[The Source] Native American Hip Hop: Rhymes and Stories from the City to the Rez

By Kyle Mays
November 30, 2020

November is Native American Heritage Month. But how many people knew that? Better yet, how many people know that Native Americans—the Indigenous people of this land—are still here? During this month, it presents an opportunity for all of us to reflect on a history of genocide, and to consider what we collectively owe to the people upon whose land we all currently live. This month is not just about Thanksgiving, but remembering the struggle of Native Americans who fought valiantly for a future, and it is our job to make sure we remember. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are over 5 million Native Americans in the United States. There are 574 federally recognized tribal nations. They are sovereign nations. Their sovereignty pre-existed U.S. colonization and makes them a distinct group from other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.

What does sovereignty mean? In short, because tribal nations have a treaty relationship with the U.S., they have their own laws, they determine who is a citizen, and many nations, have their own land, called a reservation. They are U.S. citizens, but also citizens of their nation. And no, not every tribe earns casino money nor does every Native person receive scholarships for university. And just because you have an (alleged?) Native ancestor from the distant past based on your DNA test, that does not mean you’re Indigenous. It’s not only about what you claim but who claims you. Still, one of the best representations of Native sovereignty is Native American Hip Hop (NAHH).

NAAH remains one of the longstanding underground Hip Hop scenes that many still have not heard of. What makes their version of Hip Hop unique? They rap about sovereignty, settler colonialism, the daily struggles of living on reservations and in cities, in addition to having fun. According to historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, settler colonialism is the land theft and genocide that the U.S. government committed against Native people. But they are still here. Native Hip Hop has all of the elements of Hip Hop culture in general. Artists produce knowledge, rap, breakdance, deejay, and also produce graffiti and other forms of visual art. They also have what I call Indigenous Hip Hop Kinship. This kinship is a set of relationships between Native artists, rooted in their specific geographical location, their common experience as colonized people, as well as their connections to tribal nations and clans. I would add two more elements to Native Hip Hop, and that is sovereignty and fashion with a few differences.

Native artists rock Native bling. Native bling is the combination of a beaded medallion, turquoise jewelry, and earrings that are usually worn at powwows. Instead, artists use them in their Hip Hop performances. They not only represent Hip Hop culture in general but let their audiences know that they are sovereign people, with similar and unique struggles on the rez and in the city. However, an accurate representation of what it means to be Native Americans has not always existed in Hip Hop.

Read the full article here: https://thesource.com/2020/11/30/native-american-hip-hop/