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A Tribe Called Red On How They Recruited Yasiin Bey Into The Halluci Nation
A Tribe Called Red On How They Recruited Yasiin Bey Into The Halluci Nation

A Tribe Called Red On How They Recruited Yasiin Bey Into The Halluci Nation

A Tribe Called Red On How They Recruited Yasiin Bey Into The Halluci Nation

The Native American, nominally Canada-based, globally active DJ collective A Tribe Called Red has been making noise since 2008. The basic blueprint of their sound is as simple as it is strikingly original; First Nation PowWow music made with a DJs ear for sound collage and a philosophy that utterly rejects the colonial mindset.  By 2011 they were grabbling attention from astute DJs and bloggers (our own channel partners LargeUp, for instance) with mine expanding dub plate style tracks like the Super Cat-sampling rallying cry "NDNs From All Directions."

Their new project We Are The Halluci Nation, however, uses this basic Electric PowWow blueprint to build a whole new kind of sonic machine. Rather than chopping and flipping their influences, ATCR have recruited a whole cast of like-minded collaborators--including but not limited to Yasiin Bey, Saul Williams, AIM activist and poet John Trudell, Canadian-Iraqi MC Narcy and Colombian visual artist Lido Pimienta--into a borderless nation they call the Halluci Nation. Taken as an album statement, the results are nothing less than revelatory--but as the suffix Nation suggests, the Halluci Nation is something much larger than a conventional album could contain. ATCR's newest member 2oolman (who joins founders DJ NDN and Bear Witness) breaks it down eloquently below in this exclusive Okayplayer interview--as well as giving us the full backstory of our guy Yasiin's recruitment into the Halluci Nation.

OKP: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, you all are on quite a roll right now. What exactly is your role in ATCR and how long have you been down with the crew?

2oolman: Thanks, Bear Witness has been doing this (DJing) for 20 years and he and NDN have been making music as ATCR for a minute now, but with this new album we had bigger dreams of how we want to accomplish our live performance. My role is really more bringing the live machine, live remixing; taking something familiar and changing it on the go. Our current style playing live is really very pass and go, pass the torch which gives it more spontaneity live.

I come from the same reserve Bear’s family does--I’m the only guy in the group born and raised on a reservation, Ian [NDN} and Bear grew up in urban settings--so they would just hear my stuff from other native friends, like: Yo 2ools just dropped something!--and eventually we linked,

I'm about 5 hours away from Ottawa but I would traveling, doing beat battling so we would cross paths at SXSW or I'd be in Winnipeg at the same time as them or I'd be at the Junos when they were and we'd get a studio to work on stuff. So we've gradually gotten tighter over the span of 8 years or so—as I said, I grew up with Bear's first cousin on the reserve...and I have a real connection with [his family] the Thomases

OKP: What's the name of the reserve?

200l:Six Nations Of The Grand River.

OKP: The reason I ask, this record shows a pretty big leap from the white label stuff ATCR was doing with "NDNs From All Directions"

200l: Yeah "NDNs" was a big record that really showed what ATCR could do with vocals, a lot have been collabs  from their label Tribal Spirit. When I was brought into album, we tried to just expand, just powwow music still, but really extending it to other indigenous peoples...

OKP: Notably, the collaboration with Yasiin, how did that come about?

Yasiin Bey Slips Through Borders In A Tribe Called Red's 'R.E.D.' Video

200l: Everything happened really organic, we were in Montreal working in the studio-theirs actually an EP that came out of those Montreal sessions, the Suplex EP--and our good friend Narcy was like, hey do you want to meet up with Yasiin Bey? Five minutes later were all standing in a clothing store where there was an exhibit of our tour managers photos and in walks Yasiin. We all tell him we're huge fans, and he telling us he’s a fan of what we do and we should work. Eight months later, we came back to Montreal to perform at Osheaga and he actually came out and performed with us twice on stage! After the shows he just said, Let's get it in out here, lets go in the studio. So we booked some studio time in Montreal and got to work with him.

We knew we wanted to make a crazy jam, a banger, with Narcy on it--we made the beat even back when we met him 8 months before. We gave him the beat, we didn't know if we were going to see him again or not! But when we were together, we had these deep conversations--about the things that we stand for--and that all came out in song. We gave him free rein and he blessed us with us with a great verse one of my favorite beats.

OKP: So when you ultimately went into the studio, did he have something written to the beat you gave him, or did you have a plan...?

200l: No plan! We went in with a beat in mind and that's it. We spoke about the issues that he’s dealing with, us three,  Yasiin and Narcy. Then he pulled out [his famous red mic] Ruby and the ideas we were talking about came into the song.

OKP: I wanted to dive deeper into that, because the issues of mobility--what Yasiin is talking about re: borders and migrants--may not seem intuitively the same as the issues you guys address as Natives, but they speak to each other so powerfully in the track and video...

200l: Well, the colonization experience is shared. We both talked about we grew up with a colonized culture, a culture that wasn’t built for us--it was more built around us!--to keep us down or contain us. And really it's about asking the question, What if i don’t want to do that any more? ...and what happens when you start to question it.

