Rapper & Environmental Activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez Works To Build A Better World

November 12, 2020

Read the full interview on AllHipHop.com!

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez continues to make a difference in the world, any chance he gets. Not only does he bless the masses with meaningful, inspiring music, but he embodies the definition of an activist who is fighting for change and educating through his voice — exuding a constant reminder that’s up to our generation to reimagine our future.

Some of his biggest accomplishments to date include speaking at the UN at just 20-years-old, addressing the General Assembly, serving as a surrogate for the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign, and receiving the United States Community Service Award from President Obama in 2013.

Now, he’s the face of Nike’s new Voices of Change holiday campaign.

Forever pushing the envelope in Hip-Hop and its culture, Xiuhtezcatl’s message and mission statement transcend generations, with an unwavering desire to honor his ancestors in the process.

Speaking multiple languages including Spanish, English, and his native tongue Nahuatl, the Colorado-born recording artist returns to unleash his newest EP titled “Runway Tapes.” The 7-track project highlights the movement and growth in his life over the past couple years, “fighting and organizing on the frontlines of movements to touring the country and playing shows worldwide.”

AllHipHop: What’s been up since the last time we spoke?

Xiuhtezcatl: It’s been a minute. It’s been good, I’ve been busy. Since I’ve been in LA, sessions till 4 in the morning. Meetings at 1 pm, had to drop off my ballot at UPS, overnight it so it can get back to Colorado. Tapping in with people, a bunch of cool new demos, working with different producers. It’s been mad fun.

AllHipHop: How has quarantine been treating you?

Xiuhtezcatl: It’s been interesting, a lot of creative incubation. Feels good to have this project out, excited to continue pushing the boundary working with different artists and different producers. Expanding the sound, more Latin-infused tracks. It’s all been fun.

AllHipHop: “Runway Tapes” out now! How are you feeling?

Xiuhtezcatl: Good, it’s hype. I’m happy. My project “Runway Tapes” really came together a month or 2 before we dropped it. We went to Portland to do this Nike project; they flew me out there. It’s tight. It dropped the other day. They asked me to do something for a minute and I always turned them down.

AllHipHop: Why?

Xiuhtezcatl: I’m hesitant to work with brands unless it’s the right opportunity, and this was it. They gave me and my team a lot of creative control to shape the narrative. I’m not saying “yo purchase this shoe, I’m a rapper.” I got to dive into the issues in the work that’s really relevant to me. It’s reflected in the mixtape. They licensed “Fuego” off the mixtape, one of the hottest tracks on that project (no pun intended). It was tight. Two in one, we shot the video for “El Cielo.” It all came together once the aesthetics were really clear in how we shot the video, the set we built, the fits. That’s where we shot the cover for the mixtape. We went from a random collection of B-sides to a project with the visuals. This Nike project too, the timing’s really good.

AllHipHop: What was your reaction to seeing your face on Nike’s Voices of Change holiday campaign?

Xiuhtezcatl: Fire. Automatically when it dropped, so many people hit me up “bro, I can’t believe you’re in this.” That project’s the perfect combination of what I’ve been thinking about and what’s been present in my mind during this time. This political moment we’re in, the creative space I’ve been in with my music, the project synthesized a lot of what I’ve been thinking about. Looking at these human-made borders as a connective point for so many different issues in our culture, hip-hop has always been a tool to reflect those stories.

That’s the topics and issues we tackled in my video for “El Cielo.” That whole joint looked at migration and family separation; my experiences with that. After we dropped that video and the songs, so many people said “bro, my family’s from here. I’m from here, my parents came from here.” That story’s very specific to me, at the same time something lots of different folks could tap in with. The Nike piece elevated that story and narrative to another level.

AllHipHop: This is your first project in 2 years, why is that?

Xiuhtezcatl: The past couple years, I haven’t fully sat down and focused on my music. I have so many other projects: working with different brands, companies, organizations, within different causes. Running around doing live shows and touring, did 3 national live circuits opening up for other bands then started doing my own headline shows. In February I dropped a collaborative record with an LA artist named Tru, a really dope MC from Leimert Park/South Central. His family’s from Belize so he’s an indigenous Afro-Belize artist. I’ve got roots in Mexico. His people are Maya, my people are Aztec so the connection’s really tight. That record was really fun.

Now, I have this huge catalog of unreleased music, we’re starting to figure out what are the moves? What needs to be said right now? How do we reflect the music to really speak to the moment we’re in? This mixtape for me was a transitory introduction for my audience. People who’ve heard my older music and the records from the last album Voice Runners, this collaborative project was a good taste of what the new vibes are. The mixtape enforced this sonic transition, exploring having more bilingual songs, more songs tapping into that storytelling from my community, and my roots south of the border.

Hinting at where we’re going from here, it felt right. Even during the pandemic, I’ve been cooped up writing. No sessions, not getting in with people, not touring. A lot of me here with my microphone rig and my interface, playing guitar, experimenting, looping ukulele samples I recorded in my bedroom. Exploring in that way. These were all songs we had for a year that we’ve been sitting on. Time to start introducing people to this whole new chapter I’m super hyped about.


AllHipHop: What’s the meaning behind the cover art? I know your eyes are crossed out.

Xiuhtezcatl: The project in itself really speaks on my experience with mobility, motion, movement. This transitory time in my life as a young man, entering the world as an artist in a different way than I’ve been presented before. Seeing the world as a creative in a lot of different facets. It speaks on the identities of people who have existed on the marginal story that haven’t been told. My art is grounded in not speaking for my people, but as one of my people from a very personal place. As an indigenous person, as a Mexika person of Mexican immigrants.

When we look at who’s seen or valued by our society, our community and our people are oftentimes so overlooked. The symbolism of the cover, that whole wall of photos behind me is all of these beautiful collages my mom made when my pops was in Mexico and I’d just been born. The whole story looks at who really gets to be seen, who gets to decide who matters in the world and in these moments. Our creative vision is really challenging people to look deeper than the preconceived notions of how people have seen me. People have seen me in a very specific way because I come from such a strong background of organizing, of climate justice, of activism of indigenous sovereignty work. Now, it’s challenging people to see things in a new way by transforming our sight and our vision, the way we look at things.

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