The Best Indigenous Music of 2013


2013 was a very good year for Indigenous music. Here are our favourite reasons why it's an incredible time to tune in. We're still here—and we're still making amazing music.

Look around you: from the front pages of websites, magazines and the news, to the halls of art galleries, centre stages, and dancefloors, clubs, festivals and playlists, Indigenous artists are at the forefront of almost every form of art and culture. And although we love all kinds of creative expression at RPM, this is a particularly inspiring time for Indigenous music.

In a year that began with the sound of the drum, and in the #RoundDanceRevolution that followed, our music has continued to keep us in time and on beat as the world marches ahead—with our people leading the charge.

As we spin back around for #Revolution2 here at RPM, we asked our Indigenous community to weigh in with their picks for the Best Indigenous Music of 2013.

Mohawk radio host, writer and artist Janet Rogers always knows what's up. At the top of her best album list is Derek Miller's Blues Vol. 1. Why? "Hot, rough, sexy, blues." Other top album picks from Janet are The Johnnys' Rock - "A generous offering of the Thinking Man’s Metal Music" and Patrica Cano, Songs from Tomson Highway’s the (post) Mistress, for her "sultry vocals with perfect pitch."

Anishinaabe broadcast journalist and writer Waubgeshig Rice just posted his Top 10 albums of the year, which includes the doomcore metal grind of Biipiigwan's Something for Everyone; Nothing for Anyone, and Leonard Sumner’s Rez Poetrywhich Rice praised as "a riveting portrayal of the unique struggles and triumphs of Anishinaabe people. It’s the album I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear."

The other Wab (Wabanakwut Kinew, that is), also picked Sumner's Rez Poetry along with Inez Jasper, Winnipeg Boyz, and powwow group North Bear as some of his favourites. Anishinaabe musician, scholar and organizer Melody McKiver listed some interesting additions, including Northern Voice's "Dance of the Moon" and shouted-out the Aboriginal 'Australian' MC K-Otic One's righteous hip-hop compilation the "Idle No More (Invasion Day)" mixtape.

Indigenous Waves radio host Susan Blight echoed many of our choices, and also shouted-out the latest from Quese IMC "Handdrum" for bringing "it all back to the roots; the importance of the sacred fire, the ceremonies, and the sound of the drum" and a unique collab between Just Jamaal and Lena Recollet "What's It All About" that was "released in solidarity with Idle No More--referencing broken treaties, environmental racism, and issuing a call for resistance all over slick production from Hyf the GypsySun".

And, of course, a certain Polaris Prize-nominated Indigenous crew seemed to pop up everywhere we turned and at the very top of everyone's 'Best of' list. But more on that later.

Shout-outs to these stellar releases:

K-otic 1 - "Idle No More Invasion Day Mixtape" PozLyrix - "Chicago Native" Impossible Nothing - "Alchemy" Derek Miller - "Blues, Vol. 1" Tara Williamson - "Lie Low" Rebel Diaz - "Radical Dilemma" The Johnnys - "Rock" Inez Jasper - "Burn Me Down" Kinnie Starr - "Kiss It" Eden Fine day - "Things Get Better" Fawn and Dallas - "Blessings"

The Top 10 Indigenous Albums of 2013


10. Frank Waln - "Born Ready EP"

Ascending to the hip-hop pedestal with a calm, collected confidence and wisdom beyond his years, Lakota MC Frank Waln turned the heads of almost everyone this fall when he dropped the powerhouse video for his NDN rap anthem "AbOriginal". With its massive "when I rise / you rise" hook, overflowing lyrical pride, and his obvious love for his people and nation, Waln brought some much-needed realness and a refreshing dose of youthful warriorism back into the Indigenous hip-hop game. Oh and The 1491s' Dallas Goldtooth directed a video for him. And did we mention that Waln composed, recorded and mixed all the tracks himself? And that he writes honorific rap dedications to his mother and grandmother? Yeah, good luck to the rest of you. Frank Waln is walking the talk. And raising the bar. Listen/download:

9. Cris Derksen - "The Collapse"

A now-ubiquitous fixture on the contemporary Indigenous music scene, Métis musician Cris Derksen's soaring cello melodies and effects-laden staccato bursts, beats and wailing cries, are a haunting, soaring, cinematic soundtrack to our peoples' burgeoning resurgence that give you chills and the increasing sense of possibility that so much is yet to come... Highly recommended. Listen/Download:

