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Frank Waln, Hip Hop Artist and Gates Scholar, Goes for Five NAMA Awards

Frank Waln (Sicangu Lakota) is a 23 year-old award-winning hip hop artist, producer and performer hailing from the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. A recipient of a Gates Millennium Scholarship, he is currently studying Audio Design and Production at Columbia College in Chicago, IL.

In 2010, using just a keyboard and a laptop, Waln and his group Nake Nula Waun (which means “I am always ready, at all times, for anything”) created and produced their first album Scars and Bars. The album went on to win Best Rap/Hip Hop Recording at the 2011 Native American Music Awards (NAMA).

In 2011, with Nake Nulu Waun, Waln was the winner of the ROCKWiRED Radio Music Award for Best Group, and he won the ROCKWiRED Radio Music Awards for Best Male Artist and Best Recording by an American Indian Artist/Band in 2013.

Nake Nula Waun are also up for a NAMA Award in 2013 for Best Rap/Hip Hop recording and best Group/Band for the group’s sophomore album,The Definition. Additionally, Waln was nominated for Single of the Year and Best Debut/Group/Duo for "Hear My Cry," a collaboration with Cody Blackbird. A fifth award is also in the offing: Waln is the subject of a documentary, "Frank Waln, Common Man, Nake Nula Waln," which is nominated in the Best Long-Form Video category.

Waln with a young fan. Photo by Vincent Schilling.

In a conversation with ICTMN, Waln spoke about how he got his start, his musical influences and a message he hopes to share with other inspiring artists.

How did you get started?

Officially, I started when I was in third grade and I took up piano lessons. I was also in a drum group at my elementary school. We sang the flag song in the morning and an honor song. That is how I got started in music. It grew and spawned to the monster that it is now.

What are some of your musical influences?

They are always changing; I really admire Robbie Robertson, who has been a big influence on me. On the hip-hop side, when I was younger, I worshiped Eminem. I loved the way he was able to talk about the stuff that he had bottled up inside of him. Nas was one of the first rappers I ever started listening to. He wasn't really a rapper -- he was more of a poet. I draw inspiration from all over the place.

Being around my culture on my reservation, hearing those songs, hearing Sundance songs, and going to ceremonies -- that's definitely something that was inside me. When I left the rez, and I left home, I was missing those songs.

How did you learn to create music on just a laptop?

I think I just developed the skill out of necessity due to the fact that I was trying to make music on the Rosebud Reservation which is such an isolated place. The nearest studio was a 4 hour drive away, and I didn't have any money to pay studio fees, so I looked for any way I could to make the music that was inside of me -- any outlet to get it out.

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Fortunately I live in a time where I can make and produce an entire album on my laptop. Due to these conveniences of modern technology, I brought my studio to my basement on my reservation.

Waln with a young fan. Photo by Vincent Schilling.

The first piece of equipment I ever got was an old used drum machine that my mom got me at a pawn shop. It did not come with a manual -- it literally took me three months to figure it out how to program drums without a manual.

My first laptop I started recording on, I got in my freshman year of college when I went away to school. Gates Millennium scholarship provided a laptop for the students who were attending the school. I had money saved up from jobs I had worked in the summer time and I invested the money into the same music production program I use today. Thanks to the scholarship I was able to make music with my laptop.

I'm in Chicago right now, in my second year at Columbia College, an art school, where I'm studying audio arts and acoustics with a minor in management.

Your music seems more than just hip hop, what would you call the genre of your music?

I don't know if it has a genre, because I do not like labels. Genres and labels were created by the radio stations so that they could categorize music. I feel like a lot of our artists are limited. I don't even like to say I create hip-hop music, because older generations already say, "Oh, you make that kind of music?"

I think that they don't give it a chance, and it colors their perception. It's a lot like stereotypes of Native Americans -- I feel the same thing happens in music with genres. I try to stay free from all that. If I had to call it something I guess I would call it Native American pop or something. I don't know, it's in its own realm, especially the new stuff I've been working on -- I have never really heard anything like it. I think all of this because of all the influences I had.

What is the message that you want to give to others with your music?

At the end of the day, my art and my performance and all of that I am just trying to provide inspiration my people back home. My people, our people, and native people I just wanted to be happy and healthy and respected. That is pretty much the root of all that I do.

This interview is excerpted from a recent episode of Native Trailblazers, hosted by ICTMN Correspondent Vincent Schilling ( on Twitter). Native Trailblazers airs every Friday at 7 pm EST on

Below is "Hear My Cry," the NAMA-nominated single by Frank Waln featuring Cody Blackbird: