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Yvng Vin champions the rez
The Salish and Kootenai rapper discusses how to be a non-corny role model, Montana's growing hip-hop scene and more. Plus: Calamity Cowboy brings the weird on "Mecca is Waiting."
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Welcome, friends, to a very musical installment of Big Sky Chat House.
I’m so thrilled to share this interview with the Salish and Kootenai hip-hop artist Yvng Vin (the “v” ain’t a typo—it’s pronounced “young”) about making music that champions his community, his inspirations and his show, tomorrow, at Valley Fest in Lakeside.
But first, let’s talk country music.
Montana Song of the Week
Calamity Cowboy - “Mecca is Waiting”
Picking a track to highlight was no easy task, but “Mecca is Waiting” captures much of what I love about Calamity Cowboy.
Most notable is Larry Leonard’s stellar baritone —equal parts Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, with a bit of Orville Peck and Paul Cauthen’s molasses croon, too—which cuts effortlessly through the hazy arrangement.
Like much of Lazy Livin’, “Mecca is Waiting” finds strength in its deliciously languid pace—not dissimilar from the stoner-surf rock of Mac DeMarco—and guitarist Rohan Steele’s sweet licks. Also like many of the other tracks on the album, it treads into atypical lyrical territory: “Mecca is Waiting” is ostensibly about a guy whose sweetheart demands that he convert to Islam, or she’ll break up with him. “It’ll be hard to stop eating pork,” he laments.
“Mecca is Waiting” is a delightfully magnetic and peculiar song from one of Missoula’s most exciting bands. Their livin’ may be lazy, but their craft is anything but.
Yvng Vin talks Montana’s hip-hop community, DMX and Native pride
In a few short years, the Salish and Kootenai artist Yvng Vin, aka Yvng Vin the Rez Chief, has carved out a niche for himself in Montana’s vibrant hip-hop scene. Both on his own tracks and in collaboration with artists like Foreshadow and Eddwords, Yvng Vin has employed his commanding voice and magnetic presence to various ends. While tracks like “Where the Rez At?” pay homage to the gangsta rap style of DMX and 50 Cent, other songs find him speaking directly to young people about more everyday issues, like COVID safety measures and not smoking cigarettes.
Ahead of his performance tomorrow, June 10, at Valley Fest in Lakeside, I caught up with Yvng Vin to chat about his influences, his pride in being Native and where he’s headed next.
Max: Going back in time, what are some of your earliest memories of loving music?
But my mom and dad, they were both born in the eighties, when hip-hop was kind of born. So as a kid I always grew up loving hip-hop. My dad, he used to have an old, little Cadillac. He had a janky sound system, and we'd cruise around and bump 50 Cent, DMX.
Ever since a little kid, I always idolized that kind of lifestyle. They had the cars, the chains, the girls, the looks, everything.
When I was sitting in the car, when the beat thumped out and 50 Cent was rapping, it seemed so real. Everybody wanted to be gangster because of him. You believed every single word that he said when he was rapping. When DMX was barking at you, you believed all the aggressiveness coming from him.
Every night when I went to bed, I watched Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Like, every night.
Is the hip-hop scene in Montana growing? How do you describe the scene?
The hip-hop scene is still exponentially smaller than in other states. But as of right now, hip-hop is kind of booming in Montana. When I first started I was nineteen, and I only knew a couple of rappers: the group I'm part of, Shadow [aka Foreshadow] and Eddwords. That was kind of really about it until I branched out and met people at shows and made connections.
I'm only 24 and there's a lot of young kids that are eighteen that are taking off right now. I know at least twenty kids on my rez, high schoolers, that are rapping and they're just kind of doing their own thing.
Hip-hop is the most popular genre in the world right now, so it's gonna reach every corner. Montana’s still a country state—country music, farmers—but hip hop's the most popular genre on the rez.
It really seems like artists in the community really support each other and hold each other up.
When I first started, you couldn't even get a like, or a follow back, or an artist to even want to collab with you; [everybody] was just doing their own thing. No one wanted to be friends—it was just an ego battle.
Right now I feel like we're all trying to build a wave and feed off each other. So it's really cool to be part of this right now because if we keep it going, it could be something bigger.
On tracks like “United We Native” or “Nicotine Free,” it seems like you're speaking pretty directly to a younger audience, almost like a PSA. Was that your intention?
I've always prided myself on not being a one-lane artist. With my tribe, I've had the privilege of doing tribal campaign songs to directly talk to the youth. I wouldn't say by any means that I'm the greatest role model, but I want to be someone these kids can look up to and to take some notes from. I want them to take that and go farther than me.
So for example, with “Nicotine Free,” at this point in my life, I'm really into fitness, so I stopped smoking. I want to take that seriously. So I thought it was a good idea to talk to the kids, you know? In high school, I didn't take that kind of health stuff seriously. And I was like, “This might be corny for you guys, but this is actually something that's [important].”
[For example], if you wanna play college basketball—basketball's a big thing on the rez—don't smoke.
I love your track “Where the Rez At?” Would you consider it an homage to DMX, and his song “Where the Hood At?”
The first idea was a tribute—I made it after DMX passed away.
I was sad, and I wanted to make a tribute song to him, but I also wanted to make an anthem for my rez that was universal. I wanted to paint a picture of the rez for people that are not here.
I want to put on for the rez as much as I can for the outside world to see.
What’s got you excited about playing Valley Fest tomorrow?
The person that's putting it together, 46 Cal, he's bringing in out-of-state artists; it'll be cool to see what kind of wave they're on compared to Montana artists.
What are your next goals?
I want to be making a hundred percent of my money from music. I just want to get out there and see the world and make connections and try to get it while I can.
I'm just a Native kid from the rez that's trying to make it big. With my rapper name, Yvng Vin the Rez Chief, you can get the sense that I really am proud to be a Native American. I really try to represent the bottom 2% as much as I can and put on for Native Americans across the whole country. I just really take pride in that.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Thanks so much for being here. In the meantime, you can always reach me via email, the comment section below, or on the Elon Machine, @SavageLevenson.
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