My name is Christopher A. Mike-Bidtah. I am an artist by the name of Def-i from New Mexico. Been practicing the artwork for at least 15 years now and I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, then I also moved out to the reservation by the Four Corners and Shiprock, New Mexico. So, I have been back and forth a lot. Kind of had a hard time fitting into a crowd because I guess when I was going to school in elementary out here, I was probably the only Native American, well there was one other student, that people where like, “you look like him, or you guys are twins or something.” But then we weren’t really related actually. So when I moved out to the reservation at a young age I also had trouble fitting in too because I wasn’t, like you know, Native American strictly from the reservation or brought up that way. So a lot of people looked at me and are oh you are that urban native kid. So, I had trouble fitting in there too.
Eventually, after a while I got into band and poetry. That is how I started to gain a real interest into the arts and music and somehow hip hop found me. You know, I found my positive outlet to get away from all the negative energy that try to ruin people’s lives today. So I take Hip Hop seriously in that way and it has been a great experience being from New Mexico. I love the culture, the traditions, the diversity, and everybody here has a great story to tell so I am happy to be interviewed too.
At first, when I was a youth growing up in the “War Zone,” I had seen a lot of neighborhood kids with boom boxes on their shoulders and some rappers, even at the community center, the guy who would run the meeting for the youth was actually kind of a MC too because he would have a call an responses and he’d almost rap in a way, not really, but kind of, and even my neighborhood friends, they were also kind of into performing some way or another, like they would do Michael Jackson performances where they would like you know, pretend to be Michael Jackson and perform in front of people and I was like oh that’s cool but it never really sunk in until maybe about junior high when I met a poetry teacher named Jim Kelly, he is retired now but he was a good teacher for many years, he is a cool dude. He is from New York. I think he was brought up in the Bronx but somehow he ended up here in the Southwest as a teacher. He was a cool poetry teacher. He was really into rap and he appreciated it.
At the time, I also started to try and break dance because I watched Beat Street when I was really young and watching a lot of the vhs tapes like that, Freestyle Session and you kind of have to dig for those tapes or else go to L.A. Underground across the street, but there was this big Hip-Hop jam/battle thrown by an old crew “Phunky Foot Rhythm” that was called Floor Projections, so I went to Floor Projections and that’s when I really got to see all elements of Hip Hop and how it all worked and coincided together. Later on, going back to school when I was out in rural area communities, Jim Kelly was there to help me, was kind of like hey this is cool, you should be a poet because you have some skills. He would even break dance with us or try too, he wasn’t the dopest b-boy, you know what I mean, but he was from New York so he knew what was up because he came from that era where it all began and I give him some credit for that. I also had a band teacher named Paul M. and Phil Thomas, they helped me become a percussionist and taught me how to play the drums. Being involved with both the drums and the poetry, helped me become a better MC, and develop like ….and understand it.
So I took off right about 6th grade, 7th grade, I started to go to a couple b-boy events. About 8th grade I got into a rap battle, probably between 7th and 8th grade. I like the energy involved because it was, you know the adrenaline, the rush of it all, and after you get done with a rap battle it is nonviolent for the most part so that was cool. The first DJ to hand me a microphone was DJ Cedro. He is in New York now but he was originally one of the first DJ’s around out in the reservation that really had turntables and dug for records and knew a lot about the culture, so some of us considered him to be the ‘Kool Herc’ of the reservation as far as DJ’ing goes. So he handed me a mic back at the High School dances. High School Dances were like nah you are not going to rap. When I would try to pick up the microphone they end up putting up the slow jams or something and I was like oh man this is not my time. He was the first one to tell me go ahead rap with the instrumental, or something like that. So after that I really enjoyed it and like it a lot.
Ended up going to a couple b-boy jams sneaking out from my mom’s house every once in a while and take a ride with some friends. I met a couple friends that were like minded like myself in Kirtland, Farmington area and they were dancers too, some of them still are, a lot of them became family members now, some of them stopped doing Hip Hop or being Hip Hop. So I just wanted to carry the torch and eventually found more like minded individuals in Gallup, New Mexico with a crew called “Foundations of Freedom” (FoF) every second Saturday they would throw a dance on 3rd and Coal in Gallup, New Mexico and that is the place where we started to build our skills, and I would go every second Saturday, even missed prom and all that just because I wanted to be a better mc and better dancer, but these guys were real good dancers and so were the ladies, too. I couldn’t keep up with them, they were so nice, I got to find my niche into be fitting into this culture here and so they needed a MC, too. They have really great dancers, really great DJs, really great visual graphic artists and writers, but as far as MC’ing goes they needed an MC at the forefront, that is where I stepped in, ok this is where I can step in and be the best I can be here, so that went on, I met my brother Wake Self too, at the time he was really shy, he wouldn’t even rap at all, now he is doing real great as an artist too.
