WAR PARTY FOUND REX SMALLBOY ON FINDING INDIGENOUS IDENTITY IN HOP HOP, CORRUPTING INFLUENCE OF GANGSTA RAP, BURDEN OF BEARING OTHER PEOPLE’S AGENDAS (MF GALAXY 133)


WHEN AND WHY HE’D PRAISE A SETTLER FOR WEARING A HEAD DRESS, USING CREE SLANG ON WAX, REPRESENTING WOMEN WITH RESPECT IN VIDEOS, HIP HOP INNOVATION TO CHALLENGE YOUTH AND ELDERS ALIKE

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Hip hop at its finest is a poetical, political voice for those whose voices have been silenced; it speaks to the anger, the dignity, and the triumphant joy of the oppressed. If hip hop is the music of the dispossessed, then no one in North America should have a greater claim on it than the First Nations. Combine that revolutionary rage and cultural crucible with artistic passion and power, and you have what was Canada’s finest hip hop band—WAR PARTY.

Formed in 1995 under the leadership of Maskwacis Cree artist, lead vocalist, and executive producer Rex Smallboy, and co-vocalists Cynthia Smallboy, and Thane Saddleback, War Party won the Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Best Rap Album in 2001, and were the first Indigenous crew featured on Canada’s Much Music channel. The video for “Feeling Reserved” exploded across Canadian television in 2001 with a powerful set of voices and images that was thankfully bling-bling- and booty-shaking-free. Instead, the video showed everyday people with extraordinary voices and lyrical intelligence, denouncing settler-colonial genocide.

War Party performed with Ice-T, Wu-Tang Clan, Guru, Maestro Fresh Wes and K-OS among many others, and recently Chuck D. recorded an introduction for the new album “The Resistance.” The band got global attention by representing Canada at the World Expo in Nagoya, Japan and for performing for the First Americans Festival at the Smithsonian Museum.

Fiercely proud of their Cree heritage specifically and their First Nations heritage generally, the band refused to fall into the trap of not wanting to be known as “Native rappers.” Their embrace of their heritage made them universal, in the same way that Miriam Makeba, Public Enemy, or Nusrat Khan are emblems of their people, and emblems of human culture, struggle, and aspiration generally.

While the group has since splintered into factions, one of which is named RezOfficial, their original ground-breaking work lives on. Rex Smallboy continues to make albums and also works as a motivational speaker.

In the summer of 2004, I spoke with band members Rex Smallboy and his then-wife Cynthia at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. You can hear Cynthia Smallboy in the bonus content for today’s show. Rex and I discussed:
  • Finding Indigenous identity in hop hop while fighting the corrupting influence of gangsta rap
  • When hip hop’s real slogan should be “misrepresent”
  • Using Cree slang on wax
  • Representing women with respect in videos
  • Debating K-Os on social responsibility vs personal desire
  • The importance of hip hop innovation to challenge youth and elders alike
  • The artistic burden of bearing an entire race's multiple agendas, and
  • When and why he’d praise a settler for wearing a head dress
Note that our conversation includes reference to the Cree Nation’s reserve that was once called Hobbema, about 90 minutes south of Edmonton. The reserve finally discarded that German name and is now called Maskwacis.

War Party.ca

War Party music videos

War Party with Chuck D. – The Resistance

Rex Smallboy – “Children of God”

Feelin’ Reserved


All for One




From the War Party home page:


FILM & TELEVISION MUSIC FEATURES
This Land Was Ourz (remix) ADVENTURES OF POWER
This Land Was Ourz, DREAMKEEPER
Stress Filled Days (unreleased) BLACKSTONE
I’m Feelin’ Reserved (remix) STRYKER
I’m Feelin’ Reserved (remix) A Windigo Tale

FESTIVAL PERFORMANCES
The 2005 World Expo, Nagoya, Japan
The 2005 United Nations Indigenous Language Conference Nagoya, Japan
The First American Festival at the Smithsonian Museum Washington, DC
Telus World Ski & Snowboard Festival, Whistler, BC
Vancouver Music Folk Music Festival, Vancouver, BC
Vancouver Island Music Festival, Comox Valley
Folk On The Rocks, Yellowknife, NWT
North Country Fair, Driftpile, Alberta
Dreamspeakers Festival, Edmonton, Alberta
Midway Lake Music Festival, NWT

RADIO AND TELEVISION APPEARANCES
APTN Aboriginal Day Live 2013, Winnipeg, Manitoba
APTN First Music & the Arts, Toronto
APTN First Tracks, Winnipeg, Manitoba
APTN Contact Music Special, Winnipeg, Manitoba
The Sharing Circle First Nation Invasion, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Much Music Rap City, Toronto, Ontario
CBC Radio Prairie Music Awards Broadcast, Winnipeg, Manitoba
CBC Radio Broadcast Special, Prince Alberta, Saskatchewan

INDUSTRY EVENT PERFORMANCES
2001 Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, Toronto, Ontario
2002 Prairie Music Awards, Winnipeg, Manitoba

CONFERENCE PERFORMANCES
Vision Quest Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Fire Keepers Youth Conference, Calgary, Alberta
Saddle Lake First Nations Education Conference, Saddle Lake,Alberta
Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations Youth Conference, Edmonton, Alberta
National Indian Education Association Convention, Billings, Montana

GAMES PERFORMANCES
North American Indigenous Games, Minnesota
North American Indigenous Games, Victoria
North American Indigenous Games, Winnipeg
Saskatchewan Indian Summer Games

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