switched on pop

Snotty Nose Rez Kids Revel in the Beautiful Blend of Rap and Indigenous Culture

Illustration: Iris Gottlieb

The rap duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids make a sound unlike anything Switched on Pop host Nate Sloan had ever heard. They merge the traditions of hip-hop and Indigenous music: On tracks like “War Club” with DJ Shub, members Yung Trybez and Young D connect Indigenous struggle to the Black Lives Matter movement, and on “Boujee Natives,” the pair celebrate traditional elements of their Haisla culture through a modern lens.

For their Indigenous fans, the Rez Kids’ songs and shows create a community and safe space for cultural expression and belonging. For non-Native listeners, the music both sheds light on a radical new scene and challenges them to confront their own identities as colonizers. Their first tour since COVID brought them to Los Angeles, where Nate got to catch the duo from what’s now British Columbia perform live to a raucous crowd. He spoke to them about their new album, After Life; pipeline protests; reclaiming the term “savage”; and how the hell Disney’s Pocahontas ever got greenlit.

Nate Sloan: I’d love to talk about one of your tracks from the 2019 album Trapline to introduce your sound, a song that made the audience go nuts last night called “Creator Made an Animal.” Could you explain that title?
Yung Trybez: Back when we were making Trapline, there was a lot of animosity toward Native people for holding up pipelines that were going across our territories and in particular Wet’suwet’en territory, up in northwest British Columbia. They were putting blockades up because the pipelines were coming through their community, coming through their trap lines. So we called the album Trapline, because we’ll run a trap beat, Atlanta sound, and pay homage to rap and ourselves.

Back in the day there was a phrase that said, “Kill the Indian, save the man.” We were called savages, and I got “savage” tattooed on my neck right now. And I rep that to the fullest. Everyone praises God; we praise Creator. With that, it was like, “Yo, we just let that savage come out in us.” And the sound of “Creator Made an Animal” is perfect for that.

You could hear a track like Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” as a key part of the sound of hip-hop, but I feel like when you use that word it has a different significance.
Young D: Growing up, that’s what we were called. Like, we weren’t even considered human. “There they go. They’re savages. We need to teach them the ways, to make them like us, to make them more Christian.” It’s a hip-hop term, but for us, we’re fucking reclaiming that shit.

Like, we grew up getting called “savages” and “dirty Indian” and stuff like that. And right down to kids’ movies; when you watch Pocahontas: “Savages, savages, barely even human.” Like, I don’t know who the hell greenlit that movie, but that’s how far it goes. And when you watch movies like that as a kid, that goes in your subconscious, right?

Yung Trybez: When we were kids, I remember playing netball [a basketball-like sport popular in Commonwealth nations] in elementary school, and we played this Catholic school and we whooped their ass, like, destroyed them. And at the end they started chanting that song from Pocahontas, “Savages, savages, barely even human” — that’s how it was.

There was a moment at the show that really stuck out: When you have a quotation of Kendrick Lamar’s song “Alright,” an amazing track that has also become a protest anthem for Black Lives Matter. What does hip-hop mean to you, not just as a sound, but as a political music?

Young D: We’ve just been silenced for so long. And a lot of Indigenous people just gradually moved toward hip-hop because they’re more similar than people think. In hip-hop, you have the MC. Well, we have our storytellers. You have the DJ, we have our drummer. You have the graffiti artists, we have our carvers, we have our beaters, we have our painters. You have the B-boys and the B-girls, we have our dancers. They’re very fucking parallel. And when it comes to “We gonna be alright,” and Black liberation and Indigenous sovereignty, hip-hop originally started as the voice of the oppressed way back in the ’70s, and remains so up until now.

Yung Trybez: We have our storytellers and First Nations culture, especially in North America, we are people of an oral tradition. There’s nothing written. There’s nothing set in script. So for us, being able to speak your mind, being able to tell the story of the last generation passed down to the next, that’s our job. That’s what we need to do. So we use hip-hop as an avenue to express ourselves and to be able to tell our story, and to pave the way for the next generation coming up after us.

It’s not only this musical experience at the show, but there’s also this community that I was feeling last night when you played a song off your new album like “Sink or Swim.” I thought, This feels different than going to hear a lot of bands. There’s this energy, people seeing each other in the crowd. What does that mean to you?

Young D: That’s everything, man. ’Cause our shows, it’s a safe space. We’re here to have a good time. We’re not here for a long time, but we’re going to have a good time. There’s just no time for toxic energy. I remember we’ve had times where fights would break out and we would stop the show and kick them the fuck out. We’re not here for that. It’s a safe space, and it’s exactly what you said: a community.

Yung Trybez: That’s not to say that we’re not here to rage. That’s one thing that we pride ourselves on. Like, “Yo, we’re here to get some fucking energy out and we’re here to rage and have a great time.” But like, obviously with Native people, there’s the stigma that makes people think that we’re addicted to drugs and liquor, all this shit, but it’s not like that.

A Tribe Called Red [the First Nations DJ crew that changed its name to the Halluci Nation earlier this year] set the standard for us for when it comes to partying and celebrating ourselves on a night out and witnessing history. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make history here.

*An earlier version of this post missppelled the names of Yung Trybez and Young D. It has been corrected.

Snotty Nose Rez Kids Rage Where Rap and Indigenousness Meet