As history’s most revered revolutionaries have proven, there’s no point in being pissed off at the world if you’re not willing to work to change things. That idea is not lost on Snotty Nose Rez Kids.
An undercurrent of entirely understandable anger runs through the Vancouver-based duo’s third and latest album, Trapline, but it’s used in a way that’s admirably clever, often funny, and always constructive. MCs Darren “Young D” Metz and Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce work a groove that suggests an everlasting affection for Atlanta-brand trap and socially conscious classic hip-hop, as well as a deep love for the lyrical genius of modern-day giants like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. Issuewise, they cover a lot of ground.
The two Haisla rappers, who grew up in small Kitamaat Village in northern British Columbia, preach—in the unpreachiest of ways—the idea of respect: for the land (“Wa’wais”, “Hunger Games”), for women (“Son of a Matriarch”, “Granny Kay”), and for the history and strength of Indigenous people in Canada and around the world (“I Can’t Remember My Name”).
What stands out is the pride Metz and Nyce have in where they come from. And also their humour: consider “They say go back to where you came, hey-yea/I tell ’em you should do the same, hey-yea” in “Creator Made an Animal”, or “Halloween is the only time you wanna be me” in “Lost Tribe”.
Trapline’s unmistakable positivity is entirely by design, according to Metz and Nyce. The two are in Rotterdam in the Netherlands as part of a European tour when the Straight tracks them down. As anyone who loves travelling knows, there’s nothing better for expanding one’s world-view, and Snotty Nose Rez Kids have been doing a lot of it since surfacing with an eponymous debut in 2017. That’s fuelled the duo’s “Savage Mob” off Trapline, the song written after a trip to Australia that had Metz and Nyce hanging out and swapping stories with Oz Indigenous rappers Birdz and Nooky.
Reached at their hotel after the gig, the two suggest that being able to make music and see the world isn’t the only reason they’re in a fortunate place. Sometimes success is more intangible than things like the Polaris Prize and Juno nominations they received for their 2017 sophomore album, The Average Savage.
Snotty Nose Rez Kids are grateful to have become an inspiration to those struggling to make sense of the world. So while they might be musicians first, the two are now also mentors, an honour they don’t take lightly.
“As an Indigenous youth, when I was younger, I didn’t have people in hip-hop culture or mainstream music—or really outside of my community—that I could really look up to,” Nyce says, speaking on a conference call with Metz. “Since social media—Facebook, Instagram, and all that kind of stuff—changed the world, we’re able to have this platform for our youth. For me, Native music outside of our own traditional music was nonexistent, or so I thought. But that wasn’t the case—it just wasn’t in our town, or in our cities, because we were just small-town kids from a res in northern B.C.
“Because of that,” he continues, “we understand the importance of using our voices especially to uplift our youth. We’re doing something that they can relate to. You should see our Instagram inbox—it’s insane. We get messages from kids who tell us really inspiring stuff—how our music has helped them get out of really dark places. That’s pretty cool for us.”
Metz and Nyce sometimes see their younger selves in those messages. In a tradition that dates back to the early, seminal releases by N.W.A and Public Enemy and the way they reshaped black culture, the thought on Trapline is that it’s okay to be young, pissed off, and Indigenous, but that there’s also a better way forward. Consider the album’s triumphant final track, “Yuck-Sue-Yaach”, which ends with the promise “If you proud about your village/We about to kill it.” That the track was the first written for Trapline speaks volumes.
“I still get emotional today, but back in the past there was, for me, more a sense of not knowing yourself,” Metz says. “Growing up, there was self-hate and not loving yourself. Over time—especially once we started doing this music and getting connected—we were able to talk about things like generational traumas that have been passed down in the family. This music became our tool for helping ourselves really find our identity.”
He continues: “That led to self-healing and self-love, learning about the culture more and changing our values to be not so focused on materialistic things. We’re showing our appreciation for the land, the water, and the culture. It’s been quite the journey—I’m not going to lie.”
Trapline wasn’t supposed to be the follow-up to The Average Savage. Initially, Snotty Nose Rez Kids were working on a record called Rez Bangers and Koolapops, designed to connect with the group’s growing fan base on a decidedly more superficial level. Instead, Metz and Nyce tapped into the same vibe that inspired last year’s “The Warriors”, which was spurred by resistance of Indigenous communities to the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
“It [Rez Bangers and Koolapops] was something we created to hit up festival circuits in the summer to really get big audiences involved in our sets at festivals,” Nyce says. “It was to try and move us up in the performance world.”
In the middle of that, Snotty Nose Rez Kids hooked up with the Toronto-based Indigenous label RPM Records and then decided to refocus—a decision that was also influenced by the Polaris Prize nomination for The Average Savage.
“Rez Bangers and Koolapops was supposed to be something fun—we kind of removed the politics and talk about things like identity,” Nyce suggests. “We realized we can’t make that kind of music at this point in history. We wanted to do something special with this project, make the songs sound perfect, and make the messages sound perfect. The goal was to not settle for anything less.”
And in shooting for something more, Snotty Nose Rez Kids have joined a long list of legends—from Martin Luther King and Elijah Harper to Chuck D. and Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha—who understand that anger is a great tool, but only if channelled into something positive.
“There was a point when I was young where I was angry and pissed off at the world,” Metz says. “But once I started to learn about the strength and the power that the Indigenous people have, our energy changed. That became contagious to other people. Now we uplift one another.”
Snotty Nose Rez Kids play Fortune Sound Club next Thursday (May 30).