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The best kept secret in music


"No Reservations"

A New Generation of Native Youth Makes Hip-Hop Their Own
By Matt Kruchak
October 31, 2003

At Peg City Holla, a three-day hip-hop fest in Winnipeg, War Party’s Kool-Ayd the Chubby Cree takes the stage. Towel hung over his bowed head, his arms waving, Kool-Ayd hypes the crowd: "We’re from the reservation, we’re from the reservation."

It’s like any underground hip-hop show — minimal, intimate, all eyes on the MCs. There are no props, no DJ and no fancy light shows. The smooth, commanding cadences of Kool-Ayd (Karmen Omeosoo) and Mic Noble (Rex Smallboy) are complemented by the natural flow of Girlie Emcee (Cynthia Smallboy). The innovative beats have a hint of a West Coast sound; the look is more poverty chic than contemporary hip-hop glitz — sideways black ball cap, T-shirt and jeans.

Around his neck, Kool-Ayd sports a modest silver chain with a pendent of a warrior wielding an axe, just one indication that his perspective is unique in this diverse crowd of nodding hip-hop heads. Dropping verses from "Feeling Reserved," the cadence is familiar and so is the subject matter: hip-hop, once again, being used to illuminate an underrepresented perspective, providing a means of self-expression for young people whose voices have gone unheard. First, the Bronx, a quarter-century ago; now, Canadian Native communities.

The very first Native hop-hop groups started in the mid-‘90s in Alberta and slowly spread across the country. The scene is in its infancy, but with three solid albums under their belt, War Party are its elders — many up-and-commers are joining them in recording and releasing hip-hop.

Like any emerging music scene, the Native hip-hop community is not monolithic but the challenges it faces are familiar. Some groups, like War Party or Reddnation build their tracks with traditional Native beats and draw lyrical inspiration from their political realities; other young Natives like Tru Rez Crew or Da Skelpa Squad are more interested in a party vibe, more eager to see hands in the air than pickets at a protest. While the successes of black American hip-hoppers are inspiring, this scene isn’t all political voices and positive messages. The scene is still tempered by the images of bitches and Bentleys that inundate all young hip-hoppers. - Exclaim Magazine



Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards at the John Bassett Theatre in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (255 Front West), Friday (November 28). $25-$30. 416-872-1111.

Rex Smallboy, aka mic noble, of native rap outfit War Party is having a bad flashback. Over the phone from his place in Hobbema, Alberta, he's talking about the time War Party opened for the Wu-Tang Clan in Calgary in 94. "They opened the doors at 7, but the show didn't get going until 12:30. The crowd was mad as hell. We got booed. They were throwing shit at us. People didn't want to see small-time opening acts, they wanted to see Wu-Tang. And then Wu-Tang came out and did four songs, and the crowd started throwing shit at them, and Wu-Tang were like, 'Fuck that,' and they left. Then people started tripping out and ripping the seats right out of the theatre and throwing them around. That was one of our worst experiences."

A lot's changed since the time when they rocked it with Wu-Tang. For one thing, the War Party have produced two albums and a music video on high rotation and have hauled in a whole whack of awards. They're nominated in the hiphop category again at this year's Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, Friday (November 28).

War Party's new album, The Greatest Natives From The North, is an experience all on its own. Over ominous beats, they set the lyrical dynamite ablaze to display their mike prowess and consciousness.

Another change is that hiphop's more politically correct than it was. War Party used to be called the Indians – a term Smallboy grew up with.

"It wasn't until later in my life that people decided they didn't know what to call us," he says. "Even though I'm not from India, that's how I think of myself, versus being aboriginal."

But War Party has been called everything else in the book as well.

"We've been called, you know, the n-word wannabes. We've had people post really strong comments on our Web site saying we shouldn't be rapping. Along with that, people have posted a lot of negative stereotypes about Indians, like 'Stay on the reserves and drink Lysol.' We just kind of write it off as ignorance."

Like that time War Party shared a stage with Westside Connection member Mack 10.

"He didn't know what Indians were," Smallboy recounts. "We had to actually explain it to him. I was like, 'Did you ever watch Peter Pan? You know those red guys with the hawk noses?' He went 'Yeah,' and I said, 'Well, that's us.'

"He was like, 'Really? I thought they killed all you guys. '"

Smallboy adds, "People know how to push the right buttons, but it's not something that we dwell on. I guess that's 'cause we always get hate coming from every direction."

Hiphop is not the most popular art form in certain native communities.

"When we've done shows in really isolated native communities, I've had to explain why I do hiphop, why I relate to hiphop, where it came from and why it's something that gave me a voice.

"Out here, crack cocaine is devastating our people, and gang warfare is really bad. There are home invasions. There've been drive-bys out here over drugs. The community's living in fear, and some people are just lost," Smallboy explains.

