Tying tradition to today: Red Lake hip-hop artist’s new song involves local youth

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Red Lake hip-hop artist, Thomas X, stands in front of a Red Lake Boys and Girls club mural in a screenshot from his new music video for his song, "I’m Anishinaabe." Submitted photo.
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RED LAKE -- Some Red Lake Boys and Girls Club youth who had been working on traditional dances for now-canceled powwows were recently given a unique opportunity to show off their skills.

Red Lake hip-hop artist Thomas Barrett, who goes by the stage name Thomas X, gave the 9 to 14-year-old's a virtual stage in his new music video. “All of these kids would take any opportunity to get in their regalia,” he said.

His recently released song, “I’m Anishinaabe,” blends contemporary powwow singing with modern hip-hop and lyrics about Ojibwe culture.

The music video depicts scenes in the Red Lake Boys and Girls Club gymnasium, in front of the lake, on the empty powwow grounds and in front of youth-created graffiti murals.

Seven children were involved including some fancy shawl dancers, a jingle dancer and a few young singers.


Brandon Graves, Shawn Who, Alexander John Aman, Shia Donnell, Kianna Kingbird, Joanna Kingbird, Marya Kingbird, Ray Defoe, Jerritte "June" Caldwell Jr., and Jaycel Cloud were all credited in the final project.

Barrett became the head of the boys and girls club in July 2019, with one of his main goals being strengthening the club’s cultural programming. The music video is a "celebration of the Ojibwe culture programs and the resilience of our youth," he said.

He believes it is important for youth in Red Lake to connect with their traditional roots.

“We’re a unique boys and girls club,” he said. “Our culture is our identity and it’s very important to learn at a young age.”

In just the first few months with Barrett at the helm, the club's membership has doubled.

While COVID-19 has led to some setbacks with programming, Barrett said he still tries to provide things online, including weekly Ojibwe language instructional videos on Facebook live.

Hannah Olson is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer covering education, Indigenous-centric stories and features.
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