Interview with Gyasi Ross about spoken word release 'Isskootsik'

Gyasi Ross. Photo from Facebook

AXS interviews attorney and author Gyasi Ross about Isskootsik (Before Here Was Here), the spoken word album he's releasing next month:
AXS: Who are some of your musical influences, and how did you get introduced to Hip Hop?
Gyasi Ross: Well, I grew up with pow-wow music—my family was very active in pow-wows. Also, I grew up on old school country; artists like Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Robbins, and Conway Twitty were huge! It’s a very rural setting, and there are really, really cowboys there. It is Montana!

But I was just always a curious kid and was constantly open to things that had significance even then—so when I first watched “Beat Street” on the old school Betamax, I understood the desperation in the music and the culture… that many reservations are desperate places with a tiny, tiny margin for error, just like those city streets—we didn’t have the same opportunity to mess up, our family bailing us out of trouble or getting a new shot. On the rez, if we messed up, chances are that we weren’t going to get a second chance—I recognized that same sense of desperation in hip-hop music. My older brother died when I was a little kid, as did many of my male cousins—statistically, Native men live shorter lives than any other American.

We just buried so many of the young men in my family, and it seemed like our lives were so expendable, Melle Mel coulda been talking about rez life.

YouTube: "Marlon Brando" feat. Sacred Water
AXS: If you were never introduced to Hip Hop, would your life have turned out differently, and why?
Gyasi Ross: I’m 100 percent certain it would’ve been different. The reason why I went to school in NYC was because I HAD to, and at some point, I had to live in the birthplace of Hip Hop. I mean, Hip Hop motivated me to that level—I had to taste it, feel it. My scope was just bigger because of Hip Hop—I didn’t feel “alone”—poverty can be a very lonely thing that makes you feel like the walls are closing in.

But Melle Mel made me realize that at least someone else out there felt the way I did. When I was a teenager, and was starting to be able to articulate questions of equity and justice, I heard KRS-One saying, “Where is our God, the God that represents us? The God that looks like me, the God that I can trust?” Just like any great song irrespective of genre, Hip Hop gave words to the thoughts that I was having, the confusion, the pride, and the anger—Fight the Power—whatever it was.

Get the Story:
Big Indian Gyasi Ross to release 'Before Here Was Here' (AXS 4/23)

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Gyasi Ross releases spoken word album 'Isskootsik' on May 12 (4/20)

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