On Monday, November 9, the UCR department of music, in collaboration with Native American Student Programs (NASP) held the event “Hand Drums for Whiskey Bottles: Indigenous Hip Hop, Traditional Music, and Politics” in which hip hop artist Quese IMC gave a performance. This event revolved around celebrating Indigenous American hip hop, and the difficulty these artists have face in getting recognition for their work. Quese IMC, a rapper of Pawnee and Seminole heritage has been at the forefront of creating this genre of rap music and melding older Indigenous American soundscapes with contemporary hip hop. He has worked with many other prominent rappers, such as Mos Def and Run DMC.

The event was broken up into three different sections, with Quese IMC arriving before his set to engage in some dialogue with the crowd. He discussed the origins of indigenous hip hop, and the struggles he contended with while attempting to create and elevate this genre, as well as the political elements of his work. He suggested that his music was an attempt to productively assert his identity as an Native American through art. Discussing his inauspicious beginnings as a Hip Hop artist, he stated, “There were times that there were only four people in the crowd, but you know what? We rocked those four people!”

After discussing his beginnings and the struggles of establishing Indigenous hip hop as a genre, he took questions from the audience. For example, on being asked what the connection between hip hop culture and Native American culture is, he stated, “a long time ago, our people in the South East had old time ceremony songs, which were call and response. They said that during the wars, the first and second Seminole wars, there were a lot of natives dying in battles during that time. The people would sing these songs, and you could hear these songs echo in the everglades, and the slaves escaping slavery or on plantations would hear these songs. Those cadences you hear in old black spirituals come from these songs, which would later on influence hip hop.” The entire event was filled with many informative gems such as this, that showed how neglected Native American culture still is to this day.

After dialogue with the audience, another indigenous hip-hop artist, Zero opened before Quese with his set. His music was powerful, and combined traditional hip hop beats with incendiary lyricism about social justice issues. Zero’s performance was full of energy, and incredibly emotional as the rapper also rapped about the conditions of the Native American community.

After Zero’s opening set, Quese IMC took to stage and began performing his album “Hand Drums for Whiskey Bottles.” While Quese IMC’s lyrics were also very political, his songs were also a celebration of Hip Hop and his indigenous roots. A few of the songs were more upbeat anthems about celebrating his heritage. Moreover, he also included more audience involvement during his set, at one point even asking everyone in the audience to get out of the stands and dance. His performance was also incredibly energetic, and the reaction from the crowd was very positive. The event successfully showcased the talents of Quese IMC, as well as the vitality of Native American hip hop. While this subgenre is still relatively new, it’s influence to the Native American community cannot be understated.