Welcome to Indigenous Brilliance Unleashed, a Q&A series dedicated to Indigenous visibility, wellness and empowerment.
In this edition, we have the honor of delving into the musical artistry of Mato Wayuhi, an award-winning Oglala Lakota composer, rapper and actor from South Dakota. With his highly anticipated album, STANKFACE STANDING SOLDIER, Wayuhi is poised to continue making waves in the music industry.
So far, two music videos from STANKFACE STANDING SOLDIER have been released, offering the world a mesmerizing glimpse into its expansive artistic universe. Having had the opportunity to listen to the full album in advance, Wayuhi takes us on a powerful journey, weaving reverence for his Lakota kinship relations, decoding lessons of heartbreak and delivering dynamic sonic experiences that strike a unique balance between lighthearted humor and profound introspection.
“I have the privileges to expand past what is expected of Indigenous artistry and I want to extend that to all other artists,” said Wayuhi.
This masterpiece is infused with genre-bending soundscapes and poetic lyricism, promising to revolutionize Indigenous music. It comes as no surprise that Wayuhi’s creativity caught the attention of the entertainment world, landing him on the star-studded 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 Hollywood & Entertainment list and earning representation by the renowned talent agency, CAA.
“Mato’s music is everything that good Indigenous art is right now. We are in a Renaissance, and his music speaks directly to that movement. It’s unapologetic, it doesn’t need permission to exist and it’s made with an urgency — an urgency to move us into a new era,” said Sterlin Harjo, creator of the FX television series Reservation Dogs, for which Wayuhi is the musical composer.
In anticipation of STANKFACE STANDING SOLDIER, we had the opportunity for an exclusive interview with Wayuhi, where he shared insights into his creative process, collaborations, the importance of self-care and the impact of his musical journey.
Forbes Health: First, the title of your album, STANKFACE STANDING SOLDIER, is captivating. What’s the story behind it and how does it encapsulate the essence of your music?
Mayo Wayuhi: That name has been on my mind for years now, before my last album Pleasure even came out. Names carry such a narrative weight; STANKFACE STANDING SOLDIER is titular to who I was while creating it. Standing Soldier is my actual family name. Stankface because…well y’all will hear why soon.
FH: Collaborations often bring new dimensions to an artist’s work and a fresh perspective to music. Are there any exciting collaborations on STANKFACE STANDING SOLDIER that you can tell us about?
MW: You are who you keep around and I’m infinitely grateful for the prolific folks involved with this record. My brothers Niandra Blonde and The Tewa sprinkle their brilliance throughout multiple tracks. Black Belt Eagle Scout and A$h Da Hunter do their damn thing. Tommy Pico and Sky Hopinka helped reimagine the record through their own becoming. Cannupa Hanska Luger, Solange Aguilar, Ali Kelly, Prados Beauty, Fox Maxy and Quw’utsun’ Made help to fully realize the visuals for the music. I’ve learned so much from these people. My relatives and ancestors helped so much to create this album too. It takes a village to raise a child; STANKFACE STANDING SOLDIER is the sound of the village.
FH: In the process of creating STANKFACE STANDING SOLDIER, did you encounter any particular challenges or breakthrough moments that shaped the album’s direction?
MW: Absolutely. Unfathomable grief, loss of direction, love, heartbreak, all flavors of drama. Many things that threatened to riddle my creativity. This album was like bloodletting for all those ailments to properly heal, or at the very least acknowledge. For that, it’s the purest, most honest thing I’ve ever made. Zero exaggeration or hyperbole — I’m just telling y’all how it is, where I’ve been and where I’m going. It was asking so much of me and I had to keep pace with its evolution and motion. Making this over the past years was the greatest release for me. The music is meant to honor that motion. To honor everyone that got me through, those whom I’ve lost and who’ve lost me.
FH: As a wordsmith, your lyrics are known for their depth and thought-provoking nature. Can you give us a glimpse into your creative process when it comes to crafting compelling and meaningful verses?
