Two months ago, VICE premiered Reservation Rap, an 18-minute documentary that gave the world of Minnesota Native rap unprecedented visibility on the national stage.
Now the stars of that documentary — Baby Shel, Tall Paul, and Thomas X — are taking their global momentum on tour.
"I think the documentary represented us well," Tall Paul says. "It's legit and really organic. It got our names out there, too, and it's been nothing but positive feedback. It's like, while we have the buzz, let's just try to ride the wave."
The Reservation Rap Tour kicks off Tuesday at Flathead Reservation in Montana before taking a seven-week break and resuming in July in Wisconsin and northern Minnesota. But the five-stop celebration of Native American hip-hop is more than just a way for the three headliners to capitalize on their Apple Music co-sign. It's a veritable movement.
Paul, who scored a surprise endorsement from Dave Chappelle in 2013, wants the Reservation Rap Tour to not just entertain but also to inspire. He knows that Native children — especially those on reservations — can feel hopeless. He's seen the good his music can do for people.
"A big goal for all of us is to get out there to show all the Natives that there are Native rappers people don't know about." Paul says. "We're competent people. We're not people with low-self esteem. This is a tool of empowerment, to show the community that we're just as good as anyone else."
The idea for the tour came when a booker in Texas reached out to Paul to bring him and his co-stars to the Lone Star State. Limited resources nixed that plan, but Paul, Shel, and Thomas X held on to the notion of teaming up to capitalize on what VICE and Apple Music had sparked.
It was Thomas X who coordinated the July shows, using his connections in the Minnesota and Wisconsin Native communities to map out a victory lap for the three firebrands.
The artists behind the Reservation Rap Tour have bigger ambitions than the five scheduled dates currently on the docket. There have been talks about bringing the show to National Night Out in Wisconsin, and they're looking into booking colleges in the fall. The three have even talked about laying some of their mission to wax.
"We talked about doing at least a song," says Paul, who is a frequent collaborator with Thomas X, Baby Shel, and opener Left Field. "Maybe we'll shoot a video for it. Something we can perform together at these shows, unified. Who knows, maybe it could turn into a project or something."
Even if the tour doesn't outlast its current schedule, it's already helped build connections within a community of Native artists who can band together to help their shared cause. The three MCs have bridged the gap from Baby Shel and Thomas X's Red Lake Nation to the Natives living in Minneapolis, including Tall Paul. That's a huge step for a still-developing musical community.
"We've never been super close, but I've known those guys for a long time," says Paul of Thomas X and Baby Shel. "But I think this has brought us definitely closer. It's something we all have in common."