Multi-faceted rapper, writer, youth advocate, educator and renowned lyricist, Christopher Mike-Bidtah, aka Def-i, has taken his music as far as Eminem's XM Radio program, NPR, the BBC and beyond. He helped raise over $1 million for the legal funds of Standing Rock Water Protectors, and is a dedicated environmental activist himself; he's traveled to Nigeria as an Artist Educator and Hip-Hop Ambassador as part of the Department of State's Next Level initiative, a program meant to foster "cross-cultural creative exchange in diverse communities," according to its website.
In other words, Def-i has already done a lot, and he's only just getting started. He appears in Santa Fe this weekend after his performance at Meow Wolf's Taos Vortex Festival.
On how he got into hip-hop, Def-i says that "It might have been a Run DMC song, or Chill Rob G, but the drums and the rap kind of stuck. My neighbors were rapping, too, and that left an imprint. This was probably kindergarten, first grade, and it wasn't until sixth grade that I started to listen to all kinds of rap. My dad was in my life for most of my life, as well as my grandfather on my maternal side, but I didn't have my dad around all the time, so I was listening to these rap legends, and they're pretty heavy lyrics for a youth to listen to, but it stuck with me. Then I started to get influenced by B-Boy and B-Girl culture, and my friend, who became this world-renowned dancer Poppin John, asked me 'Do you want to be part of a rap battle?' I remember being in middle school and rapping against somebody who was older and very well-known—I'm not saying I lost or won, but I'm saying I could hang. I was influenced from then on."
On what he writes and rhymes about today, Def-i tells SFR that "My latest album Dream Trails is a reflection of the past three-to-four years of my journey and a lot of stories about experiences I've been through, not only as an artist, but a human being. It's my best work thus far. I was able to laser in on just songwriting. The topics are very diverse, and I feel like it has something for everyone in there."
On how he sees his place in New Mexico music, he says "I've got to give a lot of respect to the vets who laid the foundation for artists out here, but I've definitely seen myself evolve over the years. It's a lot of responsibility as an MC to want to do the best you can, and I'm not saying I'm the best at anything, but if someone were to listen to my catalog, they could easily hear the growth from two albums ago to now."
On how he sees his place beyond New Mexico, he says he's "trying to reach Europe, because people there really love the music and appreciate hip-hop. I want to go places where people maybe haven't seen a rap show. I'm of Diné descent, and I was recently on a tour and partnership with my tribe and the Navajo Treatment Center for Children & Their Families. We were in these very rural areas, and I was coming across a lot of crowds, youths and elders, who had never heard an MC. It's surprising how, in 2019, you can still be a rap pioneer."
On whether his culture impacts his music, Def-i points out that "it does, but I've also never wanted to be compartmentalized as being just one type of MC. Hip-hop's a universal culture. I want to retain my identity, and there are a lot of similarities between the philosophies of Diné and hip-hop culture, but many other influences are in there."
On his hopes for the future, Def-i explains that "I want to finish getting my degree in psychology, so I can somehow try to intertwine my degree with my art. As a touring artist it became very difficult for me to go to classes and do music, but I want to go back to school eventually. I'm inspired by my younger brother Joshua going to school at UNM full time for film, but music keeps me so busy right now. It's a full time lifestyle."
Def-i 7 pm Sunday August 18, $5. Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery 2791 Agua Fría St., 303-3808