Hip Hop Finds A Place On The Reservation

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Hip hop artist Brutus Baez, better known as Bigg B, blends his culture and passion for music. Bigg B explains the hip hop scene on Native American reservations, and how he incorporates the struggles of his people in his lyrics.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, our executive producer let's you know what's on her mind in a special Can I Just Tell You commentary. But first, hip-hop may be rooted in the African-American experience, but throughout the years, folks from many other cultures have adopted the music as their own. Rappers can be heard as far away as France, Israel, and Latin America. And here in the U.S., a hip-hop scene has emerged on Native-American reservations.

We got a taste of the latest in Native-American hip-hop when we spoke to rapper Brutus Baez, better known as Bigg B. He hosts a Native American hip-hop show called, "Groove Central" from KWSO in Warm Springs, Oregon where he is also the music director. Back in April, Bigg B told us about how he got drawn into the hip-hop nation.

Mr. BRUTUS BAEZ (Bigg B, Host, "Groove Central"): When I lived in California, they used to have a radio station out there, and Julio G was a deejay out there that had his own radio show called, "West Side Radio." And he used to play non-commercial music and he was able to put people - upcoming rappers as well on there, too. They could send their demos in, and 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 the, sort of, Native American hip-hop scene has a central home? Like you mentioned that the West Coast there, this is kind of in African-American hip-hop, it was kind of there for awhile, this 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's musicians out there, there's people from Florida, Tacoma, Washington. Actually, the main place that we reside in is the northwest. 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 in terms of how we live and where we're from.

MARTIN: Now, you're not only a deejay, but you're also an emcee, right?

Mr. BAEZ: Yeah. I actually, deejay, I do concerts. I'm the emcee for concerts or any type of event that people have.

MARTIN: Mm hm. Let's play one of your tracks. It's called, "Live and Die For Music." Let's play a little bit.

(Soundbite of son "Live And Die For Music")

Mr. BAEZ: (Rapping) Today is the day we all get made. Untouchable gang. Yo, play us in the shade all day. What we do is so brand new. Gave rhythm with the beat, blowing right through the roof . That was all about groove like 1-5-1. Time to get the job done. Get your ma, right son. Everybody in the house, put your tdrinks in the air. Gloss left, gloss right like you just don't care. Everybody, everywhere balling like it ain't fair. And we're still so blind, lady stop and stare. They say the West was won, but it 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, you know Queens, New York. It could be from anywhere, right?

Mr. BAEZ: Yeah.

MARTIN: Mm hm. 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 native hip-hop reflects life on the reservation?

Mr. BAEZ: Oh, 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: Mm hm. Well, in fact, it's to that point, you sent us a track by a group called The Rez Hogs, want to tell us a little bit about them?

Mr. BAEZ: This dude - they're actually really good people. They've been around for a while, since I believe 1999. And so, they actually started rapping because of Warm Springs.

MARTIN: Mm hm.

Mr. BAEZ: Because you know, Warm Springs out here, we was the one of the 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 "Lifestyles" music.

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

(Soundbite of song "Lifestyles")

THE REZ HOGS: (Rapping) Our lifestyle's wild, ignorance overshadows the intentions that we have. Only bad guys get foul, I can't find me a job or a place to stay. But county jail got me a bed, if my fine's ain't paid. I party hard for a week. Or until I get laid, it's whichever comes first. In my town we see the worst. Only takes a C, a drama-free life is in the dirt. Only way I see my home is making money's moving work. How you figure that makes sense for your rent and food to eat. And keep them beans coming back so you were living on the street. And then your friends, your family and people you know so well. We live the lifestyle - a far different from hell. We live the lifestyle that nobody wants. When you say alcohol was a factor in this weekend's fatal car crash. We live the lifestyle that nobody wants. Two teens are dead this morning, following last night's gang-related shooting. We live the lifestyle that nobody wants. Law enforcement say they're cracking down on the meth plague and the active violence. We live the lifestyle that nobody wants. Police continue to search the state for the eight-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 could relate. I think other people also like to hear other different races because they want to know what's going on in native communities, too, you know.

MARTIN: Yeah. 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: Yeah.

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. Then it was shot right here in Warm Springs, too, so it's very important to our people as well.

MARTIN: Oh, right. Let's play a little bit.

(Soundbite of song "Skin is my sin")

Mr. JSK: (Rapping) 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 for a thrill. So give God a place, Out of your age, I got plans to be rich, I'm selling drugs with my thugs, No love for a snitch...

MARTIN: Hmm, that's powerful.

BAEZ: The CD that they was named after was "Smoke Signals." If you've ever seen the movie "Smoke Signals"...

MARTIN: Sure.

Mr. BAEZ: It was written by the Sherman Alexie dude. And the reason why he named it "Smoke Signals" is because that 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 he, in this, he told his whole story about his smoke signals and how he would have made his movie, you know.

MARTIN: But it is - 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 that's - 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 want to hear it, sometimes people get defensive, a little embarrassed.

Mr. BAEZ: Yeah. There's a lot of stuff like that, especially here in Warm Springs. You know, people say that we come from a bad rez, 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 there's one song you sent us that I really could not get out of my head, and it was by N8. Tell me a little bit N8.

Mr. BAEZ: This song right here I chose because it was recorded in Iraq. N8, he's in Iraq currently right now serving for the country, you know. And he makes his music over there. 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. It'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")

N8: (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. And she can't quite cook, but she orders good Chinese. Wasn't too quick on my jokes to please...

MARTIN: That's amazing that he's able to do his thing overseas. That's crazy.

Mr. BAEZ: Yeah, email actually helped us out, too. That's one of the things I've got to give it up for 2007 and 2006 and 2008 is that email helped out a lot, you know, because like we do tracks together. Like I have a song with N8, and you know, I emailed it. And it gets to Iraq, and 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: Yeah, 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: Yeah, 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: Well, do they ever supply hooks or anything like that? Or 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. I'm just curious why I don't hear more, sort of, traditional sounds as motifs.

Mr. BAEZ: Yeah, we've tried. There's numerous records that have tried it. It just - sometimes they don't blend. A drumbeat is different from an actual synthesizer beat that you use on a beat machine, you know, like a MPC or a Phantom X7. If you mix that with an actual drum in hand, it's totally different. And so the vocals do - 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 10 bucks, so, you know what I mean. Just support native hip-hop.

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: A NAMMY being the...

Mr. BAEZ: The Native American Music Awards.

MARTIN: OK.

Mr. BAEZ: Yeah. 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 like - 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 chose because he's probably one of the next ones that I feel would blow up.

MARTIN: OK.

Mr. BAEZ: 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.

Mr. BAEZ: You know what I mean. He could 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 song "Little Love")

Mr. SUPERMAN: I used to have a crush on Kelly Kapowski, Until Zack had to tell me she's lousy, so now we flow with a (unintelligible) Crosby, Instead of making deals (unintelligible) Hear what this crazy little thing called love. (unintelligible) Yeah, and while he'd die for me, It was love for the kids, Come and ride with me And let's sing.

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. Yeah. And everything's gonna be all right now...

MARTIN: Sweet. Do you know anything about who the kids are? Are they kids from the reservation?

Mr. BAEZ: Yeah. 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 emcee, a deejay 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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