Underscore News/Report for America
Darren "Young D" Metz and Quinton "Yung Trybez" Nyce want the world to know that after more than two years surviving the pandemic, they’re doing just fine. That’s the message behind their latest single, “I’m Good.”
“We're just as anxious, but putting that energy into a good thing and letting the world know, like, ‘We're good,’" Nyce said.
The duo grew up playing basketball together on the Haisla Nation reserve in Kitamaat Village, British Columbia and dreaming of bringing Indigenous voices and stories to listeners across the world. They formed Snotty Nose Rez Kids in 2016, and the following year they dropped their first two albums, “Snotty Nose Rez Kids” and “The Average Savage,” just nine months apart.
Prior to 2020, Snotty Nose Rez Kids spent the majority of the year touring Canada, Mexico and Australia. Just before the pandemic hit, they planned to launch their first U.S. tour. Now, they’re making up for lost time.
“Life After,” their fourth album released last October, explores the toll the pandemic took on mental health, illness and the loss of loved ones. It also addresses issues impacting Indigenous peoples on reserves in Canada, such as poverty, systemic addiction and an epidemic of suicide.
The record is their third consecutive album to be nominated for the Polaris Music Prize short list. Their 2017 record, “The Average Savage,” was also nominated for a JUNO Award, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys, for Indigenous Music Album of the Year in 2019.
Metz and Nyce caught up with Underscore News about their journey, their message and what’s next. This conversation, which took place shortly before they performed for an electric crowd at Mississippi Studios in Portland, Oregon on Wednesday, Sept. 7, has been edited and condensed.
Your new single "I'm Good" dropped on Sept. 9. What inspired the track?
Yung Trybez: It's just letting the world know that through all the struggles we went through over the last couple of years during the pandemic, like "Life After" was talking about the struggles and getting through it, and "I'm Good" is letting the world know that we're okay. It's just letting the world know that we have high spirits, the energy is back, the creativity is back, and the depression is diminished to a low. We're just as anxious, but putting that energy into a good thing and letting the world know, like, "We're good."
You’ve got a lot of big things happening. Congrats on joining Bad Apple Music [the first Indigenous-owned and operated record label in Australia]. What does that mean for you?
Young D: We've been wanting to grow, you know what I mean? And a lot of the struggles that we deal with up here [in Canada], the Indigenous people in Australia deal with down there. So it's like, they relate. They relate to our music; we relate to them.
Yung Trybez: Yeah, man, our struggles are the same, or stories are the same, and our voices are equally as powerful. We're all fighting for the same end goal. And for us, we don't look at it like relating to struggles; we look at relating to the power that we have within ourselves.
You guys use your art form to address a lot of issues impacting Indigenous people across Turtle Island: loss, suicide, Indian residential boarding schools, missing and murdered Indigenous people, so much more. What has been the response?
Yung Trybez: To be honest, man, it's all been for the most part positive. The people that are listening to our music are usually fans, first and foremost. Even those negative reviews, it's all love to us.
You brought up residential school, mental health and suicide epidemics in our communities. The loss of land, loss of culture, loss of language, loss of self, in some instances, and for us, man, as much as we try and separate ourselves from that, we can't because that is who we are. And you can't separate politics when it comes to being Indigenous.
In these colonized communities, this colonized world, we're always going to have to fight for who we are. You're never going to be comfortable. And for us, man, I feel like as much as you try to separate yourself from anything political, it'll always come back to that, because land and identity go hand-in-hand.
So for us, it's just like, we can try to have fun with the records and stuff, and that's what "I'm Good" is. That's what this whole next run of songs is. But at the end of the day, when you listen to the music, it's still very political. It's still very us. It's still very Snotty Nose Rez Kids.
Talk to me about the song "Grave Digger.” Why do you think so many people can connect to the track, especially since the pandemic?
Yung Trybez: "Grave Digger," it's got so many mixed messages and mixed feelings and mixed everything in that song. You know, me and Darren (Young D) grew up playing basketball in our community, and one of the things that we were taught to do was to be grave diggers, legit grave diggers for our community. So like when our elders passed away, our family members passed away, we had to dig the graves ourselves. When my brother took his life, we actually dug his grave. Like, we did, you know? And that's just how our community is.
