Blood Of Our Heart Beats For Change
you know i love to wear dresses of victorian lace
love six shades of sex all up in my face
love lighting bonfires of contemplation
love beats that merge like a german indian
pummeling the fields as the wagons roll in
red man white man ending beginning
now grown radiant and getting bolder
smile of a child held by strong shoulders
check the lessons in the shape of land
even the strongest rock can become sand
and can sift through the hands of a woman or man
who stops long enough to listen
ear to wind mind to the rain
blood of our heart beats for change
Kinnie Starr, Emerged, from the Juno nominated album
featuring Moka Only and Spek from the Dream Warriors.
When De La Soul’s “Three Feet High And Rising” hit the streets in ’89 it was like my brain exploded with optimism. Ice Cube, Run DMC, LL Cool J and Black Sabbath took a back seat in my cassette player. De La’s ‘daisy age’ mentality, fun hippie outfits, crazy hair and ridiculous language play ushered me smoothly into spinning poetry into rhymes.
At the time I was making mostly visual art: T-shirts, stickers and stencil art sprayed on walls and huge collage pieces glued up in parking lots. City cleanup would come round and paint over my black and white work, and I would go back and outline to simply give the pieces more depth. I was, and am, a huge advocate of weaning ourselves off of TV and mainstream culture and challenging male centered ideologies as well as colonial ideology that celebrates European culture over indigenous beauty. Most of my art reflected my distaste for corporate, colonial culture. “BEAUTY IS NOT POWER IT’S THE WORLD’S BIGGEST SELLER”, “TELEVALIUM SEDATES YOU” and “HERO?” slapped up on war heroes are some examples of the street art I used to do.
The graffiti and rap scene in the early and mid nineties was pretty much dominated by men, especially in terms of freestyles at clubs. From a girl’s perspective it was a bit tiring to only see men on the mic. I began getting up and rhyming simply to test my courage and make some feminine presence felt. Salt and Pepa were huge as far as stardom went, but in the club scene female rappers were non-existent. I would wait for my turn on the mic and when I would spit/sing, the crowd paid notice.
Making hip hop offered me a controlled environment where I was able to clear the clutter from my mind. Huge questions about the way society is structured come clearer to me from writing rhymes.
Writing rhymes affords wordplay, metaphor and making light of huge topics like not being connected to my Native ancestors. On my first album in ’96 I wrote, “the Big Boys went out of style/ and so Pavement lines the roads now/ with indifferent reference to the past and preference/ of white pop trash and over abundance/ but where are my ancestors? Jacks of Deep River? Jacks of which trade though made up the depressor?” More than ten years later I continue to write about love, identity, family and history.
To a woman who carries Native blood but is mostly white by blood quantum, hip hop is a world where story-telling allows me to be frank about my questions, my spirit, and my life mission, which is that people should come together. There is a huge portion of Canada’s population carrying Native blood that does not associate with Native culture or stand behind Native causes as a result of elitism, which often comes from what one filmmaker refers to as “club Native.” Those who are not full blood don’t know much about their family, don’t have status or are not from the reserve are often ridiculed or ostracized if they come forward to identify as Native. This imported European attitude disenfranchises what could be a massive Native presence in the Americas. Some estimate there are over 200,000 people in Canada with Native blood but not identifying as Native. IMAGINE IF ALL THESE PEOPLE STOOD UP AND RALLIED IN DEFENSE OF INDIGENOUS MOVEMENTS.
One of the most important decisions I made as a hip hop producer on one of my earliest beats was sampling the group Ulali to create the song, “Red%X”, a widely received song that has traveled further than I have. Eight years later this song still resonates with Natives I meet all over Canada and the U.S.A., and for that I am grateful. I chose to sample Ulali because this group of women influenced me heavily in the decision to be proud of who I am, despite my impurities. To this day, they are the only sample I have ever used. I feel so lucky to share a song with them!
Hip hop is a place where we share our stories eloquently at times, arrogantly or awkwardly at others. The beats and rhymes I have written showcase my background as a middle-class, white red girl from Calgary Alberta, raised on metal and old school rap, as well as an intellect, rocker and a seeker of truth. On top of my thick dub-rock sloppy hip hop beats, I throw words like they are stones in a river and make my way through life. Making hip hop gave (and gives me) me a chance to slowly and articulately find my footing in the complicated landscape of Native and white Canadians. And though my feet sometimes stumble, I believe without hip hop I would still be hiding in the closet, afraid to take a step forward as the woman I am becoming.
Kinnie Starr is also featured on the "Music" page.
