‘The Spirit of Hip Hop’ … ‘I just took to it’

With a Grammy, a JUNO award and platinum-selling albums under his belt and having worked with such well-established musical artists as Method Man, Drake, The Clipse, Glenn Lewis and Sade, David Strickland, Mi’kmaq and Cree, is arguably one of the most successful Indigenous music producers and audio engineers in the industry. (Photo: Ernie Paniccioli)

Vincent Schilling

A conversation with Grammy-winning Mi’kmaq and Cree producer David Strickland

With a Grammy, a JUNO award and platinum-selling albums under his belt and having worked with such well-established musical artists as Method Man, Drake, The Clipse, Glenn Lewis and Sade, David Strickland, Mi’kmaq and Cree, is arguably one of the most successful Indigenous music producers and audio engineers in the industry.

On February 20, 2020, Strickland released his first single titled “Turtle Island” featuring Native musical artists Supaman, Artson, Spade, JRDN, and Whitey Don. The track is part of a new upcoming album by Strickland titled “The Spirit of Hip Hop” which is being released in June.

Grammy-winning producer David Strickland
Grammy-winning producer David Strickland. (Photo by Ernie Paniccioli)

As an Indigenous artist that saw the separation of his family between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and English and French communities, Strickland has embraced his Mi’kmaq and Cree roots and now works diligently to bridge the gap for Indigenous inclusion in the music industry.

Growing up, Strickland said he quickly grew to love hip hop.

“I just took to it. I was already engulfed in music a young age and I just took to hip hop as it was being born, so to speak. I was into the dancing at first and then into the music and listening and I didn't really play any instruments or have turntables yet. It seems like I took to it for a reason. Basically, hip hop is Indigenous culture in the modern technological sense, where the DJ is the drummer, the MC is the storyteller, the B-boys are the dancers, and the graffiti artists are the sand painter or petroglyph artists,” says Strickland.

“Even if I wasn't Indigenous, I probably still would have been into it.”

At age 14, Strickland started buying vinyl albums and he eventually started DJing for his friends and later into his greater community. After years as a DJ, he continued his hard work into the studio where he began producing and engineering. His hard work paid off, and at times he found himself working with musical artists that were iconic in the music industry such as Method Man, EPMD and Drake.

Strickland stressed the importance of a strong work ethic. And though he says a lot of supportive people have helped him throughout his career, and that they helped him get to where he is today, hard work has always been the answer to his success.

“Once you have that kind of work ethic instilled in you, no matter what you do ... it doesn't matter what it is, you could be an athlete, it does not have to be music ... That's kind of the attitude and that pays off if you just keep at it chipping away at it.”

David Strickland at the sound board
Grammy-winning producer David Strickland at the sound board. (Photo by Ernie Paniccioli)

Strickland says his consistent hard work got him in the studios with the highest caliber of artists, a fact that often surprised him.

“There I was in the studio. And a lot of times I was like, “wow. right?” The real big first time for me was when I found myself in New York, in the studio with my favorite rapper and my favorite producers, and I thought, ‘Wow, how am I even in this room? These guys are all legends to me?”

In 2011, Strickland won a Grammy for Drake’s “Take Care” as an engineer and producer. The album won “Best Rap Album.”

In 2016, Strickland appeared in the VICE documentary by Noisey, “First Out Here: Indigenous Hip Hop in Canada,” which was a documentary focusing on Indigenous rappers in Canada. His appearance incited his working with more Indigenous hip hop artists.

For the past several years, Strickland has worked with such Indigenous artists as Artson, Drezus, Que Rock, Joey Stylez, Aspects, Hellnback, and City Natives.

On June 29th via Entertainment One Strickland will be celebrating the release of the “Spirit of Hip Hop.” Hip hop artist Supaman said in an interview, "It's a huge honor to be able to collaborate with David on this song. He has been putting in work with legends for years.”

According to a company release: “The album scheduled for release Spring 2020 is poised to match some of the hungriest and most wildly talented Indigenous rappers from Canada and the U.S. like Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Drezus and Supaman with some of more established international hip-hop greats he’s had the good fortune of working with like Erick Sermon, EPMD and Def Squad.”

TURTLE ISLAND

As Strickland wrote in an editorial for DJBooth, “Marginalized people tend to exist in this bizarre space; not being a part of the dominant culture, while remaining acutely aware of its perspectives, norms, and values, and are deeply impacted because of them. Storytelling through hip-hop adjusts perspectives, giving way to the norms, predicaments, principles, struggles, triumphs, dreams, outlooks, and pride. Unapologetically for its own, with the potential to reach anyone who hears them, because a good story, told with integrity and emotional honesty, is powerful.”

“Art and music in Indigenous communities are intrinsic to who we are.” 

For information about David Strickland https://www.davidstricklandstudios.com/

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Turtle Island: https://ffm.to/turtleisland

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