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Right Level, Next Level: Indigenizing Hip Hop

April 1, 2015

by Mahlikah Awe:ri

It’s 9 am on a Saturday morning and I am standing in front of 150 Indigenous young leaders from across the province who have gathered for the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centre’s Youth Forum. Red SlamMA1 Collective affiliate, Joseph J-Rebel Hersco (Supernaturalz Crew), and myself have been commandeered to motivate our 7Gen leaders with an hour presentation entitled, “HipHop a True Story.” We begin the session with an ice-breaker, called “Where Do You Stand?” We have large chart paper on either side of the room; one sheet is labelled “NO” and one labelled “YES”. And in the centre of the room, we have a sheet labelled, “MAYBE”.

We then asked the participants a series of critical questions and they must move to one of the three areas in the room based on their response to the question. A few examples:

  1. “Is Hip Hop for those who self-identify as male?”
  2. “Is Hip Hop materialistic?”
  3. “Is Hip Hop indigenous?”

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Rhyming Out the Future: Reclaiming Identity Through Indigenous Hip Hop

March 31, 2015
Lindsay Knight

by Lindsay Knight

Hip hop music has begun to transform the ways in which young Indigenous people perceive their environments and assert their identities. Examples of resistance in Indigenous music can easily be discovered through hip hop. Without easy access to land and rural communities, urban Indigenous people often have limited exposure to ceremonial ways of experiencing music. Many grow up without an awareness of the existence of Indigenous forms of song and dance beyond the limited versions taught in school. Instead, they are exposed to other forms of music, which they latch onto and reformat by incorporating Indigenous style and sound into the music. By focusing on positive and conscious artists who are situated in this growing movement, this essay describes how hip hop fills a cultural void within urban people’s identities, and assists in maintaining Indigenous worldview through resistance, revitalization and connection to the spirit world.

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Trackin’ settler colonial erasures in Palestine: Decolonizing Zionist toponymy

March 27, 2015
chandni blog photo

by Chandni Desai

Settler colonial societies use national mythologies to erase the genocidal history that lead to a settler nation’s founding. These national mythologies are profoundly racialized and spatialized stories. Sherene Razack (2002) argues that “although the spatial story that is told varies from one time to another, at each stage the story installs Europeans as entitled to the land, a claim that is codified in law” (p. 3). The legal doctrine of terra nullius – empty, uninhabited lands – describes territory that has supposedly never been subject to the sovereignty of any nation. Settler colonists used such laws to politically and materially occupy Indigenous land.

For example, early Zionist settler colonists rendered the land of Palestine as a “land without a people, for people without a land.” Zionist “imaginative geographies” (Said, 1978) constructed Palestine as terra nullius, the empty wilderness, a land that is “bare”, “abandoned”, “naked”, “virgin” and withered” – a land that had a body without organs (Neumann, 2011, p. 79). Such imaginative geographies enabled Zionist settlers to conquer the land of Palestine while producing narratives of Palestinian absence from the land and denying the ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Palestinians from their lands, which is known as the al-Nakba (the catastrophe). Colonizers use geography to produce their spaces, meanings and most importantly their subjects:

“Just as mapping colonized lands enabled Europeans to imagine and legally claim that they have discovered and owned the lands of the ‘New World’, unmapping is intended to undermine the idea of white settler innocence […] to uncover the ideologies and practices of conquest and domination.” (Razack, 2002, p. 5)

Cultural producers in Palestine, of Palestinian ancestry living in exile around the world, and allies in solidarity with Palestine are increasingly resisting Zionist settler colonialism’s national mythologies and imaginative geographies through their cultural work. In particular, hip hop culture – specifically rap music and graffiti – are mediums used to resist Zionist stories and constructions of settler colonial time and space.

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Sonic Intimacies: On Djing Better Futures

March 25, 2015
Epilogue- Grumps speaking at Tdot Pioneers

by Mark V. Campbell

Recently I was invited to DJ the afterparty of a symposium at Queen’s University, called Colonial Intimacies: Remapping the Relationships between Black and Indigenous Communities. A boldly conceived and welcomed conversation, the Better Futures Collective developed a symposium to address the “academic, activist, and creative conversations surrounding anti-blackness, indigeneity, settler colonialism and decolonization.”

