(this is the first of an ongoing series with our east coast brethren, Chances With Wolves…)
It’s funny that we talk so much about hip hop and we play so little hip-hop on Chances with Wolves. For both my partner, Kray, and myself; hip-hop was essentially our entry point to music, and like many people, hunting down breaks and samples was an educational experience that broadened our horizons exponentially.
About a year ago, I watched Beats, Rhymes & Life — Michael Rappaport’s documentary about A Tribe Called Quest. This brought back all kinds of nostalgic feelings. Having grown up in NYC, It’s hard to overstate how important ATCQ’s music was to us; (the whole Native Tongues for that matter), and how closely connected we all felt to it. I walked by the Square Diner in lower Manhattan while they were filming the video for “Electric Relaxation”, and I remember feeling so proud to be a New Yorker, and so lucky to be able to experience what was coming out of our city at that time. Anyway, there was one scene the doc where Q-Tip is recounting how they got the name Native Tongues, for the collective that included ATCQ, De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, Black Sheep, Leaders of the New School and so on. He said he was cutting up a record by New Birth called “African Cry”; specifically the line “They took away our native tongue, and taught their English to our young”, when Africa (of the Jungle Brothers), suggested they called themselves the “Native Tongues”. This line sounded familiar to me, and I dug up the New Birth album and listened to the whole track. I realized right away that it was an adaptation of “Indian Reservation” or “Cherokee Nation” as it’s sometimes known, which was made famous by Paul Revere and the Raiders.
With a little more digging I discovered that the Raider’s version was based on Don Fardon’s version, which was in turn a cover of a 1959 Marvin Rainwater song called “Pale Faced Indian”. So I dug around some more and found a Santo and Johnny version, a really brassy Hugo Strasser version, a Disco one by Orlando Riva Sound, and then a reggae one by the Jay Boys called “African Blood”. I’m not sure if that came before or after the New Birth, but I thought it was an amazing idea to re-appropriate the lyrical content that was originally about one group of oppressed people, and apply it to the experience of another.
And how, in this roundabout way, from a 1959 song about the plight of the Cherokee People, some of our favorite rap groups found a name for their collective identity that suited them so well. And then I played all these different versions on the radio show, episodes 220 and 240, and I’m not sure if anyone besides me and Kray had any idea why it felt significant, but that’s ok. I just think it’s a beautiful example of the way music connects and self-references and gets re-contextualized..