Ronnie Sampare goes by many names.
His Nisga’a name is Gwinayee, which means ‘determination.’ His rapper name is The Truth.
“I like to say the stuff that other folks are scared to say,” he told The Terrace Standard.
The 31-year-old was born in Terrace and grew up in the Nass Valley. He overcame struggles with drugs, alcohol and the hard life in his youth and now aims to be a positive influence.
One means of achieving that is through his art. Sampare is obsessed with hip-hop, having produced 15 mixtapes and two albums under his solo moniker, and he hosts a free hip-hop podcast called the Smoke House Radio which he produces from his home in Laxgalts’ap (Greenville) in the Nass Valley.
“When I started pointing out the bad … the really obvious horrible [stuff] that’s in our community, people started listening to my music,” he said. “Like if I said ‘if you’re selling hard drugs in my community, don’t be surprised if I point you out.’”
“I don’t want no one ever poisoning my fellow man in our community because I lived that life when I was younger.”
When Sampare was eight years old, his father passed away and he went to live with his grandparents. In his later teenage years, he became mixed up with drugs and alcohol.
“I lived in Terrace. I lived in the ‘hood. I was a mean person back then,” he said.
But that life quickly grew stale. Fourteen years ago he quit hard drugs and he’s been sober from alcohol for 10 years.
“I have a lot of youth that are in my family. I’ve seen them get scared of other people that are intoxicated, and I did not want that to be me,” he said. “I didn’t want to be known as a drunk or a drug-dealer or just this gangster-ass person to the community.”
“It’s just the rut that Indigenous [people] get caught up in or stereotyped as, and I don’t want that. Ever. I wish the best for everyone, always.”
Sampare first became obsessed with hip-hop when he heard his cousin freestyling years ago.
“He was smoking some weed and drinking at a party and he was freestyling, and I was like ‘what the hell?!’” Sampare said. “I watched him and my [other] cousin, because they were like a duo, I watched them dual like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, they’d feed off each other’s energy, rap bar for bar, and I was just amazed with it.”
“After that, I just started studying everything.”
He made his cousin teach him how to write verses and choruses. With no formal training in music or audio production, he bought a microphone and a Macbook and just started making music. The early stuff is “crap,” Sampare said with a laugh, but eventually he started to get the hang of it.
He spent some time as a member of a local hip-hop group called North Side Connect Gang (NSCG). The group had been trying, without success, to get airplay on radio stations like CBC Radio and CFNR, so they started podcasting for exposure.
“We were trying to get on radio stations but we couldn’t so we just started the podcast to network with other artists throughout Canada, and it just sort of blew up,” he said.
Eventually, Sampare had a falling out with other members of the band, so he rebranded and went his own direction. That’s when The Smoke House Radio was born. The podcast is a mix of hip-hop music, some news and random information from throughout the internet, cannabis culture and video game culture.
The name of the podcast is certainly a reference to cannabis culture, but Sampare said the name came to him when he was in a literal smoke house.
“I was in the smoke house with a load of fish, I think there was like 90 fish up over my head, and I was like ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire. You smoke your food … Everything relates around the smoke house.’”
The Smoke House Radio averages between 2,000 and 4,000 plays per episode, with listeners around the world. Only 14 per cent of listeners are from Canada, while 33 per cent of listeners are in the United States and 15 per cent are from Germany. Sampare figures he has about 900 listeners in the Nass Valley and about 90 in Terrace.
The podcast is entirely free and Sampare said it will always stay that way.
“Once I start charging money for it, it’s just going to be haywire,” he said, noting he’s wary of the pitfalls that come with having an audience. “I don’t want to break relationships or step on people while my show is getting huge.”
Sampare said he’s eager to grow the podcast audience and he has plans to start publishing more music (most of which hasn’t been officially released) on platforms such as music streaming giant Spotify under the small label GetALifeRecords, which Sampare runs with his younger brother and frequent collaborator Eric Sampare, also known as Lyrical E.
Prior to the pandemic, the brothers were booking shows in the Northwest with Dosed-Up Entertainment, an entertainment management company based in Houston, B.C. With live shows cancelled due to COVID-19, the pair are focused on writing and producing more tracks.
Nevertheless, Sampare can’t wait to perform again.
“If you can get a person to relate to your music and come to your shows and meet you, it is the greatest feeling in the world.”