Crow rapper Christian Takes the Gun Parrish— also known as SupaMan —performed in front of four grade levels at McKinley Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon, where he used hip-hop to bridge cultural barriers and empower kids.
Dressed in full regalia, Parrish offered lessons in American Indian culture through a fusion of fancy dancing, flute playing, beatboxing and three rap songs.
At one point, he told the 75 or so kids who sat on the gym floor to grab something from their pockets, and hold it up. "I'm going to rap about it," he told the crowd.
Socks, shoes, Pokemon cards, string, finger-sized skateboards and sweaty, crumpled dollar bills sprung into the air.
The students waved each item as if the harder they waved, the more likely Parrish was to rap about it
Not one to disappoint, Parrish threw down a beat and freestyled about the "stinky sock" and the "jacket that looks like a sheep" and other items for about 3 minutes.
Parrish used his freestyle as a lesson of empowerment, telling the kids: "You all have the power, the power of words."
Principal Bert Reyes said afterward that Parrish is exactly the type of role model kids need.
"Our kids need to see role models. Period." Reyes said. "They need to know they can see things like hip-hop that often have a negative connotation and see it in a positive light."
"It's not always about drugs and murder," he said.
To that effect, Parrish told students that he doesn't drink or do drugs, that he's "representing the reservation in a good way."
Among Parrish's many messages, the rapper used dancing as a way to stress the importance of staying in shape, saying that at one event he had to dance for 10 straight songs.
"That's not easy," he said.
One by one, each student got a chance to show off their dance moves when Parrish invited a group of students up front. One student wowed his peers and his teachers when he did a headstand.
At different points Parrish took questions from the crowd.
"You ever get hot in that thing?" one student asked, referring to his regalia.
"I'm hot right now," he answered.
Another student asked, "What happens if you mess up?"
"You just laugh," he told her.
But when a student asked Parrish about Crow cuisine, he took it as an opportunity to teach the students not only about favorite foods specific to Crow culture — deer, elk and bison, mostly, he said — but Navajo people as well.
At the end of the day, Garious Hiwalker, a fifth-grader, presented Parrish with a few items as a token of the school's appreciation.
A black rock, which Garious informed the musician was actually piece of the school that was more than 100 years old, was among the items given.
Afterward, Garious said that the assembly beat out other assemblies by a long shot.
He said he especially enjoyed the dance contest.
Parrish, who will be traveling to other Billings schools during the next two weeks, hopes that his message will help shatter stereotypes held about Native Americans.
"I want to try to let them know, we're like everyone else," he said.
"Not everyone will get the message. It'll bounce off some of them. But in some, it'll plant a seed."
Recently named MTV artist of the week, Parrish will go international with his message in the fall as he tours in Guatemala and Russia.