Drum groups are the traditional beat of Indian country, but a new kind of beat is also taking hold, and it comes from hip-hop, contemporary and even jazz music made by artists who aren’t afraid of their past, or their future.
Here are five Native musicians to blast this summer as part of ICTMN's 2016 Hot List.
Drezus - Smoothest Way to Confront the Rougher Truths
Drezus, a.k.a. Jeremiah Manitopyes, a.k.a. the Cree/Nishnawbe rapper who lifted himself out of a life of pain and suffering to become the indigenous entertainer of the year for 2015, has much to say and is not shy about saying it. In the short documentary, The Reinvention of Drezus, he says, “I went to the darkest places I could ever go — drugs, violence, everything.” He likens his attraction to hip-hop to a modern-day vision quest, and says hip-hop saved him.
Drezus’ mini-documentary was featured on CNN’S, Great Big Story, and it’s an inspirational one. It’s clear that hip-hop saved Drezus and gave him a voice. His goal is to give voice to our contemporary Native warriors. His mission is to bring Native people from the darkness to the light. The best way to understand what he’s talking about is to “listen” to his words. Here’s a sample from his song about the devastation created by boarding schools, The Sequel:
You can try to confuse my pride / But no, you can’t take my soul / Your whole world is living a lie / And yes baby, this I know
We need the truth / I need my people to know / That it’s on you / To take back all that we own
We can do it, man - (Because of you) / I never had my pops around, / Never learned how to be a dad / When he came to town
Probably because you snatched up / His folks as a little child / Realizing that I can’t blame him/ I feel him now
“Honestly, I started making music because I loved it.” he told ICTMN. “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.” — J.A.
Nataanii Means and Witk0 - Channelling the Russell Means Legacy
Nataanii Means and Witk0 have been making a big name for themselves. With their in-your-face and sometimes explicit viewpoint connected to hard pounding beats as well as a Native influence, Means and Witk0 are bringing a much needed hip-hop viewpoint to Indian country.
Last November, Nataannii Nez Means of MTV's Rebel Music released his latest world premiere video, entitled Warrior. Means, who directed and edited the video, says his original passion is filmmaking. “Warrior is a song I’ve previously released, and is one of my most listened to on Soundcloud — I wanted to give my fans and people that believed in my music a strong video they can relate to,” he said.
Since his appearance on MTV, Means has continued to create more work and more tracks as well as continued to work with longtime music partner Witk0. They have formed a collective of Native American hip-hop artists they call True Pride Music, which is gaining considerable steam on Facebook.
Additionally, he does activism work in the tradition of his father, the late Russell Means. He recently told ICTMN, “Last December we were in Rapid City, South Dakota with Chase Iron Eyes and Cody Hall, who are a part of the Native Lives Matter movement. There was an anti-police brutality rally outside the Civic Center. A man who attended the rally was killed the next day by police in North Rapid City. His name is Allen Locke. Footage from the rally is in my video Warrior and I’d like to dedicate that video to him, his family, and everyone across Turtle Island.” - V.S.
Litefoot - Killin’ It On Many Fronts
Courtesy Gary 'Litefoot' Davis
An exceptional musician with crisp and clean hip-hop beats, profound lyrics and passionate viewpoints, Gary ‘Litefoot’ Davis (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) is much more than a hip-hop artist and as a successful record label company owner, award-winning actor and a successful entrepreneur, he is arguably one of Indian country’s hottest successes..
Having started his career in 1991, he was one of the first recognized Native hip-hop artists who recorded and released his music through his own label, Red Vinyl Records. In the decades since, he has performed thousands of concerts across Turtle Island and released 11 multi-award-winning albums.
Not satisfied with being just in the music industry, he has also acted in major motion pictures such as The Indian In The Cupboard, Mortal Kombat, The Song of Hiawatha and television programs such as House of Cards, CSI Miami and Any Day Now. If this wasn’t enough, he took the business world by storm and currently serves as President and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. He has previously served as Vice-President of Native Affairs for the Triple Five Group.
His list of accolades is staggering; it includes being a recipient of the Cherokee National Historical Society’s, “Seven Star Award” for accomplishments in music, acting and business for 2015 and he was selected as one of Indian Country Today Media Network’s, “Fifty Faces of Indian Country” in 2015.
A Tribe Called Red - Powerful Pop of Pow Wow Now Sound
A Tribe Called Red - Courtesy Falling Tree Photography
Since 2010, A Tribe Called Red (which is currently made up of DJ NDN, Bear Witness and 2oolman) has been bringing a mashup of traditional pow wow vocals and drumming and electronic music to millions of fans all over Turtle Island.
Their videos are getting millions of views and their self-titled album, A Tribe Called Red, released in March 2012, was long-listed for Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize and included in The Washington Post’s top 10 albums of the year.
According to the group’s website, A Tribe Called Red is “the soundtrack to a contemporary evolution of the pow wow: their Electric Pow Wow events in Ottawa showcase Native talent and aboriginal culture, alongside an open, wild party. Within a couple of years they’ve become the face of an urban Native youth renaissance, championing their heritage and speaking out on aboriginal issues.”
Continuing to tour at a blinding pace while grabbing four Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards for best group, best producer, best album and best cover art, ATCR shows zero signs of slowing down.- V.S.
Delbert Anderson - Coolest Way to Avoid Jazz Fusion Confusion
Delbert Anderson - Facebook
Navajo jazz trumpet player Delbert Anderson and his band landed on the top 10 NPR Tiny desk concert list recently and that led to a series of steady gigs for the jazzman from the Four Corners area. He played shows all over Albuquerque during Gathering of Nations, and on his off-night he sat in with pueblo reggae band Innastate and captivated the house at Marble Brewery.
The band that was Delbert Anderson Trio has now become DDAT, with the addition of rapper Def-I, and people are reacting in a positive way. “The DDAT has been doing very well,” says Anderson. “Every venue has been 100 percent packed. We are working very hard on our first album. This album is going to be a huge step for DDAT, many labels are taking notice and wanting to work with our fusion music. Well known labels and AR men have been giving us great feedback. Something big will happen soon, I promise.
“I am very happy to work with such cool, professional guys. Each member of DDAT is world class at their craft. The world is going to be welcoming DDAT into their music playlists soon.”- J.A.
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