Introduction

Hip-hop’s message: “We matter. We stand for something.”
—Grandmaster Flash

Forty years after hip-hop was born in the South Bronx, it's being re-imagined in fresh ways by young Indigenous artists of the North— from Athabascan villages in Alaska, to the capital city of Greenland, to reindeer-herding towns in northern Finland.

WE UP: Indigenous Hip-Hop of the Circumpolar North is a feature-length documentary film produced by the Anchorage Museum. It profiles the rising stars of Northern Indigenous hip-hop while exploring themes in their work which connect them across vast distances, such as: the challenges of decolonization, pride in self and traditional culture, deconstructing stereotypes, celebration of endangered Native languages, and spiritual connections to Northern homelands.

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Filming began in summer 2017 in Anchorage and continued through summer 2018 on location in Fairbanks and Dot Lake, Alaska; Nuuk, Greenland; and points throughout Sápmi, the homeland of the Sámi people, spanning the far northern reaches of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia.

The artists starring in WE UP represent all four “core elements” of hip-hop: MCing (rapping); breakdancing; turntablism (DJng); and graffiti art. The film documents the Circumpolar Hip-Hop Collab, a groundbreaking mainstage group performance at the 2018 Riddu, Riđđu Indigenous peoples' festival in Olmmáivággi, Norway, that showcased Northern indigenous hip-hop artists from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Finland, and western Russia. 

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Acknowledgements

Long the lingua franca of marginalized youth, the defiant yet joyful roots of hiphop have spread to the far northern reaches of the world. The artists of WE UP thrum with energy - each different from the next, but all seriously solid. They create sweet beats. They deliver funny, incisive lyrics in several languages, including indigenous tongues. They perform powerful dance and make sweeping graffiti. Hot hip-hop from the cool high latitudes.

"If I compare the languages, English is more like a punchline language,
the Finnish language is more into the political side only,

and the Sami is where my heart and soul comes out.”
— Ailu Valle (Northern Sámi)

WE UP represents the Anchorage Museum’s dedication to groundbreaking investigations of the contemporary and future North. It was created with generous support from the Alaska Humanities Forum; Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Inc.; The CIRI Foundation; The Surdna Foundation; and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

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