While many people may be unaware of the strong Native American Hip Hop scene
that thrives independently in Native communities across the United States and
Canada, one of it’s pioneers, Litefoot is calling on Outkast and the broader
Hip Hop community to take notice and check the way they view Native culture.
We spoke to Litefoot about his view of the Outkast Grammy performance and why
he’s issued a call to Andre 3000 and the group to meet with himself and Rev.
Jesse Jackson and publicly apologize.
AllHipHop.com: Give the people a little background on you and your role in the Native
Hip Hop scene. In more than 14 years you’ve put out 10 Albums, a clothing line,
and appeared in major motion pictures. Despite all that, the Native American
Hip Hop scene has been invisible to a majority of the hip hop audience, how
do you explain this?
Litefoot: First, I am and enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and I am
also Chichimecca(Aka Aztec). My name is Tecpatl meaning "Sacrificial Knife" also translated "Obsidian Tongue". I say all of these things I say
here in a humble way. I have been involved with Hip Hop since 1989 and I am
honored to have this opportunity to speak. I hope that my words are received
with the humility in which they are given. I have seen Hip Hop change and become
the powerhouse that it is now. For many years, I have been steadily speaking
through my music to try and get the word out about our peoples struggle and
to the world and to also provide our people with songs and albums so that they
can relate to a form of Hip Hop that comes from our perspectives. It has been
an uphill battle as I have found myself at different times breaking down stereotypes
not only about American Indian people but also about Hip Hop itself. I know
that I have pioneered Hip Hop to the reservation and performed my version of
it unashamed before it was ever as accepted as it is today. It has been a strong
tool to reach out to the people and I know that I have always attempted to express
my traditions within this contemporary art form. It has been a very strong way
for me to express the need for us to always maintain our traditions and to remember
our ancestors no matter what we do in today’s world. Mostly I have used my words
as tools to help better the people and effect our children. As my career has
grown it has taken my music around the world and is now spread to an ever growing
audience via the internet. I have been very blessed to have accomplished larger
things and have been able to travel the world and ultimately have a career as
an actor in many successful feature films (The Indian In the Cupboard, Mortal
Kombat II, Kull, The Conqueror, Adaptation etc…).
Litefoot: I have always remained intent in my pursuit of empowering Indian Country and
empowering the people. We as a people have been struggling for recognition within
society for literally centuries. It is an overwhelming battle as we are limited
to very few avenues to express ourselves worldwide and on a daily basis the
media, the film industry, the recording industry, cartoons, sports teams, the
government through it’s history books and the list goes on and on… reinforces
misconceptions and stereotypes regarding our people while promoting and reinforcing
inaccurate information and ignorance about American Indians.
Litefoot: Our relationship with the United States is one of the biggest cover ups in
the history of the world. We all know what was generally was done to the indigenous
people here in this country. But, does the average United States citizen know
that Adolph Hitler gave credit to President Andrew Jackson for his extermination
policies regarding the original people of this land? I am not making this up.
Hitler in his autobiography "Mein Kampf", gave this country credit
for all of his evil policies that caused the persecution of how many ten’s of
thousands of Jewish people. We had Indian Boarding schools, the Nazis had Kindertransport.
The Nazis had Kristallnacht and we had Wounded Knee. Many will then say that
I am drawing comparisons to Nazis and The United States and I will be very clear
that I am only stating what Hitler said. These are the ideas HE credited the
United States with. I don’t at all support or condone Hitler or his actions
in the least… But obviously he felt that he found a common denominator when
he studied American Indian history. We know about the plight and Holocaust of
the Jewish people but do we know about the American Indian Holocaust and the
continuing plight of our people?
If I would have dressed up like a Zulu and stuck a bone in my nose and held
a watermelon and sang one of my songs that had nothing to do with Zulu’s…
Do you think that I would have even made it out of that auditorium? We all know
the answer. But what we have here with Outkast is unintentional ignorance. I
don’t believe that Andre 3000 did this out of spite. I do believe that ignorance
is ignorance and regardless of what caused it-the end result is the same.
AllHipHop.com: By now everybody is well aware of the negative response from Native American
organizations to Outkast’s Grammy performance. Among rap fans and the broader
Hip Hop community, the response has varied from offense to apologist defenses
for the performance. What do you have to say to those that don’t understand
why many were offended?
