Meet the Young Indigenous Rappers Taking Reservation Dogs by Storm

Introducing Reservation Dogs

Reservation Dogs is a groundbreaking Indigenous American comedy-drama television series created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi that premiered in August 2021 on FX on Hulu (https://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/reservation-dogs). The show follows a group of four Native American teenagers growing up on a reservation in eastern Oklahoma who commit petty crimes to fund their effort to get to the mythical land of California. Reservation Dogs stands out for having an almost entirely Indigenous cast and crew, bringing a perspective to television that is rarely seen. It portrays contemporary Indigenous youth in a real, nuanced way, subverting stereotypes. The show has been praised for bringing much-needed Indigenous representation to television and capturing the lives and culture of Indigenous communities with authenticity.

Meet Bear Smallhill

Bear Smallhill is one of the main characters on the FX comedy series Reservation Dogs. He is portrayed by Canadian actor D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, who is of Indigenous descent. According to FX Networks, Bear “grapples with his place in the world as he struggles to find his way home.”

bear smallhill rapping enthusiastically on stage

Bear is a young teenager living on a reservation in rural Oklahoma. He was born and raised in the fictional town of Okmulgee on the Muscogee Nation reservation along with his friends who make up the “Rez Dogs” crew. Despite his rough exterior and occasional reckless behavior, Bear has a good heart and cares deeply about his community.

At his core, Bear is struggling to find himself and his purpose. He lost his parents at a young age and was primarily raised by his grandmother. This has left Bear grappling with grief and searching for guidance from his ancestors on the right path forward. Overall, Bear brings both humor and heart to the show as he tries to honor his roots while figuring out his place in the contemporary world.

Meet William Knifeman

William Knifeman is portrayed by actor Dallas Goldtooth in the FX series Reservation Dogs. Goldtooth was born in 1983 in Saint Paul, Minnesota and is of Dakota and Diné heritage (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dallas_Goldtooth).

In Reservation Dogs, Goldtooth plays the character of William “Spirit” Knifeman, who along with his friend Bear Smallhill, forms the rap duo Mose and M, and provides comic relief throughout the first season. William is one of the four main characters in the show. According to IMDb, he appeared in all 8 episodes of Season 1 (Source: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5350054/).

Not much background is provided on William’s character in the show, except that he is from the same fictional Oklahoma reservation as the other main characters. However, as an actor, Goldtooth himself was born in Minnesota and is known for his work as both an actor and Native American rights activist.

Forming the Rap Duo

william knifeman playing drums and rapping with bear

Bear and William first crossed paths in the pilot episode of Reservation Dogs. Bear was looking for his gang after they ditched him at the gas station. Meanwhile, William was working at the gas station when Bear wandered in asking for directions. Although their meeting was brief, the two recognized kindred spirits in each other as young Indigenous rappers and musicians.

In the third episode “Hunting”, Bear ends up at William’s house after his gang leaves him behind again on a hunting trip. Bonding over their love of music, the two start jamming together with Bear on vocals and William on the drum. It’s clear through their impromptu jam session that the two have natural chemistry and talent when rapping together.

After the successful musical collaboration, Bear and William decide to form an official rap duo, combining Bear’s songwriting and vocals with William’s beats and drumming. Together, the two complementary talents form a formidable partnership dedicated to making their voices heard through hip hop. Their fateful first meeting at the gas station was just the beginning for the rapping prodigies.

As an official duo, Bear and William begin writing original songs and recording their music together. Though still young, the two have sky-high dreams of making it big in the rap game and being a voice for Indigenous youth through their music. Their formation into a rap duo opens up limitless possibilities for the two talented teens.

Sources:
https://ew.com/tv/reservation-dogs-season-1-finale-recap/
https://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/reservation-dogs

The Duo’s Music

Bear and William formed their rap duo while working together on the FX comedy series Reservation Dogs. Their music combines hip hop and blues, reflecting their Native American heritage as well as their shared passion for blues. According to an interview in Rolling Stone, Bear and William write much of their own material, drawing inspiration from life on the reservation and experiences growing up Indigenous in America.

Their lyrics often address issues like poverty, addiction, and racism while promoting empowerment and cultural pride. As William told NPR, “We want our music to speak the truth about our communities in a way that uplifts our people.” Despite the serious subject matter, their songs also contain wry humor and plenty of classic hip hop boasting.

While their independent EP “Rezzy Dogs” showcases their raw talent, the duo gained more mainstream exposure when they were featured on the Reservation Dogs soundtrack. Songs like “Paint and Coffee” blend old school beats with lyrical storytelling as the two trade verses chronicling daily life on the rez. Much of their music has an upbeat, celebratory vibe even as they tackle heavy topics.

As an unsigned act, Bear and William have relied largely on word-of-mouth, social media, and live shows to build their fanbase. However, their heartfelt brand of reservation blues rap has caught the attention of several record labels according to Bear Williams Blues. With their rising popularity and critical acclaim, the duo seems poised to break out even further.

