Although music has no colour or race, it just sounds good and it crosses global borders and into homes to touch people, to connect, to enrich, enhance, relax, motivate or inspire! There is truly something for everyone and now there’s even more!
When you take a seat at the table of Hip Hop music, there was somebody missing… but not anymore. Indigenous Hip Hop is very much alive and here to stay. They just sat down because they weren’t sure if the world was ready. I think they got their answer and the world is so happy they entered the room and took the stage! The first ever International Indigenous Hip Hop Awards Show (IIHHAS) has finally arrived!!
In celebration of Indigenous Hip Hop. The awards streamed from the host city of Winnipeg, MB on the original lands of the Dene people’s, Dakota, Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Treaty 1 Territory, and on the homeland of the Metis Nation in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The IIHHAS and Trade Show was on May 22 and 23rd. This incredible virtual event showcased diverse indigenous hip hop talent from across the planet. There was an intense and much anticipated two days of networking opportunities and performances by award-winning Hip-Hop artists, Drezus, City Natives, Def-i, J25, Doc T, Emcee One, Drmngnow, YellowSky, Psych Ward Kidz, Sly Skeeta, MzShellz, Artson, Sean Skiez, MissChristie Lee and more.
The Trade Show provided four workshops that featured music & branding industry executives from Blabbly, David Strickland, Motive Music Canada & K.A.S.P to answer questions & provide an industry education. Up & coming indigenous artists also had the unique opportunity to connect with hip hop music industry pioneers. American rapper and legendary record producer Masta Ace, legendary Hip Hop artist Blahzay Blahzay & American Actor & Rapper Chino XL were also available for 1 on 1 VIP meetings. This extraordinary 2-day event also allowed attendees access to virtual booths where artists and fans could share, connect and buy merchandise. The awards were Sponsored by TD, Say Magazine, Manitobah Mukluks, Reebok, Socan Foundation, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, C Sharpe Productions, Brownees Urban Bistro and Blabbly.
To host an outstanding event like this, you only want the best and they found the best in MIKE BONE! Lil Mike and Funny Bone are Hip Hop performers and brothers. They have been carving out their path in Hip Hop and they’ve never stopped striving to be some of the best music artists on the charts today. If they sound familiar, they should. In addition to charting their own course, they were also on America’s Got Talent. Here is a link to a song they dedicate to all the murdered and missing Indigenous Women MMIW.
I had the honourable privilege of speaking with Mike and Bone in Oklahoma City and now I want to move to Oklahoma…
HNMAG “Hello fellas, it’s a pleasure to meet you both. I listened to your music yesterday and it’s very good. I love the rhythms, the beats, the lyrics and what you’re talking about. You made a beautiful song about missing Indigenous women and you live in the US. Did you want to give a shout out to your state and the reservation you grew up on?”
BONE “(Laughing) We’re from Oklahoma City. We didn’t really grow up on a rez, the city is our rez. We grew up in the hood, which has a lot of the same issues as the rez.”
HNMAG “When did you both find your passion for creating your music?”
BONE “I wanna say 1995…”
MIKE “It was 1991 that I fell in love with making music and before that I was just listening to music. In ’92 I was able to get something played on a local radio station. The station was doing this ‘kiss or dis’ idea and I wasn’t expecting anything out of it, but everyone kissed it, so I decided to start making more music.”
HNMAG “Have you always been attracted to the rap/hip hop style of music?
MIKE “For me, I was interested in screaming music.”
BONE “(Laughing) Anything that screamed.”
MIKE “Death metal, Busta Rhymes, Onyx, James Brown, Michael Jackson screams a little when he sings, which interested me a little. Anybody that had a distinctive voice, I was interested in. I even found ACDC interesting.”
HNMAG “How long have you been making music and performing together?”
BONE “Whoah… this year will be 27 years, since 1997. Over 20 years anyways.”
HNMAG “Are you brothers and who is the oldest?”
BONE “We are brothers and Mike is the oldest by 5 years.”
MIKE “He took longer to cook (laughing).”
BONE “I started into the music when Mike started getting into it. I started making some of the beats after learning how to run the program and kept pushing out beats and blowing peoples speakers.”
HNMAG “Did you have support from the music community when you were trying to break out or was there any pushback because you are Indigenous?”
MIKE “Because we are Native American, people would always automatically cut us out and assume that it would be terrible, because of our stature and our race.”
BONE “We always got that… what’s the word – underrated?”
MIKE “Our job was to prove everybody wrong and show everyone that this little duo can make a big sound and make it sound good!”
BONE “You don’t have to be big to be a big deal! I honestly thought it gave us an edge because everywhere we went, nobody expected too much from us… but when we got on that stage, our music just blew people away.”
HNMAG “You’re both hosting the first ever International Indigenous Hip Hop Awards (IIHHAS) and Trade Show May 22 and 23 in celebration of Indigenous Hip Hop. What does that mean to you?”
MIKE “It’s unique to be online but it still broadens the spectrum of who can attend, world wide. Everybody can enjoy it live at that moment, which I feel makes it better and more accessible to everyone.”
HNMAG “Are they turning it into a 2-day event because of Covid restrictions?”
MIKE “It was planned as a 2-day event before the pandemic hit. They wanted to have 1 day as a trade show, where people can learn about the music industry, as well as a meet and greet where the fans can interact with the music artists and purchase merchandise. I think it’s a perfect way to draw people in and to get to know the artists better.”
HNMAG “As you find success in the music industry, have you met many big music artists?”
BONE “All kinds.”
MIKE “Doing this has opened a lot of doors for us. Because our booking manager works for a radio station, we also get dibs on different shows. We don’t take any show, only the ones where we’re a good fit. We can draw the kids in and we might sound similar to the other music artist performing at the venue. We’ve met LL Cool J, Mr. Cool, we get booked at Rock concerts, R&B concerts, Country music. One time we opened for Billy Ray Cyrus in Winnipeg – there’s been some heavy hitters.”
HNMAG “Do you get a lot of letters from young Native Americans saying thank you for inspiring them to create music?”
BONES “We get fan mail, awesome feedback on social media and it keeps us doing what we’re doing, especially when you see how much you’ve impacted somebody’s life or even saved a life through our music… it’s powerful.”
MIKE “We’re city Natives and when other city Natives hear our music, they realize that we’re also rapping about our culture and that we have a lot of pride in it. We weren’t raised up into the culture, we were raised up adapting to the neighbourhood we were in.”
BONES “Once we had a taste of our culture, we were hooked and started diving into it more. We started learning some of the words and going to Pow Wows.”
MIKE “The Pow Wows are what really did it. The first Pow Wow got us hooked, and that first bite of fried bread.”
Bones and Mike told me that they also received some negative comments from other Native Americans regarding the way they talk and their lack of knowledge for their culture. They are a product of their environment and they were raised in the city and in the hood. They said they talk that way, just as someone raised in the UK would have a UK accent and they don’t make any apologies and I don’t know why they would need to either. I have an urban Canadian accent because I’ve lived in the city most of my life. They are amazing ambassadors for Hip Hop/Rap music and there will always be someone that can pull a negative from a positive. They love the reservation and want to learn more about the culture. Mike follows up with a great comment, then Bone provides more clarity.
MIKE “Not everyone can take the backlash, the criticism, being bullied or whatever it is… but we can. We have the toughest skin ever! That comes from being in the hood and being able to joke around with people.”
BONE “If you ever hate on someone because they don’t know their Native language or did something wrong, try to help them rather than hurt them. Some people are very fragile and you don’t know if they’re on the edge of suicide or something else. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all (laughing).”
HNMAG “When did you realize you could use your music as a platform to address social issues that are important to you?”
MIKE “It was one of the first songs I put out. I wrote it about a friend that passed away. It was a song about gang violence and how you don’t have to represent a street or a colour – you don’t have to die for it! There is much more to live for than that. Getting caught up in that nonsense will steer you in the same direction… death, rather than living for something worth living for. After that, we started putting out music that warns you about being careful with the type of music you listen to, your personal choice on marriage, being drug free and dreaming big – go for your goals and strive to be your best. We put out anti-suicide songs and people will tell us that our song helped them out or they’ll tell us they never had a connection to the song until they went through it and that song popped into their head and helped them through a hard time. Music can be powerful and it can be healing when used in the right way.”
