Native rapper spreads positive message with 'Art of Expression'
Last week, students in Detroit Lakes got to experience a hip-hop music performance, a history lesson and Native pride all at once.
Red Lake Nation resident Thomas Barrett Jr. took the stage and classrooms with his "Art of Expression."
Back in 2005, Barrett was a sophomore in high school when the shooting took place at Red Lake Reservation. He lost some friends in the shooting, and he turned to writing to deal with his grief.
"I started writing my thoughts down, which turned into poetry, which turned into hip hop music," he said.
Wanting to record his music, he and some friends started their own record label, Rez Rap Records. Now a student at Bemidji State University, Barratt tours the Midwest, performing various shows.
After graduation, he will have a degree in social studies, and he said he would like to be a teacher at Red Lake.
"I want to use art as a way to inspire people," he said of continuing with his rapping while he also teaches. "This is a tool to educate Native youth."
Barrett uses more than just his experiences as lyrics for his music. He uses Native American and Red Lake Reservation history and other surroundings.
"My music is a reflection of me," he said.
And that reflection is a positive one, "more family-orientated with positive aspects and clean language."
He started out performing more in bars, but he's been playing a lot of school auditoriums lately and has happily focused on being family-friendly.
Barrett said that hip-hop is popular with Native Americans and by using the essential elements of hip-hop, he can teach people – especially young people – about their Ojibwe culture.