Prolific Profile: Hellnback [Interview]
Winnipeg, MB – As the movement for Native hip-hop gains momentum throughout the Canadian West Coast and Prairies, Hellnback stands out as a leader. Initially trained as a youth worker and Rez classroom support, he uses these skills – coupled with impressive talent – to pass down stories and advice to the fans. He’s fully grounded in his family life and displays a unique sense of purpose in his music as a messenger and storyteller. Hellnback represents for the Native community and is willing to “walk that road and sacrifice” in his efforts to grow his fan base beyond the cultural barriers, seeing the entire world as his audience. HipHopCanada reached out to Hellnback to find out a little more about his music, his intentions, and of course the story he’s telling.
HipHopCanada: How do you define hip-hop, and where do you feel you fit into that definition?
Hellnback: Hip-hop to me is the what rock music was to my mother and father and uncles growing up… it’s hope in a world of shit, but to most an understanding to those who question or wonder how the modern day native lives. It all started as a message and that’s what I feel it is deep down… a place where we could describe our message. Whether bad, good, struggle, wealth, privilege, genocide, political, comical. I guess I would have to say I fit as a messenger aka Beast, the modern day storyteller. Music has always been a form of therapy for me and it has always understood what I was going through at any given time.
HipHopCanada: What drives you to stay in a business that is rarely profitable and highly competitive?
Hellnback: Family, focus, love for the art… .cause that’s what it is, an art. We as artists have a unique way of describing a situation in a way that reaches out to almost everyone, that, and also the fans and those who are not able to talk or speak for themselves or their families. I choose to stand as a voice and do this to show them you can make it someplace better if you are willing to walk that road and sacrifice.
HipHopCanada: Where are you based specifically?
Hellnback: I’m from Samson Cree Nation out of Hobbema, Alberta but I have been living primarily in Winnipeg, Manitboa for the latter part or 10+ years.
HipHopCanada: How has living there influenced your sound?
Hellnback: It opened my eyes to real hustle. In regards to the music industry like what doors need to be knocked on and what walls need to be broken down. It also was just a total different grind coming from the Rez to the city – I started my rap career bouncing in between Calgary and Hobbema at a time when I could count the amount of red skinned MCs in the country with one hand.Coming here I got introduced to a lot of MCs. It was humbling when I met them and they told me the team I helped start the movement with (War Party) influenced them and that even I influenced them directly. So after I moved here to Winnipeg the flood gates opened spilling opportunity all over the place.
HipHopCanada: Who is your primary fan base?
Hellnback: The world… and everything in it. Naw I have always had a solid core fan base consisting of natives from all over the country of Canada and also the United States even across the pond. But as of late in the past two years I have been focusing on myself as a solo artist and the fan base has been growing beyond skin color. Which is awesome I mean hip-hop is the only culture that accepts any and all cultures regardless of background, race, religious beliefs and gender.
HipHopCanada: What tips would you give young artists coming up, or what do you wish someone would have told you when you first started out in the hip-hop industry?
Hellnback: Make sure you know when to draw the line between business and friendship. I know it may sound cliché but when that line gets blurry things get out of focus. And no matter what never make your fans feel like heels or unappreciated cause before an artist is an artist in my mind he’s a fan. I know I was a fan of this music before I started integrating myself into the formula. Hell I’m still a fan.
HipHopCanada: In which ways do you interact with your community?
Hellnback: I left Hobbema (Alberta) to pursue my career and while I was doing so I got my Teaching Assistant Certification and worked at the local high school on my Reservation. I was trained in helping the more troubled students. Last year I was also working at a local school here in Winnipeg, I was a Youth Care Leader and helped with the students. Plus I speak for my people young and old and hopefully bring hope to them and bring a different type of attention to what the image of a native really is, which is hard working focused individuals who would do anything for their family. Being from Hobbema it is hard to steer the attention from the stereotype that the media tends to portray.
HipHopCanada: Which artists have you worked with that left an impression on you, and why?