HNMAG “How has support from other music artists been? Do you talk to many of them?”
BONE “Different artists take it differently. Some look at it as a missed opportunity and are a little jealous and some are proud for us. I’d say it’s 50/50.”
MIKE “If you’re talking about industry cats, they’re basically telling us to not sign any deals and if we can do it for ourselves, then do it. There’s always going to be someone in the chain of command that’s going to try to milk you, use you as much as they can, just to give you chump change, while they’re pushing you and needling you. If you’re just looking to become famous, go ahead and sign that paper. However, if you want to work it like a job and get paid a descent amount of money and be the real you – without trying to put on a character, or being used to sell fashion, wearing certain brands to sell products that you don’t even use. Before Americas Got Talent, we were very supportive of local music artists and we had a booth where we only sold music from Oklahoma artists. We would build them up and tell people they need to listen to their music. Once they did, they were so surprised and impressed with the talent within the city of Oklahoma. We tell them to check them out but to check us out too. When Americas Got Talent happened, it was time for us to milk that exposure in the same likeness of promoting them and us at the same time. It really helped and we really took off.”
BONE “They basically turn you into dancing monkeys. Sing this song and wear this. We enjoy collaborating with other artists and it’s a win win because you gain some of our fans and we get some of yours. Just make sure you write something real good because we’re gonna come hard. ”
During our conversation, I had noticed a platinum album sitting on the mantle behind them, so I had to ask about it. They told me it was from their recent collaborative album, Beat of the Drum that they did with some cool cats/music artists. It has 17 tracks with some powerful songs and is one of their highest selling albums.
HNMAG “Where can people find your music?”
BONE “Our music is on all the streaming platforms under Lil Mike and Funny Bone. If you’re looking under MIKE BONE you probably won’t find us. We’re on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon. Our website is https://mikebonemedia.com/ and you can find all the links on there. We want to make it easy for people to find us. We also have free tracks on our website that you can’t find on our other streaming sites. They’re from albums that we didn’t release.”
HNMAG “Do you produce your own music or do you work with a producer?”
BONE “We work with a producer here in Oklahoma City. Back in the day, I started making some of the beats or we’d get mixed tape beats from other artists and we’d work with it.”
MIKE “His name is Silk On the Beat and his beats work perfectly with our style. Every time we’d go into the studio to record a track, he’d tell us he had some new beats for us.”
BONE “We’ve been working with him for years and his mastering/mixing capabilities are incredible, he really has an ear for that. He’ll put a little touch on the end of a recording and it’ll be 10 times better. It’s why we’ve stuck with him so long.”
HNMAG “Will this IIHHS be partially live and virtual?”
MIKE “It’ll be online and live. There will be people in their booths performing straight from their homes and there’ll also be some red-carpet interviews that will be live. We’ve been having to learn how to do everything virtual. Hopefully we’ll be able to have an actual live Hip Hop show in Winnipeg next year.”
HNMAG “I wanted to ask you a little about your Americas Got Talent experience. What was it like?”
MIKE “It was unique. I think unique is the perfect word. It’s a lot of waiting and the time can pass by fast or slow. When you’re waiting to go on, that’s when time really slows down. Our nervousness went away… because of how long we had to wait. We were just trying to do our thing and get out of there because we were tired, hungry and ready to get some rest.”
BONE “We had to do some acting, it was our first acting job because we’d have to re-enact some things that we may have said that the cameras had missed.”
MIKE “We’d have to remember what we had said because they’d make us say it over and over again and sometimes ask us to say it a different way. It was too different for us, so we were ready to leave.”
BONE “Going into it, we always knew we’d jump out before the end. Otherwise, there’s a lot of contract signing involved.”
MIKE “We read the fine print and hired an entertainment lawyer to look it over and they told us it looked iffy, much like a shady record deal. It was to the point where they even wanted a percentage of our bookings if we stayed on the show. We took the safe route and tried to get out by the live rounds. If you go to the live rounds, that’s when that contract takes effect. We had to find the loophole and get out. It was good exposure for us though.”
LIL MIKE and FUNNY BONE are just what the world needs right now, which is great music with a positive message. Listen to their music and help support Indigenous music artists making a difference one track at a time.