Eventually we all became friends at that point in that era and we moved out to Albuquerque later on, kind of were looked at like the outsiders and stuff, like who are these guys, at first. But then, it took a couple years to really be more grounded in the area, like kind of, I don’t want to say reclaim the area, but just to be a part of the culture was the main thing we wanted to be and be respected in that way because we felt we were also talented and skilled as anybody here in the city, props to everybody doing it, still doing it. Today I wanted to kind of, I shifted from being a battle rapper after 20011 till now and try to focus on a greater cause, I guess you would say, not just dissing other people, it is fun at the moment but after a couple years it kind of gets old. We even got into Grind Time Now which at the moment I think the biggest rap battle circuit, now it is KOTD. It is cool to watch the rap battles still for entertainment value but when it comes to serious issues, such as things that are happening to our environment, to our people, and even animals, we should try and rap about something more, maybe something that will raise awareness and inspire people to take a stand or action against things that are causing problems for us.
I really shifted my whole mindset from that point on. I think it started to hit home for me when they started to try and build pipe lines and oil and frack zones basically right near where my grandparents grew up which is by Desert Rock. So basically on the west side of highway 491, that is the mountain ridge, and just on the other side of the road they started to build it. A friend of mine, Elouise Brown, I guess she is my auntie too, she created a coalition to stand against it and protest against, not just protest but take direct action against the companies and block them from building these pipelines and stuff. It was called Dooda Desert Rock, after we did a show out there, the first time we did it there was nobody there it was really like preforming to the spirits and ancestors in a way, cause who else was there listening, right when we got on center stage, it was really interesting, me and Wake got up there, there was like a huge gust of wind and the wind that was instant as soon as we stepped on the stage it was like the wind almost tried to blow us off, it was really weird, but we still came with a friend who was a really dope beat boxer & MC of ours from the bay area, wow we are way out in the cuts now I want to go to the bay and anybody who complains about doing a show way out there, no complaining now, this is so far out there, there is nobody out there, the second time we went out their there was a lot of people. I just released the music video called the Land of Enfrackment and it talks about kind of what I am speaking of right now. Not only just like political issues and ecofriendly that I’m focusing on, but I also make songs too about having fun, about Hip-Hop culture, so I am not just an ecofriendly rapper, I still like to have fun too. New goals of trying to release new albums and more projects and basically just want to inspire and empower others.
Watch Def-i’s Video – “The Land of Enfractment”
So in my CIB or whatever they issue, the certificate of Indian blood I am ¾ Diné some people call it Navajo but that is kind of the name that was given to us, but we call ourselves Diné, so I try to refer myself in that way. The other fourth could be all kinds of things, I feel like we are a culmination of cultures out here. The water people that is my father’s clan, I had said he was adopted so it is kind of hard to really tell his original clan, I guess if you are adopted that you adopt the clan too. My grandfather, Eddie Mike, he is dear to me, he passed on, I really highly respect him, he was like my father to me too. So we as Diné people we have four different clans that we abide by in our lifestyle and live by it. Some people don’t today but it is all good, it was meant for certain purposes that definitely made a lot of sense back then. We still do today but, we look at the number four as a sacred number we also come from a place where we are guarded by four sacred mountains and there are four sacred directions and another cultural part of me dealing with Hip-Hop coincides with me because there is four sacred elements too, and when you are rapping on beats these day’s you are dealing with the four/four time measure pattern basically so the number four is always there, the kick on “one” the snare on “two” the kick on “three” the snare on “four,” and it basically provides a little guideline for rappers and MC’s to rap over.
