WORDS BY LAURA BEAULNE-STUEBING
Cody Coyote is on a mission to inspire others with hip-hop music.
For a long time, Cody Coyote wasn’t able to talk about his youth and the difficulties he faced as a young Ojibwe man growing up in Ottawa. It was tough to be on the receiving end of racism and he turned to drugs and alcohol.
What he didn’t know during his darkest times was that a recording studio in his old high school would set the stage for his life to change.
When Coyote was a teen he began writing and recording instrumentals with friends. He found music to be the form of expression he needed as a young man facing racism and hardships, channeling feelings and thoughts through songs.
It’s been a long road, but now Coyote is four years sober and travels to First Nations communities to perform and speak about his experiences.
There weren’t many people who looked like him making music when he starting turning out rhymes years ago, but Coyote gravitated towards hip-hop because it spoke to him on a deep, cultural level.
“Hip-hop is ancient,” he said. “A lot of people say it started in the eighties . . . [But] a lot of the traits come from our ancestors.”
MCs are a regular fixture at pow wows, he explained, to welcome dancers and hype up a crowd. Same as in hip-hop. Storytelling, too, is a huge part of Indigenous cultures and many rappers and hip-hop artists are considered storytellers, sharing important, conscious messages about their lives, their own struggles and their communities’ struggles. This is reflected in current hip-hop with artists such as Common and Kendrick Lamar.
“Storytelling is a big aspect of hip-hop, and I see myself as a storyteller,” Coyote said. “I try to paint a picture so [listeners] can see where I’ve been and where I am now.”
Coyote is one of many Indigenous musicians who are working to break stereotypes about Indigenous people and inspire youth to follow their dreams. Over the past few years, artists like the DJs from A Tribe Called Red, Saskatoon rapper Drezus, and the group City Natives from the east coast have been blending inspirational messages and lyrical exploration of the Indigenous experience in Canada with hip-hop beats.
And his efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
Coyote’s album Lose Control, released in January 2015, was nominated for the best rap/hip-hop CD and the song “Warrior” was nominated for single of the year at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards. Coyote said this recognition is motivation to keep going.
“A lot of us know there are struggles in our communities,” he said.
Repercussions from the residential school system, the sixties scoop and generations of trauma have led to dire situations in many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities that include poor living conditions and abuse of alcohol and drugs.
By creating music that celebrates his ancestry and the strength of culture, music that’s meant to lift people up instead of tear them down, Coyote said he is trying to be a positive role model for those who may have lost hope. In spite of the negative messages that many Indigenous people hear, and many have ingrained, he believes music is a universal language that can reach anyone if they’ll listen.
“Our voice is the strongest thing we have,” he said. “Use it.”