"We go out there and see some crazy, fucked-up shit, so we come back and go, 'OK, yeah, that's fucked up. We need to do something about it. '"

NOW | NOV 27 - DEC 3, 2003 | VOL. 23 NO. 13 - Now Magazine

"First nations...race relations...frustrations"

Aboriginal music in Canada used to mean country music — fiddle tunes, the Red River jig and old-timey crooners coming down from the reserves. It was only a matter of time before something had to give. While country remains popular — remember last year’s Pukatawagan Song craze? — the latest generation of First Nations musicians is taking up hip-hop instead.You don’t need to be an ethnomusicologist to understand why. Historically,
rap was a form of protest music, borne out of tense social conditions in inner-city African-American communities. While rap has since degraded itself to echo the bling-bling of cash registers, its political soul remains — and resonates strongly among Canada’s own most-marginalized ethnic group.
Aboriginal rap is not a new phenomenon. But in the ’90s, artists like Winnipeg’s TKO used to make music in a relative vacuum, virtually ghettoized in an “Aboriginal music” category that only makes sense at awards shows.
Since then, the series of informal networks known as Canada’s independent hip-hop scene has grown. Now, a group like Hobbema, Alberta’s War Party can speak to a broader hip-hop audience.
One of the nice surprises at Prairie Music Week last fall, War Party returns to Winnipeg tonight to perform at Avenue Cabaret. The gig is a CD release party for Dig Your Roots, a compilation of independent hip-hop from across Canada.
War Party is one of two Alberta acts on the disc (Winnipeg’s long-running
Frek Sho is the sole Manitoba representative). But its presence is significant for reasons other than regional representation.
Following in the footsteps of political rappers Public Enemy, War Party writes topical rhymes that reflect Aboriginal Canada’s increasingly urban reality. In this way, the group is truer to hip-hop’s roots than the mindless gangsta-derived hardcore rap that sells records these days.
If you’re interested in hearing War Party, admission tonight is $5. The bill
also includes Frek Sho, Alberta’s Dangerous Goods Collective and Winnipeg
DJs Dialog and Co-Op. - Winnipeg Free Press

"Straight Outta Hobbema"

Straight Outta Hobbema
War Party lead charge of First Nations rappers

Just as African American rap has spoken from the US ghettos, the outspoken hip-hop of First Nations rappers like War Party provides a rallying cry for Native kids living on reserves.
From Hobbema, Alberta, War Party have received three Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards and are leading the charge of First Nations rap groups such as Tru Rez Crew, Reddnation and Da Skelpa Squad. The most pro-active role models of the bunch, War Party have a clear agenda.
“A lot of other artists out there are trying hard to sound and act like 50 Cent or Jay Z. Me on the other hand man, I want to be more like Chuck D, Sitting Bull or Geronimo,” says Rex Smallboy a.k.a. Mic Noble. “I love hip-hop like I love my people and I am not afraid to stand up to be a leader for my people through this music.”
On their upcoming album, The Greatest Native from the North, the quartet will again educate listeners about their rich culture as well as the oppressed history of their people. But what do the Hobbema elders think of Warparty’s uncompromising rap?
“At first they did not like it at all and were totally against it because they did not understand it,” admits Smallboy. “But when we started getting on TV more with our positive message they warmed up to it and now fully support it.”
The group’s songs don’t pull any punches, but they are inspiringly positive in light of all the social problems the members must see on a day-to-day basis. “That is what keeps me grounded,” explains Smallboy. “Seeing other people suffering with addictions makes me want to try to free them somehow. With my music, I try to show them that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. I try to represent hope for my people. I try to represent the way out.”
War Party play Folkfest’s oft-maligned Bayou Bar as openers for Kinnie Starr, so lining up early is a must to catch their sure-to-be-slamming performance. The festival has added 110 seats to the floating venue this year, so be prepared to cram in like a sardine to feel that Warparty beat.
“The next step is digging deeper into ourselves to find the right words to inspire and empower our people,” says Smallboy. “Just saying shake that ass on record won't kick it. We got to be on some ‘shake that inner spiritual rattle-type shit.’”
-Jason Schreurs

War Party (at Folkfest, with Kinnie Starr)
5:30 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, June 27. Bayou Bar.
$6 Folkfest wristband. 472-FEST.
- Monday Magazine

"Native rappers aim to deliver hip hop hope"

Native rappers aim to deliver hip hop hope

Caroline Skelton
Times Colonist

Sunday, June 27, 2004


Where: Bayou Bar, Folkfest Inner Harbour

When: Tonight, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.


"We make the hip hop music, hip hop music doesn't make us," says Rex Smallboy, Executive Producer of WARPARTY.

The Alberta-based group has been successfully putting native rap on the map since 1995. Sometimes they have been angry, sometimes hopeful, but always honest.

