Hip Hop Finds New Home on the Reservation

Bigg B 300

Brutus Baez, better known as Bigg B, is bringing the emerging Native hip hop scene to larger audiences. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Culture and music blend together in the latest version of hip-hop music. Brutus Baez, better known as Bigg B, talks about his tracks and the hip hop scene emerging on Native American reservations.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, your remembrances of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination 40 years ago and the impact that the riots had in your cities. We asked you to tell us your stories and you delivered and that's coming up next. But first, the roots of hip-hop are in the African-American experience but throughout the years, folks from many other cultures have adopted the music and the style as their own. Rappers can be heard as far and away as France, Israel, and Latin America and here in the U.S., a hip-hop scene has emerged on Native American reservations. Here to fill us in on what that's all about is Brutus Baez, better known as Bigg B. Bigg B presides over a Native American hip-hop show called the Groove Central from KWSO in Warm Springs, Oregon, where he is also the music director. Bigg B, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. BAEZ: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Bigg B, first of all, if you don't mind my asking, who are your people?

Mr. BAEZ: I am Nez Perce, Paiute, Wasco, and Warm Springs.

MARTIN: OK. And how did you get into hip-hop?

Mr. BAEZ: When I lived in California they used to have a radio station up there, and Julio G was a DJ out there that had his own radio show called Westside Radio, and he used to play non-commercial music, and he was able to put people, upcoming rappers as well, on there too, that could send their demos and then he would play them. And so with that, you know, when I was out there, hip-hop was everything, it was blowing up out there, so I jumped on it.

MARTIN: Do you think that Native American hip-hop scene has a central home, like you mentioned that the West Coast - there was this kind of, in African-American hip-hop there was kind of, for a while, a West-Coast, East-Coast dichotomy and they kind of had different sounds.

Mr. BAEZ: Native hip-hop is everywhere. I went to New York, Niagara Falls and they have - there are musicians out there, there are people from Florida, Tacoma, Washington. Actually, the main place that we reside in is the North West, that's where we're emerging our own scene that we have. We have, like, about, 12 to 15 rappers that we all roll with that we just, you know, we all collaborate on everything we do, whether it's a video or a new song, an album coming out, a compilation, a show, a concert, an event. We do everything together out here.

MARTIN: Do you think there's a distinctive sound to Native hip-hop emerging?

Mr. BAEZ: A lot of people would say we're past our time but I honestly believe that it could be the next thing to come out, you know?

MARTIN: Who says it's past its time? Why?

Mr. BAEZ: Well, because we, you know what I mean, we don't really set trends out here, a lot of us are jumping on to what we hear in music. You know what I mean? Because we didn't know what hip-hop was until, you know, like you said, the African-Americans made it and, you know, we jumped on from what they were speaking, and we just put it in terms of how we live and where we're from.

MARTIN: Now, you're not only a DJ but you're also an MC, right?

Mr. BAEZ: Yes, I actually DJ, I do concerts, I'm the MC for concerts or any type of event that people have.

MARTIN: Well let's play one of your tracks. It's called "Live and Die for Music." Let's play a little bit.

(Soundbite of song "Live and Die for Music")

Mr. BAEZ: (Rapping) Today's the day we all get made. Untouchable game. Yo players in the shade all day. What we do is so brand new. Get rhythm with the beat. Blowing right through the roof. Now it's all about proof like 151. Time to get the job done. Get your mob right, son. Everybody in the house, with your drinks in the air. Floss left floss right like you just don't care. Everybody everywhere bawling like it ain't fair. But we're still so fly. Ladies stop and stare. They say the west was won but it's just begun. We collide with the earth. Straight chillin' by the sun, yo.

MARTIN: Well I see what you're saying in the sense that, I mean, this could be, you know, from Compton, it could be from Queens, New York, it could be from anywhere, right.

Mr. BAEZ: Yes.

MARTIN: On the other hand, you know, people always say that hip-hop is the CNN of the streets, where artists express, you know, lyrically the things they see happening in their world. Do you think that the Native hip-hop reflects life on the reservation?

Mr. BAEZ: Most definitely. See with that song right there I tried to depict the fun side of it, because a lot of the music that I feel Native Americans express is a lot depressing, you know, and a lot of people really, you know what I mean. Like, if you're trying to go to a club and have fun, you can't bump Native American music sometimes because it's so depressing and people just want to talk about the downside of being native, you know. And that song right there reflects a very positive side of how native people can come together and have fun, you know?

MARTIN: Well in fact to that point, you sent us a track by a group called the Rez Hogs, you want to tell us a little bit about them?

Mr. BAEZ: This dude - they're actually really good peoples. They've been around for a while, since I believe 1999, and so they actually started rapping because of Warm Springs. Because, you know, Warm Springs out here we was one of the first people to start rapping and putting it on the scene, and they actually came down here for a concert one time, and they just loved how we represented our people you know, and so they decided to start rapping. And this is off their latest album called "The Outsiders," which I'm featured on. But this right here is "The Lifestyle of Music."

