Nfld. & Labrador

Making a comeback after nearly losing it all: Meet Newfoundland rapper N8 Douce

Hip hop artist Nate Doucette had his career sidelined by drug addiction. Now he's getting ready to release his first album.

Nate Doucette got lost in drug addiction, and almost lost his life

Nate Doucette — who goes by the stage name N8 Douce — estimates he has recorded more than 100 songs. (Submitted by Nate Doucette)

Nate Doucette's love of music started early. 

"My dad taught me how to play guitar when I was four years old, so music has always been a big part of my life."

The 27-year-old works full-time as a cook and assistant manager at a fast food restaurant, and has his hands full at home chasing after an energetic little boy.

Late at night you'll likely find him in his small recording studio in a basement bedroom on a quiet street in the west end of St. John's. 

The walls are covered in a mix of old sleeping bags and acoustic foam, and you can often hear the faint pounding of a three-year-old running upstairs, but he's come a long way since he first started rapping in his bedroom at 15, using a computer mic with music playing through a pair of speakers to record songs.

Doucette works at his home studio in St. John's. (Maggie Gillis/CBC)

"I put a sock over the microphone and I thought that was going to fix everything," he said, laughing at the memory. "I thought I was Eminem."

"It started as a joke, and then four or five songs into it, I'm starting to be able actually put rhyme patterns together, and I'm listening to people that have been doing it for five to 10 years and I'm like, 'Well, I'm getting up there already.' So I continued doing it." 

Everything that I had, anything that I held dear to me was just gone. My whole life was just gone.- Nate Doucette

Making music also helped him cope with a difficult childhood. His biological father disappeared when Doucette was just a baby. The man who legally adopted him, and taught him how to play guitar, left when he was in Grade 6, leaving his stay-at-home mom struggling to make ends meet.

"He just came home one day and they just decided to end it, and that was the last I seen of him. It affected lots of different aspects of my life, for a long time," he said.

"A lot of the things that I was caging up in and holding in I had an avenue now to release that, and some sort of therapy I guess."

Living the good life

Doucette performed for the first time at a local bar when he was still 15, armed with a permission letter from his mom.

By the time he was 18, he had a contract with a music investor in Ontario, a song called Good Life getting radio play across the country, and gigs on the opening bill for some big name acts passing through St. John's, including Pitbull, Exhibit and DJ Pauly D.

"It's amazing. I loved it. It's the best feeling I've ever had."

Doucette performs at the Youth Culture Summit in St. John's. (Submitted)

Just as Doucette's career was gaining momentum, the death of a close friend, Andrew (Boots) O'Reilly, stopped him in his tracks.

"He was 19 years old. I was 18 at the time. That devastated me," he said. "So I got his memorial tattoo on me the day after he died."

While he was still dealing with that loss, there was more bad news. His mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and his girlfriend of seven years broke up with him, leaving him vulnerable and weak. 

"Everything just crashed down at one time."

Listen to the story mixed with N8 Douce's music:

Doucette took his first opiate — Percocet — sitting around his kitchen table with a friend who was dealing with his own demons. Oxycontin, morphine and Dilaudid quickly followed, and so did a full-blown addiction, he said, before he even knew what had happened.

"Everyone that ever loved me, or had any relationship with me, or were close to me, or had respect for me, didn't anymore. Everything was gone that I worked for, everything that I had, anything that I held dear to me was just gone. My whole life was just gone."

A sobering wake-up call

Doucette stopped making music. He pawned his recording equipment to get money for drugs. He eventually started robbing from stores to support his habit. 

A couple of run-ins with police landed him in jail for nine and a half months.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise; Doucette got sober behind bars, something he could never manage to accomplish on the outside. He came out with the best of intentions to stay clean, but within a month he was using again, and he eventually graduated from pills to needles.

Doucette says his son, Jackson, is his biggest motivation to never mess up again. (Submitted)

"People say you need to hit rock bottom and really lose everything to know when you're ready," he said.

For Doucette, that came when he was injecting cocaine in the bathroom off his mother's bedroom.

"I guess it was just too much. I felt my heart just give out," he said. "I crawled out of the bathroom and I made it to my mom's arms and she realized that, you know, I'm basically gonna die if something don't happen. That was my wake-up call."

Doucette spent three days in the hospital, and his mother helped get him into a methadone program after he was released. 

He's stuck to it for almost five years now, and has motivation he needs not to slip up: his fiancée Sarah and their son, Jackson. 

Doucette, his fiancée, Sarah Eisner, and their son, Jackson, relax at home. (Maggie Gillis/CBC)

"That was the best thing that ever happened to me. I'm so happy that I get to experience it with someone that's equally as invested in being a [parent] as I am because the taste of a father that I did have got ripped away," he said.

"So I know what not to do to my son because that really messes up people. I'll always be there for my son." 

Under the name N8 Douce, Doucette plans to release his first album soon, which will include a song featuring British Columbia-based rapper Merkules. 

"I'm just hoping that if anything it could just widen my my fan base and my horizons of what I can do as an artist. Because when you're in Newfoundland you're pretty limited."

Doucette and Merkules performed at a show at the Rock House in St. John's. (Submitted by Sarah Eisner)

He finishes his five-year methadone program in a couple of months, and says his resolve to make music his career is stronger than ever.

"If I can never make it to the extent that I'm making, you know, millions of dollars or anything, that's OK with me," he said.

"I want to be able to buy a home, provide for my children, pay for his college, buy a vehicle, just have a steady, straight, comfortable life with my music doing something I love."

It's a hard business, he says, but he thinks it's manageable.

"I've almost done it once before so I can do it again."

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Maggie Gillis is a news editor/presenter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.