A group of Alaska Native teenagers premiered a bilingual hip-hop video on Monday showcasing Tlingit culture and Southeast Alaska.
Although goofy, the point of the project was to give local youth a chance to take pride in their heritage and the place they come from.
The video is called “Ix̱six̱án, Ax̱ Ḵwáan,” which translates to “I love you, my people.”
Throughout the video, AJ Hoyle blends Tlingit and English lyrics together over a Native drum beat.
Hoyle raps with a hip-hop star’s swagger across scenes from Southeast Alaska, including the center of a canoe full of paddlers, fields of fireweed and the back deck of a ferry.
But the video and lyrics are fun, silly and, at times, absurd.
Bananas feature prominently, for some reason. They eat them, throw them and dance with them on camera.
Hoyle wrote most of the lyrics himself.
“So I was the rapper, also known as the emcee,” Hoyle said.
He’s written raps before and speaks Tlingit pretty well, but this was his first time rhyming in another language.
That’s why some of the lyrics seem random, even while playing with some familiar hip-hop themes.
“I pick those blueberries / I love my mom / I smoked a fat pound of salmon / Ix̱six̱án, Ax̱ Ḵwáan,” he raps.
He also included a shout out to “This is Angoon,” a Southeast Alaska hip-hop favorite by T.N.T. and Swerv Merv. That video is a couple years old now.
“You gotta shout ‘em out or else they don’t get no publicity no more,” Hoyle said. “And like, if I have to shout out ‘This is Angoon,’ that’s good, because now all of Alaska’s known.”
The video shows the group canoeing on Auke Lake, exploring Haines, riding the ferry, fishing and picking blueberries.
Everything from the video production to ferry tickets and snacks were paid for through grant money promoting health and well-being under a tribal suicide prevention program.
“So when we were doing our storyboard for the lyrics, we wanted to have images that illustrate indigenous life in Southeast,” said Will Kronick, who coordinates the suicide prevention program for the Tlingit & Haida Central Council.
Kronick said the grant was fairly open-ended, so he let the students choose what they wanted to do.
“They decided, ‘Let’s do a music video!’ And all the different scenes came out of that, too, because students wanted to do outdoor things, they wanted to go canoeing, they wanted to go fishing. So really, all of the ideas came from students,” Kronick said.
Kronick, Hoyle and another student, Marcel Cohen, worked on the lyrics for about a month.
Once they had them, it took two days to produce the song with help from Joshua LaBoca, a sound engineer who also helped produce the video. That took about 10 days.
“I didn’t do any micromanaging of them. All I said was do what you do, do what you know and go from there,” LaBoca said. “They weren’t camera shy on each of the days and that’s what made the whole thing smooth, that’s what made it fun.”
The seven students who worked on the video range from 13 to 17.
Most attend high school in Juneau, except for Jacob Brouillette.
He’s from Elim, outside of Nome.
“I was visiting for the summer and I was pretty much loafing around then all of a sudden my Grandma wanted me to get out of the house,” Brouillette said.
Since he’s Yupik and Inuit, he contributed a little bit of his own culture for the video. He demonstrates a broad jump common at events like Native Youth Olympics.
So what did the teenagers take away from the experience?
“New friends and a lot of days without sleep,” said Cohen.
“It’s only OK to say ‘I smoke a fat pound of …’ if ‘salmon’ is at the end,” Hoyle said.
As for their next project, the group already has plans for a music video inspired by Childish Gambino’s “This is America.”
Expect “This is Alaska” to hit the internet sometime in the not-too-distant future.
Watch “Ix̱six̱án, Ax̱ Ḵwáan (I Love You, My People)”: