What is your racial or ethnic heritage?
This question is standard in exit polls in the United States elections. In 2020, the following choices were included: White, Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and the catch-all category called Other. In an election day broadcast, CNN lumped American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and others into a category called “Something Else.”
For Indigenous or Native American people, that last option didn’t fly.
The Native American Journalists Association demanded an apology from the broadcaster and social media exploded with rejections of the blanket classification. However, this outrage quickly shifted into taking ownership of the term to generate positive expressions of native identity with videos, photographs, illustrations and more. The slight had been reclaimed and turned into an expression of cultural pride across fashion, art and entertainment circles.
One popular meme on Twitter featured a cartoon by artist R. Cate of a white child asking a Native child if they wanted to play “cowboys and something else?”
Always ones to be right up to date with their musical responses to Indigenous issues, Snotty Nose Rez Kids crafted a new tune in response.
Titled Something Else, it is the first new music in 2021 from the Kitimat-based Haisla hip hop duo.
“In the belly of the beast still kicking/I’m something else cuz your boy’s built different” proclaims MC Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce over a suitably murky trap beat that goes on to outline Indigenous pride and passion with fist-raising righteousness. It’s a classic Snotty Nose Rez Kids tune, a musical middle finger to the powers that be.
“Traditionally, we’ve always been about pushing the limit of social norms and the way that people perceive us,” says Nyce. “With the Average Savage, we ran with everything from Pocahontas’s savages chant and being called redskins in Peter Pan and other stereotypes and it’s the same with Something Else. People look to musicians to be the voices of the people and look to us for what we have to say, so we’re saying it.”
Since blowing up across North America with its 2017 self-titled debut and The Average Savage, SNRK sealed its reputation as one of the nation’s most dynamic duos with Trapline (2019) and 2020s Born Deadly EP. Their recordings have been shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, nominated at the Indigenous Music Awards, Western Canadian Music Awards and the Junos. Their music has been featured in films such as Monkey Beach and Rustic Oracle, as well as Trickster.
Both rappers have a close connection to the acclaimed CBC series which was cancelled after controversy surrounding producer Michelle Latimer’s Indigenous identity.
“It was really great to be featured in Trickster and have a little cameo in Monkey Beach as ourselves,” said Nyce. “I think I first heard about that being made into a movie 10 years ago, so it was cool when it came full circle. Author Eden Robinson is my cousin.”
“Season one of Trickster was so badass, that it really broke our hearts when all that went down,” said Darren “Young D” Metz. “For not just the actors, but the camera, editing and production crews it was going to be the thing that launched them into the industry, so it’s super unfortunate. Indigenous people have storytelling in our DNA and we chose hip-hop, but there should be way more going on in film and television too.”
No matter what the medium, Metz feels positive about what the future holds for Indigenous arts and artists getting their message out. He wryly notes that the variety of styles and approaches in music alone is “something else.”
“From the one and only who paved the way for all of us — Buffy Sainte-Marie — to Jeremy Dutcher, who sings in his native language and does something classical that is so beautiful, there are just so many bands and solo artists doing great things,” said Metz. “Personally, I feel that it was only a matter of time before it all blew up.”
“We’re living in a time where it’s cool to be Indigenous, we’re finally visible,” said Nyce. “All eyes are on us, and with everything going on with the lost children and other sad news, people want to hear what we have to say even more in the way we say it. Long before all of the traumas that came down with colonization, I think we always had that element of humour to offset the sadness.”
While Something Else may have tongue-in-cheek lyrics, the album art reflects the sadness that is part of the group’s experiences. The artwork will feature a picture of Taran Kootenhayoo, the late rising star actor and model who died tragically in December. The duo wanted to honour him, admitting that death and tragedy has been a regular feature of community life as long as they can remember.
“I took a lot of time during the pandemic to focus on this and my own mental health while writing the new album,” says Metz. “We aren’t the same wide-eyed rez kids we were when Trapline came out. This album is the ups-downs-all-arounds of who we are now, today.”
“I’m excited to be back to playing, from the Midwest states on this coming tour, to all over North America,” said Nyce. “Going to those cities where the music we grew up listening to comes from is a thrill for me. With the pent-up fan demand for shows and how pumped we are too, it’s going to go off.”
Snotty Nose Rez Kids new album, Life After, arrives in October 22. The band plays the Commodore Ballroom on Dec. 30.