I feel like the four elements of Hip-Hop also directly correlate with four different, I guess you would say outlets for our people that have been practiced for thousands of years, for instance MC’ing can be considered to be a form of storytelling so a lot of, throughout, still today people still speak in native tongue and have ceremonies where they tell stories and songs, basically prayers over drums. I feel like that is popping, locking, and strutting and all kinds of other dance moves, those aren’t really new moves at all, they are ancient moves but I feel like our people have also been doing dancing as well, around fires, around ceremonies, and also pow wow dancing. Dj’s were kind of like back in the day were considered maybe drummers who were holding the beat for story tellers to sing over while singing too. And then graff artists, as writers, I feel like today, putting your name up on a wall on trains and murals was also practiced back then because people were blowing berry juice on their hand leaving their hand marks on the walls creating petroglyphs and things like that could be considered to be a form of writing on the wall still.
I feel like Hip-Hop was definitely coined in New York back in the 60s and 70s but I feel that the culture behind it has also been practiced many years before that. So I consider myself traditional and also a part of Hip-Hop culture, in modern times, so a lot of the struggles we deal with back from Albuquerque into any reservation or any rural area, going back and forth, you are kind of living in two worlds and you deal with some struggles, such as like I said, fitting in, some people look at you and are like you are not one of us, you are different. The moment I got to the reservation the first day I felt so different everybody was staring at me, this guy is not really like one of us, but maybe we should talk to him or something so I made a couple friends right off the hand but I noticed a lot of the same struggles with other students who were moving in from all different kinds of places moving out to reservations and after I felt like, or after I went and experienced it myself. I was kind of the first kid to reach out to them and be like hey where are you from, I became their friend first because I knew how they felt. So fitting in is like, you know moving in from all over different places, on the reservation there is so much struggle such as lack for opportunities for students and people out there. It seemed like the only way out was either you finish school or you join ROTC and get enlisted in the military, you play sports, maybe, and maybe get a scholarship if you are good enough, or you know the other routes are not really positive at all. It seemed like Hip-Hop was not an option at that point. Hopefully people start focusing on getting more music & art programs out there for students, but at that time we really had to be really good to get exposure. That is why I kind of say hip hop found us because there was no Hip-Hop out there really. I wondered what are we going to do with our lives at this point? I also struggled and dealt with alcohol addiction and being around the wrong crowd that led to partying all the time and ditching school to go drink, I went through that and was kind of a tough period in my life. Hip-Hop saved me there as well as my family.
My mother was a big part of my success today, she never gave up on me but she was always worried about me. I once had this time where we got in a huge argument and she was like you are either going to live with your dad and my dad was not really around during High School period, they split up, that is another problem that you deal out in the reservation is that families get torn apart and some families deal with drug addiction and alcoholism. It really can split families apart, it was tough dealing with that, but my mom was always there up to a certain point, she almost kicked me out, you got to live with your dad, you are causing too much stress and trouble, and I almost did do that, but I ended up taking a chance and try to live better and listening to my mom which ended up working out. If anybody is going through some problems through their young age definitely listen to your parents if you can, you don’t have to, but Hip-Hop definitely saved my life in the sense where I felt if I didn’t have Hip-Hop as a positive outlet, I probably would’ve struggled more with alcoholism and drug addiction and things like that and maybe not be the person I am today.
There is also a lot of poverty in our reservation. People don’t really have much money out there, so you kind of have to deal with a lot of budget cuts and things like that to where you don’t get like the best books or the best kind of education but luckily there was a couple programs that allowed us to go travel to Albuquerque Academy and we were able to mingle with the students there and do a couple projects and really find out how far behind we were, but it was really cool because they were really nice to us and they treated us really kindly and yeah so, a lot of these problems are still there today, I am sure. So it is kind of hard talking about it now because dang I think about these hard times but really looking back at it all now, I am thinking about all these tough times but really looking back at it and know that I am recovered and completely sober now at this point of my life it is great to see myself at this point and made it and survived past it.
I think overall, Albuquerque’s Hip-Hop scene is still really raw and kind of organic in a way where we haven’t really been tampered with by big large corporations like a lot of Hip-Hop scenes have been in the east and west coast so you still find a lot of raw talented MC’s dancers, DJ’s, and you know writer’s too, there is a big writer community here, so a lot of people still paint and add pieces to burners to full productions, since we have a train line that runs through here people can still hit trains. A lot of people think it is a somewhat lost art form but it is still prevalent today. As far as dancers go, there are still plenty of dancers who dance and compete and some not as much because they have families and have to provide for them. Basically, pay the bills and survive. But MC’s too, there is a lot of talented MC’s here. Looking in on it as far as people out of state, I heard once, KRS-One did like a quote, “if there is going to be a Hip-Hop revolution in this country it is going to be in Albuquerque (paraphrased).” So I was like WOW when I heard that and read that. I was really surprised but you can see it though from an outsider perspective. I was recently in the ……..Warped Tour and my friend Fritzo… he reaches out to local practitioners nationwide to invite dancers or any artist to come out and out of all the cities we did, we did 11 cities in two weeks, Albuquerque had the most dancers and the most graphic artist present, so this kind of show’s we as a Hip-Hop community actually do care and come out to support. All the other cities, even in LA and Pomona, right by LA, there wasn’t many b-boy’s or dancer’s but there was a lot of MC’s, so out here there was a lot of MC’s too but also a lot more dancers and practitioners. So I say the dancing community and stuff, are still a huge part and highly active in this area.
