An in-depth interview with Supaman - MTV Music Award-winning Native Hip Hop artist
He's been at it for over 15 years. Christian 'Takes the Gun' Parrish delivers the utmost blend of Native tradition, music technology and street-smart hip hop to the masses that appreciate his music.
He won an MTV 'Video Music Award' or VMA as they are popularly referred to by MTV aficionado's, as part of the Native artist group MAG7 coordinated in large part by Taboo of the Grammy-winning group the Black Eyed Peas.
Supaman is known across Indian Country for wearing his multi-colored blue and white-ribboned fancy dance regalia while adding musical audio loops stacked on top of musical loops to create spectacular hip hop creations.
He has made his mark at Ted Talks, generated millions and millions of views on YouTube, and won Best Rap / Hip Hop Album at the Indigenous Music Awards in 2018, but still, he remains humble.
Supaman took some time out of his schedule to share his thoughts with Indian Country Today's Vincent Schilling. Here is where he is headed, venturing into 2019.
Vincent Schilling: So let's start out with the basic questions, tell us, about how long have you been a musician? This is for the kids who have been following you for a while.
Supaman: I've been doing music probably for about 15 years or so. Yeah, just pushing. Started with the group Resurrection and then went solo and then just producing my own projects and learning the business at the same time. You know, learn the business, then growing as a human being and as a Native man at the same time. So it's the journey, it's been a journey for about 15 years.
Vincent Schilling: For sure. You know, you've got to learn the business but at the same time, sometimes as a young person, we might have the ideology in our mind of what we want to do bring to the world outside of that. A lot of people say, "Okay, let's get out there and be famous," but then they don't see you're going to be up at four in the morning when no one's around working on your craft.
Supaman: Yeah, definitely. You learn, as somebody who didn't have a lot of resources with music or hip hop stuff, coming from Montana, you have to learn everything. I had to learn the craft of music and the craft of recording music and then the business comes and that kind of changes things. Then at the same time, you're a family man and you have to be a provider so you have to learn to use that business to provide for your family. Then there's another aspect of, "Hey, I'm trying to say something good and positive for the people and uplift them with good medicine. How do I do that in a way of using culture and not selling the culture?"
You know, not being a gimmick of, "Hey, check me out, I'm Native and I have this culture and give me some money and I'll tap dance for you." You have to learn the balance of what you're doing as a human being first, like what your purpose is. At the same time, you kind of say, "Okay, I can use this and be smart about it to provide for my family." As long as you put that in order where you're always grounded in the medicine that you carry and you're delivering it to the people, the value of that is priceless.
What you carry for the people is priceless. Everything else becomes secondary when it comes to the business part. But at the same time, you use it to provide for your family in a good way and that's a good value right there as well.
Vincent Schilling: Would you say selling with integrity?
Supaman: Yeah, so to speak.
Vincent Schilling: I remember you telling me the story about wearing your regalia during a performance at the University of Bozeman. The end result of that situation threw you on a pretty interesting path.
Supaman: Yeah, for sure. At that time, we had been doing music for years without putting much culture into the music. You could tell that I was Native and I came from the rez, by only the lyrical content. There wasn't much sampling of the instruments or regalia on stage. I was a powwow person before I was a hip hop artist, we always kept a line in between the two and never put them together until that time at the University of Bozeman.
Vincent Schilling: When was this?
Supaman: It was Native American Heritage Day. They said, "Hey, can you come and fancy dance, do some exhibition dancing, talk about the dancing and the origins and stuff like that." I said, "Yeah, sure." So we go there and we do that, there are some other dancers there, a drum group and we present culture to a bunch of kids and students there. And then we get done and we go off to the side, we're done with our presentation and the sponsor of the event comes over and goes, "Hey, don't you guys rap?" And we're like, "Oh, yeah. We do." And they're like, "Hey, there's a bunch of kids here. Why don't you guys do a little performance?" We're like, "Sure, yeah. We can." And so we start going to change out of our regalia into regular clothes and come back and rap.
