Published Jun 29, 2020After the high-profile police killings of Rodney Levi, Chantel Moore and other Indigenous people in Canada in recent weeks, David Strickland's music hits especially hard. The Grammy-winning, Scarborough-born producer/engineer's debut LP, Spirit of Hip Hop, is built on tenets of his Mi'kmaw and Northern Cree lineage. Drums and chants resound on the opening seconds of key tracks like "Questions Last," "Whoa," "Feathers" and "Helpless." Esteemed Cree-American music photographer Ernie Paniccioli, meanwhile, offers a rousing spoken word album intro that traces connections between hip-hop and Indigenous traditions.
Above all, however, Spirit of Hip Hop is a testament to Indigenous MCs, be they brilliantly rising or established but sadly unsung. Take heart-wrenching closer "Rez Life," which sounds like a fitting sequel to Wu-Tang Clan's "C.R.E.A.M." Chalk that up to Strickland's haunting piano-laced beat, which pairs snugly with the vivid lyrics about police brutality and the pitfalls of Canada's reservations from a dream team of Indigenous MCs like Drezus, Hellnback, Joey Stylez, Que Rock and duo Violent Ground.
Strickland's eerily skeletal instrumental for "Questions Last" features ire-inducing rhymes about the subpar diets of those living on impoverished reservations from Bubblz, Charlie Fettah and Jon C (the latter two reuniting here after disbanding their group Winnipeg's Most in 2013). Then there's Artson and Apsáalooke rapper and fancy dancer Supaman's colonial takedown "Turtle Island." On it, Strickland deftly merges dancehall with pow wow drums for a soundscape unlike anything you've heard. Haligonian R&B singer JRDN and Toronto reggae musician Whitey Don give Strickland a leg up on this uniquely cross-cultural experimental track.
Hip-hop heads will also be drawn to contributions from legends like EPMD and Redman, along with a posthumous verse from King Reign. Together, these elements make Spirit of Hip Hop a spirited addition to both the rap canon and the string of protest songs soundtracking today's reckoning against police brutality and systemic racism. (eOne)