#BrownExcellence – Trapline by Snotty Nose Rez Kids

“Trapline” is an audio proclamation of Indigenous revolutionary teachings. It’s about being proud while jamming out and telling the world we’re reclaiming everything we are.

Snotty Nosed Rez Kids’ (SNRK) third album opens with a skit “Wa’wais”: an in-depth cultural explanation and teaching about respect and connection to the land. It gives listeners just a brief glimpse into the complexity of Indigenous Identity. Ceremonial teachings ’wrapped within’ or ‘infused with’ phenomenal contemporary beats. SNRK isn’t interested in updating and reshaping the original teachings of their people, the Haisla, like so many ‘Red Skinned Hippies’ try and fail to do. SNRK realizes the incredible depth of ancestral wisdom and have committed themselves to leaving the messages from our ancestors untouched while finding a different way to communicate the knowledge to the people. 18 tracks in total, 13 songs and 5 skits; listen and relisten to the skits; you learn some deep shit.

There was an active moment when SNRK were deciding to make either a pop summer album or something self aware. This is a gamble, as most pop hip-hop albums are often celebrations in both the light and dark side of party culture with almost zero thoughts regarding the consequence of choice. Don’t get me wrong; there might be the odd self-reflective lyric, hook or song, but they are often stifled in between feel good irresponsible absurdity.

On the flip side, it’s hard to create something self aware without becoming overly preachy about the world around us and being labeled as too serious. It’s hard to jam out and enjoy the world when the lyrics are accurately depressive about who we are and where we’re going, coupled with beats that you can’t really dance too.

SNRK is rewriting that binary and limiting outlook as they bring down the walls and set sights on new heights entering uncharted territory and weaving an unapologetic aesthetic in the process. Some would consider this a punk rock philosophy aimed at the world of Popular Hip Hop but this is actually Indigenous folks controlling the narrative and taking over. This is what Indigenization of Hip Hop sounds like.

There seems to be a sudden commercial appeal of being actively aware of the bonds of systemic racism, much like Childish Gambino did with “This is America” (who has a quick reference in the song “Boujee” and is an obvious influence on the track) which challenged the status quo and normalized exploitation of Black culture and identity.

SNRK sets to redefine the way non-Indigenous folks perceive us with tracks (like their first single) “Boujee Natives” which is a celebration, not of material wealth but the priceless truths found within ancestral teachings, that which cultivated our strength and our identity as diverse Indigenous peoples from diverse nations. Much like “This is America”, “Boujee Natives” entrances you with some beautiful harmonies before the main track drops. SNRK acknowledges the many facets of who we are and celebrates the people we are, warriors on the frontlines, artists, chiefs, defenders, partiers, and as we are some of these of things or all of these things, SNRK embraces all of our people.

The brilliance of SNRK is also throwing up mirrors contrasting the reality of who we are and even how we look at ourselves, with lines: “I know Red Skinned Hippies that be giving me the creeps” which I’m guessing is disconnected Indigenous folks separated from who they are and desperately trying to reconnect back to spirituality following some inauthentic Shamanic path.  And also satirical but truthful lines, “I’m spending like I made it but I’m smudging like I’m broke again”. For all of us who experience that first bit of success, placing at a powwow, hand games, first big cheque from work; treating ourselves and everyone around us before becoming quickly broke once again and having to work hard to build it all up once more. This is a great track to debut this album and gives you a window into what brown excellence sounds like.

“Aliens and Indians” is my favourite track right now, but my favourite song changes daily depending on my mood, the time of day and the exploration of the album. It features Calgary’s own Cartel Madras. I remember last year hearing Cartel and SNRK separately in concert in Calgary and I believe Cartel did some freestyling with SNRK; there was an instant connection and chemistry between the two groups and I was hoping they’d collaborate with one another.

Sometimes you can catch lightning in a bottle and sometimes it’s a complete fluke and then it becomes really hard to replicate the energy from a live impromptu performance to tracks on an album. But they did it and the energy on this track is fierce.  The beat itself is hypnotic and layers itself with beautiful melodies like a powder keg and then the MC’s lit it all up. The Cartels really rock this song; they have a lyrical rhythm and fluidity that pushes the overall flow into the next level; strong, intelligent womyn owning everywhere they go. It’s a song that really has all the right elements in the perfect chaotic mixture that I never wanted to end.