Hellnback: Drezus is one of them. We always made classic songs under the Rezofficial umbrella. He’s like my lil brother and I believe in his talent. Big Stomp; I started working with Stomp when I started my whole grind as an artist. We are both from Hobbema and he was the sole producer of War Party and with the help of Jay Mak founded Rezofficial Music. We always made great music. Jay Mak of Rezofficial always inspired me to make that fire music. And DJ Kemo mixed and mastered my first solo mixtape My Fitted Is Better Then Your’z Vol. 1. It was an honour to work with such a great guy; he’s a legend and one of the most humblest people I have ever met.
HipHopCanada: Which Canadian artist would you most like to collaborate with?
Hellnback: Kish; I reached out to him, I grew up on his track “Rhyme the World in 80 Days.” Real talk but he is a very busy guy nowadays so we will see if that will ever happen. jackSOUL was a great singer, would love to have worked with him but my one dream artist to work with would have to be Buffy Sainte-Marie. We (Team Rezofficial) lost a JUNO to her. On the hip-hop side of things without a shadow of a doubt Saukrates… best Canadian rapper period. Also would love to continue working with my homie who designed my first mixtape cover RHEK out of Vancouver. He’s dope with the art, Google him.
HipHopCanada: Tell us about past and present successes, as well as future projects?
Hellnback: As of the founding members of the Native super group War Party we were the first natives to ever receive a MuchMusic VideoFACT grant for the song “Feeling Rezerved,” off our first album, The Reign. We released 3 more solid albums and toured the country, touched many lives and reached thousands of communities. Won CAMAs and were nominated for a WCMA.
As the 4th added-on member of the powerhouse crew Team Rezofficial, this time around we achieved great heights with our first album The Foundation. The lead single “Keep on Movin” helped solidify our stake in the ever changing game we call hip-hop. The album won the Canadian Aboriginal Music Award (CAMA) for Best Rap/Hip-Hop album in 2004. In 2005 we were nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award and in 2007 they were nominated for an Aboriginal Peoples’ Choice Award and another CAMA. In 2009 the group released their second album The World (And Everything in It). The album’s first single, “Lonely” became the first ever song from an Aboriginal group to enter the Top 10 on MuchMusic’s RapCity and then to go to number one, the same video also won an Native American Indigenous Image Award (NAIIA) in the same year.
I took some time off to understand the changing climate of the game and to slow down from a crazy life I was leading. I made mistakes and led myself down a couple wrong paths. But I grew to understand what it takes to become an independent artist and a family man. I started focusing on life and what was really important and that was family. No matter what happens in this world I will always have my family my wife (Lisa) and her son (Daysin) and my son (D’angelo) and daughter we share (Jayla) are all that matters in the end. So my new project’s soul is influenced by my family. It’s shows growth and of course it’s lyrical – I mean I am a beast when it comes to the 16’s so to have this lane open to where I can just spazz out and write bars and not give two fucks about time limits it was and is an amazing experience.
The album title is still in the air but the motto will never change its F.O.E. = FamilyOverEverything, I have songs in the works produced by D-Rec who has worked with the likes of Snak the Ripper, Merkules, Young Sin just to name a few. Also Jay Mak who produced my single “Keep on Movin,” look out for his project called Jason Music and also A Tribe Called Red will be helping with some production… Also the Brother DJ Sichuan and Wonderkeys, and many more producers I have always wanted to work with. Tis first official solo offering should be no less than amazing.
HipHopCanada: Any last words for the HipHopCanada online community?
Hellnback: Thanks for checking and supporting local and international Canadian artists; y’all give our voices a home. And that’s your ears and iPhones, iTunes, laptops, burnt CDs whatever device you’re using to check the music. Also check the links for the music, come download some new music from your boy. I feel I’m ready to make some great music to help you understand our struggle. Best advice I ever got was, “Don’t make music for yourself” – that’s selfish and no one will care, make music for the people cause it’s those people that need people like you to be their voice.”I would also like to send a shout-out to King of the Dot founder Travis “Organik” Fleetwood for shining a bright light on the Canadian talent that was always swept under the rug. And HipHopCanada.com, and Amalia Judith for always keeping her ears open to the music scene. Also peep my homie Chris’s new Gear REZ-OF-WAR NATION, reach him at https://www.facebook.com/RezofwarNation. And remember its ALWAYS F.O.E.=FamilyOverEverything. I do this for my wife and kids who I love very much without their love and support I don’t even want to think where I would be today. #SALUTE
Photography by Tyson Anderson and Doug Yazzie