A rather bright national spotlight has finally been cast on Minnesota’s booming American Indian hip-hop scene.
Vice Media and Apple Music have teamed up to create an ambitious new documentary series called “The Score," which will feature music-related stories from Brazil, Iceland and Vietnam. The first installment, however, is a powerful one from right here in Minnesota titled “Reservation Rap” about music being made by native rappers Baby Shel, Tall Paul, Thomas X, Left Field and many more.
“They think we’re extinct out here,” Red Lake rapper Baby Shel (Sheldon Cook Jr.) says in one scene, talking about his Ojibwe tribe. “We’re done keeping our mouths shut. We want to be seen and heard.”
Starting off with some stunning, helicopter-filmed footage over Shel’s Red Lake Reservation – immediate proof this is no community access TV special -- the two-part, 18-minute episode captures the rappers on their home turf hanging out at basement studios, front-porch barbecues and powwows. They talk openly about the poverty, addiction, mental illness and other struggles faced in their communities, which they all vent against in their music.
The winner of the 2015 Are You Local? contest at First Avenue and one of the locals to nab a slot on the upcoming Soundset mega-festival, Baby Shel tells the cameras, “Everybody’s living the same struggles. Especially being Native American, it’s the struggle of being heard. That’s hip-hop, man. Hip-hop is struggle.”
Shel’s fellow Red Lake resident and Rez Rap crew member Thomas X says, “Hip-hop is my way of keeping the oral traditions of Ojibwe culture going.”
Minneapolis native and Leech Lake Reservation member Tall Paul – who we also profiled in our 2014 story on Minnesota’s native rap scene – talks about growing up in the city and feeling disconnected from his roots. “We’re breaking the cycle,” he says. “We’re trying to regain what we’ve lost.”
As is noted in a Hollywood Reporter article on “The Source,” the new series is the latest in original video content to be featured on Apple Music to add to its $10/month service, also including the recent Taylor Swift tour documentary and the Vice-generated music series with DJ Khaled, “We the Best.” It’s not yet clear if “The Score” will be viewable on Vice Media’s many other outlets, which includes its new Viceland cable network, an HBO series and its popular YouTube channel.
Here's the trailer for "Reservation Rap" (strong language warning).