With Chance the Rapper By His Side, This 16-Year-Old Activist & Rapper Is Setting Out to Change the Climate Game: Exclusive

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
Christian O'rourke

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

At only 6 years old, indigenous environmentalist, activist and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez began speaking out against climate change. “My father is indigenous to Mexico, so a lot of traditional teachings and ceremonies were passed on to me at a very young age,” Martinez, now 16, tells Billboard. “I was learning about my own culture as a deeper way to connect with the Earth.”

Also inspiring Martinez's love for activism was his mother, Tamara Roske, who founded the environmental awareness organization Earth Guardians in 1992. To date, the Boulder-based activist has addressed the U.N. five times, made a guest appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, and is currently a plaintiff in a youth-led lawsuit against the federal government for their failure to protect future generations from the effects of climate change. 

Christian O'rourke
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez leads a youth rally on the west steps of the Colorado Capitol Building on Feb. 20, 2017 in Denver, Colorado.

As a musician, Martinez has been rapping since he was 11-years-old as a way to spread awareness with Earth Guardians. He’s performed with MC legends like Talib Kweli and Jurassic 5, and counts Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas and Chance the Rapper as friends — the Chicago rapper and Martinez were two of the seven ambassadors chosen for the Kenzo xH&M campaign back in Oct. 2016. “I love what he does, his message and how everything he does has positivity behind it,” Martinez says. “He's a really amazing storyteller.”

Along with Chance, Martinez draws musical inspiration from a new generation of hip-hop artists like Anderson Paak, Kendrick Lamar, and emerging L.A. rapper Phora as well as the old school sounds of Outkast and Common

Last year, Raury direct messaged Martinez on Instagram asking for a collaboration, which led to the two kicking it with Jaden Smith and a track feature on the Georgia rapper’s upcoming album. “It's a banger, a movement song, a revolutionary track,” Martinez says of the song, which he co-produced as well. “My flow is one of the more next-level things that I've written, and it kind of initiated be into the next phase of music I'm creating.” 

Though Martinez has devoted most of his life to environmental activism, music is a passion he sees himself pursuing. “Being an activist and talking about climate change and trying to fight for the most important issues of our time, that's really heavy,” he admits. “The way that I deal with that is through my art to tell my story and to tell the story of people who don't have a voice. I believe that I can use my music to inspire and influence a lot of change amongst young people in particular. Young people have such amazing potential to shape the direction our planet's headed, and my music plays a role in telling that story to the world.”

This intersection between action and art is something Martinez knows well: He’s performed at Standing Rock for a #NoDAPL benefit concert and spit his powerful new anthem “Pipelines” at the Native Nations March on Washington to a crowd of thousands rallying for indigenous rights. “The most important music of our times are what reflects the greatest issues that happened,” Martinez says of the ongoing battles indigenous peoples fight.

“Pipelines,” the booming unreleased track Martinez describes as “calling warriors, resistors and water protectors to action,” will appear on his forthcoming debut album slated for a spring release.