MARTIN: OK, let's hear some of that track, "Lifestyles," let's play a little bit.

(Soundbite of song "The Lifestyle of Music")

The REZ HOGZ: (Rapping) Our lifestyles wow, ignorance overshadows, getting tensions that we had. Only bad guys get followed, I can't find me a job or a place to stay, but the county jail got me a bed if my fines ain't paid. I'll party hard for a week or until I get laid. It's whichever comes first. In my town we see the worst. Only place to see a drama-free life is in the dirt. Only way I see my homies making money is moving work. How you figure that makes sense for your rent and food to eat you keep the fiends coming back to you and living on the street? And then your friends, your family, and people you know so well, we live the lifestyle not far different from hell. We live the lifestyle that nobody wants.

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) Police say alcohol was a factor in this week's fatal car crash.

The REZ HOGZ: (Rapping) We live the lifestyle that nobody wants.

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) Two teens are dead this morning following last night's gang related shooting.

The REZ HOGZ: (Rapping) We live the lifestyle that nobody wants.

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) Law enforcement say they're cracking down on the meth plague and the active violence.

The REZ HOGZ: (Rapping) We live the lifestyle that nobody wants.

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) Police continue to search the state for the 8-year-old boy missing.

MARTIN: It's gritty, it's gritty, but do you feel that people appreciate hearing their experiences reflected in the music, or do you think sometimes people don't want to hear it? They really would prefer that you kind of keep it light?

Mr. BAEZ: It goes on both ends. I honestly feel like our people like to hear it just because they can relate. I think other people also like to hear it, other different races, because they want to know what's going on in native communities too, you know.

MARTIN: Yes, I would think. In fact, there's another track I want to bring up that brings up this kind of parallel of, you know, the native experience with the African-American experience. It's, let me get this right, "Skin is my Sin."

Mr. BAEZ: Yes.

MARTIN: Right, by the group JSK, and they're from Warm Springs.

Mr. BAEZ: He's actually an individual. This song is actually very important to native hip-hop because it was one of the first ones to have a video, and it was shot right here in Warm Springs too, so it's very important to our people as well.

MARTIN: All right, let's play a little bit.

(Soundbite of song "Skin is my Sin")

Mr. JSK: (Singing) Lord I hope you hear me. Forgive me for my sins. The things I did in life I never meant to do to them. I was big trouble in a little ghetto place, growing not knowing I was blessed with my race. Never trust blue eyes. I took a look around, drug-addicted alcoholics, no crackers in my town. I got a frown on my face. It's got me in a rage. I want to kill fourth reel, so give God a place. I got plans to be rich, I'm selling drugs with my thugs, no love for a snitch.

MARTIN: That's powerful.

Mr. BAEZ: The CD that they was named after was "Smoke Signals." Have you ever seen the movie "Smoke Signals?

MARTIN: Sure.

Mr. BAEZ: It was written by that Sherman Alexie dude, and the reason why he named it smoke signals is because he felt as though that depicted our people in a wrong way, because, you know, natives don't act like that or be like that, you know, and told his whole story about his smoke signals and how he would have made his movie, you know.

MARTIN: But it does raise an interesting point about saying that you don't want to pass on the oppression that's been passed on to you.

Mr. BAEZ: Yes, exactly.

MARTIN: So is that controversial? You know sometimes folks, you know, the thing about art is art gets the message to everybody, and sometimes when you're making art for a group of people and it reflects things that they want to say to each other, when other people hear it, sometimes people get defensive, a little embarrassed.

Mr. BAEZ: Yes, exactly.

MARTIN: Does that happen? Do you find that happens when the artists - when the work gets outside the reservation? People are like, well wait a minute, I might not necessarily want to be depicted that way?

Mr. BAEZ: Yes, there's a lot of stuff like that. Especially here in Warm Springs. You know people say that we come from a bad res, but honestly I see a lot of positive where I'm from. You know, just as much on any other reservation as well too.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're talking to Brutus Baez, aka Bigg B, he's an MC, a DJ, and a connoisseur of native hip-hop. There's one song you sent us that I really could not get out of my head, and it was by Nate. Tell me a little bit Nate.

Mr. BAEZ: This song, right here, I've chosen because it was recorded in Iraq. Nate - he's in Iraq currently right now serving for the country, you know, and he makes his music over there. You know, and if you look on his MySpace at the same time you'll see him holding M-16s and chilling with his, you know, his group, you know his people that he works with. You know he's constantly in a truck or the tanks, you know what I mean, you see stuff like that, and he's still representing native hip-hop from Iraq, you know, and that right there is just unbelievable. His album "This Year in 2008," is actually the most anticipated one that's off the Wasted Talent album. It's called "After Me," that's the song.

MARTIN: Let's play a little bit.

