Frank Waln photo credit at end of post
To begin: Watch and listen to “AbOriginal”:
This week when I saw Frank Waln’s name in a South Dakota Magazine article about his being featured in MTV’s Rebel Music | Native America: 7th Generation Rises (video at the end of this post), my newfound hip-hop
obsession interest and childhood home briefly converged.
“I’m just a kid from the Rosebud. I almost quit so many times — I thought there was no hope for me to do music. I thought there was no hope for me. I never thought my music would make it out of the rez, let alone South Dakota. It was a big validation for me, and a big milestone in my career.”
Also a kid from the Rosebud, I had to learn more.
A Hip-Hop Kid From the Rosebud
After graduating from White River High School (one county up from the high school I attended, Todd County High School), Frank Waln, a Gates Millennium Scholar, entered Creighton University as a pre-med student. He told Jessica Kossi in an interview for In These Times that a summer spent working in health care, however, showed him that a career in medicine “wasn’t for me”:
“I took a year off, went home to my rez, poured my heart into music and found a new school where I could study that. I came to Chicago four years ago, and I graduated from Columbia College Chicago in May 2014 with a B.A. degree in audio arts and acoustics.”
I explored Frank Waln’s website and read every online article I could find. His story is fascinating and offers another point of convergence with my interest in the experience of gifted youth.
Then I heard his music.
Music and Landscape
Usually it takes several listenings of a song or album before I know if it will be a favorite, but from the first beats of Waln’s “AbOriginal,” I loved what I heard and can’t wait for more.
Watch and listen to “My Stone,” which he wrote as a birthday gift for his mother:
Images of south-central South Dakota are not what we are used to seeing in music videos but are as familiar to me as the palms of my hand. The Badlands. The reservation culture. The Great Plains landscapes with unimpeded horizons. The slowing down of time to human speed. The lack of pretension. In my great aunt Hattie’s words from her diaries, the “nice bright days.” Although I left to go to college in 1982, this is and always will be home.
So how did a Rosebud rez kid end up as a hip-hop artist?
Waln discussed his musical and other influences with Jessica Kossi:
My first encounter with hip hop was a CD I found on the side of the road: Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP. It was so emotional, getting pain and frustration out. When it comes to the delivery in my music, Eminem was an influence. Kanye West was always a big influence as a producer and rapper. Nas, Dead Prez and Talib Kweli influenced my style of rapping. Robbie Robertson, a musician-songwriter, is another big influence as a Native artist. Lyrically, John Trudell, a Native activist and poet, is a big influence. His album Tribal Voice is probably my favorite. My mother, family and community inspire me—the people who are the reason I have a story to tell.
He described finding the Eminem CD to Dawn Turner Trice of the Chicago Tribune: “I knew hip-hop resonated with the youth on my rez, but I never had a personal experience with it until that moment….It changed my life.”
Frank Waln certainly has many more stories to tell and success ahead of him. He was recently named a 3Arts award recipient as one of “Ten Chicago Artists to Watch This Year.” Check out more of his music on iTunes and SoundCloud, and sit back to watch his rise.
Below you can watch MTV’s documentary Rebel Music | Native America: 7th Generation Rises, featuring Waln and other Native American artists and activists.