8. Kristi Lane Sinclair - "The Sea Alone"

Speaking of Cris Derksen, you can hear her cello stylings on Haida singer Kristi Lane Sinclair's latest grunge-folk album that, as its title invites, carries you across waves of solitude, heartache, reflection, fierceness and vulnerability.  Kristi’s voice ranges from a low growl to a sultry spell (including one of the best musical deliveries of the f-bomb in recent memory) and her style is not for the faint of heart, which is to say there is a frankness, darkness and richness on The Sea Alone that pulls you deeper into her world with each listen. Dive in. Listen/Download:

7. Shining Soul - “Sonic Smash”

Shining Soul burst onto our playlists with their commanding album Sonic Smash just in time to make an appearance on the #NationHood Mixtape with their lead-off single "Get Up". But the whole album goes deep with soulful hip-hop anthems that strike back against oppression wherever they find it and find root in the strength and vitality of their creative expression. Listen/download:

6. Tall Paul - “Birthday Present EP”

The remarkably consistent Anishinaabe MC from the Twin Cities, Tall Paul, keeps up his stellar record of releases with a head-knocking EP of assured, intelligent hip-hop that made its place on the list just for the standout storytelling track, "Taurus the Bull" (ft. $kywalker). The rest of the record rocks too. This is everyday rap responding to the real highs and lows of trying to survive and thrive in the game. And judging by the sounds of it, the struggle is in good hands. Tall Paul's got bars and keeps it moving, one beat at a time. Listen/Download:

5. City Natives - “4 Kingz”

The dynamic mic skills and boom bap-inflected east coast production of rising hip-hop stars City Natives bangs all the way through. Barely a year into their collaboration as a crew, City Natives brings together the multi-talented forces of Beaatz, IllFundz, Gearl, and BnE, like a young Native rap Voltron. Featuring incredible beat production from Juliano, the pass and trade flows of this crew sounds hungry for respect, recognition, and social change in equal parts. If this is just the beginning, there's no limit to where things can go from here. Listen/Download:

4. Leonard Sumner - "Rez Poetry"

Speaking of realness, you just can't get around the raw authenticity of Anishinaabe singer-songwriter Leonard Sumner. Landing right near the top of almost everyone's year-end list, Rez Poetry, offers a clear-eyed personal take on choices and consequences, struggles and love, and the complexities of contemporary Indigenous life—all spun through Sumner's unique brand of Native roots music that is deeply infused with acoustic guitar hymns, hip-hop rhythms and cadences, and just enough country and rhythm & blues to rep the urban, rez, and everywhere-in-between Indians with equal power. Tune in, kick back, and dream of that open, prairie sky. Listen/download:

3. Leanne Simpson - "Islands of Decolonial Love"

Bridging many worlds, storylines, generations, and forms of creativity with effortless poetics and heartbreaking, deceptive simplicity, Leanne Simpson was the only Anishinaabekwe that we know of who dropped a full-volume of published stories and poetry in tandem with a collaboratively composed album of the same, set to the expansive sonics of many of Indian Country's rising stars (including Tara Williamson, Cris Derksen, A Tribe Called Red, and Melody McKiver). Halfway between story, song, and verse, Simpson's poems flow through you like long-forgotten dreams suddenly remembered. Inspiring, strong and swift, these are the currents of sound that surround each island of decolonial love. All that, and it's available digitally and as a beautifully bright orange analog cassette release. So go dig up that tape player from the basement and rewind into Simpson's hypnotic spell. Listen/download:

2. Samantha Crain - "Kid Face"

Choctaw singer Samantha Crain is three albums deep, at twenty-seven years young, and her music already echoes and twists through generations of greatness. With her urgent, accomplished and irresistible craft on its finest display to date, Kid Face offers up Crain's melancholy-infused melodic brand of Americana with a suite of songs that navigate pain, love, loss and growth with an aching resonance of unvarnished truth. Samantha Crain is the real deal. The rest are just pale imitations. Listen/download:

1. A Tribe Called Red - “Nation II Nation”

What other praise can be given to our brothers from ATCR that hasn't already been said? Since dropping their plaintive instrumental "The Road" exactly one year ago today, in honour of Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More movement, A Tribe Called Red has continued their stratospheric rise from the booming dancefloors of the electric pow-wow to the forefront of the world's musical consciousness. Seemingly overturning every false colonial conception about being Indian in the 21st century with each kinetic set of party-rocking, this three DJ crew blows the roof off everywhere they go, while always reppin' for the people. With their second full-length album, Nation II Nation, ATCR single-handedly dropped the revolutionary soundtrack that we all knew we needed, while elevating and expanding the possibilities of contemporary Indigenous music culture and pushing their electronic/Indigenous aesthetic hybrid forms to new heights and levels of power. Raise your fist up and get ready. The Tribe stands with us—as we rise together. Listen/Download:

 STREAM: The Best Indigenous Music of 2013

Shining Soul: Phoenix Hip-Hop with a Purpose


We just got put on to the fresh stylings of Shining Soul, a Phoenix, Arizona-based hip-hop duo, composed of Franco/The Bronze Candidate, who makes beats and instrumentals with a distinct underground and jazzy flavor, and Alex Soto/MC Liaison, who spits politically subversive rhymes. The duo uses their music to inform audiences about border militarization, oppression of Indigenous Peoples, and capitalism.

