Supaman: Rapping On The Reservation The Crow Nation emcee has embraced God, but he cloaks his message to get through to his fans.
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Supaman: Rapping On The Reservation

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Supaman: Rapping On The Reservation

Supaman: Rapping On The Reservation

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From its early roots in urban African-American culture, hip-hop music has spread to every corner of the U.S. and beyond. Its themes have developed a particular appeal in some Native American communities.

Taki Telonidis of the Western Folk Life Center reports from southeast Montana, where one performer is using hip-hop to tell the story of reservation life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY SUPAMAN)

TAKI TELONIDIS, BYLINE: He calls himself Supaman and on his chest, he wears a t-shirt with a portrait of the great chief, Plenty Coups, who led the Crow nation a century ago.

: Hello, people. My name is Christian Parrish Takes the Gun. I'm a member of the Crow tribe, aka Supaman, holding it down right here.

TELONIDIS: Supaman needs no introduction for young people on the Crow reservation because, for more than a dozen years, his songs have spoken directly to them, much like early hip-hop spoke to kids in the inner city.

This song is about hanging out on the rez in summertime.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY SUPAMAN)

TELONIDIS: Supaman saw many of those crazy things as a kid. He says his parents were alcoholics and he spent lots of time in foster care before moving in with his grandfather. And for as long as he can remember, hip-hop was playing in the background, almost like a soundtrack. When he was 24, Supaman decided it was time to make his own music.

: It was just nonsense. It was just dumb, you know. It was like gangster rap or something, you know. The way hip-hop influenced me in my earlier years is in a negative way. You know, I mean, I hate to say that, but it's true.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY SUPAMAN)

TELONIDIS: Supaman says he got lucky. He was never caught breaking the law and as his music career gained momentum, it seemed hip-hop could be his ticket to a better life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY SUPAMAN)

TELONIDIS: A record label in Seattle took interest in him and Supaman started touring, leaving behind his wife and baby. On one trip, he and another Native American rapper were in New Mexico bringing down the house.

: And I'm loving it, you know. I'm like, I'm the man. You know, I'm doing it.

TELONIDIS: Then one night, after the concert, two girls walked up to him.

: They're like, man, you were awesome up there, man. Where you from? Like, I'm from the Crow Nation. You know, I'm from Crow and everything...

TELONIDIS: One thing led to another and Supaman found himself kissing one of the girls and then catching himself.

: I start feeling like, what are you doing? You know, you got a wife. You got a baby girl, you know...

TELONIDIS: It was the first time Supaman felt remorse in a long while. He'd crossed the line and it didn't feel good.

: I was sick.

TELONIDIS: He got sick to his stomach.

: I was, like, puking, everything.

TELONIDIS: He couldn't eat for days. He missed concerts and he began to question the gangster life he was leading and to look for answers in unlikely places, like one night back at the hotel.

: I was just, you know, down and out, kind of rock bottom, I guess you could say and I grabbed the bible.

TELONIDIS: Reading the bible rekindled memories of going to church as a boy and, despite his own disbelief at first, Supaman found himself in a dialog with God over the next few days, even seeing a sign of His presence and falling into prayer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY SUPAMAN)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY SUPAMAN)

ALEX CHADWICK, BYLINE: Supaman stayed true to his word. He walked away from a deal with the record label and returned to the reservation to weave a new message into his music. He knew he couldn't be too obvious about it, though. Otherwise, his fans would turn him off, so he cloaked the message under a tough exterior of rugged beats and heavy-hitting metaphors.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY SUPAMAN)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY SUPAMAN)

CHADWICK: Supaman says his conversion has allowed him to look at his life and the reservation with different eyes to see beyond the bad things and focus on the beauty and humor that also are there.

TELONIDIS: I've talked to a lot of kids, you know. I go to schools and everything and I tell them, man, you don't know who you are, you know. You don't know what you have. Like, you can go to Europe, Japan. These people love you because you're Native American, you know, so you should value that, you know. You should value that and know who you are.

A lesson Supaman had to learn the hard way, but one he'll keep passing on to the next generation on the reservation.

For NPR News, I'm Taki Telonidis.

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