By Jeff Kingsbury
Cody Purcell isn’t quietly making a name for himself as one of Canada’s most important up-and-coming hip hop artists. The Ottawa-based whiz kid, who performs under the moniker Cody Coyote, is making noise as one of the city’s most promising artists, tackling a wide range of personal and social topics, including his own difficult upbringing and issues faced by First Nations communities.
Apt613 got in touch with Cody ahead of his performance on January 25th at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: I wanted to ask what your writing process like? Is it a piecing together of lines and phrases? Or does it come out as a stream of consciousness?
Cody Coyote: I’m often channeling my thoughts or any type of emotions that I’m feeling at that time. It comes from a place of conscious thinking, but I often play with different rhyme schemes at the same time, which can result in taking lines out and replacing them with something else. I find it easiest to write to an instrumental so I can completely feel what I’m writing and allow it to flow better throughout the song.
You’ve spoken openly about your youth and some very rough experiences growing up. Now several years sober and with very strong ambitions as a professional musician, can you speak a bit about what ultimately made that change possible? What happened in the moment that made you leave that life behind for a life of performance, public speaking, and to stand as an ambassador for your culture?
Growing up in a neighbourhood that had multiple ethnicities… then moving to the suburbs where it wasn’t exactly the same… at the time was quite difficult, in the sense that I became “different” in some instances. Growing up, I had little knowledge about my culture – but I was always grateful for what I did know. Going into school and being made fun of for having long hair was a regular thing which resulted in me cutting it. It wasn’t easy going into a place where I was being ridiculed for things that I knew nothing about or that I couldn’t change. Bullying from older students and some of my peers put me in an insecure place but had also lead me to begin writing poetry.
However, during this part of my life alcohol was present. When I was drinking, I would often drink excessively to try and numb how [bullying] made me feel. There was a road of violence that followed, which I feel derived from the anger that I held inside. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd which amplified it in some ways and lead me to situations that most people would never have to encounter in a lifetime.
It wasn’t easy going into a place where I was being ridiculed for things that I knew nothing about or that I couldn’t change.
With the stresses that I was facing, I was feeling alone and suicidal, and while under the influence of alcohol made an attempt to take my own life. The next morning I woke up to the police at my door who told me that I was being charged with mischief under $5,000 for breaking two windows at a nearby building. They had brought me to the hospital where I was looked after and eventually let go.
I had to go to court for what I had done and was given the option to go through the regular probation program (which I had already been through and found it did not work for me) or go to a justice program at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre, which was specifically for First Nation, Inuit and Métis people. While attending this justice program I went through a healing circle and was invited to participate in my first sweat lodge ceremony. Keeping in mind that I grew up with little knowledge of my culture, this was huge for me.
After attending my first sweat ceremony, I felt the urge to know more. I had been brought around to Ottawa’s Indigenous community. This lead me to attending round dances, pow wows and community events where I was able to learn more about my culture. I continued to write lyrics and make music which became my medicine. Eventually, this lead me to finding the confidence to perform and I really enjoyed it.
With this being said, I feel that what made the change in lifestyles possible was finding out more about my culture, being involved in ceremonies, writing lyrics, making music and, overall, having a healthier relationship with my family and having their continued support through all of that.
I had the ability to be a good role model for others and I began to walk in a good way from there on in.
Seeing the positive reactions of the people who would come out to support my performances made me realize that I could do something with music. This allowed me to understand that I had the ability to be a good role model for others and I began to walk in a good way from there on in. I was inspired to pursue my dream of performing music and the more I shared my music, the more I became comfortable with sharing my experiences and story. This made me understand that I could also be a voice for Indigenous people, specifically the ones who had or were going through similar experiences as I have.
Who are your biggest influences as a hiphop artist? Either from a delivery, lyrical, or production standpoint?
Hands down some of my biggest influences would have to be Litefoot and Common because of how drawn I was to their lyricism. I remember when I heard Litefoot’s “My Land” for the first time, it made me realize that there was a place for Indigenous people within hip hop and the music industry, which I feel is what inspired me to pursue and learn about both.
Right now Ottawa has a thriving and vibrant music scene. Which artists from the city do you see doing great work?
Someone who I strongly encourage Ottawa to keep an eye on is my good friend Kimberly Sunstrum. Kimberly would certainly have to be someone that I see doing amazing things and great work all around. From her great energy and delivery she is making waves and I am super excited to see what’s next for her! On a more personal note, her song “My Stupid Heart” from The Kid, The Wall & The Box really spoke to me in a time that I needed to hear it and I recommend that people check it out if they haven’t already. Kimberly’s personality, kind heart, strong lyricism, music and talent is all of which I am honoured to know and hope Ottawa gets to know more of.
Since being renovated, the NAC Fourth Stage has proven itself a dynamic space in which performers can really play with drama and sonic possibilities. What can the audience expect from your performance there?
Expect to see me at my full potential through a powerful performance accompanied by different styles of Indigenous dance, hand drumming from Indigenous youth and acting, which will all represent the strength that we carry as Indigenous people.
Can we expect any special guests on stage at the show?
It warms my heart to be able to share that I will be performing alongside multiple great performers and friends of mine from my community and communities outside of Ottawa.
Dancing the men’s traditional style we’ll have Frazer Lee Whiteduck and Don Barnaby.
Dancing the style of grass dance and hand drumming we’ll have Theland Kicknosway and Mike Wade.
Performing with the water drum we will have Rohahes Mitchell.
Dancing the style of hoop dance we’ll have Barbara Diabo.
Dancing the women’s fancy shawl style we’ll have Marian Snow.
For acting we will have Elaine Kicknosway playing the role of a mother and Josh Lewis playing the role of an Indian Agent.
Should be an amazing show @CanadasNAC ⚡PLUS⚡ anyone who retweets this will be automatically entered into our draw for 2 free tickets! (incl. those who RT'd the original article, we see you 👊) #ottarts https://t.co/JcSJnWzsLO
— apt613 (@apt613) January 24, 2018
What else can we expect from you in 2018?
There are big things to come this year! Among those is a collaboration with my friend and a man who I highly respect, Séan McCann (formerly of Great Big Sea), on a project that will be very impactful in regards to achieving true reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous people. Overall, expect to see me overcome the “up and coming” label, because I feel this year will be the year that my career is going to take me to where I need to be.
Is there anything else you’d like fans to know ahead of your show?
I’d like to mention the “Mamawi” (All Together) toques that I’m selling. Twenty per cent (six dollars) from every sale will be donated to the Shawnejeagamik Centre (House of Compassion) which is a First Nations, Inuit and Metis drop-in located at 510 Rideau Street in Ottawa.
Cody Coyote performs on January 25th on the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage at 8:30pm. Tickets cost $15 online and at the NAC box office.