COZZ: I’M A MYSTERY TO MYSELF
photography by gari askew
It was never truly dead, but hip-hop from the West Coast has recently risen to a stature it hasn’t enjoyed in years. One of the young artists looking to make a mark is South Central’s Cozz. Barely in his 20s, Cody Macc rolled a seven out the gate. While finishing what was to be his debut mixtape, Cozz And Effect, he was already fielding meetings with seasoned music industry brass like Lyor Cohen, Kevin Liles and even Wyclef Jean. Still, it was J. Cole’s nascent Dreamville Records that made the most sense. Since last summer Cozz has been a Dreamville artist. But what does it mean for a young man from South Central to go from trying out his first bars at 16 to signing a deal at 20? I got the “Dreams” rapper on the phone to talk about what he learned from attending high school a few miles south and a world away in Manhattan Beach, the impact he’s looking to make and how it feels to be finding yourself while knee-deep in the rap game. Cozz performs Sun., July 19, with J. Cole and more at Staples Center. This interview by sweeney kovar.
Where were you born?
Cozz: I was born in Inglewood, [lived] there until I was six and then I moved to South Central where I’m at now. Before high school I was just an L.A. kid who was going in the city, playing outside and kicking it with the boys and you know, getting in trouble—not getting in trouble but trying to stay out of trouble. It’s just where we come from. Where there’s gang activity, you know we try to sneak out and kick it with girls and regular kid shit. I grew up with both of my parents, my mom and my pops. Except for later down the line they split up after high school, but they never had a healthy relationship. It was always hard with things going on inside the house. Other than that, it was just typical L.A. kids.
What was the soundtrack to your childhood?
Cozz: It was a lot of different shit because my pops, he’s from Nigeria. My mom, she is American from L.A. but she grew up with a lot of best friends [who] are like Belizean, so she’d play Belizean music, reggae … but they loved old school hip-hop too. Like 2Pac, they played Biggie, she played a lot of KRS-ONE. She liked soul, she liked Barry White—it was real diverse, man.
Did you grow up with a Nigerian influence in your household?
Cozz: Not really, because Pops been in America for like 30 plus years, and he’s more Americanized. He’s African, but he’s stripped-down African. He’s definitely an American mind. Having my mom now, too—you know, he’s Americanized. But food-wise and everything, I do have a lot of culture in me because I would go and kick it with my dad’s side of the family and they would eat a lot of African food growing up. I’m not a stranger to it, but I wouldn’t say like I’m heavy in the culture.
Do you have any ambitions to go visit Nigeria?
Cozz: Definitely. It’s always been in my plans. I’d love to go back and visit and see where my pops came from. I don’t know when but before I leave the earth I’m going to go to Africa and Nigeria and see what that’s about.
What was some of the first music you started gravitating to?
Cozz: I can’t remember specific songs. I always did gravitate to hip-hop—that was always my shit, but old school hip-hop like the 90s stuff. Growing up with the kids on my block, they’d always play rap or whatever. I was always a hip-hop head but I always had diversity too. I love oldies, too, like old school hip-hop oldies. I like rock songs, too, but if I say I gravitate to a certain genre, it was certainly hip hop, old school hip hop.
Artist-wise, I would say I drifted a lot towards like Biggie, Pac and Eminem, too.
You’ve talked extensively before about living in South Central, but going to school in Manhattan Beach during your high school years. What was it like for you when you had to make that change?
Cozz: It was the complete opposite. I went to middle school, like I said in one of my songs called ‘Orville Wright’—now it’s like a poor school where predominately black kids went, and after that school you went to Westchester High School. That’s where all my homies went but the moms didn’t want me to go to Westchester High School because I was getting in trouble and that type of thing. So I ended up getting accepted to go to Mira Costa in Manhattan Beach and for me, it was the complete opposite of what I was going through going to school in my area. First off, I never had white people in class before. In all my classes, for me to be [in] the one with just two black kids in the class was just weird. It was just crazy. And I still act the same in town, so I was dressed the way I wanted to dress. I dressed how I dressed because I was so worried about the other kids—over in [South Central], everyone cared too much about what you wear. Where I’m from, they care—they’ll start shooting on you saying your shirt was dirty, they’ll talk about you. [At Mira Costa] it didn’t matter. I probably saw like one fight go down that whole time in high school. It was just like a total different environment, man. But I’m happy I went through it because I got to see that everyone wasn’t living how I was.