The Kinnie Starr you already know: MC, singer, poet, actress, beatnik, musicmaker, who was born in Calgary. Became her adult self in Vancouver, and was raised on heavy doses of Zeppelin, Sade and De La Soul's Daisy Age. Discovered she could kick it live one night in NYC (1993), when an open mic called, and the crowd carried her through three blazing encores ("edgy... enchanting," said the New Yorker). Tidy (Canada 1996; U.S.A. 1997) was the first of Starr's four records. Her new one is called Anything (but we'll get there in a minute), which drew critical acclaim from all corners. "An artistic, feminist, angry, well-articulated rant of the highest order," said allmusic.com; "raw, funny and definitely an original," added the Globe and Mail…
Starr signed with Mercury/Island/Def Jam in 1997, but Seagram's took over that group three years later, and Kinnie got lost when her music took a back seat to big whiskey's bottom line, so she asked for her freedom, got it, and made Tune-Up (2000). Kinnie was a lead player in the alt/indie film Down and Out with the Dolls (filmed in 2001), directed by Kurt Voss (of Sugar Town fame). Two years later, she lived and worked in Las Vegas, singing for Zumanity, Cirque du Soleil's controversial cabaret production and she found a new, comfortable home at MapleMusic Recordings releasing Sun Again in 2003, plus sealing a publishing deal with Last Gang Publishing and their partner company Olé. The same year Kinnie earned a Juno nomination for Best New Artist. Also in 2003, Starr co-wrote Carmen Rizzo's Beso, a song for the soundtrack of the acclaimed film Thirteen. In 2004, U.K. production wizards Hybrid and Blackwatch cut body-rocking club remixes of Starr's song Alright (Release Records), a Sun Again stand-out. She performed at the 2005 National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. Kinnie has toured Japan, the U.K., the U.S.A. and Canada in the past five years, which brings us up to speed with the here and now.
The Kinnie Starr you'll meet on Anything: For starters, the title is her stock answer to a question that she hears all the time: "So, uh, what does your music sound like?" (For the record: hip hop, rock, folk, R&B, electronica...anything.) "You don't appreciate / No room to debate / My eyes don't dilate / Your words have no weight," Starr spits on Step Back, Anything's opening song. It's a bluesy blast-off, embossed with the spirit of self-determination that has defined her career. "A lot of people who love hip hop love what I do, because I'm doing my own shit," she says. "I try to uphold the old-school MC mentality when I'm on stage - taking the crowd along with me, rather than just playing songs at them. That's more like a rock 'n' roll mentality, to just slam the songs out. You know, 'Fuck you! Later.' I'm first and foremost an MC." Step Back is a battle track, but every song afterwards is about Starr's family and private life. Wind In Your Sails is a lyrical riff on a photograph of her parents when they were near her age ("I will try to be a much better friend, a friend to you / I will try to see in you the beauty in the things you do, see the beauty that is you"); Not Enough is "about [my] niece and nephew being born, and wondering if the world will be good enough for them"; Up In Smoke chronicles a cousin's misadventures with a nameless West Coast record label ("The whole thing can go up in smoke / And it can make you sink or help you float").
The creative core behind Anything is Kinnie, who wrote all of its complex and shape-shifting toons, and John Raham, the drum thunder in Kinnie's live band. The pair recorded and produced the album at Ogre studios in Vancouver BC throughout 2005. Tegan and Sara's Tegan Quinn contributes vocals to the single La Le La La, which was mixed by Howard Redekopp (New Pornographers, A.C. Newman, 54-40). Vic Florencia mixed Anything's title track, which is also a single. "I'm very stoked to be with MapleMusic. Kim Cooke has been watching and supporting my career since I started. As soon as he was able to do something, he stepped to the plate," Kinnie says. "I don't expect to sell a billion records, but the fact that I'm working with people who believe in me - I may sound cheesy, but it really does make me feel good."
But wait, there's more: Starr has another body of work in progress, a collection of four-track songs that she's self-producing on a well-used, much-loved Tascam 564. "They're quite sparse, sort of Joni Mitchell-ish, but they're not really folk songs; they're tipped towards jazz and old-school Motown ballads." She has twenty songs in progress, and hopes to release ten - when they're ready. Kinnie has started writing for the Native publication Spirit Magazine, and recently interviewed Daniel Lanois for its upcoming spring issue. "I write a lot, and very quickly these days, off the seat of my pants," she adds. "If I'm driving I'll pull over, or I'll take my sketchbook out and put in on my lap while I drive if I can't pull over."
Anything to get the words out…