Xiuhtezcatl Martinez Made His Name as an Activist. Now He's Making It as a Rapper

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
The album cover for Xiuhtezcatl Martinez's debut hip-hop album, Break Free.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez made a name for himself as a Boulder youth who sued the federal government and was going to save the Earth — but he’s not a kid anymore, and that story no longer defines him. Now he's a rapper. And Saturday night, he's in the enviable position of opening for SOJA at 1STBANK Center.

“Yes, I am an activist. Yes, I am a rapper. I just don’t want to be categorized as that activist kid who raps or this environmental rapper kid,” says Martinez. “I want to make stand-alone albums that are recognized for their artistry, for their time, for their production, for my light that I bring as an artist.”

Martinez's inspirational debut hip-hop album Break Free is about growing up and finding your voice.

The project opens with the epic “Tiahuliz / Light,” as Martinez recalls the words his father imparted to him and vows to spread the message through music. From the danceable, chantable “Boombox” to the confessional anthem “Blue Ink,” the album fuses good-vibe beats with Martinez’s call to action.

Since he first heard Michael Franti & Spearhead's funky hip-hop, Martinez has also absorbed Chance the Rapper, Joey Bada$$, and Logic. He looks up to Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole.

“The last twelve years of my life, I’ve been very active in the world of environmental-justice activism and been recognized for that by different media networks as, ‘You’re the kid that was on Bill Maher, you’re the kid that’s suing the government, you’re the kid who spoke at the UN,’” Martinez says.

Not only is Martinez suing the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for what he calls its inadequate consideration of human health, he is also a plaintiff trying to hold Donald Trump's administration accountable for negligent climate change policy. And that's not all. Martinez's activist résumé with the youth activist group Earth Guardians dates back to when he was six years old. He has attended countless protests, organized petitions and written a book.

“These are kind of the noteworthy things that I’ve done, but to a certain extent, I felt that that narrative the media painted of me was not a complete reflection or representation of who I was and the passion I have for the things that I fight for," Martinez says.

“Putting out music that includes those cultural elements is on its own activism, because a lot of times artists are melding and conforming to what’s popular to be heard, but I’m still looking at the traditional things that have been instilled in me my entire life,” Martinez says. “[Break Free] is taking back my story without having to wait for anyone else or get permission. Everybody wants to portray you a specific way, and it’s easy for people to only see you in a certain light or to put you in a box.”

Additionally, Martinez's talented sister, Isa Roske, sings on the album, along with Portland eclectic Nahko Bear and Divergent actress Shailene Woodley. Break Free was mixed by gold-record producer Brian Hardin. In addition to alluding to a new trap project due out in spring, Martinez promises to announce more tour dates, including Colorado shows, through 2019.

Martinez describes one of his greatest challenges as fighting the flow of time.

“Time — that’s a struggle, because there’s so much that I want to do, and I always feel like I’m not doing enough even though I am always doing so much.” Nevertheless, Martinez says he wants to be more “at peace and present with what I am doing.”

Martinez, who turned eighteen in May, will be able to vote for the first time this November. He's also excited that he can now get into clubs through the front door.

“I’m stoked to just go dance my ass off,” he says.

Martinez is opening for SOJA, with Collie Buddz and Twiddle, 6 p.m. Saturday, October 27, 1STBANK Center, 11450 Broomfield Lane, Broomfield, $39.99 and up.