(There’s actually only a couple of songs I can think of that I wish would have went on forever; “7th Chamber Part: II” by The Wu-Tang Clan is one of them. I know it’s a trite thing to do; any comparisons to “36 Chambers” is blasphemous because nothing will ever measure up. I realize that but this song is infectious and I’ll state it again, I didn’t want it to end. Trust me, you’re definitely going to be hitting repeat over and over again.)

“This is for all my real queens.” “Son of a Matriarch” hits hard and doesn’t let up, it’s not that the beats are super aggressive but the lyrical stylings of the various MCs, from Toronto’s own The Sorority, lends some of their amazing energy and passion and it literally bleeds through the speakers; they are a bunch of lyrical geniuses. It’s powerful to hear womyn declaring parts of their identity: “They don’t associate strength with womyn” and almost every word, line and lyric is about “Shifting Perception” while giving the finger to the male-dominated paradigm and praising out womyn “Son of a Matriach, fuck all that patriarch”. What I love about this track is the male MC’s echoing these statements and reminding everyone the supportive role men should have towards womyn; from a traditional perspective it’s a standard teaching and they’re reminding people today of those teachings. Lines like “Boss ladies be having Boss babies” stick with you long after the track is finished and make you look at our womyn in a healthier light, especially when amplified with the message of “If we men are strong, it’s because we come from strong womyn”.

As a new father, I am always eternally grateful for the help I am receiving but this song checks me back to reality while it gives a nod to mothers raising children alone: “Give me that single mother strength.” I don’t know how our womyn do it alone, but they are raising the next generation and doing an amazing job at it. We really don’t give our womyn enough praise or hold them high enough; SNRK brings a salute to the backbone of our nations, the womyn.

One thing I would love to hit on is the live shows. SNRK can rock crowds and the energy is always on; after a great concert you feel as if the world has somehow been changed, you leave with that feeling. Every time the concert is done and the last song is sung I am filled with hope for the future. We as Indigenous folks love supporting our own people as we do our own things, movies, books, music, etc; and the measure of success is often if you can sell out a venue, any venue. Often time non-Indigenous folks won’t attend for fear of it being an event for “Indians only”. You see it, white folks enter a room look around and leave because they are either afraid or feel they are intruding. SNRK’s music is drawing other ethnicities and nationalities in and packing venues. It’s an amazing thing to witness, the non-Indigenous folks walking in and joining the crowd.

This album showcases #BrownExcellence at its best. It’s more than a political album, more than a party anthem; it’s the audio hybrid that embodies the complexity of Indigenous peoples waking up out of the lie of colonization. Indigenous peoples are often portrayed as stoic and without humor and that limited perception is simply not who we are. We are many things all at once found all over the human emotional spectrum and these songs highlight the many facets of who we are. Sometimes you just want to jam out, dance, let loose, feel good, rock a house party, music at a cook outs/feast and you can do all of this to this incredible album, but if you’re listening to the lyrics, you’re going to learn some amazing truths about the world around us from two Haisla brothers embracing the past, present and moving towards a limitless future. They intentionally went out not to create some kind of mindless pop album and what they ended up with was an Iconic Indigenous Anthem for the ages.

Gitz Crazyboy is a Siksikatsitapi (Blackfoot) and Dene youth facilitator. Gitz works with youth and creates youth-focused programs.  Gitz’s passion and purpose is helping the next generation and he has held many positions within the youth education profession. Ever the activist for the environment and Indigenous rights, Gitz is known for his leadership and participation in the Idle No More movement. A storyteller to his core, he has always had a deep connection to traditional teachings since his mother read to him as a child, and continues to be guided by the ancient wisdom the Elders carry.  Along with writing, Gitz loves to create music and enjoys being introduced to new sounds. Currently Gitz is actively reconnecting with his Blackfoot roots.  He believes the truth of who we are is in the truth and mysteries our ancestors carried – through ceremonies, songs, medicine, love and laughter.

Other articles by Gitz Crazyboy:

ENGO Colonial Activism That Perpetuates Indigenous Poverty

A Headdress Where It Doesn’t Belong