PEI

How this Mi'kmaw rapper uses hip-hop to heal from racism and intergenerational trauma

Growing up on a reserve in Prince Edward Island, rapper Brody Knockwood didn’t have an easy childhood, dealing with the intergenerational trauma left by residential schools and racism from some Islanders. He channels his experience into his music.

'It wasn't always, you know, Anne of Green Gables, that kind of thing. Not for people like me'

Brody Knockwood, who goes by the stage name B-Noq, is a Mi'kmaw rapper in P.E.I. He has released two studio albums and is working on his third. (Submitted by Brody Knockwood)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Brody Knockwood can't forget when some Islanders mocked him in the street when he was young, putting their hand to their mouth and letting out the stereotypical Native "war cry."

Growing up on a reserve in Scotchfort in the 1990s, he was familiar with that kind of racism. To him, P.E.I. wasn't about that sense of innocence and community depicted in literature and tourism campaigns.

"It wasn't always, you know, Anne of Green Gables, that kind of thing. Not for people like me. You had to be tough growing up here," he said.

He remembers getting weird looks when walking into a store as a young kid. He still does today.

Racism often infuriated him, and he channeled that anger into his music. Knockwood, who goes by the stage name B-Noq, has released two studio albums so far — Ear Drugs in 2016 and REZ in 2019, as well as various singles.

But his anger also comes from a rough childhood caused by the intergenerational trauma brought by residential schools.

Growing up on the reservation

His grandfather was a residential school survivor, and the trauma he endured was passed down to Knockwood's mother, who suffered from depression and at one point, addiction.

And it was passed down to Knockwood, too — he turned to alcohol and drugs to battle his pain.


Warning: This video contains language some people may find offensive.

On top of that, he lost his cousin, who was also his best friend, to suicide.

It was not easy financially for his family and often there was nothing in the fridge and the food bank was their only option. 

He detailed his childhood in the song KNOCKWOOD, released in 2017.

The track catapulted his rap career, garnering more than 35,000 views on Facebook, with lots of positive comments and messages from those who related to his story, Knockwood said.

Don't fall victim to the alcohol, don't fall victim to the drugs.— Brody Knockwood

"It's just like pretty much a story of my life.... A lot of Native kids went through this kind of thing. We're all dealing with trauma that just keeps trickling down," he said.

The track also talks about how his life is better now.

His mother has recovered and been doing well. He's happily married with three children.

And he credits this life change to his wife, who has always supported him and helped him set up a home studio.

Knockwood in his home studio that his wife helped him set up. (Submitted by Brody Knockwood)

"I wouldn't have been able to get clean and do this without her."

The Mi'kmaw rapper recorded the track KNOCKWOOD over the beat of Kendrick Lamar's DUCKWORTH. He is a big fan of the American rapper and many other Black artists because he sees himself in their music.

"They have a similar struggle to what I'm going through, so I related to it, like, being a person of colour," said Knockwood.

"Whatever they were going through, I could feel that, like dealing with racism, dealing with getting those looks at you while you're walking into a store, just trying to mind your business."

Spread positive message

Today, his sobriety and his family have given him a new outlook on life and that's turned into a new message in his music.

"I'm a little more wise to what I'm saying. I don't want nothing that makes kids do something to endanger themselves," he said.

"Like, don't fall victim to the alcohol, don't fall victim to the drugs .... because it'll eat you up, especially when you're Native and Indigenous, that's a slippery slope."


Warning: This video contains language some people may find offensive.

Many of his recent tracks raise awareness on Indigenous issues. His latest single, Display of Dominance, brings up the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Knockwood is quietly working on his third studio album.

He always starts with the lyrics. Whenever something comes to mind, he opens his notepad and writes it down. Then he finds a beat that suits his writing, or he makes his own. 

Having nearly 3,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, he knows his fans have been waiting for him to release the next album.

"That's coming out soon."

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thinh Nguyen

Associate Producer

Thinh Nguyen is an associate producer with CBC P.E.I. He can be reached at thinh.duc.nguyen@cbc.ca

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