Over the past 15 years First Nations artists in Canada have taken to hip hop as a powerful storytelling method. First Nations hip hop is an incredible blend of traditional art forms, evocative imagery and raw and real exerpience relayed with a beat. It’s as if hip hop was built for indigenous expression – being story based, status informed, poetic and underscored with a heartbeat. I have a bunch of friends in this field including Skeena Reece, Jerrilynn Webster, Manik1derful, Rachel Oki, Wasaskwun Wuttunee and others.
Beat Nation was an exhibition of indigenous hip hop artists that closed in March 2010, but the site is still up and there is a great essay there from Tania Willard about the then current state of indigenous hip hop culture and one by Skeena Reece on hip hop in the indigenous context:
I think that a larger conversation needs to take place to really get to the root of what I am talking about here. We are now seeing on a grand scale, also due to the growing number of young Indigenous people coming of age, a massive documentation process and participation in mainstream culture. They are talking about their standards of living, their communities, their hopes and fears, and we need to listen. We need to open our eyes and really see what they are presenting and not just as a last resort to avoid any great catastrophes: we need to use it as a first resort for guidance in our roles as adults and guardians. Just as in any massive form of communication, there are going to be sentimental statements made, broad sweeping fears expressed and lots of ‘documentation’ to examine, but we should really consider ourselves lucky. Native youth, Native people, Indigenous people, hip hop people are presenting ideas, making connections, drawing conclusions and asking important questions. If we use this is as a basis of discussion, we can see that they’ve taken a lot of guesswork out of the equation and what we are left with is the essence of where they are at, exactly. As adults, educators, helpers, historians and just plain human beings we need to honour this subculture as much as we honour our own families. In doing this, we honour ourselves, our people and our humanity.
Just cool stuff.