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Underground Native Rap, Interview with Gabriel Night Shield

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - When it comes to Native rap a lot of attention has been given to the positive, clean cut side, but no one ever mentions the underground. As young Native musicians keep pushing the envelope of accepted taste one of the major standouts is Gabriel Night Shield, the CEO of Night Shield Entertainment, who is also a rapper in his own right, and with his group Triple Crown, which also features Overflow and Cin'Atra. Night Shield has released three compilation CDs from his company, "The Nation Compilation" (2001) "The Hostile Takeover" (2002) and "Savage Alliance" (2003). Night Shield and the other two Triple Crown rappers are each working on solo albums for release next year.

At its most unfettered, Night Shield's work is filled with four letter words, the "n-word," and over the top references to violence, sex and drugs. It's refreshing to hear a Native performer who doesn't put restraints on his subject matter. His swagger is just as large as his language, such as this excerpt from "Call Me a Savage" from "Savage Alliance": "I'm a lethal weapon / There's a method to my madness / Every sprint is classic / Call me a savage/ Roll it up and pass it / Situation's drastic/ Alcoholic habit / Call me a savage."

"I don't know man, I just do music that I like to listen to myself," Night Shield told Indian Country Today. "I'm not into all of that positive stuff. It's good that they are preaching that, but I like to have fun with my music. We're definitely underground, but I'm not a gangsta or a thug, or anything like that. We just do hard hip-hop, we're not talking about killing people in every song, it's just hard music."

Night Shield was raised on the Rosebud Reservation where he discovered his first love was music. "I started in high school, I used to DJ the high school dances and local events where I played records to get people dancing," Night Shield said. "That's what really motivates me, just seeing crowd's reaction to different songs. My goal was to keep everybody dancing the whole night and having a good time. When I graduated I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I always had a passion for music, so I went to the Art Institute in Seattle for Audio Production, and that's where I started becoming an artist myself. That's where I met Cin'Atra and Overflow, and we became friends and kept in touch after we graduated."

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While Night Shield is looking forward to the day when his only concern is the record company, he keeps a job while his dreams unfold. "I do work a regular job; I live in Sioux Falls, which is the biggest city in South Dakota," Night Shield said. "I definitely couldn't do what I do now on the rez, that's why I had to move here three years ago, which was about the same time that we started working on the music thing. I needed to get a real job that paid real money, and I needed to get to a recording studio. I moved down here and worked from the ground up starting in 2000."

Night Shield changes his style to suit the venue he is playing. While a recent local hit has him looking at clean lyrics, he notes that he'll never give up the cursing style. "We get loved pretty much everywhere we go. Every once in awhile you run into somebody that's just hating for no reason. I do speeches at high schools, but when we perform for that kind of crowd we do a lot of the songs that I have done recently that are non-cussing songs, they're still hard, but I don't cuss. The song on 'Hostile Takeover,' 'Ride With Me' (with Shayla Day) was a huge hit here in South Dakota last year, it was number one on a couple of different radio stations and it was the number one hip-hop download in 2002 in the area, and we gained a lot of fans off that song. I'm working on my solo album right now and that's kind of the vibe I'm coming with. It's hard, I cuss on it, I'm not saying I don't cuss on it, but a lot of it is not cussing, and you get more creative trying to figure out words to replace (curse words)."

When asked if people are taken aback by a Native rapper, Night Shield laughed and said "Yeah, man, that's even here in South Dakota. There are a lot of ignorant people too; they think we still live in tipis. They're like 'You're rappin' too?' Come on, now. I think, in a sense, we're a lot more mainstream than a lot of the other Native rappers because we network a lot more with the outside, not just Native. A lot of the Native rappers, in my opinion, just network in the Native community and that's it. Cin'Atra's half-black and half-Mexican, Overflow is white, I'm Native, so we keep it diverse. That's the key to getting out there and being in the mainstream, not to just cater to one group; cater to everybody, so then everybody has a reason to pick up your stuff."

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