Last weekend, HipHopDX spoke with Native American indie legend Litefoot about the protest in Standing Rock regarding the North Dakota Access Pipeline — days later, the movement earned a grand victory by way of The Army Corps of Engineers denying a permit for further construction of the pipeline. Though Hip Hop has spoken about American Indian rights before, this was the first time there’s been a major push from the culture regarding rights for Native people, who have been historically kept oppressed. Following some progressive steps in maintaining justice for Native Americans, the Hip Hop Caucus collaborated with Black Eye Peas member Taboo for “Stand Up / Stand N Rock,” featuring Drezus and Supaman.
HipHopDX got both Taboo and Rev. Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus on the phone for an intimate conversation about the importance of the Standing Rock issue and where the movement goes from here.
Standing Rock Is The First Step In Hip Hop Properly Taking On More Native American Issues
HipHopDX: The Hip Hop Caucus collaborated with Taboo for “Stand Up/Stand N Rock.” What role did you guys play specifically in the North Dakota protest?
Rev. Yearwood: First, let me say this to kick it off. The mission of the Hip Hop Caucus is to use our cultural expression to create positive change. By saying that, I can’t thank Taboo enough using his platform and his music. I was there with him on the ground. He could have been anywhere else, but he was there in Standing Rock amongst the people as well as the Hip Hop Caucus. We were all there side-by-side on the ground at the camp. I think that overall, this issue regarding Standing Rock was critical for those of us in the Hip Hop community. I think it was clear that the stance was that Hip Hop stood with Standing Rock.
I think that from Taboo, who was leading and did this amazing anthem, to artists like Vic Mensa who were definitely chiming in. I think Hip Hop from Haiti to Katrina to Flint to issues like police brutality and this past election, we’ve been there. I was excited about the situation in Standing Rock that the Army Corps Engineers didn’t approve a permit for a segment of the Dakota Access Pipeline through the Standing Rock territory was not only a landmark environmental justice victory but a major sovereignty victory.
While it was a victory and Hip Hop can be proud of what Taboo and other artists did in using their platforms, it shows that in the 21st century, we have a long way to go. I think that the specifics around the process with the Army Corps Engineer denial was a victory and it was a precedent in how we can work together. This was a Native land grassroots movement. This protest interrupted and disrupted how Native Americans are respected and are treated by our government. For us in Hip Hop, this was a first step to see the people united. More importantly, I think it showed when we come together, we have a very unique condition to create change in Hip Hop. Standing Rock should give everyone excitement for what Hip Hop did in standing with the tribal councils and what it’s going to do.
While it was a victory and Hip Hop can be proud of what Taboo and other artists did in using their platforms, it shows that in the 21st century, we have a long way to go.
DX: How did the “Stand Up/Stand N Rock” track even come together?
Taboo: The Hip Hop Caucus strategized how to get with inspirational artists that happen to be of Native descent. My platform that I have with The Black Eyed Peas shows that we can unite as people and as artists to create a song that would empower and uplift people’s spirits. They needed a song that would uplift in the wake of everything that’s happened in 2016. I wanted to do something that would empower the people who stood up for what they believed in.
When I submitted the song to the Hip Hop Caucus, we were trying to find the right people to show we were together and make sure the artists were Native and that they were Hip Hop. My thing is that Hip Hop culture shouldn’t be a Native thing, Black thing, Mexican or Puerto Rican thing, it should be something for everyone. That’s the reflection of what Black Eyed Peas were to Hip Hop culture. When we came out in the ’90s, we were the first group featuring a Filipino American, Mexican and Black African American in the music industry who paid homage to their roots. I thought I wanted to do that and show how talented Native American rap artists can be. Not only that but do something for a great cause because we’re all human beings who care about mother earth and care about the wellbeing of everyone in Standing Rock.
Everyday we make a difference in our #nativecommunities -today got to speak to #todaysnativeleaders about my experience coming up as a business entrepreneur and as a leader in my community – also spoke about my awesome experience at #standingrock – tommorow I'm releasing a very special gift dedicated to our #waterprotectors and every one who stands in solidarity with #standingrocksioux – #STANDUP #STANDNROCK
DX: There are a lot of naysayers who disagree with the protest in Standing Rock and feel like this is the next social media civil rights movement. How long have you guys been fighting for Native American rights?
Rev. Yearwood: You know that the Hip Hop Caucus is that old. We got started back in 2004, but we’ve been definitely close to the struggles of our Native brothers and sisters. Their struggles have always been our struggles. The issues of treaties, sovereign lands and everything from helping youngsters cope with suicide to other issues, we’ve used our influence to strengthen anyone we can across this land. For our brothers and sisters on the reservations, we’ve been using Hip Hop to empower them. We’ve been there along that road. I think what Taboo said is very important. I don’t think people give Hip Hop credit. I want to thank all the artists who got involved in this. There were so many celebrities who were engaged in this movement.