With their latest album, The Greatest Natives From the North, the group has embraced a goal of inspiring youth and spreading their unique message -- on their own terms.

"It's all about identity," says Smallboy. "We don't allow the industry and the commercial fads to make up our identity."

They group's lyrics discuss empowerment and social problems, steering clear of demeaning women or glorifying violence and drugs.

"It's about having a positive attitude, believing in yourself, believing in your heart, believing in your dreams," says Smallboy.

And while they're making music, WARPARTY is also making history. Aside from taking home three Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, they also recently made it into a Canadian social studies text book.

The group will appear at the ICA FolkFest tonight, taking the stage before pop musician Kinnie Starr at the Bayou Bar in the Inner Harbour. The bar will feature nine nights of performances running June 26-July 4.

WARPARTY will be performing songs from their first two albums, as well as raps from an upcoming album that's been kept under wraps while the band replaced a member last year.

Smallboy says the new album will further their mission to "stay strong and stay positive," and he hopes their music will inspire young people to make good choices.

"We found actual true happiness within hard work, dedication and commitment. The blood, sweat and tears," says leading lady Cynthia Smallboy. And this is the message they send to their young fans.

Smallboy says most kids are inundated with negative influences in pop culture, and "they don't want to be like the actors on North of 60." The members of WARPARTY aim to fill the role model gap.

Smallboy says he has often been portrayed as an "angry Indian rapper."

But he says WARPARTY's music is about making positive change by addressing centuries of miscommunication between natives and non-natives in Canada.

"Things that happen affect us," he says. "If we don't try to face these things and deal with them, cope with them and get through them, we're not going to grow."

That's why he can get up on stage, in front of thousands of non-natives, and open a show with: "Long before out grandfathers were born, this land was ours."

"Scares the Hell out of me inside. But then I'm just as scared of not being able to be who I am."

WARPARTY, he says, is about trying to find a better solution to racism and painful histories.

"Believe me, I want change," he says.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2004 - Times Colonist


2001 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Best Rap or Hip-hop Album

2002 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Best Rap or Hip-hop Album

As seen on Much Music Rap City


Feeling a bit camera shy


WARPARTY brings a powerful story of Canada's First Nation’s to the popular hip-hop music culture. Formed in 1995, WARPARTY has brought national attention to the native rap scene through their achievements in the music industry.

In late 1999 WARPARTY recorded their debut LP WARPARTY “the reign” at Studio 11/Arbor Records in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Ten heated tracks of pure underground hip-hop with politically frustrated lyrics touching on First Nation’s issues in Canada. Independently released in the summer of 2000 WARPARTY “the reign” went on to win the 2001 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Best Rap or Hip-hop Album.

In September 2001 WARPARTY shot their first music video Feeling Reserved, a remix of the original song taken from WARPARTY the reign. The video was produced & directed by Toronto based Film Company 48 Media and was awarded a production grant from Video Fact. (Much Music) Feeling Reserved debuted on Much Music in January 2002 and was the first native rap video to make it into high rotation in Canada. Thus leading to a feature story about the group on Much Music’s Rap City. The Feeling Reserved video was also a finalist at the Urban Music Association of Canada Awards in the Best Rap Video category. It was also screened at the First peoples Film Festival in Montreal, Quebec.
Feeling Reserved became the first single on the group’s first independent release WARPARTY the Greatest Natives from the North.

This fully loaded LP features 20 blazing tracks with compositions that cross heavily between commercial and underground rap music. With titles like “Its So Hard to Say Good Bye” & “What if” WARPARTY focuses on understanding and facing native issues. Released on August 30, 2002 through Spirit River Distribution WARPARTY the Greatest Natives from the North is an album that takes native rap music to the next level.

WARPARTY consists of Executive Producer Rex Smallboy a.k.a. MIC NOBLE, Leading Lady Cynthia Smallboy a.k.a GIRLIE EMCEE, Head Lyricist Karmen Omeosoo a.k.a. Kool-Ayd the Chubby Cree and Co-Producer Tom Crier a.k.a. BIG STOMP.

WARPARTY has been featured on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Culture Shock & Zed programs, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s Sharing Circle & First Music and the Arts programs, Much Music’s Going Coastal & Rap City, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. The group also received sponsorship from the world renowned clothing company Tommy Hilfiger to perform at the Telus World Ski & Snow Board Festival in Whistler British Columbia. WARPARTY is the first Native American musicians to gain support from this world famous designer.

They have performed with the likes of Robbie Robertson, Red Bone, 112, ICE-T, Wu-Tang Clan, Mack 10, Guru, Maestro Fresh Wes, Kardinal Official, Choclair, Ghetto Concept, K-OS, Baby Blue Sound Crew, LiteFoot and Breach of Trust.