Deconstructing perceptions of First Nations people with intelligence and responsibility, hip hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids are at the forefront of Canada’s indigenous renaissance
“The Culture of the Haisla is built on respect. Respect for the land, the air, the water, the animals and each other.
“The Wa’wais is a track of land, today it’s known as a trapline. That Wa’wais is owned by a clan member. Wa’wais boundaries are from sea to the mountaintops. The Wa’wais will be protected for future generations. We own only the responsibility to protect the land, the sea and the air, and all that live within it, for future generations…”
So begins Trapline, the third record from Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce and Darren “Young D” Metz, collectively known as Snotty Nose Rez Kids. The words, spoken by Nyce’s mother, combine with the powerful Tanya Tagaq-assisted “Rebirth”, with its mantra “resist, revive, indigenize” to act as a powerful mission statement for what follows, both on the record and for the groups Minay movement itself.
Hailing from the Haisla First Nation near Kitimat, BC (around fifteen-hours drive north of their current home in Vancouver), Nyce and Metz have been making music together for around ten years. Their self titled debut, in Yung Trybez own words, showcased, “the beautiful things about being raised on a reservation as well as the sorrows.” The swift follow up, The Average Savage saw the band take on other people’s stereotypes and perceptions of indigenous people, and turn them on their head. It was a powerful reclamation of decades of othering, prejudice and violence.
“American media painted a picture of First Nations people as savages, we were painted with a picture that we were less than human. That album spoke to those stereotypes and we tried to deconstruct it and make it our own. We reclaimed all that bad shit that they say about us. If you listen to the first album, it was a lot of us finding ourselves and trying to find comfort in our own skin. We never had that growing up, it wasn’t really…you talk to any native growing up in my community and no one was 100% comfortable with themselves because we were always told that we are less than the white man. Not everyone, but people wanted to be white, or were uncertain about being who we are…and that comes with a lot of things that we talked about on The Average Savage. Not only media but our peers would look at us as we were not equal to them.
Average Savage takes that narrative down and destroying it. It was really empowering our youth and letting them know that they should proud of who they are and where they come from….because why the fuck not.”
The record began to make an impact outside of Canada’s west, and the band found themselves shortlisted for 2018’s Polaris Prize, taking the stage for the nights stand-out performance with Whitehorse’s Dakhká Khwaán Dancers, exploding into the Canadian consciousness with slick flows and sharp beats. It was the moment everything changed.
“We have a lot more people looking at us now. Trapline wasn’t supposed to be Trapline…it was supposed to be Rez Bangers and Koolapops … a summer mixtape that we wanted to come and perform at festivals to get the crowd hyped and let them know were going to put on the best show at any festival. But after all the Polaris stuff realised how important our voices were to everybody in Canada. How important our voices were for everyone in the states. White, brown, native…everyone. So on this new record we talk about where we come from…the importance of preservation, not only of our land but ourselves. Without the preservation of our land we don’t exist. Without the preservation of ourselves, and our identity, and traditions and cultures, we don’t exist.”
With an increased platform, and increased expectations, rather than basking in their new found notoriety, the duo looked to community, both within their own reservation, their city, Canada and beyond to lift up and encourage the celebration of culture, whatever the context. Rather than take the limelight, they sought to share their platform with a host of emcees from around the world, often ceding the spotlight to their collaborators. The result are slick, inclusive, politically charged and musically powerful. Trap beats click and stutter, samples trigger, heads bob and references drop as heavy as the bass-lines from Section 35 to colonialism via Kendrick Lamar, Pink Floyd, Childish Gambino, Method Man, Hulk Hogan, the Buena Vista Social Club, and both Christopher’s Wallace and Columbus.
“It’s especially important for us to come off Average Savage when were talking about all that racist bullshit and coming in and showcasing people from Indian decent, people from black decent, people from Asian decent… We’ve got so many different people. And different reservations. People can be so one track minded…they think everyone’s the same. On this record we try to show them that there should be no lateral violence to anyone…it should all be more accepting. The record is an invitation for people to come and showcase what they do, and speak from their contexts. Show the world what they are about.”
This is particularly evident on “Son Of A Matriarch”, a track paying homage to the powerful women in society, heading movements and more. “It’s about the women in our lives who shaped us into who we are as men. without those women in our lives we wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t exist. We gave The Sorority full range to do what they do…put them in the studio and said you guys take this track and run with it…it's yours.”
These guest turns all feed in to the wider Minay movement championed by the group, as Young D explains: “We call it the Minay movement because its just that. It’s a movement. The original word in our language is ḿanesut and that translates as ‘brotherhood’Haisla. So our dads, our uncles would see each other and say “what’s up Minay?” We took that and wanted to make it not just about brotherhood. It’s sisterhood too. It’s family, it’s unity, it’s a movement. With Minay it’s a no-crabs-in-the-barrel mentality…we all want to see each other succeed and lift each other up with support when we can, and slowly but surely it’s picking up, and it’s picking up and here we are today, releasing our third album. It’s Crazy.”
Trapline isn’t simply a great record, it’s also an important record, a soundtrack to a movement that is on the rise. The duo’s position alongside the likes of Tagaq, A Tribe Called Red and Jeremy Dutcher at the forefront of what Dutcher himself called the “Indigenous Renaissance” is an honour the band have not taken lightly. They find themselves in the unique position to help bring First Nations' culture front and centre, to renew, revive and remix it.
“We weren’t raised traditionally," explains Yung Trybez. "We weren’t raised to learn our songs and languages. We were actually taught it was more important to learn French in High school over Hislakala, to study different types of art instead of First Nations art, because that was what would get you into college. No one thought about what we needed to preserve our culture our traditions and our languages and what we are doing now, for people who don’t come from that kind of background, is putting a contemporary twist on it.
"These teachings are from a generation of people that were literally put into a residential school …because the last school wasn’t closed until 1996. Since then you see a generation after my parents that are coming up and leading the way for our people to research that slump we were in. It wasn’t because of us, it was to do with colonial impact, and that forceful impact that they had on our people. It was done on purpose. So all these movements that are happening within indigenous music be that throat singing, what Jeremy Dutcher is doing in his language or what we’re doing on rap records…its all really really important because our youth are watching us and seeing what we are doing.
“The way that the youth take our music is really serious. We see a lot of instagram messages from indigenous youth across the country. They really love what we're doing. That in itself makes this all so rewarding for us.. That’s something we never had growing up. Our role models were our aunties, our uncles, our grandparents and our cousins. those were the people that taught us basketball, that taught us to ride bikes..that taught us everything we needed to know to grow up. we didn’t have anyone to look at outside of our community when we needed someone to look up to. But now with Facebook, Instagram and social media shit, youth have artists like us to look up to. And that’s huge.”
Be it playing to hometown audiences, 70,000 people opening for Cypress Hill,. or at small showcase festivals, Young D feels the band come in to their own onstage, where their joyous, righteous spirit comes alive : “We pour out every ounce of energy we have so we can give the best show possible each time. We love being up there and feeding off the energy.
"It doesn’t matter your background or where you come from - once you feel it, it’s contagious. Then you are all in it at once.”