Frank Waln is a hip-hop artist, producer, activist, and storyteller. He is a keeper of oral traditions whose work interrogates history and colonialism. It preserves the legacies of his Sicangu Lakota ancestors and his own experiences growing up on the Rosebud Reservation.
Around this time last year, Waln released his single “7,” a powerful collaboration with singer-poet Tanaya Winder, one of last year’s most potent protest anthems.
The single was visceral, heavy with the weight of the stories it told about cultural trauma and erasure. “They tell a history that our peoples don’t recognize,” Waln sang. “The U.S. government should be charged with genocide.”
In September, the track appeared on Waln’s latest record, The Bridge, a ten-track, wide-ranging EP that is deeply autobiographical and features several more indigenous artists. The songs are laced with love and anger. Several are odes to seeking justice, self-determination, and healing.
“I spit rhymes as good as the government lies,” Waln raps on “Basement,” a tribute to self-made music and his basement studio, a collaboration with Nake Nula Waun.
On album opener, “What Makes the Red Man Red,” within its first words, Waln sets a foundation on which the entire record builds: “Your history books, lies / your holidays, lies / Thanksgiving lies and Columbus Day / Tell me why I know more than the teacher / Tell me why I know more than the preacher.“
“Victory Song” is another standout. In one of the album’s most celebratory moments, Waln raps about watching his music spread from “rez-to-rez” and thinks about his own rising profile as an artist and activist.
With rallying synth-hook interludes and additional vocals from Kodi DeNoyer, Waln sings about pushing back against the odds to unstoppably make music that de-colonizes minds and brings people together: “Feel my ancestors / every time I move / Rosebud boy / time for me to bloom.”
Surrounding the release of The Bridge, Waln told RPM: “The world is hungry for indigenous voices and stories right now. This album, like all indigenous art, holds centuries of indigenous stories, personal and universal. I made this project for myself and other indigenous people like me who need honesty, vulnerability and healing in their lives.
“Art is a bridge to help us heal. Our stories are medicine,” Waln added.
“Victory Song” is an apt point of entry into an album of songs that push back, sonically and emotionally full of resilience.