It's common practice for rappers to wear a little bling, and Supaman wears it from his head to his toes. Instead of gold and diamonds, however, he's adorned with beads and feathers. It's a pretty unconventional style in the world of hip-hop, which isn't a bad thing—artists are always looking for a way to stand out. Unlike so many mainstream artists on MTV and BET, Supaman's style is not about status, it's about roots. For the champion Native American fancy dancer of the Crow Nation, the ensemble is just one of the links between his music and his cultural heritage.
"Wearing my outfit definitely makes me feel proud," Supaman says. "I've always kept the hip-hop and culture life separate, but to bring them together now feels good to me at this time. It is in no way a gimmick but an opportunity of expression in a positive way."
The fancy dance regalia is the first image that greets viewers of his hit YouTube video, "Prayer Loop Song," but it's hardly an indicator of what's to come. In the video, produced by the Billings Gazette, Supaman uses a loop pedal and a microphone and builds a beat with a traditional Native American drum and flute. A beatbox rhythm adds a hip-hop backbone, followed by layers of traditional chanting, after which he walks over to a turntable and expertly executes DJ scratches. Finally, Supaman returns to the mic and delivers a meticulous verse before showing off the fancy footwork that won him countless competitions on the powwow circuit, literally dancing to the beat of his own drum. It's an audio-visual experience that connects technology to tradition, age-old culture with contemporary expression.
Supaman, born Christian Takes Gun Parrish, was exposed to hip-hop as a kid by his parents, young party-goers who had an affinity for the Sugarhill Gang's early rap anthem "Rapper's Delight." He began breakdancing in the sixth grade, and from there he forayed into DJ-ing, adopting the Supaman moniker as he competed in DJ battles. He began rapping about a decade ago, releasing the album Crow Hop in 2008, followed by Deadly Penz the next year.
His delivery is rugged, intelligent and to the point, matched by beats that evoke '90s East Coast hip-hop influences peppered with samples relating to Supaman's Native American roots. Much of his lyrical content deals with the trials and tribulations of reservation life, stories of poverty, alcohol and crime similar to the inner city struggles touted by most rappers.
Underneath the roughneck flow and gritty subject matter, however, is another message. Raised in the church by his mother, Supaman reconnected with his Christian faith as an adult and began using his music to spread the gospel.
"That's where I get my strength from when things are down and out," he says. "In my mind and my heart, that's what really matters. The overall purpose [with my music] is to point people in that direction."
Faith-based hope is a constant throughout his songs. Still, he's uncomfortable with the "Christian rapper" title and refrains from calling what he does a ministry.
"I try to stay away from church terminology and just focus on love," he says. "The most important thing is just being kind."
It's a belief system that's not always embraced by either the Native American or hip-hop cultures that surround him. On the hip-hop front, Supaman overcomes that adversity with sheer talent, silencing naysayers with humorous, syllable-flipping lines like in "Enuff" where he says, "Start mobbin' for God with cold flows ridiculous/ have you bobbin' your head so hard you'll get motion sickness/ indigenous with miraculous tactics/ bold enough to get naked and tackle a cactus."
"If you bring enough skill and you're good with the craft of hip-hop, of lyricism, they're more open to what you've got to say," Supaman says. "People say, 'Oh, I'm not really down with your message of Jesus and all that, but you can flow man, you're a dope emcee.'"
As evidenced in the "Prayer Loop Song" video, he's not just adept at rhyming. Along with his beat making, DJ-ing and dancing, he is a singularly talented package deal. In just two months the video has garnered more than 200,000 views. That exposure, combined with being voted "artist of the week" recently on an MTV blog, has turned an independent artist from the Crow Nation into a worldwide phenomenon. Supaman says his bookings have quadrupled as a result.
Before the success of the "Prayer Loop Song" video, Supaman usually performed more orthodox hip-hop sets in street clothes, but now he says more and more venues are booking him hoping to get the full experience displayed in the video. It's a challenge he sees as an opportunity.
"All that powwow stuff, that's just normal to me, you know?" he says. "But then to see how much the world embraces it and respects it, it makes me see that I need to be doing this. I need to be showing the beauty of our culture to the world and using the talents I have in that manner."