The aura of N.W.A rubs off on members of the NorthStars and Violent Ground in Montreal

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The early hip-hop group N.W.A is one of the most influential foundations of genre. Drawing on their experiences with racism and poverty, their music resonated with audiences who hadn’t heard their lives described in such unflinching lyrical detail.

Two Indigenous hip-hop groups recently enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity opening for N.W.A’s DJ Yella and Lil’ Eazy-E, the son of N.W.A frontrunner Eazy-E, at Club Le Belmont in Montreal March 29.

For the NorthStars, whose artists Gary Jolly and Elton Salt hail from Nemaska, as well as Violent Ground, made up of brothers Allan “Nomadik” and Christian “Naskapi 9” Nabinacaboo, it was an experience they couldn’t have imagined growing up.

“It was pretty surreal. It was something you wouldn’t think was possible for a Native from James Bay,” admits Salt. “I just kept thinking – is this really happening? It was like a dream come true.”

While their lives and interests may mirror each other, the members of NorthStars and Violent Ground haven’t yet met, much less worked together before. Nomadik and Naskapi 9 both come from the Naskapi Nation community of Kawawachikamach, near Schefferville. Jolly said he is hopeful that both groups will work together or even tour together in the future.

Naskapi 9 says he grew up with listening to his older brother’s old-school hip-hop. When he was 11, his parents bought him a DJ machine that he learned to play around with, making music with friends.

Meanwhile, Nomadik, who was in Ontario for school at the time, was also developing a love for hip-hop, its flow and melody. When he returned home in 2005, he discovered his brother’s mutual interest, and they began making music together.

Years later, their cousin-turned-manager Steve Einish got involved with their music, as they released their first self-titled album in 2014 and the brothers decided they wanted to take music more seriously.

The same year Nomadik returned home, the NorthStars’ Jolly and Salt ended up performing music by former N.W.A. members at an event – and got hooked.

They launched their first single in 2012, and released their first album, Dreams, in 2015. They’ve spent the last three years touring Canada and parts of the US. With an upcoming show in the Innu community of Natuashish, NL, and past shows in BC, they will have travelled from coast to coast.

After the April 13 show, the duo will head back to the studio to produce their upcoming album for a June release on their own record label, NorthStar Records. Currently, they’re working in a walk-in closet turned recording studio, but as Nemaska finishes work on a new youth centre, the duo has been promised a brand-new studio space.

Violent Ground also claims humble roots – their production group, 91 BASE Productions, is named for their mother’s basement and house number.

These four musicians also see themselves as storytellers – reflecting their experiences, and the stories of those around them, and helping educate and motivate others.

“I have a tendency when I’m in pain of writing things down. It’s that pain, that emotion, that’s how I make my lyrics,” explains Nomadik. “It’s stuff that’s happened to me, to us, to my people. We want people to understand what happens to every Native in every community in North America.”

They say their name is meant to reflect the violence that was brought onto Turtle Island, how lands were stolen, and how people are now a product of this violent exchange.

For Jolly, it’s about showing people that there are others out there going through the same things. “Mostly our music is about our experiences growing up, the rest is based on other people’s lives, so they can see that someone feels the same as they do and let them know they’re not alone.”

They have also had to deal with the stage fright that comes with getting up in front of a crowd of strangers. Naskapi 9 admits he was “very shy” the first time he performed, but they kept at it.

“There’s always nerves before, but it just releases when you’re on stage,” Nomadik says.

“For me and Elton to do a good show, you put on a persona you want to present to the people – then you hit the switch,” adds Jolly. “You’re on fire, you’re on point. It isn’t until after you’re done that the stage fright hits you now.”

Both groups are adamant that young people should pursue their dreams.

“This started out as just a dream in our basement,” says Nomadik. “You have to get out of your comfort zone and move forward in life. Don’t care about the people doubting you.”

Don’t be afraid to fail, says Salt: “Fail many times if you have to. The point is you try.”

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