Artist uses rap mixed with Native American music to inspire kids
It was a rap concert, but it began with smudging. Smoke from the gently dried burning herbs was offered around to the crowd at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College on Tuesday as they performed the Native American ceremony believed to help with spiritual healing. They rubbed their hands into the smoke and gathered the smoke, which they directed onto their bodies and rubbed on their faces and over their heads.The scent of the herb filled the amphitheatre.
Red Lake rapper Thomas Barrett — who goes by the stage name of Thomas X — uses his unique hybrid of hip-hop and Native American music to reach out to the to young people, by holding concerts mostly at high schools. On Tuesday he performed for FDLTCC students and the entire student body of the Cloquet Area Alternative Learning Center, performing and inspiring the young people to learn about Native American culture and to love one another.
Barrett, who uses imagery and poetry through his music, has been rapping for six years. As he performed for the students, Barrett urged the students to live positive lives.
“There are seven teachings that you should put at your fingertips: respect, truth, wisdom, honesty, courage, humility and love,” said Barrett, who was wearing a Standing Rock sweatshirt and has visited the pipeline protest site several times. He emphasized the seven teachings through a rap song, explaining each of these in a rhythmical manner.
Barrett started writing poems after the shooting at Red Lake High School — his high school. During the shooting, Barrett’s girlfriend and a close friend were killed, which left him devastated.
“I got a tattoo of my close friend on my leg, but I was still so desperate to find away to take the pain away. So I started writing poems, these were just about my random thoughts. Then I started doing poetry that rhymed.”
The 27-year-old — who also happens to be good at playing basketball — says he discovered through his music that a lot of the Native American children did not know their culture and language. That’s why he sings in the Ojibwe language or uses Native American drums in his music, to help reconnect the teenagers and children to their Ojibwe roots.
“I wrote poetry just for fun, I never took it serious until I wrote a song about the Red Lakes and I had some kids come up to me and ask, ‘Hey, what does this word mean in Ojibwe or what did you mean when you said this in the song?’
“I would explain it to the little children what it meant. That is when I realized I could educate the youth and kids about the Red Lake history and culture through my music and that gave me a reason to care a lot more about the music I made,” he said. “Now as the culture grows in me and I learn more, I incorporate it in my music because I feel it has a positive impact on Native Americans.”
When asked why he targets high schools for his concerts, Barrett says wants to tap into the minds of the young people, to let them know they have the potential to overcome whatever obstacles that come their way.
“I try to use my story of how I rose above the obstacles in my life and try to relate it to them as an illustration,” he said. “I suffered for five and half years of drug addiction and seven of alcohol addiction. In November this year I made three years sober, and I try to relate that story too. As I was down a destructive path, my love for music and getting reconnected with my culture kind of helped me through my sobriety. I try to send that out to the young Native American youth who are struggling with addiction.”
Barrett urges the youth and parents to communicate more, as a way of knowing what is going on in the lives of their children.
“We all have great potential no matter how old we are, where we come from, our backgrounds and no matter our ethnicity,” he said. “We all have great potential and we have the power to use that to do good, spread positivity and love. We have got to talk to each other more, social media as a whole has created a disconnection to our world that we do not talk to each other no matter what our backgrounds are or bel