If you've seen the Crow Nation hip-hop artist Supaman's viral video "Prayer Loop Song" then you already know the Montana-based musician lives up to his name. Shot as a live performance, the video is a brilliant introduction to Supaman's art blending traditional Crow music and dance with an impressive aptitude for a variety of hip-hop elements including MC-ing, beat-boxing and turntablism.
Supaman was in Indy last week for the opening night celebration of the Eiteljorg Museum's Native American Contemporary Arts Fellowship. If you missed the opening gala, you can still check out the exhibition, which is on display until February 28.
NUVO: You grew up in Montana on the Crow Nation reservation. Can you tell us a bit about what life was like growing up on the reservation?
Supaman: Living in Crow there was a lot of culture. When you travel around to different Native American reservations you'll see some are still using the traditional language. The Crow people or the Apsáalooke have a preserved language. There was a lot of culture, but at the same time there was a lot of hardship from what was done to our people and the traumatic experiences they've gone through. We're learning and growing as a people to go beyond that. There's a lot of healing taking place.
So I was around all that. I had alcoholic parents and I ended up in foster care until age 10. My father passed away when I was 10 years old from complications of his alcoholism. After that my mom quit drinking and lived a good life and I was able to go through high school. So it was good. There was a lot more good than bad I'd say.
NUVO: In your performance you incorporate traditional Crow culture. Were you interested in the traditional music and dance as a kid?
Supaman: Yeah, the traditional Crow culture was just part of normal life growing up on the reservation. I was a dancer as a 4th grader. I danced the traditional men's Crow style known as Hot Dancing. Then later on I became a Fancy Dancer, which I do now. If you've seen my videos, that's what I'm doing.
I always kept hip-hop and Crow culture separate though. Crow culture was just part of my normal life and hip-hop was something new to me. To put them together was almost taboo.
NUVO: Do you remember when the idea first came to you that it might make sense to merge the two cultures together?
Supaman: It was actually by accident. We were invited to Montana State University to perform for Native American Heritage Day. They wanted my nephew and I to do exhibition dancing. They asked us to come and dance and they said, "There's going to be a lot of youth there. You guys do rap music too. So, can you rap for them too, right?" We said sure and we went to perform and did our traditional dance in our traditional clothing. Afterwords we went to go offstage change into our regular clothes and then come back to rap. They told us there was no time to change and we had to go onstage. So we rapped in our regalia and it was cool. The people liked it and it became special in that moment.
After the performance the elders came up and shook our hands. They said, "That's good what you guys just did. You represent who we are as Apsáalooke. You guys have a good message and these kids really liked it. Keep up what you're doing." Right there we got the green light from the elders that it was a good thing and a powerful thing. So we kept that going and kind of kept it in the same order. We would come out dancing and tell the people that we walk in two worlds as Natives and in hip-hop culture. We embrace both.
NUVO: Earlier you mentioned some of the social problems facing people living on the reservation. Do you address those sorts of topics in your lyrics?
Supaman: I definitely try to address the obstacles and hardships we have as Native people. A lot of people when I tell them I'm Native American, they go right into the negativity. "Oh yeah, there's a lot of alcoholism. What's the suicide rate?" It always goes back to the negativity, but in reality that's everywhere no matter what race you are or where you live. So I try to focus on the positivity. I read a study that said Native Americans had the highest percentage per capita of drug- and alcohol-free people. You never hear that.
But I do address issues like alcoholism and suicide. My dad committed suicide when I was young. Anything I've gone through I try to address because I know the pain where it comes from. Everybody needs some help and light shed on the darkness.