A new kind of hero Supaman
The culture-bending “Prayer Loop” music video by Native American rapper Supaman isn’t a part of SITE Santa Fe’s Future Shock. But one view makes it clear why the museum picked this hip-hop artist to throw a concert to kick off their grand reopening.
Within a few frames, Supaman, bedecked in full Crow powwow regalia, is placing the needle on a Technics 1200 to set a breakbeat as he picks up a flute, freestyling a tribal melody over a rap beat. Soon, he is both fancy dancing in the studio and freestyling bars into the mic. It’s both ancient and futuristic, a portrait of an artist completely comfortable in his own skin and the multiple cultures that surround him.
“I started dancing when I was a fourth grader. Powwow and fancy dancing. It’s a contemporary style of Indian culture — it’s an adopted style that came from Oklahoma,” said Supaman, whose given name is Christian Parrish Takes the Gun. “Hip-hop maybe came when I was a sixth grader. We had relatives in Seattle — they would come over for our Crow Fair and they would bring over their tapes from KFOX, the Seattle station where Sir Mix-A-Lot got his shine. There was nothing on the radio here, so we valued it even more.”
For more than 15 years, Supaman has been spearheading a Native American hip-hop movement out of his home base on the Crow Nation in southeastern Montana. Yet the video and live stage fusion that has him blending Crow fancy dancing in full regalia with rapping was never his plan. A timing snafu at a 2010 performance at a college in Bozeman, Montana, changed all that. “I was asked to talk and perform about a Native Heritage Day at the college in Bozeman. Early on in the program, I was going to fancy dance in dress, and later I was going change clothes and rap. But they had a schedule mix-up, and they told us we could go on right now, even though we’re still in our outfits. I look at my nephew, who is also dressed, and he gives me this ‘What the hell?’ look,” the rapper said. “We tried to act like it was nothing when we walked on stage. But during the show, people were going crazy. They were loving us.”
His grandfather was in the audience. A traditional man who venerated every bit of his Crow culture, he approached his grandson after his show with a grim look on his face. “I was thinking, What had I done?” Parrish Takes the Gun said. “What he told me was, ‘Grandson, that was pretty damn powerful. You showed people that you can embrace who you are absolutely. You spoke the language of your tribe and you spoke the language of the young people, which is hip-hop, rap. They were listening to your message about being drug- and alcohol-free. You can reach them in this creative way,’” said the rapper. “To hear the elders say this, that this is good, this is right, it gave me a new sort of confidence.”
His most recent album, 2013’s Gorilla, features a more expansive use of Northern Plains tribal singing and drumming, folded into hip-hop beats. That’s not an easy task. “Doing the fusion is difficult. Northern Plains tribes, they sing off the drum beat. When you hit the drum you’re not singing. When it’s off, you’re crying out. It’s completely different in hip-hop, where you’re on that beat, you’re on that snare. But I was a DJ and I grew up on Crow singing, so I know both song structures. I’m able to put it together,” he said.
The rapper has been mastering songs for a new album to be released next year. In the meantime, his most recent fans have come to know him through his guest verses on the 2016 anti-Dakota Access Pipeline rap anthem “Stand Up / Stand N Rock #NoDAPL.” The song is performed by Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas and MAG7, an assemblage of Native rappers that includes Supaman. In August, the song won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Video with a Social Message.
It’s a long way from where Supaman first began. Back in the 1990s, when gangsta rap dominated hip-hop, the rapper believed he had to lead a quasicriminal life of robberies and drug-dealing in order to rap. “I believed back then, you couldn’t just get on the mic and rap, you had to live what you’re saying. We had to be gangster, play the part, so I started doing those negative things. Music can influence people that way,” the rapper said. “I know people who rapped about that life and are now in prison for life.”
He radically shifted tone in the early 2000s, abandoning drugs and alcohol while devoting his lyrics to exploring and celebrating Crow culture and reservation life. “It was that crossover moment when I realized if I’m going to be an artist, I wanted to make music that I could play to hip-hop fans and real heads. At the same time, I could play it for grandmas,” Parrish Takes the Gun said. “Music has this telling power. I can be out there rapping about my culture, about being drug and alcohol free,” he added. “It’s why I do it. Culture becomes protection, your strength against negativity.”
Supaman performs 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, at The Reveal party, in SITE Santa Fe’s Marlene Nathan Meyerson Auditorium; entrance is included with Reveal admission; 505-989-1199.