Snotty Nose Rez Kids are tackling heavy subjects that concern Indigenoous communities, but with the best type of hip-hop.Sterling Larose
As snotty nose kids on the Haisla Nation reservation in Canada, the Snotty Nose Rez Kids played a lot of basketball and dug graves for their loved ones.
Haisla Nation hip-hop heroes Darren “Young D” Metz and Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce are cousins and grew up five doors down from each other in Kitamaat, a small village of about 2,000 registered tribal members on the coast of British Columbia.
Back in those days, the pair would get up at 6 a.m. to work out, shoot hoops at lunchtime and play ball after school with their friends. Basketball was everything to them — as was winning the All Native Basketball Tournament. Yung Trybez refers to it as their NBA Finals and March Madness "rolled into a weeklong event."
This year, 52 Indigenous teams from across Canada competed in the 63-year-old tournament, with the Burnaby Chiefs winning it in the final minute of the game with a fake to the right, cross ball to the left and a three-point shot, according to an April 17 CBC News report.
“It’s a lifesaver,” Yung Trybez tells us over the phone. “It rejuvenates and [keeps] spirits uplifted. [The court] is like a sanctuary. It saved a lot of lives on the rez.”
Growing up in the early 2000s on the reservation, they were surrounded by loved ones who preferred alternative rock, country and rock ’n' roll. But their older cousins “lived and breathed ’90s hip-hop,” they say, a style that embraces storytelling, often in rhyme. In elementary school, Young D was a poet and a storyteller while Yung Trybez, at his father’s suggestion, chronicled his crazy dreams and nightmares in a journal.
“I fell in love with writing and storytelling,” he says, “and using my imagination as a tool to empower myself.”
This empowerment appears in their music in which they tackle Indigenous identity, racism and water protection in songs such as “The Resistance,” “Can’t Remember My Name” and “The Warriors,” which was inspired by the Indigenous protests from 2016 at Standing Rock, North Dakota, and the Tiny House Warriors, an Indigenous group blocking big oil in Canada by building eco-friendly tiny homes.
When CNN lumped Indigenous people into a category called “Something Else” in a 2020 U.S. election exit poll, Snotty Nose Rez Kids responded in rhyme with the track “Something Else.”
“With The Average Savage [the duo’s second album], we ran with everything from Pocahontas’ savages chant and being called redskins in Peter Pan and other stereotypes and it’s the same with ‘Something Else,’” Yung Trybez told theEdmonton Journal in an April 1 report. “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.”
“We saw it in real time,” Yung Trybez tells the Observer. “We couldn’t believe it. Native TikTok was going off about it. Twitter, memes, gifs, it just felt right to do something. So we, like, throw in our rez humor.” Since their self-titled debut in 2017, Young D and Yung Trybez have been called “one of the nation’s most dynamic duos” in Canada for their hip-hop chops and wicked rez humor, which Yung Trybez claims comes from Indigenous people being “shit on year after year” by the government, the media and police.
They’ve earned numerous accolades, including nominations at Canada's JUNO awards for music, Indigenous Music Awards and Western Canada Music Awards, and gotten millions of views on their music videos. Inspired by their own experience with depression, isolation and a railroaded career due to COVID, their latest release, Life After, tackles addiction and substance abuse, family struggles, grave digging and the aftermath of COVID. These aren't subjects you hear in most hip-hop albums, especially the lyrics about religious corruption and the mass children’s graves discovered at the Catholic Church’s old residential schools where Indigenous children were forced to act like white Christians.
But it all led to a nomination for Contemporary Indigenous Artists or Group of the Year at the 51st JUNO Awards, which takes place in May. The nominated artists will be performing tracks from Life After on Tuesday night, April 26, at the Ruins in Dallas.
“The concept of Life After is, there is life after depression, life after pandemic, life after success,” says Young D. “This album is pretty much us being vulnerable. All of us during the pandemic were locked in the house, locked down, can’t go anywhere. Fear and anxiety in the air, the norm that we have now. This album has these ups and downs.”
The pandemic was especially difficult for Indigenous communities. In late September, The Human Rights Council reported that COVID had disproportionately affected the communities, exposing and exacerbating pre-existing structural inequalities and systemic racism and hitting indigenous children, women and elders with mental and physical and mental stress. Megan Davis from Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples pointed out that more than a year after COVID, little to no effort had been done, according to the Sept. 28, 2021 United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner report, “to involve or consult with indigenous peoples in the design of recovery policies, address their specific needs for assistance or adopt culturally appropriate recovery measures.”
Snotty Nose Rez Kids were in the midst of booking ta 23-city headline U.S. tour for 2020 when the pandemic erupted. And while they managed some sync placements in Resident Alien, Trickster and Monkey Beach movies, Young D and Yung Trybez, who had a successful 80-date tour around the world in 2019, struggled with isolation limiting their creative experiences. They watched as COVID ravaged their community, canceling the powwow, West Coast Night — spiritual ceremonies that tribal members rely upon. They lost nine family members and loved ones, including their tour DJ’s brother, who killed himself in late 2020, which led to the Life After tracks “After Dark,” “Change” and “Gravediggers.”
“I’m done digging graves,” says Young Trybez. “The last time I’d ever done it, and ever do it. The song’s about moving forward and being done.”
Though Life After is darker in its production and lyrical content, Yung Trybez and Young D did their best to offer hope and introspective growth. In “Red Sky Night,” a standout track from the album, they sing about hope for tomorrow when minorities receive equality from the justice system. The song was inspired, in part, by the case of Colton Boushie, an Indigenous man who was killed and denied justice, the hypocrisy of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the tragedy of the missing and murdered Indingenous women — about 4,000 in Canada.
“There’s no reconciling without exposing the truth,” Yung Trybez says.
The name for the song was a twist on a saying that Yung Trybez’s father would tell him when he was younger. His father was part of the Indigenous fishing lineage of the Haisla Nation.
“I remember he was an early bird and a mechanic and before the sun came up, he would always say, ‘It’s a red sky night, sailor’s delight,’ which is a sign for fishermen to fish by day,” he says. “‘Red Sky Night’ is having hope for tomorrow. … There is always a better day.”
In “Change,” the duo teamed up with singer-songwriter Jenny Lea from Imur to drop lines about changing yourself instead of the world.
“When I heard her verse, it was so empowering to me,” says Yung Trybez. “You can change and always be a better version. Don’t lose what you are because you are that person. It isn’t forever. It is part of our lives, and you have to be happy with who you are at the end of the day.”
“Pray and be happy with where you are,” Young D adds.
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.