Snotty Nose Rez Kids – Trapline (independent)
This is not an album you should hear. It’s an album you have to hear.
It is to Canada in 2019 what Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was to the U.S. in 2015. And it’s not a coincidence that the Rez Kids refer to themselves at one point as “Natives with an attitude”—there are more than a few parallels with the revolution wrought by NWA 30 years ago.
Yes, I just did that awful thing where I use U.S. artists as a benchmark against which to measure homegrown heroes. I only do so because I honestly can’t think of a Canadian hip-hop record in history that does all of the following: that so successfully addresses the political moment; that doesn’t aspire to be a part of the pop music industry; that excels artistically from top to bottom; and shines a spotlight on a marginalized community using a universal language. Correct me if I'm wrong. War Party got this started in the ’90s; Snotty Nose Rez Kids are going to take it even further than A Tribe Called Red.
Snotty Nose Rez Kids are a duo from Kitimaat, B.C., a 15-hour drive north of Vancouver, to which they've since moved. They shot out of obscurity in 2018 when their second album, The Average Savage, landed on the Polaris Music Prize shortlist. Their performance at the gala was a showstopper on a stacked bill. They went from having zero expectations to suffering from high expectations. And so they shelved an album of party bangers they’d already finished in favour of making a grand statement, which became Trapline. They raised their game on every level: it’s hard to imagine them coming back stronger than they do here.
Right from the first track, “Rebirth,” their mantra is “resist, revive, indigenize.” As I wrote about The Average Savage, this is not music of reconciliation: it is music of resistance. It is inherently political. It pulls no punches.
But it’s also better than that: it’s clever, it’s funny, rich in metaphor, puns and wordplay, and intersects deep references to Indigenous cultures across the country and the history of hip-hop. One of my many favourite lines, referencing Kendrick: “Priest don’t kill my tribe!” (Runner-up: “I’m a red man with a method, man.” There are too many more to list.) And while the music is inherently of-the-moment, influenced heavily by trap (which makes the title that much more brilliant), the two MCs are a far cry from the opiated mumblemouths who dominate the genre of the day: SNRK's presence is arresting, animated, playful and gripping. They’re rapping like their lives are on the line, grabbing the listener by the collar and demanding an audience. As yet as uncompromising as the lyrics are, the music is full of hooks, and the beats are brassy and bold.
Just like Public Enemy did for me in 1990, behind the visceral thrills of this music are references that will send you down wormholes, whether it’s “Section 35 forever”—a reference to the clause of the Canadian constitution affirming treaty rights—or continuous references to “neechie,” the Ojibwe word for “friend.” It’s a handy (and friendlier) replacement for the n-word in Indigenous hip-hop parlance ("Neechie, please"), though this here urban white man is embarrassed to admit I originally assumed they were talking about a homonymous German philosopher, which would require a whole other level of lyrical analysis.
Then there are the guests. Not surprisingly, Tanya Tagaq shows up on “Rebirth.” Rising Vancouver rapper Kimmortal soars on “Lost Tribe.” Boslen is ferocious on “Creator Made an Animal.” Brevner scores on “Hooligans” and bombs on “Hunger Games.” But it’s the presence of Toronto crew the Sorority on “Son of a Matriarch” that provides the truly historic track here. The Sorority, of course, are a Torontonian all-woman crew (whose Haviah Mighty also has a new record out), and the track is predictably packed with feminist fire (“Don’t forget you was raised with your face in a tit!”). But SNRK don’t just cede the spotlight to the sisters; they join in with some of the fiercest anti-misogynist lines I’ve ever heard from male MCs. Most important: nothing about this track goes down like Michael Franti’s granola (for which I have a soft spot, FYI), nor does it sound like some clunky Consolidated track from the ’90s; it’s ferocious and invigorating.
And essential. Just like the rest of this record.
Stream: “Son of a Matriarch,” “Yuck-Sue-Yaach,” “Rebirth”
Full album here.
House of Strombo interview/performance from December 2018 here.