richie plass | yl voice | april 2018
Growing up on the Menominee Indian Reservation, the two major styles of music that were played in our house were country-western and rock 'n' roll. When I began playing music in the 1960s, those were the songs we played. Here in the 21st century, there are many genres of music. Rap and hip-hop are widely popular, with one of the most talented Natives in the business residing in our neck of the woods.
Rapper and hip-hop artist Gary D is the stage name for Gary Dodge, Jr., who lives on the Menominee Reservation where he was raised. The lyrics of his songs reflect his life, culture, heritage and, at times, issues concerning Native Americans nationwide. His new recording is titled “Independent Dreams." This young man is immersed in his art, having not only written the songs, but he also did most of the engineering, production, recording and packaging.
“Independent Dreams" is a fine mix of tradition, activism, various rhythms and humor. “Grew up in 2 Worlds" is a great example of his experiences growing up. He combines stories from the rez and also challenges in the non-Native world. The music is not in the flavor of an old Hank Williams love song or the fast-paced style of Chuck Berry, rather his rhythm fits his own groove and his lyrics come from his life.
“Warrior with Heart" is about his feelings about the pipeline protest in South Dakota. It also addresses many political and social issues Native Americans face each day across the United States. His voice and style in this song are very motivational.
One neat aspect of this whole project for me is how he seems to use his voice. He seems to be able to change inflection, tone, tempo, volume and even style to add to each particular song and message. Plus, the addition of some special guests with their particular styles is an added pleasure.
“From the Rez" hits close to home for me. He's able to say things in his style about life on the reservation in the 21st century. His rhythm and voice sound nothing like us old timers — it's aggressive. He shares his inner thoughts, emotions and gratitude.
The title song, “Independent Dreams" is my favorite. His delivery and tone set this song apart from many other songs I have come to know as “rap." It's melodic, provocative and proves he continues to grow, take chances and yet keep a close tie to his homeland, culture and heritage. That, in itself, is hard to do in any genre.
Full disclosure: I'm on this album too. For more than 11 years, I was a co-host for a radio show that played traditional and contemporary Native American music. Gary D was a guest with me several times. Last year, he told me, “I'm going to do a new recording and I'd like you to be on it. Would you?" I looked at him in total amazement and said, “What? I don't know how to rap!" He flashed that great smile of his and said, “No. I want you to do some of the stuff you did on the radio." Well, I agreed, so there are three cuts on the CD that are titled “Skit." Those are me and I was and am honored to have been invited to be part of this project.
So if you want some old time stories along with 21st-century music from the rez, make “Independent Dreams" a part of your music collection. Gary D's end result is, as us old timers still say, “Right On!"
Richie Plass is a Menominee and Stockbridge-Munsee writer from Wisconsin. He has been writing and playing music since the 1960s.