Before I met Tall Paul, I hadn't heard much about Native American hip-hop. But in preparing for our interview, he gave me a remedial education in the form of a recommended YouTube playlist.
Once I started listening, I was blown away. I have what I thought was a fairly eclectic collection of hip-hop on my digital Spotify shelves—how had I missed this?
But the impact for me is small compared to the impact this work has on its creators. Paul Wendell Jr.—who performs as Tall Paul — told me that he grew up in Minnesota without much connection to his heritage or native language. He started learning Ojibwe in college, and now flows seamlessly between English and Ojibwe in his music as a method of re-learning and reclaiming his native language. He sees hip-hop as a path to reconnecting young Native American kids to their roots.
“I feel like it uplifts so many people, it’s almost like a universal language. Hip-hop is a culture, not just a genre. And it is really an empowering culture that connects so many people and makes so many people want to fit in with it. It gives Native Americans something to look at."
If like me, you’ve yet experience Native American hip-hop, start here. To save you some time, I’ve collected a by-no-means-exhaustive list of what I found. I am sure lots of great music is missing, but this is a start.