Creative genius Nataanii Means is a man of talent – not only does he rap and make music, he has a passion for creating movies and acting.
NATIVE MAX: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your tribe?
NATAANII MEANS: My full name is Nataanii Nez Means, which in Diné it means, “a statesman-like leader” I’m half Oglala Lakota, one-fourth Omaha and one-fourth Diné. I hate saying it like that though, I feel like a cow or dog explaining my degree of blood.
NM: Where did you grow up and how did that shape who you are and your talents?
I grew up in Chinle, AZ in the heart of the Navajo Nation; from a baby until I graduated high school. I could say a lot about growing up there and I do in my music, but, it was great now that I look back on it. I do wish the schools had taught more about being Diné, and had it more in their curriculum. I wasn’t totally isolated but sometimes it felt like Chinle was it, which was where I was going to be for the rest of my life. I give credit to my brother for pushing me and forcing me to go to college in Santa Fe. Once I went to college I realized how different reservation life was from the rest of the world.
NM: Besides handgames, what are your other interests?
Well, I’m going for my BA in Filmmaking at the Institute for American Indian Arts. I like creating movies and the whole process of it, as well as acting. I’ve made some short films and I recently landed a role in a feature film that’s coming out called “Drunktowns Finest”, directed by Sydney Freeland. I play the role of Ruckus. I also make music – I rap and I consider that my biggest passion because I have a lot to say.
NM: When did you realize your creativity? How did you explore that?
I started writing when I was 12 years old, I didn’t take my music seriously until I was a sophomore in college. My friend Tyler Peyron helped me a lot and started recording me. He has a label called True Pride Music, and after a few people listened to some of my songs they could relate to them. That’s the best feeling in the world, when someone says “I’m going through exactly what you talked about man” Growing up on the reservation and leaving, you tend to look at the world through a different angle, if you want to. I don’t want to sound bad but ignorance is a disease in Indian Country. My music explores that.
NM: What are some of the musicians you draw inspiration from for your music? And what about your inspiration for your films?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Nas, Wu-tang, Dr. Dre and 50 cent. It’s what I grew up on. It wasn’t until I heard J. Cole’s “The Warm Up” in 2010, when I told myself I need to get serious about my music. I could relate to his songs and he’s from the east coast. I thought to myself, “Why can’t I do that? How come I can’t make people understand where I come from?” I was a 21st century American Indian, basically a forgotten person in my own land. Also some Native rappers I looked up to were Tribal Live, Supaman, Redcloud, and Quese. I don’t think there is a rapper out there that touches the issues I do for my generation, but I seriously didn’t think Indians could do hip hop until I heard those rappers. I really do look up to them. As for filmmaking, it was another way of being heard, and my biggest inspiration was my father.
NM: Did being so creative help mold your philosophy on life?
I don’t know about any philosophy, I grew up learning Lakota, Diné, And Omaha values. I was always told to be grateful, pray, live humble, and always know humility. Being creative is just a testament of where I come from, who I come from, and our history as Indian people. I want people in this country to know our story, our story as forgotten people. Film and music seem like the best way to reach out there.
NM: Any new releases come out within the past year? Any upcoming projects?
I’ll be releasing my first LP this fall called “Two Worlds” and it will also be free to download. I’ll also have free CD’s.
NM: What do you want people to feel when they listen to your music or watch your film?
I want them to understand how it feels to be a young American Indian person living in today’s world, how much pressure is upon us to keep our ways and our language alive, to live on the reservation, as well as live off the reservation. I rap about being human, our temptations, the good and the bad in life, love, loss. My music speaks for itself, just listen.
NM: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully on everyone’s playlists.
NM: How do you give back to your community?
When I get my degree I’ll give back with my films with free shows I can do with the youth and I’ll have a few workshops lined up for the kids. I have nothing but love for where I come from and it’s made me who I am today. I just want to make my Indian people, as well as my ancestors, proud, especially my father.