“Having a message should be cool,” says Toronto hip-hop artist Rich Kidd on the power of rap. Kidd hosted First Out Here: Indigenous hip-hop, a documentary by Noisy, in which Kidd visited Winnipeg, Regina and Toronto to meet with Indigenous hip-hop artists. Kidd, born to Ghanian parents, says he drew a lot of parallels between Black and Indigenous communities when it comes to the social and political issues both face. “I don’t enter things with expectations,” says Kidd, ” but I knew that anything I would encounter would exceed what I thought just because there’s a lot of history.”
Audio engineer David Strickland was one of the Indigenous artists featured in the film. Strickland, whose clients include Drake and Jamie Foxx, says he doesn’t like the terms “native or Indigenous hip-hop.” He’s proud of his indigenous culture, but adds that he’s not limited by it because he tries to avoid being pigeonholed. “There are a lot of people who don’t know that we have that quality of artists. We are not all a certain way—so I say, be subjective.”
The film focuses on artists such as Drezus, Winnipeg Boyz, and T-Rhyme all reflect on the issues that surround their culture and community, from missing and murdered aboriginal woman to discussing the challenges they face trying to earn respect and popularize their music outside of the indigenous community. Strickland hopes the film helps shed some light on the artists’ talent, not just the Indigenous struggle. His advice to emerging indigenous hip-hop artists in transcending stereotypes and reaching mainstream success is simply: originality.
“Don’t just talk about the girls and the bling,” says Strickland, “that’s the problem in hip-hop, everyone is trying to cover everybody else, but back in the day we had 20 different flavours.” Kidd is also reminiscent of mainstream hip-hop—even referring to Tupac as sort of the “Che Guevara of hip-hop” of his time. “There was a point in rap where it was cool to be militant about what you believe,” Kidd adds, “and to stand up for your culture, beliefs and rights – that focus is so far off now.” Kidd believes that those that control mainstream and commercial music aren’t interested in promoting songs with strong messages, largely because they have the power to affect change.
“If we are told that this f**kery is going on day after day,” he says, “then we’re going to want to change it.” Kidd adds that the hip-hop community has the opportunity to watch these issues like “eagles” and to “intercept the path of where our generation is headed by leading them to the right direction and using our voice for positive change.”
The film was screened for the public by the Regent Park Film Festival in April and is available on YouTube through Vice’s sister channel Noisey.
Dina Lobo was an intern at This Magazine in April 2016