A new kind of hero Su­pa­man

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Casey Sanchez

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.

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