A TRIBE CALLED RED'S LATEST ALBUM IS ONE OF THE BEST OF 2016
Written by: Devyn Springer
“We are the tribe that they cannot see. We live on an industrial reservation. We are the Halluci Nation.” These are the first words you hear on Native Canadian DJ crew A Tribe Called Red’s new album, We Are The Halluci Nation. As the beat in the background continues, you hear: “We have been called the Indians. We have been called Native American. We have been called hostile. We have been called Pagan. We have been called militant. We have been called many names. We are the Halluci Nation. We are the human beings. The callers of names cannot see us but we can see them”
These words, spoken by Native poet John Trudell, become the backdrop for We Are the Halluci Nation; definitively one of the best albums of the year. Infused with elements of hip-hop and EDM, there is an undeniable spirituality pouring from every track. The spiritual element to this album (narrated by intermittent pieces of spoken word recordings and the songs of the First Nations peoples) transports you from words and sounds into feeling and introspection, something that very few artists have the ability to do anymore. As a Black queer Muslim listening to this album, I saw pieces of myself and my spirituality that I did not expect to find.
The spirituality in A Tribe Called Red’s music comes not only from the Native chanting and singing -- which laces several of the songs, such as “Indian City” featuring Black Bear -- but because of the context of Native resistance at which this album arrives. In 2016, we saw the rise of the #NoDAPL protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Thousands of organizers, activists, and protesters (who prefer to be called “Water Protectors,” and rightfully so) have travelled to Standing Rock to help them defeat the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which they call the “Black Snake.” If constructed the 1200-mile long Black Snake will transport more than 450,000 barrels of oil a day, and will contaminate the water and land surrounding the Standing Rock reservation.
We see in this resistance, the common phrase “water is life,” a statement that is very familiar to several marginalized groups. We’ve seen a heightened consciousness in 2016 in relation to access to clean water; from Native reservations historically having barriers between them and clean drinking water to predominantly Black communities like Flint, Michigan, being subjected to contaminated water due to the choices of elected officials. Within this resistance and struggle around water, a beautiful phenomena, is not birthed, rather reinvigorated: Black and Indigenous solidarity. Over the past few years, but particularly in 2016, we’ve witnessed the Movement for Black Lives and various Indigenous struggles for land, water, and safety cross paths. We’ve seen solidarity statements, joint actions, a respect for Indigenous people within the Movement for Black Lives official demands, and most recently several Black activists traveling to Standing Rock.
This solidarity between Indigenous and Black communities is reflected within We Are The Halluci Nation, specifically within the music videos for “R.E.D” and “The Virus.” A Tribe Called Red might have given us the two best music videos of the year with these two songs, which are visually appealing, heavy-hitting amalgamations of hip-hop and resistance.
The video for “R.E.D” features Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) being guided by accompanied featured rapper Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman, who also directed the visual masterpiece, through a spiritual journey. The video is loosely allegorical to real life events of Yasiin Bey being detained in South Africa, and can be seen as a commentary on immigration laws among other things. Rapping lyrics infused with spiritual, Islamic references (Yasiin Bey begins his verse by saying "Bismillah," various traditional Islamic garments are worn during the duration of the video, and the video ends with Yasiin and Yassin praying together in a desert) all happening over the sounds of hip-hop infused with the distinct chanting and drumming of the Black Bear tribe, a unique and historic moment is created in hip-hop. A moment that will be cemented forever as a strange yet beautiful collaboration of Native, Black, and Muslim solidarity, all taking place on a track that was released at the time of one of the biggest moments in Native resistance in history.
When I saw the video for R.E.D, which featured two of my hip-hop heroes on the same track, I didn’t think it could get much better. And then the music video for “the Virus” happened, and I instantly realized A Tribe Called Red gave us two of the most important and equally stunning music videos of the year without question. As Black griot extraordinaire Saul WIlliams steps onto the Great Seal of the Halluci Nation and is welcomed into the space of the Halluci Nation, he begins to repeat “the people,” as the Chippewa Travellers drum in the background. The video shows Saul Williams telling a poignant story, one of amplifying the voices of all oppressed people, while juxtaposing footage from the Standing Rock protests with the people of the Halluci Nation joyfully dancing.
As the video continues, we begin to see footage from several different protests around the world, from what resembles the protests I witnessed in Ferguson to other State repression worldwide. The music video, the song, Saul Williams’ words, Chippewa Travellers’ drumming, the images of Indigenous people dancing, and the mixture of all those things together begin to feel like a prayer. Like a visual, lyrical prayer that acts as a protest.
Throughout the entire duration of A Tribe Called Red’s album, you feel and explore a familiar yet unique form of resistance. The same way the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock have stated they are in a constant state of prayer as a form of spiritual resistance, this album seems to position itself similarly. With some of the most impressive and intentional production of the year, two of the best music videos of the year, and magnificent collaborations with Yasiin Bey, Saul WIlliams, Narcy, and Shad, among others, the Halluci Nation has been established as a forced to be honored. We Are the Halluci Nation is the album we’ve needed all year long, and comes within a context of a larger struggle, one against capitalism, colonialism and white supremacy that amplifies the solidarity among all oppressed groups of people.