Emerson Windy's video for "Peace Pipe" surpassed 11 million views on WorldStar Hip Hop today, three days after it was posted to the site, and that's depressing.
It's depressing because the lyrics and video are an insult to the culture many of Turte Island's original people hold dear. Windy puts on a feather headdress (a sacred item to a number of Tribes and Nations) and intercuts scenes of powwow dancers with shots of himself enjoying his "peace pipe" -- a vape pen. Maybe he's comparing Native spirituality to being stoned, maybe he just thinks "doing the Indian thing" is a good gimmick to sell "Mr. Good Vape" flavorings -- any way you slice it, the video and Windy's appropriation of Native culture is, to put it mildly, in bad taste.
It's also depressing because -- come on, it's just not a good song. Emerson Windy is not a nimble rapper, struggling to keep his lyrics timed to beats that move at a snail's pace. His rhymes are weak -- like "people" with "weed smoke" -- and he sometimes can't be bothered to rhyme at all. He delivers insight like "I think I should run for President / I'd let the people smoke their weed bro" and says weed is "bringing folks together just like them high school dances." And the chorus -- oh dear, that chorus. This track might sound great, and funny, if you're stoned off your face at 2 am, but in the sober light of day it's just not skillful or catchy. Even for stoner music, the whole thing just seems a little, well, half-baked. Or over-baked.
The irony is that a lot of Natives love hip hop, and a lot of them are making very good -- well-executed, interesting, intelligent, and yes, catchy -- hip hop themselves. They're sure making better music than "Peace Pipe," and as a bonus they're not (usually) trivializing Native culture in the process. Here are 12 of our favorite hip hop jams by American Indian and First Nations artists. It's a shame you won't find them on the home page of World Star Hip Hop, racking up 11 million views like Emerson Windy -- because they sure deserve to.
Supaman, "Too Far" feat. Emcee One aka Marcus Anthony Guinn
Supaman recently created a viral sensation when a video of his unique hip-hop/fancy-dance mashup stylings hit YouTube -- this one is more of a straight-up hip hop tune. But there's a twist of satire in the lyrics, evident from the opening request to "Yo, pass me some of that ceremonial dietary frybread..." Supaman (Christian Parrish) is Crow, and his accomplice here Emcee One (Marcus Anthony Guinn) is Osage/Potawatomi/Delaware and Puerto Rican.
Quese IMC & Cempoalli 20, "The Raven"
Quese IMC, Pawnee/Seminole, is a multifaceted artist, as well as an activist and educator originally from Oklahoma; here he's teamed up with Cempoalli 20, a soul and reggae singer who describes his heritage as "born on Turtle Island, indigenous child of earth, with origins in Mexico." This video was posted to YouTube in March with the comment "Protect the Everglades. Indigenous hiphop and Turtle Island reggae. Filmed in the sacred Florida Everglades."
Red Eagle, "Song of Survival"
Red Eagle, aka Jesse Robbins, Choctaw, considers himself "a bridge" -- “I do music to connect generations. I take the elders’ message and put it in a form the youth relate to and understand. They don’t speak the same ‘language’ anymore. I get to play coyote, be a trickster. The Choctaw culture is so dope. When kids hear it in the music, they hear how cool the culture is.”
Plex, "I Can't Breathe"
Lest you think every Native hip hop tune has to be all ... Native-y, we're including a favorite jam here from Plex (aka Doug Bedard, Cree) that has nothing to do with race, culture or creed. This is just a simple song about getting dumped by a girl, who happens to be played in this video by the Native culture dynamo Lisa Charleyboy. (See also: Plex's Idle No More anthem, Plex's "The Way It Should Be." and Lisa Charleyboy's Urban Native Magazine.)
J-Rez, "A Lil' Fairytale"
J-Rez hails from Georgina Island First Nation in Ontario, and says he "has been sharpening his skills as a rapper since the age of 12 when he spit his first freestyle." You can download over 20 tracks for free at his ReverbNation page.
Frank Waln, "AbOriginal"
Frank Waln is probably the hottest rising star in Native hip hop today; he's a star scholar as well who doesn't shy away from social commentary in his music or on his lively Twitter feed. "AbOriginal" is one of several outstanding tracks he's released -- we'll go ahead and put "Born on the Rez," released today, in that category as well.
Nataanii Means, "The Radical (ft. Russell Means)"
Nataanii, a son of the late activist Russell Means, released his debut album 2 Worlds in 2013, and on this track (and elsewhere on the album) gets some help from his pops:
Drezus, "Big Dreams" ft. Nato
Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a hotbed of Aboriginal hip hop -- the now-disbanded Winnipeg's Most helped put it on the map, and their sometime collaborator Drezus is one of the bigger fish in the pond. This track, "Big Dreams," is a standout from his 2013 album Red Winter.
Chase Manhattan, "The Original 2-Step"
Chase Manhattan won the 2010 Native American Music Award for Best Rap Album for Tribal Tribulations, and this track won a 2011 North American Indigenous Image Award. Chase's heritage is Oglala Lakota, Leech Lake Ojibwe, and Muscogee Creek.
Tall Paul, "Protect Ya Spirit"
Like Chase Manhattan, Tall Paul (Leech Lake Ojibwe) is based in Minneapolis. Paul has been picking up momentum in the last couple years and is considered one of the Native hip hop performers most likely to reach a wider audience -- after all, if hip hop aficionado Dave Chapelle says you're good, you're good.
Doc Battiest, "The Storm" feat. Spencer Battiest
When Spencer Battiest made the news, earlier this week, by signing to Hard Rock Records, we were reminded how much we dig this 2011 track by his brother Doc, to which Spencer lends guest vocals. This video, directed by Steven Paul Judd, is a perfect balance of tribute to the past and modern-day big pimpin' (hey, this is hip hop, you kinda have to do it).
Lorenzo and Wab Kinew, "Fly"
Wab Kinew gets a lot of props for his work as a journalist and educator (read Gyasi Ross's shameless Man Crush Monday tribute to him), but sometimes we wonder whether all the suit-and-tie work is just a distraction from his hip hop career, which dates back to a Winnipeg group called Dead Indians that presaged Peg City's Aboriginal hip hop explosion. Here he teams up with a fellow Anishinaabe, the critically lauded genre-defying Leonard Sumner (formerly known as Lorenzo), for a track that was recorded (in one take!) for a CBC podcast.