By Brad Bellegarde

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Drezus posing with a young fan backstage after the show. Photo credit: Brad Bellegarde.

(Winnipeg, MB) White lights beamed through the backstage doors at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards as hundreds of fans screamed and whistled from inside the arena.

Backstage pass holders stood patiently in anticipation for the night’s biggest winner to emerge. “Drezus, you’re the best!! Drezus, can I get a pic with you,” shouted music fans.

Suddenly the budding Hip Hop superstar emerged holding the award for Indigenous Entertainer of the Year, for his album Indian Summer.

A nine-year-old girl’s face gleamed with disbelief as Drezus leaned down to her. “Do you want to hold my award?” he asked. She grabbed the trophy, hugging it tightly as they posed for a picture.

“The fans mean everything to me, everything,” Drezus said in an interview following the awards show. “I wouldn’t be able to continue to operate if I didn’t have the fans.”

Drezus took home three other awards that night including the Best Hip Hop Album, Best Music Video and Best Producer/Engineer awards.

It was a huge night for him but it wasn’t all that long ago Drezus was practicing his heart out, honing his skills in a Fort Qu’Appelle apartment.

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Drezus accepting one of his four awards. Photo credit: Brad Bellegarde.

“It was the Thunderbird apartments,” said longtime friend Ryan Shordee, holding a cup of coffee as he sat down on his chair wearing a t-shirt, some basketball shorts and flip-flops. “Back in the day at Thunderbird apartments he had a Dell Computer, the kind you would finance for like three grand. I remember him playing some Pete Rock instrumentals and he had one of those computer microphones, the really skinny ones. He made a little pop filter out of panty hose. It was back when Yahoo had their chat rooms, First Nation and Native American rooms, he would just invite people, ‘make a topic and I’ll rap a freestyle’ and he would rap live.”

“If he wasn’t rapping at the Thunderbird apartments, he was shooting hoops with me. There was no (partying) or drinking or anything, we used to just rap freestyles, then he started writing,” said Shordee. “I would say it was 80 per cent rapping and the other 20 per cent was just hanging out and joking around, lots of joking around.”

Jeremy Manitopyes, aka Drezus, is from the Muskowekwan First Nation. He was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, growing up in the city’s west side, the alphabets, as it is known to many.

At five years old, his mother moved them to Calgary. It was there that Drezus started gaining an interest in rap music.

“My big cousin gave me a Run-DMC tape called Raising Hell. At first I didn’t like it because I associated it with rock and I wasn’t really into it,” recalled Drezus. “But LL Cool J man, that’s what kind of got me back into rap and N.W.A. of course, you know, old school, man.”

When Drezus was 15, he left Calgary to attend the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School.

“I got sent to Lebret,” he said. “I went there for a year and then I moved to Fort Qu’Appelle and I went to Bert Fox High School.”

After spending a few years in the Fort Qu’Appelle area, it was time for a change. “I had a kid,” he said. “Well, my girlfriend had a kid when I was 18, and I moved back to Saskatoon because I wanted to go back home.”

It was time for Drezus to take the stage, “I entered this battle one night in 2001. I’ve never been a battle rapper I suck at that,” Drezus said, laughing. “But I used to think that I could back then. There was a couple hundred kids there and I remember meeting Joey Stylez there for the first time and even though I thought I lost that battle, I won. I got my money and Joey was like come back to the house, I got a studio, I’m just starting up a label right now, and basically we started Stressed Street Records right there.”

Drezus started making a name for himself doing local shows and recording more music over the next couple years and then things really started picking up in his career. He started working with Hip Hop producer Stomp.

“Stomp gave me a CD that said RezOfficial beats on it,” remembers Drezus. “It was (Stomp) and Jay Mak and John G from Tru Rez Crew. I remember thinking every single beat is bangin’ and I went crazy. I started writing and the very first RezOfficial song ever recorded was my song Brains Blew. People still ask me about that song man, it’s crazy.”

“When Jay Mak and I formed RezOfficial Music in 2003, Drezus was one of the first projects we released through our independent music label,” Stomp said. “He’s always been open to trying new things musically. Some rappers have things set in stone as how they’d like things to sound, which slows the production process. I’ve never had that problem with Drezus.”

After releasing his first album, Fast Life, with Team RezOfficial, Drezus didn’t quit. Fast-forward to 2012 when he released his album Red Winter, earning him his first Aboriginal Peoples Choice Award (now known as Indigenous Music Awards) for Hip Hop Album of the Year.

The 2015 Indigenous Music Awards were no exception with his four awards.

“I felt like I didn’t win it on my own,” he said. “It was a joint effort by me and the people of the community,” said Drezus. “The people who support me, especially the youth, they are the future. Whenever I post about winning an award, I say we, you know, we won it, we, we. I’m not saying me and my crew man, I’m talking about everybody who’s supported me and riding with me you know, I’m doing this for my people. It’s not just a one man band.”

There’s no stopping for Drezus, with a new album in the works titled Public Enemy and a new video set to drop very soon, fans will definitely get to hear a lot more of him. Drezus will also be featured in a Vice documentary on Indigenous Hip Hop that follows him around Saskatchewan from Regina to the Cote First Nation, set to come out later this fall.

“It feels good he’s moving forward and he’s making a big statement and for me to have been there from the start,” Shordee said, thinking about his friend. “I really appreciate it, you know.”

“With their support, whether it be vocally or supporting at the show, purchasing an album off of iTunes, or even just saying ‘I love your music,’ you know. If there was no appreciation for it then I wouldn’t feel like I had a purpose to make music,” Drezus said about the fans.

“Before I was just making music for myself but when I seen the effect it had on people, it really dawned on me that these people really look up to me, and I’m thankful for that. I’m a fan of the fans myself. I’m just a native kid and for me to have fans, that’s crazy, so the fans are everything to me definitely!”

Here are some more moments from the awards.

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