Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards at the John Bassett Theatre in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (255 Front West), Friday (November 28). $25-$30. 416-872-1111. Rating: NNNNN
Rex Smallboy, aka mic noble, of native rap outfit War Party is having a bad flashback. Over the phone from his place in Hobbema, Alberta, he's talking about the time War Party opened for the Wu-Tang Clan in Calgary in 94. "They opened the doors at 7, but the show didn't get going until 12:30. The crowd was mad as hell. We got booed. They were throwing shit at us. People didn't want to see small-time opening acts, they wanted to see Wu-Tang. And then Wu-Tang came out and did four songs, and the crowd started throwing shit at them, and Wu-Tang were like, 'Fuck that,' and they left. Then people started tripping out and ripping the seats right out of the theatre and throwing them around. That was one of our worst experiences."
A lot's changed since the time when they rocked it with Wu-Tang. For one thing, the War Party have produced two albums and a music video on high rotation and have hauled in a whole whack of awards. They're nominated in the hiphop category again at this year's Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, Friday (November 28).
War Party's new album, The Greatest Natives From The North, is an experience all on its own. Over ominous beats, they set the lyrical dynamite ablaze to display their mike prowess and consciousness.
Another change is that hiphop's more politically correct than it was. War Party used to be called the Indians - a term Smallboy grew up with.
"It wasn't until later in my life that people decided they didn't know what to call us," he says. "Even though I'm not from India, that's how I think of myself, versus being aboriginal."
But War Party has been called everything else in the book as well.
"We've been called, you know, the n-word wannabes. We've had people post really strong comments on our Web site saying we shouldn't be rapping. Along with that, people have posted a lot of negative stereotypes about Indians, like 'Stay on the reserves and drink Lysol.' We just kind of write it off as ignorance."
Like that time War Party shared a stage with Westside Connection member Mack 10.
"He didn't know what Indians were," Smallboy recounts. "We had to actually explain it to him. I was like, 'Did you ever watch Peter Pan? You know those red guys with the hawk noses?' He went 'Yeah,' and I said, 'Well, that's us.'
"He was like, 'Really? I thought they killed all you guys. '"
Smallboy adds, "People know how to push the right buttons, but it's not something that we dwell on. I guess that's 'cause we always get hate coming from every direction."
Hiphop is not the most popular art form in certain native communities.
"When we've done shows in really isolated native communities, I've had to explain why I do hiphop, why I relate to hiphop, where it came from and why it's something that gave me a voice.
"Out here, crack cocaine is devastating our people, and gang warfare is really bad. There are home invasions. There've been drive-bys out here over drugs. The community's living in fear, and some people are just lost," Smallboy explains.
"We go out there and see some crazy, fucked-up shit, so we come back and go, 'OK, yeah, that's fucked up. We need to do something about it. '"