Covi's new EP is a decidedly feel-good record. So it's surprising that it was a personal loss that spurred the Portland rapper to finish the project.
"I lost a friend who I looked at as my little brother," says Covi, born Victor Covington. "That just fueled me to finish that song in memory of him."
The Woodlawn native is referring to his track "See Us," off his newest EP, When the Sun Is Out. It's the most emotionally charged song on the record. Filled with West Coast hip-hop beats and R&B panache, Covington wanted When the Sun Is Out to be a collection of "upbeat anthems." But "See Us" closes the record on a different type of positive note. The track has a low-key progression reminiscent of early '90s smoke tracks, and Covington shouts out his friends and family members.
"With it being such a laid-back song, it honestly felt like I was talking to my audience and telling them about my life," says Covington.
The other tracks on the EP are just as personal, though, and have their own flair. Each cut is right for the turn-up, with lines that offer insight into Covington's life since he first started writing as a kid. On one song, he remembers the first song he wrote, which he found archived in an old Yu-Gi-Oh notebook, a "braggadocious rap about how my flow is hot and how dope me and my homies are" that includes a reference to Fat Joe's "Lean Back."
Lyrically, Covington's grown a lot since then, homing in his rhymes less on what's poppin' for him to more of what's poppin' off around him. "If I'm not making new experiences, I'm not writing," says Covington. "If you hear it in my song, it's happened in some way, shape or form, whether it's to me or someone I know, but mainly me."
That includes witnessing how much Portland has changed over the past decade. Covington has watched not just the Woodlawn neighborhood—where he proudly still lives—shift but also the city as a whole, to positive and negative effect.
"Portland is a small city, so it's easy to have that small-city mentality and not think bigger picture when it comes to growing," he says. "As much as I've extremely disliked the gentrification, traffic, new Portland movement, there's been some pros of our city growing."
More diversity is surely one of those pros, but he also finds a great deal of inspiration in situations that force him out of his comfort zone. "Sometimes, you have to do things you don't want to do in order to grow," he says. "I feel like that theme has reflected on my growth as a person and artist."
He's even found ways to convey that sense of change instrumentally. He doesn't really turn to a core set of artists for influence. Instead, his immediate surroundings inform his sonic process. "My main influence would have to be the environment I'm in," says Covington. "I take whatever I study, see if it fits me as an artist, and try to mold it into my own style."
With When the Sun Is Out—the title of which comes from the light, bright feel he got from a trip to Los Angeles—Covi is only revealing more on how he's crafting everything around him into his own sound. The EP shows him as a confident artist, and he's only going up from here.
"I know what I want to do," he says, "who I want to be, and what it will take to get there."
SEE IT: Covi plays the Thesis at Kelly's Olympian, 426 SW Washington St., kellysolympian.com, with Veana Baby, Mixxtaperadio and Sir Nai, on Thursday, Oct. 3. 9 pm. $10. 21+.