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Intro To Native American Rap

It’s no secret. Native Americans are rarely—if ever, really—represented in mainstream U.S. media. If they are represented, they are mostly shown as headdress wearing; chanting, dancing, and whooping; pipe smoking and horseback riding “Injuns” keeping cowboys and white settlers from the latter’s “rightful” land.

Again, that is if Native Americans are even seen.

Sure, it’s an old rumor that most Americans have some Native American ancestry and I—who also happens to be a female hip hop artist—am among them. But just because we have some Native American blood flowing through our veins does not mean that we actually understand or—for some—even want to represent the Native American community, through lyrics or otherwise.

Consisting of less than l percent of the U.S. population, Native American people have had their (un)fair share of hardship, struggle. These struggles are heard in the lyrics voiced through Native American hip hop artists. Like the community they hail from, these artists are largely unnoticed in the mainstream.

Though their stories are so rich, so necessary to be heard, so integral to the very mainstream that often avoids, hushes them.

Perhaps, MTV recognized the importance of these stories and their exposure when its Iggy blog named SupaMan—an Apsáalooke American Indian—“Artist of the Week” in March 2014. From the Crow Nation Reservation near Billings, Montana, SupaMan does more than just spit, incorporating drum and flute playing, singing, dancing, and even humor into his repertoire. While wearing traditional Native American dress, he raps about contemporary issues, struggles facing his community: life in the ‘hood or on a reservation, poverty, crime, drugs and alcohol, and teen pregnancy.{youtube}https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0jq7jIa34Y{/youtube}
While SupaMan’s launch into the mainstream is great exposure for the collective Native American community, I am concerned about his novelty wearing off as his lyrics continue to describe community uplift but do not continually upgrade—if you will—to industry standards. In other words, what happens when he refuses to talk about money, clothes, and cars on his tracks? Will he just become a “one-hit-wonder,” a scapegoat, or has he really opened the door for his community and hip hop artists from it to break through, to shine?

As we await the fate of SupaMan, other Native American artists can be faintly heard, sharing more traditional community struggles. In his cut, “Prayers in a Song,” for example, Minneapolis rapper Tall Paul talks about Native American assimilation and the experience of being confined to a city while knowing his ancestors once roamed free on the land. Sporting street clothing and wearing his long hair in a ponytail, Tall Paul raps about missing his Native American language, culture, and customs, and asks his “Creator” whether he hears his English-spoken prayers.

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Other Native American artists use YouTube to share similar, though sometimes more vague struggles. Shauna, for example, raps about not being herself and her desire to be seen, to be exposed in her song “Something to Nothing.” In another song, “Find Myself,” she goes into her feelings of being lost while at home, though she vows to keep her head to the sky and states, “I stay…I will remain.”

[youtube width=”720″ height=”405″ video_id=”xHbqdIlznS4″]

What is interesting about Shauna and some other Native American artists featured on YouTube is that little information can be found about them outside of the website. To me, this is directly, interestingly reflective of the Native American community at large, a reality that could be changing, should be changing.

 It should not be kept secret and Native American hip hop artists are telling.


About

Ness White is a 26-year-young Black, lesbian, journalist, writer, poet, musician living in Philadelphia, PA. Born and partially-raised in Southern California before living in Washington State and Upstate New York, she has been something of a traveler her entire life, readily observing and striving to connect with anything and everything on her journey's path. So far, no connection has been as intense, as indelible as hip hop. For Ness, hip hop is more than a genre. It is a way of living with the body, emotions, mind, spirit all experiencing its core. In essence, it is a way of being in the world. Through her writing—using the page as a stage—she performs like an MC, capturing your attention with style, swag before touching your soul with the heart of her words. Read them and go where she has been, then take her with you on your own journey.


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