I mean, we talked everything; wrestling, our favorite MCs, music...or we talked about the issues he's dealing with and the treatment e've gotten when we go certain places like France or Norway and this and that

The idea of the Halluci Nation comes from John Trudel, who contributed some of his poetry to the LP--he's an activist with AIM and very much a superhero to us--and it's all about taking it back to human beings. Anybody can join the Halluci Nation, it's a mind-frame, it's for anybody who want to champion change. With the conversation with Yasiin, that's exactly what were doing. Everything happened very organically, even with the video shoot, we were like, Maybe we should just send a camera crew to Cape Town and see if he’d be down. And he was like, Yeah.

OKP: So I got to ask--who did you bond over as far as favorite MCs?

200l: Me and Mos had some pretty great talks at Osheaga-0we talked about a lot of MCs! We talked a lot about Toronto MCs;  Kardinal Offishal, Saukrates--his Toronto his knowledge was awesome. I have deep roots in Toronto, too, so hearing that from him made me feel closer, to hear him big up my world like that. But we also agreed that Earl Sweatshirt is the dopest MC. [Laughs] that's pretty much where ended up; Earl is the best.

OKP: Partly I asked because, Tribe Called Red obviously makes a play on A Tribe Called Quest--were the Native T0ngues an influence on you guys at all or is that purely coincidence?

A Tribe Called Red On How They Recruited Yasiin Bey Into The Halluci Nation

200l: That's purely coincidence, the name ATCR reflects our views, but that doesn't take away from the fact that we are doing some thing similar to what Native Tongues did. What's awesome is that with Halluci Nation e've seen a big uniting feeling. You know we did a show in Toronto the other day and--I don't know if you're aware of everything going on with the North Dakota Access Pipeline--we had 4,000 people put up their fist and say their standing with Standing Rock. It was pretty powerful.

We find a lot of people are down with what we're trying to get across; just a way of life that's growing by the day and I feel more people being involved with North Dakota or what's going on with Yasmin's situation--that's the Halluci Nation.

OKP: So speaking of the mobility issues Yasiin has been dealing with--have you ever faced something similar? I might be projecting from how the laws are in the states but I growing up on the reservation--which is sovereign territory or its own jurisdiction--does that create complications when you need to travel?

200l: It does. I'll tell you something I've never told anybody. Six Nations is my home--we have our own police, fire, everything is internal, we have full jurisdiction. Our land is huge 25,000 plus people--to give you the context outside we have the Ontario Provincial Police force, who are not allowed on the reserve without permission. I was brought up that way; that I wasn’t Canadian…I have brothers and sisters by Syracuse [New York] who are Onondaga and in Wisconsin. We used to just cross the border on our own land, and if we just identified who we were and why we were crossing nobody really bothered us. But 9/11 stopped all that, it changed everything and everything got harsher. I’m also a dual citizen, I can live in the states. When it came time to travel, all these years I would just drive across and then fly domestically, I never had a Canadian passport.

When the group got bigger and it was time to do overseas shows, I had to get a passport, there was just no way around it. And it was really, tough sad day for me--because I felt I relinquished my sovereignty to do this. You know there was even a Lacrosse team from Six Nations, players from both US and Canada that was supposed to go to Europe for a Lacrosse World Championship...our people had our own passports ready, but they got stopped at the border. James Cameron donated money to the team stay at a hotel, i think it was in DC, but in the end, they said you can't go. And that's a shame because we created the game; Lacrosse comes from my people.

But being in the group I had to bite the bullet, I know Bear felt the same.

OKP: What do you want people leave with, who check out this album?

200l: In the end, man we are just DJs, we want to make people dance and have fun, that's where w come from and if people listen and just dance, thats completely fine with me. But we are also finding a lot of people who are realizing that what we're talking about with the Halluci Nation; it;s not ours, it's just as much as Yasmin's or whoever is open to it.

It keeps growing. I feel like we are attracting people who get it and are woke. You know we played a Slovakia show at a steel factory for like 4,000 or 5,000--definitely thousands of people! After the show we went out and shook hands, and a young man came up to say, I was so excited to see you guys, I bought a headdress to show you how serious I was...but then I read an interview of yours where you spoke about how it's cultural appropriation and it's really offensive--and I got rid of it. Having these conversations... I've been calling interviews conversations because it's so great that people can come back to it because of the longevity of the written word; that kid read our interview and learned something.

OKP: And I think I learned something with this conversation, so we cam full circle. Thanks Again!

200l: Peace.

A Tribe Called Red take their new tour global with a show at Baby's Alright here in NYC tonight--get full live dates below:

A Tribe Called Red Live Dates:

09/21 | Baby's All Right | Brooklyn, NY

09/23 | The Wayfarer | Costa Mesa, CA

09/24 | The Hideout | San Diego, CA

09/26 | The Troubadour | Los Angeles, CA

09/29 | Social Hall SF | San Francisco, CA

10/04 | Urban Lounge | Salt Lake City, UT

10/06 | Larimer Lounge | Denver, CO

10/07 | Larimer Lounge | Denver, CO

10/10 | Ft. Lewis College | Durango, CO

11/15 | Wonder Ballroom | Portland, OR

11/16 | The Crocodile | Seattle, WA

11/17 | Wild Buffalo | Bellingham, WA

12/06 | Skyway Theater (Studio B) | Minneapolis, MN

12/07 | Lincoln Hall | Chicago, IL