Litefoot: First I would like to talk about what is wrong with our own house before I
talk about the homes of others. I will be asking the question of our "leadership" as to why they are solely going after CBS and the Grammy’s. Although they are
in part responsible, the performance given by Andre is what is in question and
offensive to Native Americans. Why are they leaving that or not giving it the
full attention and instead focusing mostly on CBS and The Grammy’s? I am in
no way excusing CBS or the Grammy’s or for that matter the FCC. We have had
a door open for us to bring our struggle to the attention of the world…for
the first time in literally over 500 years. For that I am thankful that Andre
did what he did out of ignorance because there is now a possibility that we
can learn from this, grow together as people of color, unite and move forward
together. I have dealt from day one in 1989 with comments from the African American
community like "You’re an Indian..Indians don’t rap. Indians ride horses
and live in Teepee’s. Do what Indians do and leave the rap game alone." I’ve been in the game for a minute and I have seen it change and I have had
to stay creative to keep up without getting left behind. My struggle in Hip
Hop has been a very INDEPENDENT one. It’s like my people early on were "Why
Rap?" And the African American Community just couldn’t get beyond what
they thought I was and what they were seeing me perform on the stage…BUT ALWAYS
when I have performed to mostly African American crowds they feel what I am
doing and what I am saying because our struggles are so exact. We each have
a unique history with the U.S. but where black people have been able to make
that next step we are a little behind that.
Litefoot: I have been blessed with the support of many legends in the game from Afrika
Bambatta and members of the Rock Steady Crew to the first American Indian in
Hip-Hop, Ernie Paniccioli (Cree) who has been photographing and documenting
the movement since almost day one. Maybe I could just give this analogy to those
who don’t get it? Since Eminem has been made the subject of recent complaints
about racism by the Source Magazine and others in the African American community
let me use him as an example. What if Eminem didn’t say "N#####" or
refer derogatorily to African American women. What if he just performed at the
Grammy’s and dressed up like a Stereotypical African American woman and performed
one of his hottest songs. Would it have bothered anybody in Hip Hop or would
have any African American women been offended as the laughable way that they
were portrayed by a "White Man"? It would have not been tolerated
if Eminem did this and therefore it has become a source of embarrassment to
the African American Community because it is blatantly obvious why it is wrong
and sometimes the best position to hold in these matters to save face- is to
offer for your defensive action, an offensive action. Which is to say, "Well
we just didn’t Know!" or "What’s the big deal?"
AllHipHop.com: Ironically, many defenders of Outkast’s performance have come from the
Black community. Despite the fact that many African American’s have Native American
ancestry and the historic role that Native American’s have played in the struggle
for Black freedom, this event has shined light on a large gap of understanding
that lies between the two communities. What do you feel needs to take place
to increase dialogue and coalition among African Americans and Native Americans?
Litefoot: I truly think that if Andre handles this in a good way and steps up to the
plate that he will be able to make changes that are far reaching! Changes that
he may possibly may have never anticipated or never even thought about for our
people and for African American people which could lead to unification and an
alliance that would bring many issues to the attention of the world.Really what
it all comes down to is that we have to use this negative happening to build
a bridge whereby we of all colors of people can use it to cross over and each
of us say "you can come understand me on my side so that we can better
understand you on your side".
AllHipHop.com: While many of the groups outraged at the Outkast performance targeted
CBS and the Grammy’s, you’re attempting to reach out to Andre and the group
to address your concerns using Rev. Jesse Jackson as a mediator. What do you
hope to accomplish with this move?
Litefoot: We must let our actions speak for ourselves and if we truly want to take this
problem and build then we have to look to the Creator and do what is righteous
and extend our hand to reach out in a good way to those who have offended us.
Our actions must speak louder than our words and step up to the plate and do
what will promote a better future for our children. Sitting Bull and many other
leaders of our people, mine included, said that we must make all of our decisions
today by thinking of our children seven generations from now. By involving Rev.
Jesse Jackson, I am sending a message to everyone that we do want to build and
that we are taking the first step in inviting everyone to the "table".
AllHipHop.com: Are you concerned at all that some may view this as a move to promote
your own career?
Litefoot: I think that people will always talk. But, I do know that I have always projected
and promoted myself as a Native person first and everything else second. If
something or someone ever called that into question… then I would let the
people speak on my behalf. I am their servant as all "leaders" should
be. My life has been dedicated to always serving the reservation and maintaining
a constant presence with encouragement for our people throughout the United
States and Canada. I have done this work and still do it when it hasn’t been
or isn’t financially the smartest thing to do nor "career building".
AllHipHop.com: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Hip Hop community?
Litefoot: I would encourage all those in power within Hip Hop and those who have a voice
as Recording artists, DJ’s, Clothing Designers, Graffiti artists, Dancers etc…
to step up to the plate and promote "Equality" for all people and
to join with us TOGETHER to make a statement to the world that we can take a
bad situation and make it good for all of us. I hope that Andre makes the right
choice and is one of the persons that leads Hip Hop towards this call for action.
I would ask all persons who care for the basic human rights of people to rise
up to stand with American Indian people in support.