A year ago this month, Indian country lost a beloved leader, and Nataanii Nez Means lost a father. Russell Means left behind a legacy of activism for American Indian people to continue — and of achievement for his children to emulate. With the release of his debut hip hop album 2 Worlds, Nataanii now joins his brother Tatanka in the entertainment industry. Woven into the raw beats of 2 Worlds' 11 tracks is the Means consciousness and concern, and Russell is a constant and treasured presence. "I maintain the mindframe of AIM," Nataanii says early in the album's first track, "that's word to my pops — I'll take everything you taught and put it in this hip hop." Having a famous father can be a lot to live up to, but Nataanii is anything but uneasy with Russell's legacy — indeed, he takes that inherited spirit for what it is: a gift. Nataanii took a few moments to share his thoughts on his new record and his plans for the future.
How long has this album been in the works?
I've been working on the album for about a year. Recording songs and making sure they fit well with the album. A lot of thought has went into it. I worked mainly with Melodic-Soul a.k.a. Tyler Peyron in Santa Fe, along with Ty Milly from Phoenix, AZ and Frank Waln who's in Chicago.
How long have you been rapping?
I've been writing since I was 12 years old. I started to take it seriously when I first got to college in Santa Fe in 2009. My friend Tyler Peyron had his own equipment and a label called "True Pride Music". In 2011 I released my first songs on YouTube and my first video as well. Ever since then I've gotten serious about it and stayed consistent with releasing music.
What influence did your father have on you as an artist?
He had a voice that would quiet a room, a voice people would listen to. He had a huge influence on me, he was my father, I was raised by him. I speak on subjects he talked about often: freedom, identity, the government and genocide. A lot of him is in me, I feel like I have the voice to speak to my generation, to awaken the masses and make a country see the forgotten people of america. I wanna make people relate to our history and stories in modern times.
What other hip hop artists have had an effect on your music?
Huge influences on me have been Nas, Wu Tang, A Tribe called quest, and many other legendary hip hop artists. As for Indian rappers I looked up to Tribal Live, my cousin Isaac's group who were doing music in the early 2000's. I didn't know Indians could rap until I saw them. But I didn't take my music seriously until I heard of an artist named J. Cole. He's really famous now, but when I first heard him in early 2010, I really related to his music. He talked about real life emotions and issues. Love, college, girls, partying — I thought, if I can relate to this guy from New York, why can't I make people from New York relate to me? So I got serious about it.
How have you and your family been dealing with life after Russell?
It's been a process, I feel like if I didn't have my Lakota beliefs then I would be lost. It's been hard, but I have so much that he left instilled in me. Our way of life, our traditions and ceremonies, he raised me with those ways. His annual Sundance every year was hard, but it was very healing. I love my dad, and he did so much while on this earth, we shared him with the world — but I saw Russell Means just as plain ol' dad. We have to let him go on his journey. A medicine man named Crow Dog said this the day he passed, "Death is only hard on the living, it isn't hard on the dead. He gets to go on and see his family, his ancestors. You have to let him go." That stuck with me, and I respect it.
What are your plans for the new music now that it's available?
I have a video coming out within the month of October, and I also have a few more video shoots scheduled in the beginning of November. I also have a few shows coming up, one in Chinle, Arizona, my hometown, on October 17th. Another on November 2nd at the Hard Rock Cafe in Phoenix Arizona.