voice. After attending rallies with my son, I had to say something about it because I felt I had unique voice coming from the hip hop community. I feel like I had purpose at this point, and my music reflected that too. It’s not easy staying on track, but the love for my family and from my people is what keeps me going.
North America has a long way to go in reconciling its past as well as its present in regards to Indigenous people. What are your hopes for your family, community and the tribes going forward?
Just to gain more knowledge about where we're from and why we're really here. Native people have a special place in the world and are one of the ancient races, with extensive knowledge on our relationship with the earth. I truly believe that if we unlock this hidden wisdom in our DNA, we can really make an impact on the new world. In the meantime, I want to make sure my family is fed and safe.
Drezus - a way to honor Dr. Dre and Kanye?
One of my nicknames is Dro and at around 2004-2005, my old Team Rezoffical homie Hellnback started calling me Drezus. It was almost out of thin air. We were always coming up with slang and off the wall ideas, so it doesn't surprise me. Dude first called me Saint Drezus, [but] that wasn't going to work though.
What's on your iPod right now?
I love Big KRIT, Travis Scott, Jazz Cartier, Bryson Tiller, Kevin Gates...pretty much anything I can get [into] to at the gym.
What message would you give to kids across Indian Country?
I would tell them that they are all young warriors and have a special place in this world as light givers. Put the phone down and go shoot some hoops, feel the sun, snow, rain or whatever and just be thankful to be alive. There is always a way out of whatever seems to be bothering you or preventing you from being happy. Be yourself, love hard and work harder. Be proud to be. One day while you're out chasing your dreams that light will find you and it will show you a whole different world full of opportunities and goodness. Go get it.
Drezus website: http://www.drezusmusic.com/