20 Questions With: Cody Coyote
A lot can happen in four years – just ask Ottawa hip-hop artist Cody Purcell.
Growing up in the city’s East End, Purcell discovered drugs at a young age and fell in with a rough crowd. Fueled by anger and a steady dose of alcohol, his adolescence revolved around violence, crime and depression. Then, at the age of 20, he tried to kill himself.
“With violence around me as often as it was, I found myself wanting to be stronger, which led me down a very dark road of experimenting with steroids,” he says. “The negative effects that this had on my body and my mind, along with the violence, the partying and the lifestyle I was living, led me to severe depression. I experienced loneliness, anger, nightmares and much more, which resulted in my suicide attempt.”
Now 24, and four years sober, he’s using his voice to inspire others and provide hope for the future.
In addition to his public speaking and social activism, Purcell has established himself as a mainstay in the Canadian hip-hop community. Performing under the name Cody Coyote, he’s racked up tens of thousands of Youtube views and earned a pair of nominations at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards. Most recently, he was named a Top 10 finalist in a national talent search hosted by imagineNATIVE and Slaight Music.
Here’s an interview with the man himself.
How did you get in to music?
After being introduced to a studio that was built in my old high school, I began experimenting with instrumentals created by friends of mine. This led to me writing lyrics and recording music, which became an outlet for me.
Why hip hop?
Hip hop was always something that appealed to me, mainly because of the storytelling that was found within conscious hip hop. I was always drawn to the storytelling aspects of music in general, but there was something about the way it was done in hip hop; I could feel the realism of it just from the delivery of the MC. Within First Nations culture and history, we had storytellers who provided future generations with teachings and wisdom. That said, I see hip-hop MCs as modern-day storytellers who are speaking about their experiences through conscious messages and music.
How would you describe your sound?
I would have to say my music has a hip hop/experimental sound. Lately I’ve been working to incorporate sounds that are both traditional and modern. I’m also looking to work with other genres and sounds that are appealing to me.
Who are some of your influences?
Hands down, one of my biggest influences musically would have to be Gary ‘Litefoot’ Davis. He was the one who made me realize that hip hop was universal and that there was a place for First Nations people within it.
Favourite song of all time?
My Land by Litefoot. With some of the frustrations growing up outside of my culture with limited knowledge, or a cultural identity, it helped me vent.
What inspires your songwriting?
Life experiences, positive messages and storytelling.
I’ve done everything from construction to working as an order picker. Currently I’m working as a part-time order picker with hopes to do music full time.
What role do your indigenous roots play in your day-to-day life in general and your music in particular?
Now that I know where my blood line comes from, what tribe/band I’m from and I’m able to learn more about my culture, I feel that it plays a very important role in who I am as a person and as an artist. Without my culture I wouldn’t be where I am today. It saved my life and I am both fortunate and grateful for that.
Growing up, I hung around with a rough crowd, which resulted in me drinking, using substances and committing crimes. Later down the road, this lifestyle led to some depressing times and I felt very alone. With that being said, I did something that I’m not proud of, and that I’m grateful I did not succeed in … a suicide attempt.
That night I was under the influence of alcohol, and I’d been using steroids at that point in my life. Most of that night is still a blur, but I do remember waking up the next day to the police at my house. They told me I was being charged and they took me to the hospital. After leaving the hospital and being checked out, I was told that I had to go to the Ottawa court house later on in the week. It was there that I was offered an opportunity to take part in a diversion program offered at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre that was specifically for indigenous youth.
During my time at this program I experienced my first healing circle, I was invited to participate in my first sweat at the sweat lodge and I was connected with my culture – something that I grew up outside of. This program and the people I met through it helped me in so many ways. I attended two sweats after that, and I’ve been learning more and more about my culture and indigenous roots. I’m proud to say that I’m now four years sober from drugs and alcohol.
How did you get into public speaking, and what messages do you try to get across?
I first got into public speaking at my old high school, where I spoke to a large group of youth about sobriety and chasing their dreams. I often speak about these two topics and share my story with hopes that my audience feels inspired afterwards. I share that this life is limitless and that people should never give up on their dreams, what they wish to accomplish and, most importantly, themselves.
Do you consider yourself an activist? How does your platform as a musician play into that?
I see myself as someone who stands up for what he believes in and for what is right. This falls hand in hand with activism in some cases, and I feel that my music/artistry plays a big role in this. I feel that as an artist I’m able to showcase that we all have the power to make change happen, and that by utilizing our voices we can do wonders.
What do you do when you’re not making music?
When I’m not making music I can often be found doing outdoor activities, relaxing at home, spending time with family and friends, and experiencing new foods/restaurants.
If you could collaborate with one group or artist, living or dead, who would it be?
It would have to be either Litefoot or Common.
As a musician, how do you define success?
When you’re able to make a positive impact and accomplish what your heart desires.
Tell us a bit about your Indigenous Music Award nominations.
After a lot of hard work and dedication I found myself as a nominee for two different categories (Single of the Year and Best Rap/Hip Hop CD) at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards. Unfortunately I didn’t bring home an award, but knowing that I made it that far has motivated me even more to go back and receive one. For me it was a huge accomplishment and I feel so blessed to have been a nominee.
What’s the highlight of your career so far?
Traveling to various communities and cities along with the many great people I’ve met on my journey.
What has been your biggest challenge or struggle, either musically or personally?
My biggest challenge to date would have to be breaking into mainstream radio.
Describe yourself in three words.
Strong. Caring. Real.
There’s a ton of musicians out there. What makes Cody Coyote different?
I walk my talk and I will always remain a positive role model for those who listen to my music.
What are you currently working on, and what’s coming up for you in the next year?
During my amazing trip to the Canadian Yukon, I met up with two friends of mine (Nick Johnson and Yudii Mercredi) who are in an indigenous hip-hop duo based out of Whitehorse, called Vision Quest, to shoot a music video for our new single ‘Northern Lights.’ This song was created to inspire First Nations, Inuit and Metis youth to follow their dreams and to overcome any kind of doubt they may have from others.
To connect with Cody Coyote, check out his social media channels below: