“For me it’s reservation realism, and I hate to steal a Sherman Alexie word but that’s what it is,” said Dean, 31, of Moscow, whose album “Keep Pushin’” was recently released by Culture Shock Original records.
Culture Shock Original bills itself as the “No. 1 urban rez entertainment company of the world.”
It represents the Council, winner of the 2014 Native American Music Award for Best Rap/Hip Hop Recording of the Year, as well as the popular indigenous singer Riah. To be in the company of artists played on reservation radio stations coast to coast is a dream come true for Dean, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Dean grew up in Moscow where he graduated from Moscow High School in 2002. He recently returned to the area with his wife, Jami, and their combined five children, Alexander, 8, Mikah, 5, Taeler, 18, Tukker, 14, and Kylah, 13, along with Dean’s adopted son, Roman McFarlan, 18, who sometimes performs with him.
Growing up in Moscow, Dean said he started experimenting with freestyle rap in junior high.
“I had a gift of tongue,” he said in a phone interview. “At the time it was just the thing, everyone was trying to rap battle. It was just too easy to make people understand that shouldn’t be a career. I had a knack for it. It was a talent and not one that my mom liked.”
Dean’s mother, Connie Fleener, lives in Moscow with his stepfather, Phil. His mother is white while his biological father, who he’s only met twice, was American Indian.
“I started writing about women, drinking, partying, cars – that’s the culture of hip hop – then I grew up,” he said.
Two of his sons died, one a toddler and the other an infant.
“That reservation realism really hit me in the mouth. Once it did I turned around and started letting it out,” he said.
He worked as a logger and moved to Kamiah where he attended the Nez Perce campus of Northwest Indian College. The college is next to the tribal radio station, KIYE 88.7 FM, where a station member encouraged him to create his first album. He tossed it around to locals and shared it with a friend online named Redskin Thundercat. He didn’t realize it at the time, but this was Zhooniya Ogitchida, a member of the Council, who connected him with the band’s manager leading to a contract with Culture Shock Original. This coming summer he plans to perform on the MADD tour with other Culture Shock artists, he said.
“That’s where my passion is right now; alcohol is a poison,” he said about the affect it has had on his life and the lives of others.
In college Dean learned Titooqatimtki, a common American Indian language. He incorporates it into his songs. He believes the beat behind his words is influenced by native drumming, which he describes as “a heartfelt deep thump in the music with the intensity of the pow wow but also the release of family reunion and elation that comes with being a part of something so big and so grand.”
He goes on to add, “the languages and lessons I’ve learned aren’t mine. They’re there for me to share.”
Rising above the hurt is one of his messages, he said.
“The thing I try to push in my music is positivity. It’s a negative world. You got to learn to not let that affect you. That’s a hard thing in a culture that’s affected by negativity all day.”