And we were walking away and she goes, "Where are you guys going?" And we're like, "Oh, we're gonna go change and come back." She was like, "I need you to go on right now, our other presenter didn't show up. Just finish it off right now." And I looked at my nephew and he's a traditional dancer and he's just like, "Okay," and we're in our regalia and he's like, "Yeah, let's just do it.” And so I'm like, "Oh, okay. Let's do it." So we get up there in outfits and our regalia, we turn on the beats, we start rapping and then everybody's like, "What the heck's going on here?" They're vibing to this culture infusion that's before them and we finish this couple of songs and we get done and we're like, "Okay, we did it."
We went off stage and they really loved it. And I saw one of our elders from our tribe, he was walking over. Kind of hastily walking over by the crowd and I was like, "Oh, look out. He's coming over and he's gonna scold us. Man, what am I gonna say?" You know, that we got up there and rapped in our outfits. And I thought he was gonna say something negative like, "Hey, you guys shouldn't be doing that, we don't do that," or something like that. But as he got closer, I looked up and he took his hat off and then he extended his hand towards me and he said, "Grandson, I want to shake your hand. That was pretty damn powerful what you just did." He said, "You got up in front of all these people and you showed them that you're proud to be Native and you guys danced for them, you knew the origins of the dance, you knew what you were talking about. And you're good dancers." And then he said, "Then you spoke the language of those youth, to young people, which was rap, was hip hop music and they listened to you because of it. Then you have something positive to say. You talked to them about being drug and alcohol-free, being a good husband and a father." He said, "That's pretty powerful." He said, "You boys, you keep doing that. Keep that up, that's a good thing."
He said, "Our young people are dying, they're committing suicide, they're on drugs and alcohol. They're losing their culture. Anything you do to reach them with good intentions in your heart, it's worth doing. So you boys keep that up." So that was the moment, to hear it from our own elders, that putting the cultures together with the intention of reaching them with good medicine was a good thing. So right there. I was like, "Man, this is good." Even my own mind— because I never put them together or played around with it—but to hear it from your own elders that it was good, I was changed, it changed my mind. So we started doing that and being more confident of putting them together, as long as we had good intentions.
Vincent Schilling: You later did Prayer Loop Song in regalia, that video has millions of views.
Supaman: I never would have done that [dressing in regailia] if that situation with the elder shaking my hand hadn’t happened. Because even after that, we'd get invited to a school to rap, but I went and I danced, I shared culture with the school and told them how important culture was. And then we rapped while we were in our outfits, and I thought that became powerful when we let them know that, "Hey man, be Native. Be Native, and you can embrace who you are and you can embrace these other cultures and just use it for good for the people." And so after that, when I did the Prayer Loop Song that's was like, "Oh man, I'm gonna go all out on this one."
Supaman - 'Prayer Loop Song'
Vincent Schilling: That's so cool. And you then worked with Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas and the group of Native artists of MAG7. You all received an MTV music award. How was that experience?
Supaman: Yeah, that was amazing. That was a blessing that during Taboo's own journey of who he is as an artist and being Native. It all just came together with my journey as well with always wanting a bigger platform to reach more of our people and to educate different cultures. He said, "Hey, let's work together. Let's do this song for Standing Rock." It was so amazing how it came together.
Vincent Schilling: How did it happen?
Supaman: A producer at MTV on a show I worked on was Mexican and she's like, "I love Native culture," and stuff like that. And she was like, “Let me add you on Snapchat." So we added each other on Snapchat. And then later on, down the month I think, she snapped me and goes, "Hey, I'm behind the scenes at a Black Eyed Peas concert." She said, "I'm gonna go show Taboo your video."
And I was like, "Go for it." You know? And she goes, "Because I know he's Native." And she went and she showed him the video and he was like, "How did I miss this guy? Who's this guy man? This is amazing. Get his number." And so she goes, "He wants your number." And I gave her my number to give to him.”
Vincent Schilling: Oh yeah, just Grammy-winning Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, sure, he can have my number.
Supaman: I know, right? It's wild man. And so this guy calls me up and says, "What's up bro? This is Taboo with Black Eyed Peas." And I was like, "Holy cow." Like seven-time Grammy award-winning, multi-platinum, worldwide, Superbowl performing, artist, you know?
Vincent Schilling: And he is also now an ambassador with Nike N7.
