Shortlist shortcut to Snotty Nose Rez Kids' Life After

How opening track 'Grave Digger' captures the purpose behind the album.

How opening track 'Grave Digger' captures the purpose behind the album

Snotty Nose Rez Kids' fourth album, Life After, is on the 2022 Polaris short list. (Courtesy of artist; design by CBC Music)

To help music fans get to know the 10 Polaris Music Prize-nominated albums, CBC Music presents the Shortlist Shortcut series. Every week, we will ask a nominated artist for a recommended track off their shortlisted record. Perhaps it's a song that best represents the themes on the album, or maybe it's the most important, difficult or rewarding song they wrote. The question was left to the artist to interpret, but the hope is that the selected track will give us a pathway into their work. 

In the fifth instalment of this series, we spoke with hip hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids, who has now been shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize three times, following The Average Savage in 2018 and Trapline in 2019.

Snotty Nose Rez Kids on 'Grave Digger'

Through isolation, illness and loss, Snotty Nose Rez Kids have emerged from the last two years with an unapologetic gut-punch about the realities facing Indigenous people on their fourth album, Life After.

Album opener "Grave Digger" stares in the face of the feelings the Haisla First Nation's rap duo had been pushing aside even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

"We're not just talking about ourselves, although we do speak from our own contexts," Quinton "Yung Trybez" Nyce told CBC Music. "I know that there's a lot of people who are kind of feeling the same way and 'Grave Digger' is about everybody and their inner demons and just the things that we face when we're alone."

Nyce said the song was the result of a lot of self-reflection that needed to happen. The process of writing inadvertently exorcized, rather than buried, those demons. Nye and partner Darren "Young D" Metz said they both lost many people from COVID-19 and mental health issues. 

When lockdown procedures were put into place, Nyce's father was diagnosed with cancer. His parents wanted to keep the diagnosis quiet, which Nyce said was really difficult and also informed "Grave Digger."

"I had to bury all that within myself, for myself and for my family, because that's what he wanted," he said. "I was in a dark place."

In 2019, before the pandemic, the group spent 85 per cent of their year touring in places like Mexico and Australia. The pandemic seemingly brought the world to a screeching halt and pulled the rug of fresh creativity out from under them, replacing it with a sense of constant fear. 

Nyce said that his family wasn't sure how much time would be left with his father, but a successful surgery cleared the illness. 

"The pandemic made us realize how fragile life is and how quickly everything can be taken away from you, whether that's life or your career or anything," Nyce said. 

Working on recordings and creating demos through the pandemic was another challenge, because Nyce was in Toronto while bandmate Metz was in Vancouver. Nyce did move back to Vancouver in late 2020 and that's when the duo began slowly but surely building a new body of work that would develop into Life After. 

DJ Shub, Snotty Nose Rez Kids performs "War Club", "Uncle Rico" | Juno Awards 2022

7 months ago
Duration 4:02
DJ Shub, Snotty Nose Rez Kids performs "War Club," "Uncle Rico" at the Juno Awards 2022

In May 2021, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the preliminary findings of 215 bodies at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The duo said the announcement added to their motivation when writing the album, to continue raising awareness around the experiences of Indigenous people in Canada. 

Creating the album ultimately proved to be a cathartic release, showing a vulnerable side of the rappers that many people don't get to see. "We're so used to trying to be f–king strong and, like, f–king warrior shit," said Metz. "But at the end of the day warriors cry, too."

He describes the new album as a roller-coaster, saying they tried to give a little bit of everything for everybody. 

"There's life after depression, there's life after this pandemic, [and] there's life after success."

For more Polaris Music Prize coverage, head to CBCMusic.ca/Polaris. You can also tune in and listen to The Ten, a Polaris Music Prize radio series where host A. Harmony takes us through each nominated album, track by track, every week until Sept. 18. The Ten will air on CBC Music every Sunday at 6 p.m. ET (6:30 p.m. in Newfoundland).