Joe Rainey’s “once the reaper” is a whirlwind of rage, grief and defiance. The Pow Wow singer, an Ojibwe member of the Red Lake Band in Northern Minnesota, released a fiery debut this year with Niineta, crafting stories of Indigenous community and resistance with his triumphant voice, samples of other Pow Wow singers from his personal archive, and blistering production via collaborator Andrew Broder.
Rainey continues to fight for those who’ve died on this new single — the title underlines his contempt for the grim reaper who takes his loved ones too soon. His voice rises and cuts through an onslaught of booming electronics, steadily increasing in volume and intensity across multiple waves of industrial beats. There are moments of reprieve, too, which provide chances to catch one’s breath before the ensuing cacophony. In the song’s final stretch, ghastly loops segue into tender ambience as laughing and crying are heard alongside a patriarchal figure’s assuring words: “If you want me to be your medicine man, I’ll be your medicine man; if you want me to be your friend, I’ll be your friend; if you want me to be your daddy, I’ll be your daddy — whatever you want me to be, I’ll be.” Released ahead of Thanksgiving, “once the reaper” is a necessary reminder of the systemic injustices against Native Americans, the perpetuated myths surrounding the holiday and that art can serve as a site for reflection and memorialization.