Rather than simply providing the ‘entertainment’ to get asses moving, I sought to carefully curate a mix that might get the mind moving too. In my Sonic Intimacies mix the intention was to bring together the relational poetics of hip hop music and its related sonic progeny. For many successful DJs, their introduction to the art form lay in hip hop djing, such that mixing, scratching and cutting are well-known techniques by DJs. We can confidently add folks like David Guetta, DJ Atrak and Dr. Jay De Soca Prince to this list, although they are today known more for other musical genres. Hip Hop djing is a lingua franca, a common grammar in djing culture (at least since the 1980s) that help DJs learn and engage a diversity of musical genres. In the cutting and scratching sessions that make Turntablists so unique, one can find cartoon samples, interspersed with political speeches and enhanced using mixing techniques developed within the analogue histories of vinyl DJs. What if the DJ’s role in our lives could be one that brought together, into new relationships, those things we previous imagined to be separate? Reflecting on the themes of Colonial Intimacies provided me with an occasion to creatively imagine a decolonized relationship between Black and Indigenous worlds, a creative imagining indebted to hip hop and adamantly disregarding the market orientated notions of genre.

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Burning the Imperialist Nostalgia: The Native Urban Renaissance in North America

March 23, 2015

by Bryce Henson

Indigenous cultures are symbolically constructed in a pre-Columbus past as a mechanism to produce an essentialist notion of Indigenous peoples, who majestically vanish upon contact into the contemporary moment. While it was recognized that the United States of America was previously inhabited by Indigenous peoples, European contact and colonialism have erased them—when or how are always a mystery—from the imaginative contours of who belongs within these borders that are now inhabited by white Americans and minoritized communities. This is what anthropologist Renato Rosaldo called the “imperialist nostalgia” (1993) that longs for a pristine Other culture that was ‘lost’ when the colonizer killed it. It then becomes the responsibility of the (former) colonizers to maintain and carry on the cultural traditions of this Other lost group. This nostalgia is both the physical and imaginative erasure of Indigenous bodies from modern society (which is imagined as anywhere outside of reservations). Thus we can only imagine Indigenous peoples to be backwards, savage, living on reservations that separate Indigenous peoples spatially and culturally, and practicing a monolithic “traditional” Indian culture. From the cornfields of Champaign-Urbana where I write this, we see this through the use of the Chief in unlicensed paraphernalia and the use of Indian music, drums, war paint, and headdresses to “honor” the “tradition” of a generic and fictional Indian tribe. My question is, then: what do Indigenous peoples have to say about modern society and urban belonging through cultural expressions?

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Indigenous Hip Hop and Performance as Resurgence

March 19, 2015
Frank Waln

by Frank Waln

Something reflected the soft light from the setting sun right into my eye as I walked along the reservation gravel road with my mother one evening. Many evenings were spent this way, my mother and I, walking in our small rural community of He Dog on the Rosebud Reservation located in south central South Dakota. I didn’t realize then that one walk in particular would change my life forever.

I took home the scratched CD I found discarded in the ditch by the road and borrowed a CD player from one of my cousins. I never owned any music up until that point of my life. Accustomed to the country music our rez radio station played and the ceremony/pow wow songs I heard around our reservation, I didn’t realize I could seek out different types of music. I didn’t think the CD would even play it was so scratched up. Much to my surprise Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP played all the way through even with the scratches. My mind was blown. It was like someone, maybe the Creator, had planted an emotional and artistic box of dynamite on the side of that road for me to find. I felt like Eminem was telling my story and getting all his pain out through music. I wanted that for myself.

I was obsessed. I was in love with this music. The music of hip hop within me was already waiting to explode and make its way into the world.

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Where You’re From and Where You’re At: Place, Space, and the Assertion of Nationhood in Shibastik’s “Moose River”.

March 18, 2015
Susan Blight

by Susan Blight

Place and space have been key themes in hip-hop culture since its inception. Within the art of emceeing, place refers to locality–specifically, where you’re from–and in contemporary hip-hop the articulation of place has become more and more localized (region or coast becomes city, city becomes hood or borough). A more abstract notion, space is defined by experience within place and is individuated; hip-hop as an artform emphasizes the politicized character of place, linking it to the development of identity and making place a site of significance and meaning-making. Space is more than physical environment as Murray Forman notes, “the spatial character of any environment is often forged through the political alliances or antagonisms that unfold within social relations” (Forman, p. 156). With the affirmation of place and the articulation of space–the where you’re at– the emcee relates their story, making experience into oral knowledge.

Emceeing centers the storyteller. As the emcee navigates and interacts with place, lessons and reflections are formed and turned into raps, connecting lived experience to the dropping of oral knowledge. It is not just the story that matters in emceeing but the presence of the storyteller in verbal delivery, the voice being the physical enactment of story, marking it as authentic.

What does this emphasis on place, space, and voice look like for Indigenous artists and Indigenous cultural production? In Shibastik’s 2012 track Moose River, place and space feature prominently in interesting ways. To reference The God MC Rakim, for an Indigenous artist it does matter where you’re from and where you’re at.

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