- By Tamara Ikenberg
VANCOUVER, B.C. — The Snotty Nose Rez Kids are the hip-hop heroes of Haisla Nation.
Cousins Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce and Darren “Young D” Metz grew up together in Kitimat, British Columbia, emulating Eminem, Biggie and Tupac, before becoming a breakthrough act know for alchemizing Indigenous issues like water protection, with offbeat humor, and random pop culture references like Cartoon Network classic “Ed, Edd and Eddy,” into empowering sonic gold.
“I saw the movie ‘8 Mile’ and just the way Eminem humiliated his opponents with his mind and with his words and wittiness,” Metz said. “I was like, damn, I want to do that.”
Since 2016, Metz and Nyce have been winning admirers and awards with their words, wit and insights into Indigenous identity in tracks like “The Warriors,” “Can’t Remember My Name,” “The Resistance,” and “Boujee Natives.”
And the accolades and achievements keep coming.
Last year, their album “Trapline” was shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize, the Canadian music industry’s top honor. Last month, they cleaned up at the Western Canadian Music Awards, winning Indigenous Artist of the Year and Rap & Hip Hop Artist of the Year, and in August, SNRK played the finale concert for the Virtual Santa Fe Indian Market.
SNRK are also conquering the small and big screens. The group’s sound flows through the new CBC and CW series “Trickster,” based on the novel “Son of a Trickster” by Haisla and Heiltsuk writer Eden Robinson, as well as the Canadian film “Monkey Beach,” also based on a Robinson book.
Metz and Nyce are making their acting debut in “Monkey Beach,” which has been tweaked to match the story to the modern world.
“We play ourselves,” said Nyce, who added that SNRK are a staple of the “Monkey Beach” and “Trickster” worlds.
“Snotty Nose Rez Kids posters are plastered all over posters on the walls, (our music) is in the kids' headphones, it's just all over,” he said. “In ‘Trickster’, the main character, Jared, is a fan of our music. And whenever there's a house party or something, they're either playing us or Mob Bounce, which is another local rap duo from around here.”
SNRK followers have been standing by for new tunes since April, when the “Born Deadly EP” was released.
Last month, the wait finally ended when the duo delivered “Where We At,” a collaboration with Plains Cree rapper and fellow Canadian Drezus, and an accompanying animated video. The video, depicting the three musicians and Nyce’s recently departed dog and unofficial SNRK mascot Chauncey, cruising slowly through Kitimat in a cool car, has a totally laid back vibe.
“‘Where We At’ is our way of coming out and letting people know that we're here and we're still doing (music) even through all the crazy stuff that's happened this year,” Nyce said. “And if they want to know where we're at, we're still doing it.”
Metz noted that while the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a kind of exhausted worldwide burnout, it’s crucial to keep moving forward creatively.
“This whole Covid thing has just had so many ups and downs. But within that, there's growth. Me and Q are talking about a new album, new concepts, new directions, new sounds. At least there are a few positive things coming out of it,” Metz said. “Regardless if the doors open next year, we're still going to be ready to bring new music. And whenever tour life is ready, we're going to be sure that we're going to have some new dope a** music to drop.”
A peek into SNRK’s catalogue of clever lyrics, concepts and visuals presents a wild, layered world accented with memories and a very unique boujee vocabulary.
Bougie, short for bourgeois, is considered an insult: a tacky middle-class obsession with money and material things. A turnaround of the term was popularized by hip hop trio Migos in the 2016 song “Bad and Boujee.” Dictionary.com defines boujee as “luxurious in lifestyle, yet humble in character.”
SNRK celebrated that interpretation with a smudge of satire, in the “Boujee Natives” video. It begins at a dream-like dinner party with a who’s who of the duo’s Indigenous artist friends where wine and milk are flowing and sweetgrass and sage are in the air, and ends in a sweat lodge during a ritual.
Nyce and Metz noted that their idea of wealth and luxury revolves more around cultural riches and connections than cars and bling.
“Everyone in that video represents something in our community that we come from here in Vancouver and they're all artists,” Nyce said. “We were just messing around and all that, having fun with it. When we talk about rich kids, we talk about the seafood that comes from their territory… When we say boujee Native, we're not talking about glitz and glamour. We're talking about land defenders, chiefs that we respect, elders… We're talking about knowledge people.”
“Boujee Natives” includes the rhyme: “Neechie, neechie, lookie lookie / How I get low when I boogie.“
If you have no idea what that means, don’t worry.
The duo didn’t even know what neechie meant until their friend, Métis rapper Joey Stylez, asked them to take part in a remake of his song “My Neechie.”
“Before we got on, we were like, what does that mean? We're not going to get on a song if we don't know what it means,” Nyce said.
Neechie means “my friend” in the Ojibwe language, and is often used as slang throughout Canada to refer to a First Nations person. “It’s not just a Canadian thing. You can use it wherever you go, as long as you know what it means,” Nyce said.
The duo’s quickfire pop culture references are also idiosyncratically enlightening. For instance, their song “The Warriors” weaves in the coolest of cult cinema.
The song is a fierce cry for clean water coupled with the creepy chant “Warriors come out and play” from “The Warriors,” the timelessly tough and stylized 1979 cult film about New York gang turf wars.
“That movie was in the back of my mind the whole time we were writing it. I guess it kind of reminds me of my childhood,” Nyce said. “My cousins used to watch it all the time. it's a cult classic for sure.”
Water protection is the main subject of the song, which the duo said was inspired by Standing Rock and Tiny House Warriors, an Indigenous group in Canada building eco-friendly tiny houses to block a proposed oil pipeline from being constructed on Secwepemc Territory.
Nyce was also moved by water memories of his blind grandfather while composing the cut.
“When I was a little kid we lived right on the water and my grandpa used to get up every morning, before daybreak, before the sun came up, and climb into the ocean, no matter how cold it was. It never mattered if it was raining or snowing,” Nyce said. “I always wondered what that was about, but not really knowing too much about it. That's actually what our people would do before they would go on a hunt. It would cleanse their body so animals couldn't smell your scent. But nowadays it's used in the way of purifying yourself and cleansing your spirit.”
Those recollections and the duo’s devotion to water protection resulted in potent, passionate rhymes revealing their lyrical chops:
I don't rock 'n' roll, nah, I stand and rock (Standin' Rock, yi)
I think there's something in the water, here's some food for thought.
Is it really a felony for wanting my water clean?
Expect us not to rage against the machine
We ain’t movin’ like Rosa P, nope
You know why, 'cause this dreamcatcher's catchin' your pipe dream…
Act like you know the story
Broken treaties, unholy matrimony
One nation under the creator, homie
All my relations, mni wiconi*
*water is sacred
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