Indigenous hip hop in recent years has created a space for unpacking ideas of authenticity, contemporary Indigenous identity, links between indigeneity and U.S. Blackness, and urban Indigenous experiences. But what is Indigenous hip hop and what does it represent? Indigenous Hip Hop is a culture first adopted and then produced by Native people to challenge settler colonialism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy, among other issues. One of the primary objectives of Indigenous hip hop has been to assert the sovereign rights of Indigenous people and to assert their humanity as modern subjects. Indigenous hip hop takes on many flavors throughout the Indigenous world. Some artists may sound like what listeners hear on commercial radio, while other may include elements of Native sounds including powwow music. Indigenous hip hop provides an anthem, a voice, a literary and decolonial movement—it is not merely Native people mimicking hip hop culture. For some Indigenous hip hop musicians in Detroit, Michigan, the connections between settler colonial logics in Detroit and Palestine allow for hip hop in these spaces to serve as a decolonial art form.
Contemporary Detroit, nicknamed the “Motor City”, has gone through many changes since the 20th century. In the 1950s, its streets were lined with vehicles produced by nearby Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors factories and driven by nearly 2 million people who called the city home. After the 1967 Detroit riots, parts of the city resembled ghost towns and the city’s population dwindled to around 670,000 as many residents fled to surrounding suburbs. Detroit has experienced a rebirth over the past two decades drawing local investment and new residents to the downtown area. What remains remarkably consistent, however, is the invisibility of the Motor City’s Indigenous population. Indigenous erasure, in this context, combined with rhetoric and policies that continue to marginalize African Americans in Detroit, create a place rooted in multiple colonialisms.
In 2014, an Anishinaabeg (Walpole Island) and Chicanx rapper from Detroit named Sacramento Knoxx collaborated with Palestinian rapper Sharif Zakot on a music video entitled From stolen land to stolen land. Sharif is a youth organizer and coordinator in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Arab Youth Organizing (AYO!) program. Similar to Indigenous youth, many Palestinian youth also have turned to hip hop culture to express their anguish and marginalization. The images in Sacramento Knoxx and Sharif’s video travel from New York City to Detroit to Palestine. Sharif scribbles “Free Palestine” with a black marker on a metal object while the video cuts to a scene of Knoxx standing on the Brooklyn Bridge and to the words “Free Rasmea Odeh”, a long-time Palestinian activist who was arrested and indicted on federal charges in October 2013. As the words appear on the screen, a blurred view of the Statue of Liberty appears in the background, a symbol of a loss of freedom for many of North America’s Indigenous people. The song’s lyrics connect white supremacy with the occupation and displacement of Indigenous land while the two rappers lyrically interweave the ongoing processes of settler colonialism in both settings. Although they acknowledge that the colonization of the Americas and Palestine happened at different times and in different contexts, the similarities of occupation join the two disparate lands.
Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day by reading Kyle T. Mays’ article “Decolonial hip hop: Indigenous hip hop and the disruption of settler colonialism” in Cultural studies (33.3, 2019).
Below is the video for Sacramento Knoxx and Sharif Zakot’s From stolen land to stolen land. Check out more from Sacramento Knoxx at https://sknoxx.bandcamp.com/music
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