MW: I love the pliability of words and how rap encourages that outlook. Although I do dabble in many sounds I still see myself as a rapper. I’m a big nerd about originality, cadence, rhyme schemes, imagery — all the oral and literary conventions that give folks that stank face when they listen. There’s no barrier of entry for me though. Very spectral in terms of music taste. With writing I aim to find the most honest, yet imaginative way to describe knowledge and experience. Earl Sweatshirt says rap is reporting, which I agree with. Reading has helped a lot with writing — I didn’t read for the first 20ish years of my life. I don’t care to reiterate, so I study what has preceded me. All that said, I don’t want to intellectualize my process. Music is a feeling so whatever words get me to feel a type of way is what I head towards. I chant a lot throughout this album because it feels right.
FH: The representation of Indigenous artists in the music industry is vital. How do you see your music and the success of this album contributing to a more inclusive and diverse industry?
MW: I have the privileges to expand past what is expected of Indigenous artistry and I want to extend that to all other artists. Anything you do will inherently be an extension of your culture, etc. I take my work very seriously because I want to make sure that we see ourselves (or at least myself) as multidimensional, weird and beautifully flawed. The defiance of self-definition. Natives don’t have to operate within the parameters of whiteness as much as we used to. Sometimes the stringency of tradition can falter expression, especially when it’s negotiated as a “this or that” decision — you’re either a contemporary or traditional artist. Nah. No need to balance when everything I make is inherently who I am. Doing something different doesn’t negate where your values lie. My music is a vehicle for that conversation. Until I get bored and start making trap country songs.
FH: Representation can also have a profound impact on the mental health of Indigenous youth. How does it feel to know that your music and success are serving as a source of inspiration and empowerment?
MW: It’s crazy having shows and seeing who connects to your work. To be greeted by a bunch of weirdo kids who are mega talented and involved in their communities. Who ask specific questions about my work, show me theirs, and tease me. I get a lot out of those interactions — there’s reciprocity between them and I. I’m very thankful to have fostered this type of fanbase. Many of them have described to me how my music has gotten them through hard times. That always makes me so emotional and grateful because I’ve been there. I still am. Instead of trying to save all of Indian country I just focus on the interpersonal connections with admirers of my work, and keep it pushing. I’m aware of my impact but I don’t bring that to the studio or the stage. Making the best shit possible is all I’m concerned with.
FH: You composed the music behind the FX series Reservation Dogs, and Echo, the upcoming Marvel series on Disney + . How does your role as a composer interplay with other aspects of your musical artistry?
MW: I was hired for Reservation Dogs because of my solo work. Sterlin Harjo took an interest in my first record Part-Time Indian and thought I’d be a good fit for the series. Him and I have spoken about it since and he said that my music doesn’t ask for permission to exist, similar to all of his work. Validation from the OGs is indescribable, especially when it’s your first time doing something (Reservation Dogs is my first time composing). My approach to my own music hasn’t changed much since I started scoring for film/tv. I got those gigs because of the worlds I was building when I thought nobody was looking. I’m emboldened to keep being weird, keep trying new things and never asking for permission to do so.
FH: The music industry is notorious for its fast pace and demanding schedules. How do you personally go about remaining grounded in self-care and personal wellness along your artistic journey?
MW: Y’all are seeing my self-care materialize in real time. Since I started doing this all, work was as much of an escape as it was an outlet. Escaping from parts of myself that I wasn’t happy with. That gets sticky because once your spirit demarcates happiness towards outcomes out of your control, a great emptiness may linger, even when the version of success that you’ve assigned meaning towards is achieved. I’d be doing the dopest of shit — things I had dreamt of doing — and feel unfulfilled. Sadness because I still wasn’t happy with myself outside of my craft. That was a major consequence for me, using work as an escape from self rather than earnest expression. Part of my self-care involves taking breaks, assessing where I need to heal. I love relishing in the little things too. I literally just made myself some eggs and toast with a butter/blackberry jam spread. Good God I’m floating right now. Also skincare. How sad can you really be when you’re glowing, all moisturized and such? With this album I’ve found some ways to further share self-care methods with my fans, so stay tuned for that.
FH: Lastly, what can fans expect from you beyond STANKFACE STANDING SOLDIER? Do you have any future projects or collaborations in the works?
MW: There’s a whole mess of fun on the way. Stay tuned. Keep your eyes peeled and heart open for business. Thanks for believing in me.
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