Check out their recent interview with on hip-hop, cultural pride, and the politics of border militarization:

Carl Gibson: Where are you originally from? And how does that influence your music?

MC Liaison: First and foremost, I’m Tohono O’odham (pronounced tone-OH-tum) which translates to desert people, and is the second largest tribe next to the Navajo in the so-called U.S. Our land mass is as big as the state of Connecticut and shares 79 miles of so-called US/Mexico border. The line was drawn since 1848 with the Gadsden Purchase, so our nation and community has been divided in half. Our tribal lands go to Rocky Point, Hermecito, and spans as far north as Phoenix. Just like any indigenous tribe around the world, there are different bands. There’s desert people, but up here, the other O’odham, or people, are the river people. Any MC back in New York knows that Hip-Hop began with that cultural pride of people who were living in the ghetto, living in the hood, living on the rez. That’s one thing I communicate through my music. I share my culture and flavor down there, but I’m also rocking it in Phoenix with people up here.

CG: How long have you two been making music? Talk about how you began and the evolution of your sound.

Bronze Candidate: Alex and I have known each other for nine years. Shining Soul has been through many phases and mutations. We used to be a live band at one point; I was playing bass and guitar for the group. I’m still using those musical influences as music for the group, but I’m making the beat-driven, rhythm-driven music. It’s basically about cultural pride, and pride about where we come from. My mom and pops were into Earth Wind and Fire, Gap Band, El Chicano, really funky stuff. I supplemented it with Mariachi here and there, with some Salsa infused. And that’s all kind of what I gear myself and the audience for. With the beats coupled with the critical, crucial and sometimes urgent messages you sometimes need to put in the music, people are really feeling it. It’s a serious message, but it’s constructive, as well.

CG: This is Arizona, the home of SB 1070, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Jan Brewer. It seems like there’s a lot of stuff to inspire your lyrics in Arizona. Talk about how these current battles influence your music.

BC: It’s also the home of Si Se Puede, as we say. And the house of insurrection. It’s in our rhymes. It’s the front lines of this new white supremacy we’re seeing, and that’s what we call it, because that’s what it is. It comes from colonization and this domination of the social order, you see the disparities in the distribution of quote-unquote wealth.

CG: And you see it in high unemployment rates in indigenous communities compared to white communities, incarceration rates and all that.

BC: Right. It’s the allegiances that are there that are not talked about and kind of invisible. There’s destitute people across the board. Whatever you look like, whatever your pigment is. It’s that allegiance to what we call whiteness. Because that gives you privilege over people who are darker than you. And at the end of the day, I mean, you don’t want to be criminalized for being poor. You want to pass the buck to someone else. And look at who’s historically been marginalized and how violence has been projected upon certain groups of individuals. I’m a Chicano, I come from generations in the valley of what we call Phoenix. I’m pretty much a desert person as well. But three generations is not that long, people like my boy Alex, MC Liaison, he’s been here since time immemorial. So what does that look like when I’m trying to claim space here? So my music comes from me as a human being, as a Chicano, and as an MC and beat maker. So that brings it back to this imperialism we try to address in our music. We have these draconian laws like SB 1070, and the streamlining of “secure communities” laws which allow federal agents and local pig to collaborate.

MCL: In particular, it relates to SB 1070, but it also relates to border militarization. This has been happening before SB 1070 became law. SB 1070 just made us more of a police state. In the Tohono O’odham nation, my people have been stuck literally in the middle of this war that’s been happening. With the push of NAFTA in 1994, we had an influx of economic refugees migrate here from the so-called line to the South, and of course, the state cracked down. So Nogales, El Paso, the bigger cities, Tijuana -- all got locked down, because that’s a given to lock that spot. So what happens is they have to go through the hottest, most rural, and craziest areas, which happen to be where I’m from. The Border Patrol and now the Department of Homeland Security have militarized it because it’s a corridor for migration. So my people are like, “Yo, I’m from here, and now I’m going through a checkpoint?” I went through one today. And granted, we’re here today having this interview, but it’s like, why the fuck do I have to go through a checkpoint? Why do I have to go through easily 50 Border Patrol agents, have helicopters flying overhead? We’re still here, we have culture, our languages, our songs, our indigenous people are still here after all these centuries. Now we have the spook of border militarization. Keep in mind, the immigration reform bill in its current form quadruples this militarized border by putting a Berlin-like wall in my backyard. I’ve seen it going from a chicken wire fence when I was five or six years old, to a vehicle barrier, to a vehicle barrier with a road next to it, and cameras all along the road, people patrolling up and down, day and night, and that’s just 25 years of my life. What’s it gonna look like when I’m 50 or 60? So we’ve done direct actions and protests, but I feel music for me is like a torpedo, for people who don’t know about this shit.

