Lakota sounds in the city

By Sophia Coleman

Growing up fast is nothing new for Frank Waln, 22, founder of Nake Nula Waun, a Native-American hip-hop band based in Parmalee, S.D. With most of his life spent on the Rosebud Sioux reservation, he was surrounded by violence and poverty.

But with all of the negativity clouding his life, he created something positive. Waln and three friends—co-founder and vocalist Dre Easter; 26, vocalist Kodi DeNoyer, 21; and vocalist Thomas Schmidt, 18—triumphed over the confines of the reservation and became local celebrities.

Waln, who enrolled at Columbia this fall, has found his niche in this city’s vibrant hip-hop community. The Chronicle caught up with Waln to discuss what life on the reservation was like and what he thinks the future holds for his band.

The Chronicle: Your band’s name, “I’m always ready, at all times, for anything.” How has that phrase translated to your band and your music?

Frank Waln: Where we are from … we felt that the phrase helped spread a message of positivity—not only to the people on the reservation, but to anyone who is having a hard time or living in rough places. Growing up on the reservation, you never know what tomorrow holds.

The Chronicle: Did the band form on the reservation?

FW: Yes, it did. Dre is one of the core founders, who is now back in South Dakota going to Mitchell Technical Institute. Kodi, the female singer, is back on the reservation where she was born and raised. Our fourth member, Thomas, is in the Marines in Afghanistan right now.

The Chronicle: How have you kept in touch, and are you still producing music?

FW: We keep in touch every week. We recorded our last album when Thomas came home. So even though he’s in Afghanistan right now, we’ve still got him in the album. Right now, I’m still producing music, and I’m down for collaborating with Columbia students. I think over winter break we wilpush out another album.

The Chronicle: What was it like growing up on the reservation?

FW: It wasn’t easy. My reservation is one of the poorest places in the United States. We have one of the highest suicide rates in the world and 80 percent of the population there is unemployed. Gangs, drugs, alcohol and violence—it’s like you wouldn’t believe. It’s like a different world. You learn to grow up fast, or you don’t grow up at all.

The Chronicle: How much of your heritage has influenced your music?

FW: I take the philosophies and traditions of my Lakota culture, and I speak on them in our music. In our culture, we have music that is [held together by] a very strong drumbeat that is like the heartbeat of the people. I found that when I made my beats, I had that pounding in them without even realizing it.

The Chronicle: Have you won any awards?

FW: Last year, we were nominated for Best Debut Group at the Native American Music Awards. I was nominated for Best Producer and I won. I was up against all of the Native American producers out there [in the world]. I was the youngest ever to win this award. On Oct. 7, I’m going back to the Nammy’s, where we have been nominated in four categories—Best Hip-Hop Album, Best Pop, Best Single of the Year [for the song “Heavy”] and Best Group.

The Chronicle: What is the future of Nake Nula Waun?

FW: [To] keep expanding our message and getting our music out to more people. My ultimate goal is to go back to the reservation and establish a studio for children who want to make music. I want to show kids that you can do something, [and that] just because we come up in some of the worst conditions in the world, doesn’t mean you have to think like that.

Nake Nula Waun’s latest album, “The Definition,” can be found on iTunes, and at ShopColumbia. For more information, visit