The Rhythmic Resilience of Native American Hip-Hop

Native American Hip-Hop graphic with headphones

As November unfolds, we find ourselves at the intersection of two significant cultural celebrations: Native American Heritage Month 2023 and Hip-Hop History Month. While many are familiar with the traditional aspects of Native American culture, there is a vibrant modern artistic movement that is often overlooked – Native American Hip-Hop. 

Hip-Hop has long been recognized as a powerful tool for social change, giving marginalized communities a platform to express their experiences and advocate for justice. For Native Americans, Hip-Hop provides a means to address issues such as land rights, cultural appropriation, and representation. This dynamic genre combines traditional elements with contemporary beats, providing a powerful platform for Indigenous voices to be heard. Influential artists like Frank Waln, Supaman, Pooky G, and LightningCloud are shaping the genre with their artistry and narrative. Through their rhymes, they challenge stereotypes, confront historical injustices, and call listeners to action. 

Frank Waln: Up-and-Coming Sicangu Lakota Hip-Hop Artist and Music Producer

Frank Waln is an award-winning Sicangu Lakota Hip-Hop artist, music producer, and activist who grew up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Waln’s first experience with Hip-Hop began after fatedly discovering an Eminem CD on the side of the road. This introduction began his immersion into the genre, leading him to recognize the parallels between the African American experience conveyed through Hip-Hop and his own Native American experience with oppression, colonialism, and genocide. 

In 2010, Waln collaborated with Thomas Schmidt, Andre Easter, and Kodi DeNoyer to create Nake Nula Waun. Their album “Scars and Bars won Waln the Best Producer award at the 2010 Native American Music Awards, with their group also receiving the Best Hip-Hop Recording award in 2011. Waln’s solo career kicked off with his single “Hear My Cry,” in collaboration with Cody Blackbird, which was nominated for two Nammys (Native American Music Awards), in 2013. His lyrical activism earned him a spot on “7 First Nation Rappers Crushing Stereotypes of Indigenous People Through Music” by BDG. In 2013, he released “Oil 4 Blood,” a powerful rallying call against the environmentally devastating Keystone XL Pipeline. His recent works, such as “Born Ready” and “In the Key of Lakota,” continue to resonate with social justice movements as odes to cultural identity and resistance. 

Alongside his thriving music career, Waln has established himself as a prolific writer, contributing to several publications, including Indigenous Hip Hop and Performance as Resurgence (Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, and Society) and My Family’s Thanksgiving on the Reservation Is a Rebuke to America’s Colonialism (The Guardian). Whether delivering performances or leading workshops, Waln is committed to imparting the values of self-empowerment and the importance of expressing one’s truth worldwide.

Supaman: Spiritually Innovative Apsaalooke Rapper and Traditional Dancer

Supaman’s (Christian Parrish Takes the Gun) has claimed a distinctive niche in the music industry with his unique style and creativity. With an original approach to the genre that incorporates traditional dance moves and outfits into his stage presence, Supaman bridges the gap between ancient traditions and modern music. His artistic journey began in fourth grade as a powwow dancer. In elementary school, he transitioned to writing poetry, ultimately evolving into rap music, sharing a similar social calling to Hip-Hop as Waln. In the 90s, he began DJ’ing, where he spontaneously coined the name Supaman during a DJ competition, marking a pivotal moment in his career.

After a profound spiritual encounter, Supaman committed himself to infusing his work with spiritual concepts. In 2003, Supaman founded the Native American Hip-Hop group Rezawrecktion, whose inaugural album, “It’s Time,” won a Native American Music Award in 2005. His solo work includes the innovative “Prayer Loop Song,” where he utilizes various instruments, including the drum and the ute, all while beatboxing, rapping, and remixing multiple Native tracks. His unparalleled style and creativity garnered him the 2017 MTV VMA award for “Best Fight Against the System,” a Nammy , the North American Indigenous Image Award, and seven Tunney Awards. 

Pooky G: Multitalented Female Hip-Hop Artist and Healer

Pooky G (Roni Gauthier) is a female indigenous Hip-Hop artist, Model, and Actor born and raised on Treaty 6 Territory Amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton). Growing up with an MC dad, Pooky G’s roots in the genre run deep. For Pooky G, music transcends mere entertainment; it’s a form of therapy, a channel for healing, and a platform for addressing unspoken issues. In an interview with Alberta Native News, she shares, “My motivation is knowing that I can use music as an outlook for healing and getting out a lot of stuff that needs to be said and a lot of issues that people deal with and don’t speak about. So it gives them something to relate to; inspiring others keeps me motivated and inspired as well.” 

