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On Sunday, June 30, distinguished Diné hip-hop artist-educator, rapper, and producer Def-I will be among the notable Indigenous artists at Summer Sessions, an artistic benefit to support the 4KINSHIP Indigenous Futures Fund in Sante Fe, N.M. 

The event, taking place at the hotel and event center Mystic Santa Fe, kicks off at 6:30 PM, inviting guests to enjoy Indigenous soul food provided by Yapopup. From 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM, attendees will experience a blend of visual and audio artistry, with performances by Def-I, Raven Bright, Lucaa, Hataałi, and Nizhonniya Austin. All proceeds from ticket sales will go directly toward supporting Indigenous artists through the  4KINSHIP Indigenous Futures Fund.

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Tickets for “Summer Sessions” are available now, and early arrival is encouraged to partake in the pre-event festivities. 

Def-I has received numerous awards for his artistic contributions and leadership, including the 2023 New Mexico Male Artist of the Year, The Hustle Award, and the title of U.S. Hip-Hop Cultural Ambassador through Next Level USA. His poetic rapport and dynamic performances have made him a standout figure in the hip-hop community, earning him a reputation for excellence and innovation. 

Native News Online spoke with Def-I about his musical journey, from his early passion for poetry and percussion to embracing hip-hop as a cultural outlet and debuting his latest album, “Blue Hour,” at Summer Sessions. 

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you became inspired to make music?
I got inspired when I was really young, probably around middle school. I fell in love with poetry and percussion. Around the same time, I had to choose between pursuing a traditional musical lifestyle through ceremonial practices, powwows, and drumming, or choosing my own path.

I fell in love with hi- hop, especially the cultural aspects like breakdancing, DJing, and battle rapping. I started in the underground rap circuit as a teenager and grew into a musical artist around high school.

My older brother, who was tragically murdered a few years ago, really inspired me to pick up the pen and the microphone. I felt a strong calling to express myself. I initially tried to be a dancer, but my peers were so skilled that I didn't feel as confident. I then fell in love with rap because I felt you could still dance with words.

Rap allowed me to play with language, rhythms, and sounds to create beautiful effects. I see a strong connection between traditional music and contemporary hip-hop. There are many beautiful parallels between the two cultures, and I find myself somewhere in the middle of both.

What does participating in an event like Summer Sessions mean to you personally and professionally?
I think the Summer Sessions are really cool. In Santa Fe, there are many great venues I enjoy, but I haven't been to the Mystic Hotel before. This will be my first time performing there. The outdoor stage and settings look like a great environment for the public and hotel guests.

I hope people come out and enjoy the show. Professionally, it's a good event, too, because it's sponsored by TurboTax. Sponsorships are really helpful in this profession to meet everyone's needs and requirements for travel and other expenses. It means a lot to me to be part of this event.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Can you share the story behind the songs you’ll be showcasing at the event?
I'll be showcasing some new songs from my latest album, “Blue Hour.” This album has taken me to various places, so it holds a lot of meaning for me. I'll also perform some unreleased songs and a few older ones from my musical catalog. I'm excited about that and will also do some freestyling. My live performances tend to be unique each time, so audiences can expect something different.

What impact do you hope your music will have on the audience, especially considering the diverse group of attendees?
I'm really excited that 4KINSHIP is bringing us all together. The lineup is very eclectic, featuring a variety of musical styles. I hope my music brings good energy and vibes alongside everyone else's. I might be the only rapper there, but I think everyone will enjoy it. I always give my best when performing, especially for audiences of all ages. So, I'm really looking forward to it.

What advice would you give to young Indigenous artists looking to make their mark in the music world?
I think it's crucial, especially in music, to start at a younger age if you're a young artist. It's the perfect time to begin and start working on your craft—whether it's your performances, songwriting, or other aspects of your music. 

At the same time, be patient with yourself because growth takes time and practice. I encourage every artist out there, especially younger ones, to keep believing in yourselves. Don't get discouraged by obstacles; instead, work through them as best you can. 

Reach out to other artists you know or admire for advice—they might have valuable insights to share. You can also connect with like-minded individuals who share your dreams and goals. 

Are there any other projects in the future that you are particularly excited about?
I'm releasing a couple of new albums — one independently and another with a label in California called Broken Complex. There's a lot of new content coming out soon. Additionally, I'm launching a new product named after my album, which will be available in some local dispensaries soon.

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About The Author
Kaili Berg
Author: Kaili BergEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.