Supaman: A major artist. How much more at the top can you get than Black Eyed Peas? And so when he reached out, it was a huge blessing because he just gave me nothing but props and said, "Hey man, send me some beats, man. Let's stay in contact and everything." And I didn't even know at the same time, he was on his own journey of beating cancer and reaching out to his Native roots and things like that. And then when Standing Rock came, that kind of brought it all together.
We made the song and ended up getting nominated for the VMA and then winning the VMA and just amazing blessings came from that.
See Related Article: All Nominees Win! Taboo, Native Artists Win MTV VMA for Stand Up / Stand N Rock
Vincent Schilling: On another thought, you work on merging tradition and technology. How important do you think that is for Native people today to blend Native tradition and technology?
Supaman: Back in the day, you had your tribe and if there was a certain season that they had a ceremony during that time. Or if a certain sickness came up, they had a different song for that, things were always changing through time.
You could say change is traditional with Native people and that's even more so today. Today, life has changed for us and that's a traditional thing that needs to be embraced. At the same time, you still honor those old values, those old ways and since the Indian Act, so much has been lost that anything we do to promote culture. So today, we should be all over it. Nobody should be saying, "No, you can't do that." Because we nearly became extinct, our ways were nearly gone. And so, I think anything that we do to promote who we are, whether it's ancient or not.
Anything we do as Natives is Native, you know?
Vincent Schilling: I have heard people say that you’ve got to have a feather or a bow and arrow sticking out of anything that you do in order to qualify or be regarded as Native.
Supaman: Right, exactly.
Vincent Schilling: I recently saw at mini-documentary about yourself.
Supaman: Oh, Under The Big Sky?
Vincent Schilling: Yeah, it's really nice. I was crying through some of that because you just touched my heart.
Supaman: That's awesome, brother. Thank you. That was an amazing blessing because a company in Montana reached out to me about doing a story. They feature different stories having to do with Montana and some of the guys were like, "You know, we don't really have any Native representation and this is Native land and there's like seven different tribes here." They were like, "We need something and we really saw your videos and we think you'd be a great story. It's definitely overdue, you're past due that we need to do this." And I was like, "I'm just gonna be real and I'm gonna just express myself." And they're like, "That's exactly what we want." So they kind of just gave me the green light just to express myself and share what I wanted to share and that's what I really liked about that company, that they just allowed me to be who I was.
Vincent Schilling: So all said, where are you at today and where are you headed?
Supaman: Yeah, I'm touring. I think I'm going on a year from my latest album with IllumiNatives, my project is the newest one but it's about a year now and so I'm now working on new stuff and I submitted a video, Miracle, to the Indigenous Music Awards. Got nominated for that, for best video and then also for best radio single with Northern Cree for the song called, Somewhere. And so that's there. And also, the documentary that Taboo is filming from the MAG7 since the VMAs.
So I'm on the album, Spencer and Doc Battiest, Drezus, they're on there. Kahara Hodges, she's on there. And it features our stories, our individual stories of our journeys. And so that will be coming out. And then in the time being since the VMAs, we've recorded so much music together and so we have a project and that's gonna be the soundtrack to this documentary. So there's gonna be a bunch of new music right there.
Vincent Schilling: That's exciting.
Supaman: It's really exciting.
Vincent Schilling: In your artistry, you promote a positive message of empowerment for young people. What is your advice for the youth of today that are watching you?
Supaman: Do your best to honor your family and your ancestors with your everyday life. Do your best. I think you can do your best is by creating that foundation that our ancestors had, which is our spirituality, which is our connection with the Creator, which is our prayer-life. I believe that once you establish that foundation of prayer, that's when the Creator fills you with the ultimate weapon, which is love. You will be able to go out and go to war against things, against hate, against the opposition, against oppression, against racism. You'll be filled with that ultimate weapon, which is love. And you'll be able to fight every day and make your ancestors proud. No matter how that looks, whether it's music or just how you conduct yourself. You want to carry on that legacy in a respectable way. You know, being drug and alcohol-free—and I believe that all comes in that foundation of prayer.
When we have that we'll want to live better and make those good decisions. That's what I would say to any young person out there.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling