Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final profile of artists nominated for an East Coast Music Award in the Indigenous Artist of the Year category. The awards show will be held in Halifax on May 3. This interview has been edited for length.
Students at L’nu Sipuk Kina’muokuom (LSK School) in Indian Brook First Nation, N.S. were excited to watch Rap/Hip-Hop group City Natives perform for them on Tuesday morning. The group performed as part of the East Coast Music Awards’ TD Sound Waves program and Music Moves Me program for students.
The current members of City Natives include 25-year-old Brandon Arnold (Illfunz) from Tobique First Nation, N.B. and Gearl Francis from Eskasoni First Nation, N.S. Devon Paul also from Eskasoni, joined the band last week.
The group has been going through some changes. Shelby Sappier, aka Beaatz, left the group in 2016. Last week, Blake Francis, aka BnE, from Eel Ground First Nation, N.B. also left the band.
City Natives’ fourth album, Dream Catchers, has earned the group three nominations for the East Coast Music Awards. The band is nominated for Indigenous Artist of the Year, Rap/Hip-Hop Recording of the Year and Group Recording of the Year.
Reporter Karli Zschogner interviewed City Natives following their performance at the LSK school.
KZ: Why are you here today performing at L’nu Sipuk Kina’muokuom School?
BA: For the ECMA showcase and we did this last year. Last year we did it in Saint John. We had a really good response so when I saw they had the stage back I submitted for it and they picked us
GF: Especially for the kids too, the kids are the most important part of it. They probably see us as like an uncle or an older brother. Something the kids can look up too like for them to say ‘man if they’re doing it then we can do it.’
KZ: Tell me about your experience growing up and how that has shaped who you are today?
GF: We gotta take the good, got to take the bad, the good, the bad, the ugly. You know, growing up you see a bigger spectrum of reality you could talk about because if you’re closed off this much then you don’t see that much worse. There’s just that much you don’t take in. We have that spectrum of sight. It’s there. It’s never gone. That’s your life. It’s in your head every time you think.
And then we have kids growing up in a generation where they know better, way better. We can help them. It’s cool. We feed off that. That’s what I like. Even if we talk about negative stuff in our raps, it’s only because it’s real. Maybe these kids will grow up and have a cleaner rap. Maybe their minds will be cleaner. Maybe they will have a better rap, stuff I wasn’t able to say or think of yet. I wasn’t just in that spectrum of reality.
KZ: Can you tell me about your Indigenous background and how this identity has shaped you including in your music and interaction in the music industry.
GF: You learn how to absorb vibes because people just say sh*t. You have to look at everything. It’s kind of lucky when you grow up in that spectrum of reality I was just talking about and then you’re in the business like this and it’s just a walk in the park.
BA: Growing up on reserve, it’s a different perspective than like going to do a show in Halifax. I’m used to a way of living there. You could go to your neighbour’s yard and jump on their trampoline. You can’t really do that in the city. That type of lifestyle where you are so open to people.
KZ: What is your motivation for making music as a career/ What makes you tick?
ALL: My kids.
GF: I was too shy to get on stage until I had my daughter, then I was like, ‘man I can’t keep f*cking around, I got to do something’. Gotta keep getting better. Since then, we’ve been touring ever since. My daughter doesn’t even know me without rap. She is just sitting on my lap the whole time while I was writing lyrics every album. It’s a fire under your butt. Can’t keep sitting there or you’re going to burn.
KZ: How is music making without Beaatz ?
GF: He’d get dibs on the beats and which one we were going to rap on. We’d give Beaatz to pick a concept because he’s a good writer.
BA: The thing about Beaatz, is he’s probably working right now. He works on music every day. And when he’s constantly making beats. He used to send us the whole draft of the album. He would record every song himself and then we’d write to it and finish the album. After he left, we really had to take advantage of our songwriting abilities.
GF: We can write up a song that we want to talk about and our own flow. It was working as a synergy because whenever he’d send something, I would write right away and it would be based on whatever he had
KZ: What does the ECMA nomination mean to you as an Indigenous artist?
GF: To step up. It’s a professional stamp.
BA: It’s an honour to be part of this every year. We’ve been submitting for a long time.
GF: Like the ECMAs, it’s foreign to a lot of Aboriginal people but now they have a whole category. It’s accepting and makes you feel good about it.
KZ: What is next for you?
BA: We might go on another Canadian tour. We have a few opportunities. Depends on how we are feeling. Probably do a tour outside Canada, in Asia.