When we went there to Standing Rock, the elders were so happy. When Taboo was there performing, you can just feel the energy because it wasn’t about charity, but solidarity. We’ve been involved in many battles. I think that the anthem is so important because while there was a great victory this. This anthem will continue to play throughout 2017 because we still have a lot of work to do. We still have to pressure those energy transfer partners and corporations behind the pipeline. There are 500 protestors whose cases are still pending because of actions with police. We have many of those and the looming danger of the permit denial being reversed. This anthem that Taboo put forth is really a start. This is our moment to keep using the song because we can’t be lax. When they hurt, we hurt. When they die, we die. It’s straight solidarity and that’s Hip Hop 100 percent.
Taboo: That’s right. To get down to what Rev. Yearwood was saying, I feel like the power of the people is stronger than people in power. The fact is that I also want to acknowledge the artists who have put out songs about Standing Rock prior to me putting out my record. I want to acknowledge those who many not have the same light or shine as me. My hat’s off to them as well for utilizing their talent to speak on that. I give them the ultimate salute and that their efforts are respected. Right now is the perfect time to acknowledge Hip Hop, but the culture is shared by these Native kids who are angered and hurt and they’re just expressing themselves from a level of agitation. You hear it in the lyrics and hear it in the rhymes. All you can do is channel this into a positive thing. Hats off the Hip Hop Caucus for being that vehicle and providing an opportunity to meet some incredible artist. I got to meet a lot of great people.
I was in one of the lines and I got to speak to one of the officers who was there and the first thing that I asked him was “Where is the love?”
DX: This question is geared to both of you guys. What’s the long-term goal in regards to Native American struggles?
Rev. Yearwood: Let me say this in regards to that. We’re using everything in our movement toolbox to fight. We use prayer, direct action, advocacy, lobbying, divestment strategies, social media and public education. We’ll sustain this for months. So many artists were putting out music for this movement especially young artists going as far back as April. I think the next step for us is taking this amazing anthem that Taboo did and make sure people don’t lose sight because we’ve seen through other issues what happens in areas like Baltimore and Flint. We can’t allow for this to go off the headlines or off the focus. This is why the music and video was so important so we can keep it going. Come January 20th, President Elect Donald Trump has invested in this pipeline with his own money and so clearly, he has an interest rather it be a conflict of interest. We want to make sure he upholds what was done by the Army Corps of Engineers and does not put the pipeline in a way that pollutes people’s water.
We have to continue to transition for our generation. The reality is this, I love what Taboo said, this isn’t about black, white, red, male, female, straight, gay, religious or atheist, this is about humanity. In the 20th century, we were fighting for equality, but for Standing Rock, we’re fighting for existence. We got to make sure that people understand that us being dependent on fossil fuels and not pushing for clean energy for the next generation is that it puts their existence in jeopardy. That’s the next step, which is to educate about the pipeline and the sovereignty of people’s land. We as a new generation must respect our Native brothers and sisters.
Taboo: We had a big thing on Sunday, but the battle is not over. We still got a lot of work to do. I myself have been on a media blitz of trying to get the word out. Today I was in Washington D.C. doing the Washington Post constantly trying to get media to listen because honestly when I was there, when I went to where the media was at in Standing Rock, it was all independent media. Me as a person with a platform and voice, I’m going to continue to knock down those walls and continue to break through those walls to let people understand the importance of being there and bringing attention to what’s going on as a Native and father who cares about their kids’ well-being and caring about mother earth. I was standing there in the trenches.
I was in one of the lines and I got to speak to one of the officers who was there and the first thing that I asked him was “where is the love?” I looked him in his eye and we were separated from a barrier and asked him, “where is the love?” He looked at me and asked “what time is your show?” I said, “No, I don’t think you’re hearing me. Where is the love?” I broke down a wall for humanity and he knew exactly what I was saying. I was trying to make that statement to let him know that I wasn’t there as a Black Eyed Peas member or celebrity. I was there as a human being that cares about what’s going on. On that end, I’m going to do everything possible. I’m going to keep knocking down those walls if the opportunity presents itself. If the opportunity comes up, you best believe I’m going to be talking about Standing Rock and all the efforts of people like Rev. Yearwood and everyone at the Hip Hop Caucus. All the people who are with Standing Rock and everyone who spent time and effort putting their life on the line. Things are out of control. They’re shooting water cannons and stuff at people. I can’t wait to see the fight continue on our end because we’re not going to give in and spread as much love as we can because love will overcome hate. That’s where we’re at.
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