New Brunswick

Tobique First Nation rap artist writes about life on a reserve

Kwabid Nicholas is an artist from Tobique First Nation and started publishing his music online in the last year. But his passion began with poetry at the age of 13 and has only grown to explore topics of identity and family.

Artist Kwabid Nicholas explores topics of family and identity in his music

Artist Kwabid Nicholas from Tobique First Nation standing at the mic recording his latest single at Renegade Sound Studios in Fredericton. (Submitted by Kwabid Nicholas)

For Kwabid Nicholas, the love for his family can be found in his music. 

"Rolling commotion — my soul in the ocean — the waves I can feel — cold as the snow is." These are some of the lyrics in his song, 1998.

"I have this lyric in there ... 'my soul in the ocean' and it shows my girlfriend and my daughter by the ocean and it just refers to this trip we took." Nicholas said in an interview. 

The 23-year-old artist from Tobique First Nation started publishing his rap singles online in the last year, but his passion began a decade ago with poetry when he was a teenager. 

"It kind of stuck with me and I had a couple of cousins ... They like to rap and they got me into that." 

The artist lives in Perth-Andover now, nine kilometres south of Tobique along the St.John River. But his songs are based on observations of life on the First Nation, and weaves in his own thoughts on topics like identity, family and substance use.

For him, it is important to dispel stereotypes non-Indigenous people may have about life on a reserve, but to also be true to his own experiences growing up there. 

"It's not really easy growing up on a reservation, but I find a lot of people ... they just think we're doing good and they refuse to see the bad." He said. 

"But that's not all I want to talk about." 

In the music video for his song, 1998, Nicholas has images of his girlfriend Brianna Bear, who is from Paq'tnkek First Nation, east of Antigonish, Nova Scotia and their two year-old daughter Brielle Nicholas Bear.

While she's still too young to understand his songs, Nicholas said he wants to teach her the power of being outspoken. 

"I want to teach her that she shouldn't be a follower ...she should always be herself and in regards to my music I think I'll just tell her to find her own message." 

Creative process

For Nicholas, he wants to keep his music as open to interpretation as possible, "I feel like if I just come out there with my own little message ... that will just be it, so I just try to sprinkle it in here and there."

For his newest song, Nicholas said it was based on how he viewed the cyclical nature of life on a reserve. 

"It's all almost the same verse. It's supposed to be like that because it's supposed to be like a metaphor of how the things are on the reserve ... People do the same thing over and over and they think it's going to be different, but it's never different. " 

In the past six months, Nicholas has also been on a journey of sobriety that was triggered through a series of repeated visions. 

"I was having this vision of this guy and it was down this hallway and I couldn't see the end of the hallway ... but it was like a turn of a corner where he kept saying you shouldn't be looking down that way, you shouldn't be looking down there."

Nicholas said, "I kept saying, what's down there? I don't want to see that ... it was scaring me."

It was this fear that made him realize that drinking was something he had to break away from. 

"I feel like I have worth now and I feel like part of growing up on the reserve ... I just got caught in a cycle ... I feel like I finally broke out and I feel better for it."

The future 

Right now Nicholas is not able to pursue music full-time but hopes to do so in the future.

"It's hard to even do music sometimes [because] I have to balance my family, work and It's kind of hard to do it all."

He said, "But what gives me hope is really my girlfriend and my daughter." 


Mrinali has worked in newsrooms in Toronto, Windsor and Fredericton. She has written and produced stories for CBC's The National, CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup, CBC News Network and CBC Entertainment News. Have a tip?