(Soundbite of song "After Me")

Mr. NATE: (Rapping) Yo we both had problems, but yo it was mutual, on another level that was kind of more spiritual. She got my bail money, not even mad at me. Scooped me from the station all she could do was laugh at me. She let me cruise her ride, got me looking fresh, looking for a good time she let me relieve stress with the homies at the party while she chilled at the house. Give a kiss on the cheek with the hug, babe I'm out. Yo we saw every movie that was brand new in theatres and was showing up early to catch the previews and features. Yo I want to see that one when it comes out this summer. Knows I had other girls, but she's my one lover. She can't quite cook but she orders good Chinese. Wasn't too quick on my jokes to please.

MARTIN: That's amazing. He's able to do his thing overseas, that's crazy!

Mr. BAEZ: Yes, email actually helped us out too, that's one of the things I got to give it up for in 2007, 2006, and 2008, is that email helped out a lot. Because like, we do tracks together. Like, I have a song with Nate and you know I emailed it, it gets to Iraq, he puts it on and shows people out there, you know, just as well as we get his tracks out here.

MARTIN: I mentioned earlier that you're also the music director for your station, and you also have a sacred music program.

Mr. BAEZ: Yes, Sacred Ground Entertainment.

MARTIN: And do those worlds ever mix? Does the world of sacred music ever connect with the hip-hop world? Do they ever influence each other? Do the artists ever work together?

Mr. BAEZ: Yes, actually they do because like powwow people, like when you play traditional music, they make albums too, and so what we do is we network together to see, you know, like if we could help each other sell albums, you know.

MARTIN: But do they ever supply or hooks or anything like that? Do people - do the hip-hop heads stay away from that because they don't want to be associated with it? I don't know, I'm just curious why I don't hear more sort of traditional sounds as motifs?

Mr. BAEZ: Yes, we've tried, there are numerous records that have tried it. Sometimes they don't blend. A drum beat is different from an actual synthesizer beat that you use on a beat machine, you know like an MPC or a Phantom X7. If you mix that with an actual drum in hand, it's totally different, and so the vocals - like we have tried it before. It does sound good on some songs, but on some you just can't get away with it.

MARTIN: So Bigg B, tell us, just sum it up for us, are there some things you would like people to know about the native hip-hop scene that they didn't know before and what we should be looking for?

Mr. BAEZ: Support it. Definitely support native hip-hop, and you know we do travel a lot so if we're near your city, you know what I mean, just support it, get up with us and see what we have to offer. We have a lot of things, you know, as far as merchandise we got t-shirts, clothes, we got CDs, we're actually trying to do a movie here in May, and that should be good. We're trying to do it low budget of course. You know everything we do is low budget. The last video I did actually cost like ten bucks. So, you know what I mean, just support native hip-hop.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You sent us one other track. A slow jam. Tell me a little bit about that, "Little Love."

Mr. BAEZ: "Little Love," Superman is actually, he was a Nammy winner before, I think in 2006.

MARTIN: And Nammy being the...

Mr. BAEZ: The Native American Music Awards.

MARTIN: OK.

Mr. BAEZ: Yes, we have one of those every year. Anyway, this guy, he used to tour with Lightfoot a while back and he became a Christian rapper, and so, you know, he wasn't really doing music with natives a lot, and just recently he started getting on everybody's album, like just networking crazy which - so he basically makes us feel like we're doing something good because now he's coming back to us, you know, he's on what we're doing, he feels what we're doing, he loves our music, he supports it, he invites us to shows, and this dude, he's been everywhere, you know? And so he's one of the main dudes that I chosen because he's probably one of the next ones that I feel would blow up, and I could always count on this dude for a radio edit song. You know I never have to worry about him cussing ever, so - and it's quality music.

MARTIN: Well that's important.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAEZ: He can make that. He's a proof that you don't have to cuss and you can make real good music.

MARTIN: All right, let's play a little bit of his non cussing music. This is "Little Love" by Superman.

(Soundbite of "Little Love")

Mr. SUPERMAN: (Rapping) I used to have a crush on Kelly Kapowski until Zack had to tell me she's lousy, so now we flow with Crosby, just chillin' instead of making deals on the alley, we rally. Yeah, what's this crazy little thing called love, yeah, what the lord gives me, and why he died for me if was love for the kids coming round with me and saying.

Unidentified Children: (Singing) All I really need is a little love. Just a little love, yeah. And I can make it through the day because the world is going crazy round and round, spinning round and round. And everything's gonna be all right now.

MARTIN: That's sweet. Do you know anything about who the kids are? Are they kids from the reservation?

Mr. BAEZ: Yes, they're kids from his - because he's a pastor too, so like they're kids from his church.

MARTIN: OK.

Mr. BAEZ: I believe they're his kids actually, too.

MARTIN: OK, well that's nice. Brutus Baez, better known as Bigg B, is an MC, a DJ, and the music director of KWSO in Warm Springs, Oregon. He joined us from their studios. Thanks so much for joining us, B.

Mr. BAEZ: You're welcome.

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