When we went out of state into the east coast to perform, a lot of the reception was great for us because a lot of people were really surprised that Hip-Hop was actually being done out here, I think I remember something like, WOW, we didn’t expect the root of Hip-Hop to stretch that far, when we were performing in Brooklyn. So a lot of people were surprised on the fact that Hip-Hop was still kind of more pure out here. People that do Hip-Hop out here don’t do commercial stuff like that you hear on 97.3 or something like that, not the radio Hip-Hop, but like actual hip hop practitioners are out here, that really know what it stands for, know where it came from and so it will carry on and people in New York were really surprised because they didn’t expect it to be as strongly presented, so we were thankful for that response. For my music video, there is a well known Hip-Hop analyst, Lord Jamar, who I guess liked the video and he really bashes on a lot of other artists for being “wack.” Being that he is a Hip-Hop legend too, also like an analyst, can really break down as an analyst and why they are wack or why they are dope. He doesn’t really like Eminem, he doesn’t like a lot of people who are really dope in my mind. I guess he has his reasons why, some people that we performed for in New York where kind of like five or ten percenters so they believe that Hip-Hop is black for African-Americans, but they were willing to accept us and were like wow you guys are black too. I was like that is cool man, we were surprised on that.
Hip-Hop is still thriving even though not in public view, Hip-Hop jams still happen every once in a while, b-boy communities put those together. Sometimes they let people perform. A lot of DJ’s can come through but everybody seems to have found an outlet. A lot of writers out here seem to have become tattoo artists, so that makes their bread and butter, which is good to see them still do their art. MC’s and rappers not as much, I noticed a lot of MC’s and rappers out here tend to stay in Albuquerque or New Mexico, which they need to get out more if they want to get more notice and exposure. The Southwest as a whole has a great Hip-Hop scene especially in Phoenix and Tucson too, those areas, they have a lot of artists from every element. Some of them are actually becoming very successful and getting picked up from other labels from bigger regions, but even on the reservation there is a Hip-Hop scene too, or at least there was, I am not sure about now, but if there is, they should definitely come out to Albuquerque and other places and try to get some exposure. A lot of these crews that I was a part of and met as youth they were mostly all from the reservation at one point, so I was really surprised to see that Hip-Hop was actually being practiced out in the reservation, not just in the smaller cities, like Albuquerque, it is pretty cool, I love being out here from the southwest.
I definitely would say do as much homework if you can first. Definitely in your home setting or where ever you feel comfortable and build your skills up as much as possible because being from out here in the southwest and you go to the west and east coast people won’t expect you to be dope. You kind of have to prove yourself in a way. But you don’t have to prove anything except for yourself, too. Don’t feel like you are up against the world. Use Hip-Hop as a way to help build your skills and the skills will help build on you too. Don’t give up as well because sometimes it feels like it is a really risky life. It is risky being an artist because you are spending so much time on Hip-Hop and art forms that you kind of begin to wonder after a certain amount of years, I could have done something else too but I love it so much and want to fulfill your passion about it. You definitely don’t give up, not just on Hip-Hop but God too, pray as much as you can, even everyday if you can because they kind of work hand in hand with each other. You end up getting opportunities you end up getting shows and certain chances where you can have fun basically. That is what is meant for, stop the violence and help yourself transcend through oppression. Even if you feel like you been oppressed by anybody, school, parents, relatives, or anything, Hip-Hop can help you get above that and out of it too. It is also a way to, I guess, just basically express yourself through dance, music, visual arts, or even through DJ’ing too. There is an outlet for anybody out there especially for you so don’t feel like if Hip-Hop isn’t the main calling in your life, I am sure there is another outlet, just don’t give up on positive things to do with your life.