Naskapi hip-hop group Violent Ground hits the big stage in Montreal

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It doesn’t take long to see that brothers Allan “Lyrik” and Christian “Naskapi” Nabinacaboo are serious about hip-hop – they live and breathe it. Their passion for rapping shines through their actions, words and personas, both on stage and off.

Fresh from a tour through the communities of James Bay and northern Quebec, including a stop at the Wild Berry Festival in Whapmagoostui, the Nation caught up with the Naskapi rappers, their Cree/Naskapi manager Steve Einish and newly added DJ “JYB” (Benjamin Marain dos Reis) at a special performance at Montreal’s Club Soda September 23.

Their group is known as Violent Ground. Thanks to Einish’s hustle and the Nabinacaboo’s growing reputation, they were given the opportunity to open for Missouri’s hip-hop legend Tech N9ne.

Einish’s networking efforts in the city, specifically a connection with Rickey Daley of Rickey D Events, were key. Daley is a Montreal promoter who has booked the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, the Roots and the Fugees. He clearly respects Violent Ground’s talent as well as their efforts to raise awareness of the histories and realities of the Naskapi and all Indigenous people in Canada.

When Violent Ground’s set was pushed back by an hour because of a curfew imposed by the venue, the two took it in stride and still delivered a powerful set. Naskapi and Lyrik complement each other on stage and it’s obvious they’ve been honing their craft for years. Each verse was delivered with precision and each bar was well thought out.

They performed songs about growing up in Naskapi, representing their community and family, and the hard work they’ve put in on the road. More serious themes in their raps addressed the history of colonization, the trauma of residential schools and the feelings of isolation, boredom and loneliness all too common among youth growing up on a reserve.

Still, the message was one of hope. If two Aboriginal kids who started out rapping in their mom’s basement in Naskapi can make it all the way to the stage of Club Soda, so can anyone.

“A big opportunity presented itself,” said Einish, speaking on the chance for Violent Ground to open for an established artist. “And I took it, ’cuz I felt they were ready.”

Einish learned sound engineering at Recording Arts Canada and is currently studying artist management at Trebas Institute. His work ethic, dedication and love of music are paying dividends for both him and his crew.

On the road up north, Einish was the Violent Ground soundman as well as their manager. When he wasn’t shaking hands or bobbing his head to the beat at Club Soda, he was meeting friends and family members outside the venue to get them their tickets. It’s clear that this manager truly cares about his people.

“I’m not a manager who just calls the shots,” he said. “We talk about our plans as a unit. We work as a team and it’s going good – it’s a good formula.”

As for rappers Lyrik and Naskapi, opening up for Tech N9ne and the Strange Music crew was a dream come true.

“It means a lot to us because we grew up listening to Tech N9ne, we always used to share his videos,” said Lyrik. “We also have a similar style. He talks about the same things, in his own terms, and the way he tries to explain what he’s been through. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

A huge motivation for the Nabinacaboo brothers is to “give our place a name,” Naskapi said.

“Our nation, our reserve, we want to put the Naskapi on the map. We’re here, we live way up north and we’re still doing something. We were discovered around 50 years ago by the government and they settled us there, so I think it’s good that in that short amount of time we’re coming out and making a name for ourselves.”

Seeing Lyrik and Naskapi deliver not only a stellar performance but also enjoy an evening of fun with their friends and family, the positive impact of music on their lives was readily apparent. The brothers were jumping up and down, arms around each other, joyfully rapping along with Tech N9ne during the headliner’s performance.

“[Music] inspires people,” said Lyrik, a few minutes before going on stage. “It inspires kids to get away from booze, to get out to the city, to work really hard and to make their names known. If two people from a community of 1200 can make it to the city to open for Tech N9ne, anyone can do it!”

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