Read more: Shining Soul: A Phoenix Hip-Hop Duo Raps on Border Militarization |


For more of Shining Soul's music check them out online: and

DOWNLOAD: Mixed Breed - "Automatic Platinum Hit"


Hailing from Tuscon in the land of Arizona, Mixed Breed is a new rap collective fresh out of the halls of high school, making some amazing music.

Consisting of Ali Baby, Chino, Annalex and Lil Shugz, Mixed Breed is a new group to keep your eyes and ears on.

From their debut album Ali Baby presents Mixed Breed: The BEGINNING, this track shares elements of dirty south with some hype 808, and a touch of EDM with the dirty wobble behind their slick lyrics.

Like what you hear? Get the whole album for free at

DOWNLOAD: Mixed Breed - "Automatic Platinum Hit"

New Indigenous Music Releases - March 2012


There's new music being made every moment, and here are the three newest releases from Indigenous artists for the month of March!

The debut full-length album from A Tribe Called Red has been long awaited and much anticipated to say the least. Released this week as a free download, the purveyors of "pow wow step" flex their creativity through the diverse musical landscapes of hip-hop, dancehall, moombahton and electronic styles. If you don't have it already, get their self-titled album here:


This month saw another debut from newcomer Ali Baby - who RPM profiled last month in DJ DoezIt and Ali Baby: Native Rap in High School Hallways. As Mixed Breed, Ali Baby with Chino, Annalex and Lil Shugz, have released The Beginning a mix of rap, r&b, hip-hop, rock and country. It is also a free download! Go get it here:

Last but not least, a very exciting release from Delmore Recordings is a recently unearthed recording by Karen Dalton. 1966  features Karen solo on banjo and guitar, plus four duets with Richard Tucker. The recordings are intimate, unfiltered and stirring. You can get 1966 digitally, on CD or vinyl at

Listen to Reason to Believe, by Karen Dalton from 1966:

DJ DoezIt and Ali Baby: Native Rap in High School Hallways


Landon Walls, Onondaga and Hopi hip-hop artist  (DJ DoezIT) and mentor, is helping Indigenous youth find their musical path. He’s currently inspired by the work he’s doing with one young man in particular, Junior Harvey, who is set to make a name for himself as Ali Baby. They sat down to answer some questions about their their collaboration, Ali Baby’s upcoming debut album and the importance of listening.

I first heard from Landon Walls, also known as DJ DoezIT, via an email to RPM, in which he raved about a student of his at Ha:San Preparatory and Leadership School in Tucson, Arizona, Junior Harvey. Junior (Tohono O’odham) – who goes by Ali Baby – is an 18 year old senior at the school who has discovered a talent and passion within himself for music. Together, they’ve been working afterschool and weekends to record tracks, the result of which will be a full-length album, set to be released in February, 2012.

The more Landon and I communicated back and forth, the more inspired and intrigued I was by both his and Ali Baby’s work. I had so many questions! They were gracious to answer them all.

CC: Tell me about Ha:san prep?

LW: Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School is a small charter school in Tucson, AZ. We serve Native students grade 9-12. We focus on Culture and Language of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Most of the students live on the reservations of the Tohono O’odham and Pascua Yaqui Nations. The main town, Sells, on the reservation is 65 miles away. They travel a total of 130 miles a day for a total of 3 hrs on the bus. We have a 100% acceptance rate to college for our graduating seniors. What a great school! I am so honored to be a part of the students and community’s education.

CC: How long have you been teaching there?

LW: I have been at the school for four years now. I directed the after school programs and currently I serve as the Intervention Specialist. But I also serve as an advisor and counselor for the students.

CC: Tell me more about the after school program?

LW: The after school program was funded by a federal grant 21st Century Community Learning Center. In the last year of the grant which was 2011, I decided to buy studio equipment for an after school music program. Since then I have recorded Tradtional O’odham songs and a digital comic book with the University of Arizona in 3 languages, English, Spanish and O’odham. But the most exciting thing was recording Ali Baby and other students rapping and singing.