Most recently, her EP album, “So Far So Hood,” earned her the Hip-Hop Album of the Year award at the 2022 International Indigenous Hip-Hop Awards. Her passion for healing has also led her to her work as an Aboriginal family needs support worker and a workshop facilitator for Going M.I.L.E.S.—a touring Indigenous youth empowerment program. In a further showcase of her multitalented accomplishments, Pooky G hosts Indigenous Hip-Hop as a DJ at two Radio Stations broadcast through Windspeaker media, recently starred as Lisa Cardinal in “Abducted,” and is featured as a model in several magazines. 

LightningCloud: Electro-House/Hip-Hop MC Powerhouse Duo

LightningCloud is an Electro-House/Hip-Hop fusion duo consisting of Crystle Lightning (Cree) and MC RedCloud (Wixárika), bringing a dynamic energy to the Native American Hip-Hop scene. With a mix of Hip-Hop, electronic beats, and traditional indigenous sounds, LightningCloud’s debut album “LightningCloud won Best Hip-Hop Album at the 2012 Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards and Best New Artist in 2013. Notably, the pair clinched victory battling against MCs across Southern California, winning Power 106’s “Who’s Next: Battle for the Best,” earning them a cash prize and performance with Kendrick Lamar. Currently, the pair are touring with their hit musical “Bear Grease,” a Treaty 6 Indigenous twist to the classic musical “Grease.”

Crystle Lightning

Hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, Crystle Lightning is a Plains Cree/First Nations artist known for her versatile talents in film, music, DJing, and as a Hip-Hop MC. At just 13 years old, Lightning embarked on her acting career, starring in films such as “Saving Jessica Lynch, “American Pie Presents: Band Camp,” and “Older Than America.” In 2021, she won Best Actress in a Drama Series for “Trickster At the 9th Canadian Screen Awards.

After attending a stirring set performed by DJ Lady Tribe in LA, Lightning was moved toward a musical journey of her own. She soon took a musical apprenticeship with Christi Mills, later joining her as one-half of the performance crew Ladies of the House. Leaving the DJ booth to enter center stage, Lightning paired up with MC RedCloud, forming LightningCloud. 

MC RedCloud

MC RedCloud (Henry Andrade) hails from Hawthorne, California, boasting a rich heritage of Indigenous and Mexican roots. Detailed in his album “Hawthorne’s Most Wanted,” RedCloud underwent a transformative experience, leaving behind the gang violence of his adolescence and entering the Hip-Hop and gospel scene in the early 90s. In his solo show, “Evandalism,” performed at the Edmonton Fringe Theatre, he affirms, “Music, dance, and especially Hip-Hop, really helped me take a big turn in my life; I really fell in love with this art. It helped carry me.” 

After signing with Syntax Records, RedCloud secured his place in the music industry, unveiling a series of solo albums, including standout releases like “Is This Thing On?,” and “Traveling Circus.” He embarked on tours alongside esteemed artists such as KRS-One, Immortal Technique, Evidence, Tech N9ne, and Murs throughout his tenure with the label. In 2010, RedCloud left Syntax Records to form his independent record label “1491 Nations”, subsequently releasing his first mixtape “1491 Nation Presents: MC RedCloud.” LightningCloud was formed shortly thereafter in 2012 alongside Crystle Lightning.

In a testament to his extraordinary talent, RedCloud set the Guinness World Record for freestyle rapping, breaking the previous 17-hour-long record by freestyling for 18 hours, one minute and 14 seconds.

Native American Hip-Hop’s Fusion of Culture and Advocacy

Through Hip-Hop, Native artists are not only preserving cultural narratives but advocating for social justice and conjoining marginalized voices across communities. As we immerse ourselves in the influential beats and lyrics of Frank Waln, Supaman, Pooky G, and LightningCloud, we find ourselves on a journey of reflection and empowerment. However, change doesn’t happen in the abstract—it starts with each of us. It’s in our conversations, our actions, and our support for these artists and the causes they champion. Because they aren’t just artists; they’re advocates, storytellers, and cultural torchbearers. That’s the power of Hip-Hop, it has the potential to transcend music. So, turn up the volume, listen closely, and let their creative defiance ignite you in joining their fight for recognition, representation, and justice.

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