If there was to be a rallying call for 2020 (and really, as survey replies told us, it was music that helped many in this tough time) the only song to consider would be "Lion" by Corey Writes. "It'll ache you/The past is the past, you can't let it break you," spits the Halifax MC. For the next three and a half minutes, the self-described "passive-aggressive Tupac" reminds you that your story is yours: "It's a crucial part but it don't make you/Be true to your heart, even if they hate you."
"That song is for everyone," the veteran indie rapper says, sitting in a Dartmouth coffee shop one recent Friday night. "All the lions and lionesses of the world that need that reminder every now and again that you're great."
Making albums since 2015—and, along the way, sharing the stage with the likes of T.I. and Fetty Wap and collaborating with local titans like JRDN—Corey Writes is an unsigned solider of the scene who'd be headlining festivals if he lived in Chicago or Toronto. (Want proof? Look no further than 2018's "Bodied," where Writes raps for four straight minutes.)
But instead, he lives here and has a complicated dedication to the local scene. "If you're Black, go to Toronto or Vancouver. Simple: You ain't doin' it here," he says when asked what advice he'd give an artist starting out. So why does he stay? He shrugs. "For people after me."
When he's not driving around with his hype-man Da Boi Elroy, busting freestyles over whatever's on the radio, that dedication is manifesting in a multitude of ways, like his youth outreach work or the coding program he helped build. Perhaps his biggest gift to the city, though? The new music organization he's helping create in response to systemic racism within the local music industry, sparked from a viral video he posted this summer. (He shies away from terms like "brainchild," saying: "I would say I was the straw that broke the camel's back.")
"Like at least, if you don't wanna sit me at the table and eat with me, at least set me up a table over here, or help me or something. But, you know, that's not even happening," he explains. "You don't even wanna co-create. So what do you do? You gotta build your own restaurant."
"A young lion that's grinding and I'm just tryin' to be great/I hope you can relate/I'm manifesting my fate," he rhymes in "Lion"'s last seconds. Writes's vision for what music in Halifax could be floods your mind as he spits: "For christ's sake, I gotta keep goin'/gotta seek knowing/I don't stop for no one."