Impact on Native American Representation

Bear Smallhill and William Knifeman’s musical duo has had a significant positive impact on Native American representation in mainstream media. As the first prominent Native American rappers to achieve mainstream success, they have provided much-needed representation of Indigenous artists and stories in popular culture.

bear and william smiling and doing a fist bump

For decades, Native Americans have faced severely limited and often stereotypical portrayals in film, TV, and music (PBS). Smallhill and Knifeman’s music offers a nuanced glimpse into the lives of contemporary Native youth and brings attention to ongoing struggles like poverty and substance abuse. Their lyrics tackle important issues with thoughtfulness and care.

The duo has opened doors for other Native musicians and creators. Their success demonstrates that audiences are hungry for authentic Indigenous stories. Reservation Dogs, a TV show featuring Smallhill and Knifeman’s music, has been praised as a milestone for representation (The Indigenous Foundation). Still, Indigenous communities continue to be underrepresented in mainstream media. Smallhill and Knifeman’s groundbreaking career highlights the need for more Native voices, experiences, and artists in popular culture.

Critical Reception

The rap duo of Bear Smallhill and William Knifeman has received widespread acclaim for their music and representation of Native American culture. Their songs tackle important issues like addiction and indigenous identity with clever wordplay and impressive flows. According to the Chicago Blues Guide, Bear Williams (Smallhill) is a “multi talented bandleader” known for his smooth vocals and skilful songwriting (Chicago Blues Guide).

Fans have praised the duo for bringing attention to contemporary Native American experiences through catchy and meaningful music. As the stars of FX’s Reservation Dogs, Smallhill and Knifeman have built a loyal following that appreciates seeing authentic Indigenous representation on screen. Their songs showcase the duo’s talents and ability to connect with audiences through universal themes like family, relationships, and personal struggles. Overall, critics and fans alike have embraced the duo for their fresh sound and celebration of modern Indigenous culture.

Future Plans

Bear and William have not formally announced any specific future plans or upcoming projects at this time. However, given the popularity and success of their debut album, many fans are hopeful the duo will continue to make music together. In an interview, Bear mentioned wanting to eventually go on tour and perform their songs live if the opportunity arises. He also hinted at the possibility of a follow-up album with William, suggesting they have more stories to tell through their music. While nothing is confirmed yet, it seems likely Bear and William will collaborate again based on the strong creative partnership they’ve formed.

In addition to more music, there is speculation the duo may branch out into other media such as film, television, or podcasting at some point. Their involvement with Reservation Dogs provides a platform should they ever want to take on acting roles or take their storytelling in new directions. For now, the rappers seem focused on building momentum off their first album release. But fans are eager to see what Bear and William do next as they continue bringing freshNative American perspectives into mainstream hip hop.

Legacy and Influence

While Bear Smallhill and William Knifeman have been rapping together for only a short time, the duo has already made a huge impact, especially among Native American youth. Their music gives an authentic portrayal of life on a reservation, breaking stereotypes and providing much-needed representation. As young Native rappers, Bear and William serve as inspirational role models, showing that it’s possible to achieve success without leaving behind your roots and culture.

In interviews, Bear and William often speak about their responsibility as Native artists to use their platform to empower their community. They see themselves as part of a new generation of Native artists and activists carrying on the fight for equality and justice. Their music spreads messages of hope and resilience, as well as highlighting ongoing issues like poverty, addiction, and lack of opportunity on reservations.

Beyond their cultural impact, the duo has also built a dedicated fanbase drawn to their charismatic energy and skills as rappers. Their catchy songs incorporate lyricism from traditional Native languages alongside sharp English wordplay. While the subjects they rap about are weighty, their beats and rhymes make the music infectious and fun. They have cultivated an authentic sound that stays true to their roots while also appealing to contemporary rap fans.

Though at the start of their careers, Bear and William’s originality and talent predict more success ahead as they continue making music and uplifting their community. Their early accomplishments point to a bright future of influencing generations of Native youth to embrace their heritage through music.

bear and william performing live on stage

Conclusion

In summary, the rap duo of Bear Smallhill and William Knifeman has had an important impact as young Native American artists. As main characters on the groundbreaking show Reservation Dogs, Bear and William showcase the talent and creative potential of Indigenous youth through their hilarious and heartfelt music. Their portrayal of everyday life on the reservation provides cultural representation that’s been sorely lacking in mainstream media. As rising stars, Bear and William serve as inspirational role models for Native communities, paving the way for more representation of Indigenous artists and themes. Their witty lyrics and infectious energy breathe new life into the rap genre, while honoring their heritage. Regardless of what the future holds for this promising duo, Bear and William have already made their mark by bringing joy, humor, and Indigenous pride to audiences around the world.

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