hip hop music

April 21, 2004

Hip-Hop and Native Americans

Cristina Verán (how come she doesn't have a blog?) on hip-hop and American Indians:

Rap, Rage, REDvolution

Conjuring up the charge of cavalries and natives on some futuristic-western warpath, OutKast stormed the 2004 Grammys in February with the brazenness of the former, while bedecked as the latter. Resplendent in neon green Halloween-Hiawatha approximations of Native American regalia—fringe, headbands, and feathers—Andre and Big Boi rose before smoking teepees, prancing proudly through their chart-slaying "Hey Ya!," the chorus of which is itself evocative of powwow singing. Was it some kind of tribute, or did the winners of the Album of the Year Grammy unwittingly channel Al Jolson's "Mammy"?

It's a question many Native Americans have considered, responding promptly to launch boycotts and Web petitions voicing their collective displeasure. CBS's brief, lukewarm apology—"if anyone was offended"—brought zero resolution, particularly since OutKast themselves refused even to comment. Two months later, people are still waiting; during an April 1 protest outside the network's Minneapolis affiliate, one person was arrested.

"Janet Jackson's right breast was exposed for three-quarters of a second and both the House and Senate convened hearings immediately, [yet] vulgarisms about Native Americans are prime-time fare . . . and no one does anything," notes Suzan Shown Harjo (Hodulgee Muscogee/ Cheyenne), executive director of the Morningstar Institute, in her "Open Letter to Michael Powell, Andre 3000 and Big Boi," first published in Indian Country Today.

Hip-hop, meanwhile, is speaking to the issue as well. "[It's] currently the most popular music on the reservations," explains Don Kelly, executive director of the Native American Music Awards. Litefoot (Cherokee), NAMA's Male Artist of the Year for 2003, takes up the fight with his new single "What's It Gonna Take": "We only good with feathers on/Don't exist when they're off/I punch the remote/feeling like my whole race is a joke..."

I'm surprised that in her list of hip-hop's iffy Indian references she left out Slick Rick's "Indian Girl." But maybe it is a wise choice to pretend that one never happened.

Regarding Outkast's silence on the issue, I did get Sleepy Brown to talk briefly about the Grammy thing, in an interview you'll hopefully be able to read soon.

Posted by jsmooth995 at April 21, 2004 4:43 AM

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