I don’t have any data to back this up, but Ottawa has to have one of the most diverse music scenes in North America with Anglophone, Francophone and Indigenous artists. A reflection of that is none other than Ojibwe rapper Cody Coyote. His appearance at Bluesfest 2018 was my second time seeing him perform live so I had an idea of what to expect, but the first time was at a Ashes to Rubies showcase so it wasn’t a full set.

The show started with some sort of flute instrumental with visuals of colonialism, including soldiers gunning down First Nations people, as well as a well-known Louis Riel quote.

“My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

Right off the bat Cody Coyote started out with one of his more well-known songs, Warrior. Similar to Morris Ogbowu, who we had a chance to see perform a few days earlier, I always wonder how artists who fuse their culture with hip-hop will resonate with the audience. Well, there was no reason to be concerned. Members of the audience pumped their fists in response to the hook, which made me realize that Cody’s message, including being a warrior, is universal.

As Coyote reminded the crowd, he’s not just as artist; he’s a warrior, survivour, and storyteller, and that was evident throughout the show. Prior to going into his second song, Bloodline, he talked about how he grew up not knowing his culture and how it took him 26 years to connect with his blood relatives. He later revealed that his father, who was backstage during the performance, was adopted and 58 years had passed before he reconnected with his family. Bloodline, off of his 2017 release Mamawi, came out of Coyote’s desire to reconnect with his culture and family.

The storytelling continued with Don’t Give Up, an inspirational song also off of his latest project. He revealed more of his story that inspired the song. He talked about how his grandmother and uncle went to residential schools. He also talked about his past suicide attempt, and that he’s now six years sober, and he’s not alone. He shared about the families he’s met in his travels across Canada who’ve lost young people to suicide because of poverty. The song isn’t just all message. Musically, the song featured some good production and closed with Cody Coyote showing off some vocals.

The inspiration continued with Let the Flow Grow, a song celebrating Indigenous men having long hair. He told a story of his long hair repeatedly being pulled at school and how some Indigenous men have cut their hair in response to being made fun of. This message connects to a wider audience. You need to own and proud of what makes you culturally unique. Then came Savage, a serious banger, with a southern sound. It was probably my favourite song of the performance. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Cody Coyote song without a message. The song talks about how Indigenous people have been labelled as savages.

He also performed a yet-to-be released track that he just shot a video for in Los Angeles. Stay tuned for that.

The show featured a few dance tracks along with traditional dancers. The last song of the show was a dance song called Hit the Town. It’s always important for people to see themselves represented in music, so I imagine lines like “From the city to the res, let me hear you make some noise” must “mash up the party” (as us Caribbean people would say) when he performs this song for First Nations people.

What you notice about Cody Coyote and most Indigenous rappers is that every song has a message; they feel a sense of responsibility to their people and they don’t waste an opportunity to uplift and educate. In a previous article I wrote about Coyote I noted,

“What’s refreshing about this brand of hip-hop is that it’s probably truer to the origins of the culture than some newer hip-hop acts. First Nations and Native American artists use their music as a tool for social change and to elevate their community the same way Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Public Enemy and KRS-One did in the 80’s. You won’t hear them talking about alcohol, drugs and violence because they feel a responsibility to their people and are trying to break stereotypes instead of adding to them.”

This was, again, in full display during Coyote’s performance at Bluesfest. Although it’s not common in hip-hop today, Cody Coyote reminds us it’s just as much about The Message as it is about the music.

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