In its six decades of presenting the Grammys, the Recording Academy has never inducted a Native American woman to be a judge, until now. Jezelle Childs-Evans, also known as J25, is the first.
The Wisconsin-based hip-hop star will help judge submissions for the next awards ceremony, in late January, and she’s seeking the creation of an Indigenous category. Of the academy’s 11,000-plus members, women account for just 26 percent. Childs-Evans says her induction “gives me a chance to be a part of the change in the future of music,” she tells Wisconsin Public Radio’s Elizabeth Dohms-Harter.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Frank Vaisvilas, who covers Native communities, first ran the story—and WPR’s new podcast takes a deeper dive into Childs-Evans’ lyrics and life in an interview that foregrounds her fight for the return of land. Each song—from “Land Back” to “Indigenous”—excoriates state-sanctioned theft and familiar injustices but also affirms how wide-ranging and creatively diverse Native joy is. Her music enlarges and expands Indigenous identities and experiences beyond a single set of bounds.
“Native American hip-hop / paving the way and it won’t stop / Aboriginal, flow original, got the red game in the gridlock,” she raps. “Indigenous, strong and resilient / 500 years and we’re still here / We weathered the storm like Trail of Tears / Going hard for my res like I’m Ada Deer / The creator help me see it clear.”
“I’m just speaking facts / Missing Indigenous women all over the world / gotta put an end to that / We gonna need more leaders to lead us.”