CC: How did you two start making music together?

AB: Landon and I were talking one day about music and I mentioned to him that I enjoyed creating beats, he told me he was thinking about starting a music program at the school and that I should bring in some of my beats and do some recording sometime. We started out on Garageband and some non-condensor mics usually used for radio.

LW: We did a couple of songs and he blew me away! So I had to buy some better equipment. I bought Pro Tools 8, studio monitors, 2 microphones, an audio interface, etc. and once we did that, things took off.

AB: When I made my first song I was just trying to see what it would sound like or how it would turn out, I thought it turned out pretty good for a first song. I was never expecting all this to come so naturally. We put out a pre-release of the album at our school and it has received so much positive feedback. It makes me so happy to know that people are liking the pre-release, when the official drops it is going to sound much better.

LW: We both learned by doing and just did what our ears told us, haha. The things I like most about Ali Baby is his flow, charisma, and message. He raps with no errors, meaning he is clean and has a positive message.

CC: Ali Baby, when did you first starting writing?

AB: I started making beats in the summer of 2010 and wrote my first song in December of 2010. We got around to recording my first song on Garageband a year ago around this time.

CC: And tell me more about this album!

AB: The album is going to be called Mixed Breed: The Beginning. Mixed Breed is our group and it means the many Indigenous cultures within our group, the many genres we create music in, and the styles each one of us possesses. We are hoping to have the album released by Presidents Day 2012.

CC: That’s so exciting. What artists are you inspired by?

AB: My favorite artists of all time are Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. I love their style, I love their flow. I know we have what it takes to make the same success. I listen to a lot of old school and I listen to a lot of new era artists like Drake and Lil Wayne and I try to incorporate all those styles into mine.

CC: What’s the collaborative process with Landon like?

AB: He gives me advice and motivation when recording our songs and I couldn’t be more grateful for meeting him and letting us use the studio day in and day out.

CC: Landon, do you plan to continue to mentor students in recording and making music?

LW: This is the beginning. I have always wanted to do something like this for the youth. They have so much to say, so many things in their minds and hearts. After graduating college, I knew I was going to be in Indian education. While working here I see the need for a two way road of communication in the communities, meaning traditionally we are taught to listen to the elders and the adults, but I think for a healthy and strong community the elders and adults need to listen to the youth. Open communication is the key! Music is the best vehicle and I am glad I get to provide it, might be a beat up lincoln right now with low fuel, but the hope is we can get it to a G6 with an unlimited fuel level!

CC: How did you first get involved in music?

LW: I got my first turntables my senior year of high school, with just a handful of records. I was on those things all night, my brother wasn’t too happy, the fader was clipping all night! Haha. Both of us actually came up with my DJ name, HopiDoezIT, later though it became DJ DoezIT. I was the first one to go to college in my family; I moved from home to Mesa, AZ. Soon I got some 1200’s and was at the record store every weekend. I was doing house parties and DJ competitions. I DJ school dances and proms and students just started to come up to me and wanted to learn more. I knew I had to get something started. I wanted to make our own music so we could spin that and started making my own beats, nothing is more fun than creating music from scratch.

CC: You also started a label, right?

LW: The label I have created is called Just Listen Music. Like I said, a healthy community needs open communication, so I want people, in particular adults and elders, to just listen. That’s why I create positive music because Grandma deserves to bob her head too! This is the start and it looks promising, I got things lined up and hope to continue to be the vehicle for native youth!

CC: Last, Ali Baby, what do you plan to do after high school?

AB: I plan to go to college to study Music Production. I want to do college performances and also do opening performances for bigger names. I just hope one day I can be the one the local artists open up for. Nothing’s impossible. I want to show everyone that just because rap nowadays is vulgar and offensive, it isn’t dead. I’m on a mission to make it right. I know I have what it takes and I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon.


Check out this sneak peak of Ali Baby's track For the Native Youth, and keep an eye on RPM for more on the forthecoming album, Mixed Breed: The Beginning.

STREAM: Ali Baby ft. DJ DoezIT & Dead Jester - "For the Native Youth"

#FrybreadFriday: 'More Than Frybread' Trailer


Is Indian Country getting it's own mockumentary à la "Best In Show"? It looks like it, from the trailer for Holt Hamilton Productions' latest film. 

More Than Frybread follows some of the competitors in the inaugural World Wide Frybread Association Arizona Chapter Frybread Championship, like Hopi finalist Betti Muchvo:

"There are two things in life that I am probably best at: making bread and beauty pageants."

Good luck Betti! We can't wait to see the whole film, reportedly being released this summer.

Gotta love #frybreadfridays...