Native rapper, Shawn “Shadowyze” Enfinger (Muscogee-Creek, Cherokee), wears a t-shirt on the CD cover of his latest release with a slash through the letter ‘R’. That symbolism is part of his protest against using the R-word, “Redskins,” the Washington football team’s name. The larger part of his protest against the word is his latest recording, Say No to the R Word.
The song is a collaboration between award-winning hip hop artist, Shadowyze and Oliver Tuthill, an award-winning songwriter and composer, guitarist and singer. The song shares a clear and direct message: We are not Indian trademarks, logos, and mascots.
“It’s an alternative way to address an issue when main sources of media, such as reporters and journalists, cannot be reached,” Shadowyze said. “You can be your own CNN.”
Hailing from Pensacola, Florida, Shadowyze took interest in rap as a mode of expression in high school. With inspiration from Run DMC, LL Cool J and Public Enemy, to name a few, he incorporated Native issues into his music.
His song Murder in Your Backyard won him the Best Hip Hop Recording at the Native American Music Awards in 2005. The song addresses the genocide and suffering of the Mayan people in Chiapas, Mexico, in the early 2000s.
“I was very impressed by his passion for human rights, which is something I feel the same about, especially when it comes to Native American issues,” Tuthill said. “I wanted to collaborate with an artist of his skill and success.”
With an extensive background in rock music, opening for bands like Styx and collaborating with Steppenwolfe, Tuthill says that rap is a great way to address many issues, including the R-word.
“Rap is a form of artistic expression that appeals to a large number of young people in the United States,” Oliver said, ”And I felt a rap song would be an effective way of letting people know that using Indian names and logos in a racist manner is just plain wrong and has to stop.”
Interludes with noted Native artists Russell Means are included at the beginning and end of the song. “Russell Means was against mascots and logos that depicted us as cartoonish, and against racial slurs like the R-word,” Shadowyze said. “If Means were alive, he would continue to be part of this movement.”
Despite obstacles such as distance, Shadowyze lives in Belize, Central America, and Tuthill lives in Seattle, they’ve still found a way to make music.
“When we have decided on the direction and the theme of the song, then I write the song, music and lyrics,” Tuthill said. “Then I have the music files sent to Shadowyze and he takes the files into a recording studio in Belize and puts on his vocals.”
“Sometimes the Internet service doesn’t work for two or three days, when it rains or if there’s a storm, which can make it very difficult and, at times, frustrating.” Shadowyze said about making music using digital technology.
But at the end of the day, they hope their message is heard.
“The media will see that there are people against the name, people who seek the implementation of fairness and equality,” Shadowyze said. “If there isn’t pressure [to change the team’s name], most people will disregard the issue. They’ll say ‘No one cares, why should I?’ By disregarding this issue, people are disregarding history such as the Trail of Tears. People aren’t educated on the plight and hardships of Native people and how it ties to the R-word.”