Hip hop at its finest is a poetical, political voice for those whose voices have been silenced; it speaks to the anger, the dignity, and the triumphant joy of the oppressed. If hip hop is the music of the dispossessed, then no one in North America should have a greater claim on it than the First Nations. Combine that revolutionary rage and cultural crucible with artistic passion and power, and you have what was Canada’s finest hip hop band—WAR PARTY.
Formed in 1995 under the leadership of Maskwacis Cree artist, lead vocalist, and executive producer Rex Smallboy, and co-vocalists Cynthia Smallboy, and Thane Saddleback, War Party won the Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Best Rap Album in 2001, and were the first Indigenous crew featured on Canada’s Much Music channel. The video for “Feeling Reserved” exploded across Canadian television in 2001 with a powerful set of voices and images that was thankfully bling-bling- and booty-shaking-free. Instead, the video showed everyday people with extraordinary voices and lyrical intelligence, denouncing settler-colonial genocide.
War Party performed with Ice-T, Wu-Tang Clan, Guru, Maestro Fresh Wes and K-OS among many others, and recently Chuck D. recorded an introduction for the new album “The Resistance.” The band got global attention by representing Canada at the World Expo in Nagoya, Japan and for performing for the First Americans Festival at the Smithsonian Museum.
Fiercely proud of their Cree heritage specifically and their First Nations heritage generally, the band refused to fall into the trap of not wanting to be known as “Native rappers.” Their embrace of their heritage made them universal, in the same way that Miriam Makeba, Public Enemy, or Nusrat Khan are emblems of their people, and emblems of human culture, struggle, and aspiration generally.
While the group has since splintered into factions, one of which is named RezOfficial, their original ground-breaking work lives on. Rex Smallboy continues to make albums and also works as a motivational speaker.
In the summer of 2004, I spoke with band members Rex Smallboy and his then-wife Cynthia at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. You can hear Cynthia Smallboy in the bonus content for today’s show. Rex and I discussed:
Note that our conversation includes reference to the Cree Nation’s reserve that was once called Hobbema, about 90 minutes south of Edmonton. The reserve finally discarded that German name and is now called Maskwacis.
Ice-T is one of the best-known artists from what is now widely known as the golden era of hip hop—the 1986 to 1992 span that saw the widest assortment of lyrical content and the climax of political and Africentric work.
West coast artist Ice-T brought a mixture of allegedly autobiographical stories and fictional ballads named “crime rhymes,” while also engaging in incisive social commentary against racism, media, and government.
In 1992, Ice-T’s musical career nearly imploded under attacks from White police, Charlton Heston, Al Gore’s wife Tipper, US vice president Dan Quayle, and President George H.W. Bush. Ice-T’s heavy metal band Body Count released the revenge fantasy ballad “Cop Killer,” about brutal and murderous racist police.
Having survived the onslaught with the support of The National Black Police Association, Ice-T continued to grow his acting career, which had begun with the 1984 US film Breakin’, grew through 1991’s New Jack City, and later hit its height on television’s Law & Order: SVU.
In the year 2000, Ice-T performed in Edmonton at club then called Red’s. In this episode you’ll hear what he had to say, including:
A few of notes: I have no way of knowing what claims Ice-T made of his past are actually true; creating a fictional onstage persona is almost as much a key element of hip hop as it is of pro-wrestling. At one point Ice-T describes having been a pimp; I don’t know if his claims are true, but certainly now as a husband and father, I marvel at my failure sixteen years ago to have asked him about the inherent depravity of such a degrading and misogynistic profession. You are a grown-up, so decide for yourself if you want to listen.
That being said, for those of you who subscribe to the EXTENDED EDITION PODCAST, you’ll hear the commentaries on Ice-T’s remarks, also recorded in the year 2000, by E-Town community activists Darren Jordan and Kelly Fraser.
Also, when I recorded this interview in the year 2000, I’d never heard of Kid Rock. That’s important to know to understand the sarcasm of Ice-T’s comment and my confusion at his answer.
Finally, Ice-T let me interview him immediately after his show. There’s no question that any artist, or speaker, walking offstage after an intense performance is in a mind-state that isn’t suited to honest reflection, but to spectacle and artifice. But note while you’re listening how Ice-T slowly calms, becoming quieter and possibly more sincere. He was generous with his time, and for that I thank him.
To hear the half-hour of patrons-only bonus material about my conversation with Ice-T, visit mfgalaxy.org to click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.
By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes community activists Darren Jordan and Kelly Fraser from a Terrordome interview in the year 2000 discussing: