It Took a Village to Raise Snotty Nose Rez Kids, and Now They're Paying It Forward
The Vancouver hip-hop breakouts use humour to put their hard-hitting rhymes and local scene on the map
Published Oct 21, 2021Don't ever say representation doesn't matter — Snotty Nose Rez Kids decided to devote their careers to music after Quinton "Yung Trybez" Nyce went to a packed show at Vancouver's York Theatre headlined by Indigenous hip-hop collective First Ladies Crew.
That was the moment he and the other half of the project, Darren "Young D" Metz, realized they could make it in the industry, giving them the drive they needed to move from Kitamaat Village to Vancouver and make music full-time.
"It was a sold-out show, and at this point D and I had been talking for years about taking the plunge and actually taking music seriously as a profession of ours," says Trybez to Exclaim! now. "After I saw that act sell out the York Theatre, I called Darren right as soon as I got out of the theatre and I was like, 'Yo, bro, we have to come down here and find a spot, and let's just do this thing.'"
Seeing Indigenous content being brought to the forefront means everything to them, and they say they couldn't have gotten where they are without their community.
The Haisla rappers were inspired by everyone from established artists such as Buffy Sainte-Marie, Mob Bounce and A Tribe Called Red to their friends in the local scene like Stompdown Killaz, Snak the Ripper, Merkules and their now-collaborator DJ Kookum. Artists like Drezus, Heebz the Earthchild, and the Northwest Kid helped the Rez Kids figure out details like how to set their rates, run workshops and plan performances.
Only a few years later, they started seeing substantial support from the industry. Snotty Nose Rez Kids' last two albums — 2017's The Average Savage and 2019's TRAPLINE — have been short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize. Their list of accolades is long — including nominations for Junos, Indigenous Music Awards and Western Canadian Music Awards — and their reputation is solid, both as a performance duo and as a political but fun voice in music across the country.
In 2018, the phrase "Skoden" was spray-painted on a water tower in Sudbury, ON, leading people to the Rez Kids' 2017 single of the same name, helping to incite conversations about Indigenous resistance to pipelines and other projects that have potential to poison the water and damage the planet. In 2020, following a resurgence in support for the Black Lives Matter and Land Back movements, they put out the single "Cops with Guns Are the Worst!!!" Their stance is strong and consistent, but never too serious. Snotty Nose Rez Kids don't do anything without adding at least a little bit of flair and fun.
Now, as they prepare to release their fourth album Life After, due tomorrow (October 22), they look back on their early days in the Vancouver music scene fondly.
"It's cousins basically looking out for one another, making sure that the next ones coming up don't make the mistakes that we did, just like Mob Bounce did for us, and Drezus did that for us as well. We're just trying to do the same, because we're getting to the point where we're the big boys now, so it's our responsibility to make sure the ones coming up don't make the same mistakes," says D.
"And what we've done to succeed, they can use it to get better," adds Trybez.
D recalls early high school when a childhood friend moved back to Kitimat from Vancouver and brought him two CDs: Tee Locasone's Purple Kush and another from Locasone's Eastinfection crew.
"Ever since then I was hooked, because my mind was just blown at the fact that these guys were from Vancouver, and at the time MySpace was what was poppin', so I just went down the rabbit hole and found everybody that was from Vancouver, you know, like Camp Army, the T.I.T.A.N.S," he says. "I fell in love with Vancouver after that. That made me fall in love with the scene."
But as Indigenous artists, the Rez Kids say they had to work harder than most of their contemporaries to get noticed. That's part of the reason why making it means so much to them, and they're eager to pass on their legacy to the next generation of Indigenous artists from the West Coast.
"We take pride in putting on for our people as far as rap goes, but also just being Indigenous and from this land and from this territory," says Trybez. "But over the last four or five years, we've had the privilege of calling Vancouver home, and it wasn't until recently that we actually started putting on for the city and for Indigenous people here," naming artists like Prado and Boslen as examples of West Coast Indigenous rappers on the rise.
"But I mean, it's home," says D. "I honestly couldn't picture living anywhere else."
Life After is a reflection of everything the Rez Kids lost after COVID-19 came to BC, when their touring plans shuddered to a halt. Despite loving where they live, being stuck in Vancouver felt stifling, and they were disappointed to lose some of the forward momentum they had worked so hard to create.
"All the stuff that we were avoiding dealing with, we were forced to deal with. It was just a rollercoaster ride," says D. "We're not only growing as artists. We're growing as individuals, and with that, the verses just become more real."
Trybez adds, "A lot of self-reflection was put into this, put into ourselves, and then, in turn, put into our new album."
While their last two albums were relatively consistent in tone and content, Life After is hard to predict, but it delivers just as much high-energy lyrical brilliance as fans have come to expect of Snotty Nose Rez Kids. They play with elements of punk, hardcore, pop and R&B on the record, and Life After gives them a way to process their pain while continuing to contribute to their community. Packed with commentary on Canada's legacy of violence against Indigenous people, they're having important conversations about decolonization, mourning and what it means to heal.
"It's a rollercoaster ride for sure. Our last two albums were a steady rise in tension and hype, but this time we wanted to give the ups, downs and all-arounds," says D.
Lines like "My very existence is a resistance / That's nothing new, I'm my grandfather's son" (from "Grave Digger") and "I'm not apologizing for my excellence so you can never question the resilience" (from "Red Sky at Night") are concise but resonant. Protest calls like "No justice, no peace" and "Land Back" are used in songs about police brutality against Indigenous people in Canada, but the pair retain their fun style and exciting production without cutting the narrative short.
It's also their first album to not include skits, a sign of their more serious approach.
"I really appreciated the amount of work that went into skits on albums back in the day, but on this one, we wanted to make it all about the music, and it's our first time doing it without skits, so we want to see how the people take it in and how they feel about it," says Trybez.
"This one is definitely a lot darker than our other albums, but that just fit the vibe, you know?" says D. "Especially living in a literal fucking pandemic, we felt like, 'Okay, this is right, and the time is now to put out something like this because we know a lot of people will relate.'"
Expect gritty, doomy synths and scream-rapping that might remind you of acts like Show Me the Body and Death Grips — but not for long. The ominous tone stays throughout, but the style shifts from trap ("Humble Me") to jazzy R&B ("After Dark") with ease. The beats hit hard to hold listeners' interest as the album takes its time with different approaches to celebrating Indigenous joy, excellence and rights.
Until the pandemic is controlled enough for them to tour outside of North America, they will be working on writing, developing the business side of the project, and focusing on themselves.
"All we can really do is what's in our control, and that's to make more music," says Trybez. "If the pandemic decides to end within the next year, we'll be touring, we'll be constantly on the road like we were before this whole thing started, and we'll be picking up right where we left off."