Hip hop at its core is coming from indigenous roots, according to Sicangu Lakota rapper Frank Waln.
Born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in rural South Dakota, the 29-year-old Frank Waln uses music as a way to call out historical wrongs and uplift American indigenous youth, many of whom struggle with poverty, violence, suicide, and inter-generational trauma.
Frank Waln has rapped about the Keystone XL Pipeline, his battle with depression, and the modern Native American experience.
He said: “[Growing up] in one of the poorest counties of the nation, statistics told me I was more likely to drop out of high school and die by the age 50 than I was to succeed doing what I love.”
Rap, an art form driven by communal narrative and civic engagement, resonated powerfully with Frank Waln, echoing the storytelling traditions of his indigenous community.
In an interview with Here & Now radio show, the Native American rapper said: “Hip hop just resonated with a lot of Native youth from my generation, especially growing up on reservations because we could relate to the stories being told in the music.
“Black folks are coming up out of a history of slavery that their ancestors had to endure. And my ancestors and myself we’re coming up out of a history of genocide – so we are both being oppressed by this system that was imposed on us.
“When I moved to Chicago, I started doing workshops and going to schools that were in inner-city Chicago. And I saw the parallels there and I didn’t even know they really existed. And then it started to make sense why I gravitated to that music and those stories.”
At the age of 16, the young musician saved up enough money to purchase a home studio, and produced, wrote, and recorded his first song.
Today, Frank Waln is an award-winning musician and a passionate advocate for Indigenous resilience, decolonisation, and youth empowerment.
Through his music, Frank Waln aims to challenge perceptions of Native Americans. He also travels the world telling his story through performance and doing workshops focusing on self-determination and expression of truth.
Image: © Tomas Karmelo Amaya
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea