In an ongoing journey, Snotty Nose Rez Kids continue to make a massive statement on the value of hard work

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      SPEAKING VOLUMES ABOUT HOW long they’ve known each other, Haisla rappers Darren “Young D” Metz and Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce don’t remember when they first met. But they have no trouble recalling things that bonded them growing up in Kitamaat Village, a First Nations reserve in northwestern British Columbia. Hip-hop was a big one. That’s no surprise considering fans know Metz and Nyce as Snotty Nose Rez Kids—a Vancouver-spawned duo whose list of accomplishments includes three glowingly reviewed full-lengths, Juno and Polaris Prize nominations, world tours, legitimate hero status at home, and one of the greatest band names, well, ever.

      But before there was hip-hop, there were valuable lessons taught in Kitamaat Village, which is part of Haisla territory perched between lush forests and the waters of Douglas Channel. Those included the importance of family, community, and old-fashioned hard work. For that last one, there was no greater teacher than basketball. Both future members of Snotty Nose Rez Kids were obsessed with the game at an early age.

      “We grew up in a real basketball community, which kept us out of doing crazy shit,” Nyce says, reached by phone while having breakfast at Fable Diner in Mount Pleasant. “Basketball kept us in the gym and it kept us motivated. I think all of us had an end goal of playing college ball, or maybe pro somewhere.”

      The game got its hooks into Metz before he started kindergarten.

      “I remember actually seeing Space Jam in theatres,” he recalls, on the line from his home in North Burnaby. “I was, like, four. And from then on, I just wanted to play ball.”

      Eventually both Metz and Nyce did just that, joining the Haisla Nation youth team, where they realized that they’d either have to seriously push themselves, or be happy cheering from the sidelines as benchwarmers.

      “I was an undersized, little Native kid, so I had to work my ass off to get where I got to,” Nyce notes. “So I got my work ethic from playing sports, and I really do mean that. I was never a starter as a kid. I wasn’t the fastest. I wasn’t the strongest, and didn’t have the best shot. But I worked my butt off.”

      The story was very much the same for Metz.

      “I was a tiny kid,” he recalls. “I was never the strongest or the quickest, so I really had to put in the work.”

      Drive and determination eventually landed both Metz and Nyce on the team as regulars—where they’d consistently clean up at tournaments across the province. That drive proved invaluable when the two eventually moved to Vancouver. Crowning themselves Snotty Nose Rez Kids, they went in with a mindset: if you’re going to play the game, you play to win.

      “My work ethic comes from basketball,” Metz says, “and I’m sure that Q said that too. It taught me that, if you wanna be good, or great, at something, you really got to work towards it.”

      IF THERE'S BEEN an upside to being stuck at home for the past year, it’s that Snotty Nose Rez Kids have kept busy. Metz and Nyce have pretty much completed a follow-up to 2019’s TRAPLINE—a culture-shifting triumph centred on the importance of respect: for the environment, for women, and for the history of Indigenous people in Canada.

      While there’s no title yet for the new record, there’s definitely a through-line connecting the songs. From the 2017 albums Snotty Nose Rez Kids and The Average Savage to TRAPLINE, Snotty Nose Rez Kids have tended to focus on the political while putting a West Coast spin on classic Atlanta trap. That’s continued with singles released during lockdown—the deliriously woozy, just-released “Something Else” was inspired by CNN labelling North America’s Indigenous people as, well, “something else” during the last U.S. election.

      The Average Savage, self-titled record, and TRAPLINE were all so politically charged,” Metz notes. “With this one, there’s still some of that in there, but it’s not all political. We just felt like it was time for us to tell our story—the raw realities that we grew up with. For me, personally, growing up I was surrounded by alcohol abuse and drug addiction.

      “When I was growing up, surrounded by that environment, music was what I turned to,” he continues. “That made me feel like I wasn’t alone. The way that we’re looking at it, is ‘Yo, the way we’re feeling, or the way we felt, we can promise and guarantee there’s some other young ’un out there who is going through the same thing, if not worse.’ So they could use a big bro. And that’s what this record is going to be.”

      There were clearly challenges for Metz and Nyce growing up—their dark moments deeply tied into Canada’s long and ugly history when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous peoples. But there were also inspiring upsides.

      “I was raised in a place that was very community driven,” says Nyce, who was adopted at birth. “I learned very quickly that you ain’t shit without family. And where we come from, everyone is family. There’s an open-door policy throughout our reservation. You hear about kids being raised by a village, and that’s what it was for us. I literally lived five doors down from Darren. If I needed something to do or if I was hungry, I’d go over to his house and open the fridge even if they weren’t at home. That’s literally how it was—we lived very freely as kids.”

      Raised by a single mother, Metz spent a lot of time at his grandparents’ place, where his grandfather played guitar, and his grandmother played piano and accordion. One of his great-grandfathers released an album of guitar music in the ’60s, the other played in a brass band.

      “It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I learned I came from a musical family,” Metz says.

      Nyce’s parents were big fans of Queen, Bob Seger, and Tina Turner. Through basketball he fell in love with the old-school likes of Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, and Dr. Dre.

      “There was always music playing around us, but my dad was really particular about what I could listen to,” Nyce recalls. “We never got to listen to rap or anything like that. But playing so much ball as a kid, most of the other kids listened to rap music.”

      Dating back to his childhood, Nyce has had dreams that fall on the dark side.

      “I don’t know how to explain it without making it seem like I’m crazy,” he says. “I’d have dreams of family members dying, or my parents not making it in a car accident. The dreams were very real to me, and I couldn’t shake them when I woke up.”

      To help him process things, his father encouraged him to begin writing down his nightmares.

      “It saved me from those nightmares—that’s how I got into writing,” Nyce says. “I always had a knack for it. And because I was into Lil Wayne, Drake, and very punchline-heavy rappers, I really paid attention to the lyrics. That taught me how to have flow. A lot of kids on the rez who try to do rap don’t have flow. They don’t put in the work.”

      For Metz, one of his early memories was hearing Tupac Shakur’s classic “California Love”.

      “I was like four or five years old,” Metz says. “I don’t know what it was, but I just loved it. And as time went on, hip-hop always stuck with me. Especially when I joined basketball, which is when everybody bumped Tupac, Biggie—all those classic ’90s guys. For me, it was Eminem that really inspired me to write my first rap. I remember seeing 8 Mile when I was in grade 5. I wrote my first rap on some looseleaf paper after that, and that inspired me to rap-battle other kids on the playground.

      “As I started to get older, I started to record,” he continues. “Each year, I would continue to get better and better and better. Next thing you know, I’m in grade 12 and rapping at a pep rally right before Christmas Break. I remember my brother sitting there, and then going ‘Yo! You are getting goooooood bro!’ That was the first moment that someone actually told me that. So it was, like, ‘Maybe I got something with this.’ ”

      Video: "I Can't Remember My Name"

      AS MUCH AS THEY loved hip-hop on all levels, Metz and Nyce didn’t finish high school with the goal of starting Snotty Nose Rez Kids.

      “My parents adopted a lot of kids when I was growing up, so we had a lot of kids coming in and out of the house,” Nyce says. “My dad always made sure there was food on the table, and that he could provide for his family. That was, to him, his job.”

      His proudly blue-collar father did that job well. That instilled in Nyce the importance of self-sufficiency, stability, and hard work.

      “He wanted me to take a trade,” he says. “But that wasn’t my thing, so I went to business school for two years. I wanted to start a clothing company, and still do.”

      After leaving school, Nyce did service work up north for companies like Ledcor.

      “Then I realized I wanted to be a rapper,” he says with a laugh. “Funnily enough, they were really supportive when I made that decision. My dad just wanted to make sure that I had a backup plan.”

      Metz’s mom was briefly less than thrilled when her son announced that he was leaving university—where he was studying accounting—to go into music.

      “I remember telling her ‘Mom—I’m not happy, and I can’t see myself doing this,’ ” he says, “sitting at a desk and counting numbers all day the rest of my life until I’m grey-haired. But I really love this music, and I want to pursue that. And I remember pleading to her: ‘Give me until I’m 30. If I don’t have anything happening by then, I’ll go back to university.’ She was upset for like 15 or 20 minutes. And then she was like ‘All right, what school are you going to go to?’ ”

      Metz eventually moved to Vancouver in the fall of 2015 to study music, reconnecting with Nyce, who’d landed in the Lower Mainland the previous year.

      “We formed SNRK a year after I moved down,” Metz says. “We’d already made music together in the past, but we weren’t SNRK yet. Q was basically the only friend that I had, let alone the only artist that I knew, down here. We had a mixtape, started going to open-mic sessions, and people really started to love it. The crowds got bigger and bigger and bigger to the point where it was like ‘Man, let’s do an album.’ And the rest is history.”

      ASKED WHY Snotty Nose Rez Kids connected with audiences right off the starting line, Metz offers this: “For a lot of people, it was something that they’d never really heard before. When you think of hip-hop around 2016 and ’17, what we were doing was really different. Not only that, but we were Indigenous. And we were starting to tell our story after years of being silenced. I think that was the biggest thing.”

      Nyce elaborates: “I think that came naturally because of where we were at in our lives. You listen to Lil Wayne and it’s money, hoes, and clothes. For us, in high school, that’s what we rapped about because that’s all we knew. There was no one in our community doing what we do now. There were Native rappers before us, but I think we really are pioneers of this genre or subgenre of rap, which we call Indigenous trap.”

      Indeed, rather than rapping about Gucci loafers and bongs the size of Stonehenge, Snotty Nose Rez Kids quickly established themselves as a group determined to shred all mainstream perceptions of what it means to be Indigenous.

      “At the end of the day, we just wanted to tell our story, whether it was what we’ve gone through personally, what our parents went through, or what our grandparents went through,” Metz says. “We can only speak from our story, and our family, and that’s all we ever wanted to do. We just wanted to let the young ’uns out know ‘you’re beautiful, you’re worthy, and you’re a shining light in this world.’ Because a lot of us grew up with self-hatred.

      “And a lot of that had to do with stereotypes the media would display us in,” he continues. “You see movies like fucking Pocahontas or Peter Pan and, to young kids, that gets engraved in their mind. Non-Indigenous folks will think ‘Oh, yeah—savages!’ It all becomes normalized.”

      The way to flip the script was to tackle those stereotypes head on, starting with a name like Snotty Nose Rez Kids—which, if you think about, is every bit as subversively brilliant as N.W.A.

      Video: "Real Deadly"

      That SNRK weren’t interested in playing nice was made abundantly clear on the breakout sophomore release, The Average Savage, where track titles included “White Lies”, “KKKanada”, and “Barely Even Human”.

      Need a history lesson on the way that Indigenous communities have been treated in Canada? The power of The Average Savage was the way it inspired you to look back in time—way, way back, like 1893—when Canadian Prime Minister John A. MacDonald told the House of Commons, “when the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write.”

      Mirroring the way Public Enemy was misunderstood in the ’80s, some accused Snotty Nose Rez Kids of being anti-white. Quite rightly, Metz and Nyce suggest the group is more proudly pro-Indigenous—something more important than ever in light of horrors like the recent Kamloops Indian Residential School revelations.

      Check out the animation in "Drezus - Where They Are At".

      For those who need a mission statement, start with The Average Savage’s “We Dem Savages”, where Metz and Nyce announce: “They tried to wipe us out. Take our languages, our culture, our traditions, our future. We’re still here, and guess what? We’re waking up.”

      Writing the wrongs of the past often starts with powerful voices, whether its Malcolm X or Chuck D. Snotty Nose Rez Kids are more than willing to be a voice for Canada's Indigenous community. 

      "Take something like Kamloops," Metz says. "It took physical evidence for Canadian society to be like 'Whoa—it actually did happen.' But for Indigenous people it's nothing new. We've been saying this for years, but now everybody believes us. So now the true journey starts, and it's going to be painful. It's going to be harsh, and it's going to be hard. But before we even think about moving forward with reconciliation, we need to address and acknowledge exactly what happened."

      Heavy as SNRK can get, there’s a strong sense of humour that runs through the group’s work. Looking at TRAPLINE, think about “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”.

      “Native people have a certain sense of humour—rez humour in my opinion,” Nyce offers. “People are always laughing, but a lot of people from outside the community don’t always get it. As Native people, we have to have a sense of humour because of the hand we were dealt. Even our name—Snotty Nose Rez Kids—makes people laugh and feel good.”

      Look who's on the cover of this week's Georgia Straight.

      BOTH MUSICIANS DESCRIBE Snotty Nose Rez Kids as part of an ongoing journey—one where they both continue to grow, and heal.

      Nyce reveals he lost a brother, who took his own life about a decade ago. “The first album we wrote was a healing tool for us,” he says. “It gave us space to talk about what happened, and why it happened.”

      Some of the journey is marked by artistic achievements, with Nyce praising Metz for handling most of the production duties on the upcoming full-length.

      But perhaps more importantly, Snotty Nose Rez Kids have positioned themselves as hugely important voices teaching a new generation of Indigenous kids to be proud of where they come from.

      “When I first moved to Vancouver,” Metz remembers, “I had a clean, buzzcut fade. And that’s when I decided to grow my hair. That was, shit, 2015—going on six years now. As we started to grow and move along with SNRK, my hair slowly but surely just started getting longer. And longer, and longer. Each time my hair would get a bit longer, my lyrics would start to change. When I had a buzzcut I was on some partying bullshit. As I started to grow my hair and find myself, you started to hear the activist come out and the storyteller come out—the voice of my ancestors come out. And it’s been a journey and a half, man.”

      They don’t shy away from the fact that the past year was something of a rough one. Metz, at first, enjoyed the time off the road.

      “Despite my choice of career, I’m not the biggest extrovert,” he confesses. “Because I’m kind of introverted, I really pick and choose who I give my energy to. And when I’m with countless people day in and day out, I get exhausted.”

      Eventually, being left alone with his thoughts all day proved a dangerous thing, to the point where, at the urge of his partner, he reached out for help, which proved to be positive.

      "It was at the beginning of last year that I started to take part in counselling sessions," he shares. "I needed that releaseto be able to deal with certain things and talk about them, because we all have vices, and sometimes we turn to them more often than not. It was one of my bigger investments, because when I was on the road it was getting to the point where I wasn't even happy. 

      "There were many nights going down rabbit holes," Metz continues. "Finally I was like 'Man, I don't want this any more. I gotta start taking steps to take care of my mental health.'"

      For Nyce, the pandemic break was also tough.

      “I went through some dark times this past year,” he acknowledges. “We were at a point in our career where we felt like we were at a peak: there was an American tour, and the feeling that we were finally going to start making some real money and have experiences we’ve never had before. Then it all got derailed due to COVID.

      “I’m an extrovert who lives through experience, and who writes through experiences—a night out, or being on the road. So for me it was really hard to find my creative fire, or the spark that ignited my flame. For the first six months I had writer’s block.”

      To get out of it, Nyce eventually realized he needed to channel his inner basketball player—which is to say he simply put his head down and started working.

      As we return to normalcy, there’s no shortage of work still to be done for Snotty Nose Rez Kids. The journey is just beginning.

      “In a lot of Indigenous cultures,” Metz says, “knowledge isn’t for you to keep. It’s for you to share and teach others, just as we’ve been taught by others. When it comes to being a voice, especially when it comes to the land protectors, the activists, the way we always describe it is that we’re a small piece of the puzzle.

      “We just want to do our part,” he continues. “And if it comes down to exposing the harsh truths of what we’ve been through, so be it. If the first person to the wall gets the most bloody, so be it. If that’s us, okay—we’re willing to do that. We knew from the jump that this was going to be our lane.”