Breakin' down (stereotypes) with 'tribalistic funk'

By Lisa Heller
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 18, 1996

Chris Richards
Arizona Daily Wildcat


Indians are teepee-livin', headdress-wearin', horse-ridin', savages looking for the Creator in the forests of the Native country.

This image is exactly what Litefoot, Native American rap artist, wants to destroy. Through his tribalistic funk - his own combination of rap, hip hop, and native rhythms - Litefoot is intent on breaking down the stereotypes that are associated with Native Americans.

"My people didn't wear headdresses, and we didn't ride horses," Litefoot said in a phone interview. "The biggest misconception of Native Americans is that all we're good for is what we're known for."

Litefoot took a break from performing almost 1200 shows in two years to star in the 1995 children's movie "Indian in the Cupboard." The movie, based on the 1989 book by Lynne Reid Banks, follows the adventures of two boys who discover that an old cupboard contains magical powers and use it to turn plastic figurines into real figures.

"After a show I did on the Fort McDowell reservation, I was sitting onstage waiting for the crew to take down the set. I was so tired, I just prayed for the Creator to bring me a break, but to continue doing things for my people. The role as Little Bear i n the movie was more than just luck," Litefoot says.

Although Litefoot saw bits of the movie while filming, he was in awe when he finally saw it all put together with the music and special effects. "I was like, 'That's not me, that's Little B."

Litefoot claims the Creator plays a major role in his career. "He allows me to speak strong words. I never plan what I'm going to speak, I just pray that the Creator keeps me strong."

Although he listens to rap frequently, Litefoot only began creating raps after his sister, also a perfomer, asked him to write a rap for one of her songs. "I used to write poetry. I find it easy to express myself through writing," he explains. He began to concentrate on his career after completing a year at the University of Tusla, where he also played football.

Along with acting, recording albums and touring (mostly Indian Reservations, but also places as far as Rome, Italy), Litefoot takes on the responsibility of providing a role model for young Native Americans. "Nobody elected me the spokesman, but hopefully , I can do what I can do for my brothers and sisters."

Litefoot complains that young people are faced with a lot more growing up now than ever before. "All kids who watch TV grew up with cartoons, like Injun Joe being killed by Bugs Bunny. Kids are taught that Indians are stupid and dumb, and that there would n't be any advancement in society if we weren't wiped out. Native American kids are already at a disadvantage to be taken seriously before they walk through the classroom door."

Litefoot knows about that disadvantage, as he was not taken seriously when he began to get serious about his career. "I had an Entertainment Tonight reporter ask me 'How can an Indian rap?' Because it's a foreign idea, it can't be conceived to some peopl e."

That was not the only battle he had to face on the ladder to success. Litefoot was offered a record deal from a major label in Chicago, but declined when they told him to "do stuff just as a rapper, and have nothing to do with being a Native. I knew right then that I had to start my own company."

Red Vinyl Records€ -red for "all the Native people everywhere having to deal with people like that" - is Litefoot's creation. He started it specifically to help out other Native Americans who aspire to careers in entertainment. He just signed the first Na tive American female rap artist, and hopes to help steer her in the right direction.

Good Day to Die, Litefoot's newest album, will be released this summer. This is the first of his four albums to be released across the board to a mainstream audience.

"I like to take my stuff out to the Indian community and sell everything myself, the T-shirts, the CDs. It wasn't until I felt like I did everything to reach our people that I could release my music to everyone. I feel like there are still a lot of issues that need to be dealt with. I need to represent who Indians are today. We have problems like gangs, high school dropout, suicide; it's a whole different situation than before. We ain't gonna go kill buffalo or anything."

Litefoot, who has been called the "red tomato of rap, dance and funk," performed at Tucson High School March 1. The audience, mostly young Native Americans, went crazy as he rapped and spoke his powerful message between songs. He spoke directly to the k ids,"Your ancestors did it for you, what are you going to do for them?" His head was shaved on the bottom, hair long and in a pony-tail, spiked on top. He was dressed not in stereotypical Native American-wear (like a loincloth, headdress, and warpaint), b ut in baggy pants, Nike shoes and T-shirt, and big silver hoop earrings. But that was just his image. "I'm the Pepsi where there's only Coke. I feel like I have a responsibility to represent the Native thang."

Litefoot prides himself on creating a positive image for Native American youths to look up to, but realizes that he's far from perfect. "The pressure is unbelievable. I look to the Creator for strength. I just try not to be a hypocrite."