We connected "Grave Digger" to the struggles we had within the last few years. A lot of demons that we've been burying came to the surface and we just had to deal with that. So with "Grave Diggers," that's letting the world know that we're trying to unpack all of that emotion, all those feelings, and all those situations that we're burying and dealing with them in the moment.
Young D: Basketball is huge in Indigenous communities, and especially in B.C. Whenever there was a death in the community, out of respect for the family, we would shut down everything. [Everyone] tries their best to not play outside or go to the gym. Out of respect for the family, we'll shut it down.
How are you trying to encourage Native youth with your music?
Young D: We wanted to give our version of where we're from, and the communities that surround us. When you think of living on reservations, it's all the negative statistics and all that stuff, stereotypes. And we had a good upbringing. Our community is beautiful. We weren't just raised by our household, we were raised by the community. Everybody looked out for one another. I remember, we'd be swimming down the at docks where all the boats are at, and just somebody older or like an elder would be coming in and be like, "Darren your gran's trying to call you. It's dinnertime.” And so that's the picture we were trying to convey.
What inspires you to continue to create your music and art?
Yung Trybez: I would say first and foremost, each other. Me and him uplift one another every single day. Every time we get into the studio, it's me and him together. We're just pushing each other, pushing our own boundaries, and challenging each other every single day to be better people that are artists, better rappers, better whatever.
Young D: Yeah, again, that comes from basketball. You know what I mean? I can't be all I can be until the next person beside me is all they can be.
One of my favorite lines from “After Dark” was, "I pray we are at peace and not in pieces. And that we break the cycle for my nephews and my nieces." What inspired you guys to write that?
Young D: Man, so we had to move away from home to pursue this. Right? I mean, maybe we could have done it if we stayed in Kitamaat. But I guess we'll never know. When you're away from home, you just miss so much. We've missed so many births of our nieces and nephews, birthdays, and all these milestones, weddings and funerals. And it hurts sometimes. But we always keep our eyes on the bigger picture of why we're doing this.
"After Dark" is just like, the sun shines bright after the dark. I'm not just doing it for myself, I'm doing it for my family and the next generation of our nieces and nephews that are going to come up after us and hopefully take the torch further than we did.
Coming back to how you use your music to hold Canada accountable when it comes to issues like missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, can you talk about your track "Red Sky At Night?"
Yung Trybez: No matter what happens to us, in this world, there's always hope in tomorrow. That's what "Red Sky At Night" symbolizes. When I wrote "Red Sky At Night," I talked about Indigenous kids getting killed by non-Indigenous people, white people in Canada, and getting away with it, because we are looked at as less than human. In my opinion, we're disposable.
Like Darren said earlier, this is a very contemporary style of Indigenous art. As much as I don't like being a voice for the people, that's what we are considered. We always keep that in mind. "Red Sky At Night," for me, it's just like letting our communities know that we share their pain.
You brought up the Juno Awards earlier. I just want to say your set was awesome. I saw it and loved it, the masks, fancy dancers and everything. As a Native person, that was so cool to see on TV. How was that for you guys to perform on a stage of that scale?
Young D: That was a milestone that we've been working towards for a long time.
Yung Trybez: We've always said it since we were kids.
Young D: And, man, that performance was like, I'm not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous going into it, there's gonna be millions of people watching this. Then the intro came in, the drums started hitting, I'm like, "Alright, it's go time."
Yung Trybez: Next thing you know it's over,.
Young D: All I know was I was dancing like my f—g life depended on it for like three-and-a-half minutes.
Yung Trybez: Bringing fancy dancers and West Coast dancers on stage, bringing our culture to the forefront, that's been a goal of ours that we've had since we were young. The thing that we always stressed was that we can't tell another man's story. We can only tell our own. So we're not going to try to pretend to be like these other rappers. We're not from the streets; we're from the Rez. So that's what we're going to tell.
Lead photo: One the first stop of their "Sink or Swim" tour, Quinton "Yung Trybez" Nyce and Darren "Young D" Metz of the Snotty Nose Rez Kids performed their new single "I'm Good" at Mississippi Studios in Portland, Oregon on September 7, 2022. Photo by Jarrette Werk / Underscore News