Rap/Hip-Hop musical acts dominate Aboriginal category at 2016 ECMAs

City Natives performed at The Capital in Fredericton, N.B. March 18 as part of their NB/NS tour/Photo by Stephen Brake

Rap/Hip-Hop musical acts dominate the Aboriginal Artist of the Year category at the East Coast Music Awards this year.

The nominees include rap group City Natives and rappers Tristan Grant and Kam Speech. They are three of the four acts nominated this year for their rap recordings.

The fourth act nominated in the Aboriginal recording category this year is Pillorikput Inuit, a collection of Labrador Moravian choral and congregational songs in Inuktituk.

East Coast Music Week gets underway today with an opening ceremony and reception at the Membertou Heritage Park from 7-8 p.m. All three rap acts will perform at the Aboriginal Stage showcase at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Kukukwes.com spoke with City Natives, Tristan Grant and Kam Speech about their nominations this year.

Rap group City Natives performing at The Capital in Fredericton, N.B. March 18/Photo by Stephen Brake
Rap group City Natives performing at The Capital in Fredericton, N.B. March 18/Photo by Stephen Brake

City Natives
Tobique First Nation, N.B., Eel Ground First Nation, N.B. and Eskasoni, N.S.
Album nominated: Voltron

City Natives toured Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in March to prepare for their upcoming performances at East Coast Music Week in Sydney, N.S. this week.

“We don’t want to go to the ECMAs all rusty so we will be ready,” explains Brandon Arnold, 28, from Tobique, N.B., also known by his stage name, Illfundz.

The other two members are Gearl Francis from Eskasoni, N.S. and Blake Francis, or BNE from Eel Ground First Nation, N.B.

“This is like a warm up,” adds 24-year-old Shelby Sappier, also known as Beaatz.

City Natives are currently on a winning streak. The group has won a total of seven music awards since releasing their debut album in 2014.

The group won two ECMA awards, two Indigenous Music awards, two Music New Brunswick awards and a Music Nova Scotia award.

This year, the group is nominated in both the Aboriginal Recording of the Year and Rap/Hip-Hop Recording of the Year categories for their latest album, Voltron.

In addition to performing at the Aboriginal Stage tonight at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, City Natives will also be performing at the East Coast Music Awards Show at Centre 200 in Sydney, N.S. Thursday night.

Both Arnold and Sappier say the group is planning something special for their gala performance on Thursday.

“It’s a big performance,” Sappier says. “It’s very choreographed. It’s something like we have never done,” he adds.

“I definitely wouldn’t build it up if it wasn’t going to be what it is. But I promise that a lot of people are going to be surprised for sure.”

Rapper Tristan Grant is nominated for an 2016 ECMA for his album, TG 17/Photo by Stephen Brake
Rapper Tristan Grant is nominated for an 2016 ECMA for his album, TG 17/Photo by Stephen Brake

Tristan Grant
Pabineau First Nation, N.B.
Album nominated: TG 17

Nineteen-year-old Tristan Grant likes to set goals for himself.

“When I started making music, my goal was to be nominated for an ECMA so that happened and I couldn’t believe it,” Grant says.

The Mi’kmaw rapper from Pabineau First Nation, N.B. is nominated for his album, TG 17, which he recorded during a break from writing exams in his final year of high school in 2014.

He spent his summer break mixing and producing the album before moving to Sackville, N.B. to attend Mount Allison University.

“I was really proud of it when I finished with it,” the second-year drama major explains.

Creating rap music and getting nominated for ECMA awards runs in Grant’s family. His uncle is rapper Raymond Sewell, also known as Red Suga. His mother, Phyllis Grant, goes by her stage name as MO3.

Red Suga and MO3 were nominated for an ECMA in 2004. MO3 was nominated again for an ECMA award in 2009.

“That also helped in pursing rap music because I’ve seen their success and I just could see myself doing it because they did it,” Grant explains.

Grant says he likes using poetry and rap to express himself.

“I identify a lot with old school rap like Tu Pac (who) rapped about surroundings and the street and stories.”

“I guess that is a traditional thing for Mi’kmaw people, too, is storytelling and I feel I am participating in that tradition by doing rap music,” says Grant.


Kam Speech from Tobique First Nation, N.B. is nominated for an ECMA for his album, EST1996/Photo by Stephen Brake
Kam Speech from Tobique First Nation, N.B. is nominated for an ECMA for his album, EST1996/Photo by Stephen Brake

Kameron Nicholas (Kam Speech)
Tobique First Nation, N.B.
Album nominated: EST1996

Kameron Nicholas’ nomination for his second rap album, EST1996, is bittersweet for him because the man who helped him produce it, Trevor Turner from Los Angeles, passed away while they were putting it together.

“That’s why the album means so much to me,” Nicholas, who goes by the stage name Kam Speech, says.

“I am sure he would be happy that I was nominated,” the 20-year-old Maliseet from Tobique First Nation, N.B. explains.

Nicholas says his rap album, EST1996 (the year Nicholas was born) has an over-arching theme about self-motivation and living one’s life with purpose and meaning.

“There is more (to) life than just sitting around,” Nicholas says. “Everybody is put on this earth for a reason and I don’t want to sound mean but they got to find that.”

Nicholas credits City Natives member Shelby Sappier with encouraging him to pursue his passion to create rap music. The award-winning group recently invited Nicholas to headline with them in Fredericton, N.B. while they were on tour in March.

“(Shelby) showed me how to record my music and what you are supposed to do to network and whatnot,” Nicholas explains.

“I look up to him a lot. He is like a brother,” he adds.

Additionally, Nicholas says his album being nominated along with City Natives’ recording in the same category means a lot to him.

“To see your name being recognized with such great talent as that, it’s a huge accomplishment for me,” he says.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.