Did it make you ask questions?
Cozz: For sure. Pretty much like I say just now … where I’m from, South Central L.A. … I feel like people who are in this area never really get out. They tend to think this is the only life. It’s kinda like a box, like caved-in. Out near the coast it was like my mind was expanded and I realized there is so much more to do—so much other types of people out there that you can learn shit from. But I also learned that racism is out there.
How was that shown to you?
Cozz: How some of the teachers would treat some of the black kids in there. They aren’t noticed a lot. Black kids would get in more trouble for shit that other kids were doing that wasn’t that big of a deal. I had a couple teachers that—well, specifically I had a math teacher who would find any reason to fail me in that class. I swear to God, one time I had a test and you know when you do math, you have to show certain steps and there’s always shortcuts you can use to glide through it. So when I had a test or whatever, I wasn’t showing all the work—so I got the answer right but he marked me wrong for most of my answers because of the work. I’m looking at other people’s papers and they’re doing the exact same thing that I was doing, so he tells me, ‘No, you didn’t show enough work.’ I’m looking at other people’s papers and they are doing the same thing, so he probably thinks I cheated. Just little shit like that you have to brush off, but it definitely is going down. The school, other than the race shit, it was a great school. It was like more like a college. Without me trying in the school I was growing up, I would get B’s and I was doing real good. I got Honor Roll in 8th grade—I made it and I wasn’t really trying. When I got to Mira Costa, I never failed classes, but it was harder. The curriculum was harder, they would have like swim team, water polo, everything was nice. There wasn’t no cages around the school—you know what I’m saying? You could walk out freely. But the schools around here, if you see them it looks like jail. The gates are like ten feet tall, if you’re going to leave you got to climb over it and at Mira Costa you just walk out. It’s more freedom, You can wear hats in that school. Over here, you can’t wear no hats because you know—gang affiliation. It was free dress, it was just the total opposite of what was going down.
Did you make any connections at Mira Costa that helped you down the line in your music career?
Cozz: Oh, that’s actually funny, man because like I’ve said in other interviews, I started rapping at 16. It was like the end of tenth grade. How I started rapping because I met a dude from Inglewood that works there at Mira Costa as well. He came in from Inglewood, transferred from whatever high school he was going to and he rapped. When I heard him rap I started rapping myself, I felt like if he can do it, I can do this shit too. Through him, that’s where I met all the homies I kick it with now. Through him I met Tone, which is one of my manager-slash-homies right now. Later down the line, I think after high school Tone had an internship at Interscope, that’s when he had his slight plug with blogs and shit. So at 16 that I was rapping, but last year was when I got serious. I was showing the freestyles I was doing solo because I was in the studio by myself, paying for my own studio time. I talked to him last year I did some solos and shit and he told me, ‘I still got blog connections, I still have so many connections.’ That’s how the whole thing manifested. Crazy as hell man and I was not trying to go to Mira Costa. It’s a blessing that I actually did go.
I’ve also heard that alot of people showed interest in you besides J. Cole. Even though you ultimately went with Dreamville, where any other conversations interesting to you?
Cozz: Well, the label 300, they reached out—that’s Lyor [Cohen] and Kevin Liles. We talked to them, they were good people. We actually were leaning towards them at first. We probably talked with them for a couple of weeks and we were actually talking about getting shit done, but you know it just didn’t work out with them. It was just the contracts. We knew what we wanted and the contract were kind of screw us so we ended up not working with them. As people, I fuck with them heavy.
What was the conversation with Wyclef Jean like?
Cozz: It wasn’t long, it was short. I just remember I was in the car and I think his manager or one of Wyclef’s people reached out and called my manager Tone like, ‘I got Wyclef on the phone—he wants to talk to Cozz.’ Wyclef got one the phone and was like, ‘Oh, I heard the song’ he just heard ‘Dreams’ at this time. That’s all I had out. ‘I heard this song and you got talent and I was just want to guide you and put my wings over you …’ He wanted me to meet up and we never really did, that never really worked out. But it was a short convo. I met with The Game. We went to dinner and chopped it up. I always have trouble remembering who.
You’re still young. Does life feel fast right now?
Cozz: Hell yeah, man! My life literally changed—did a complete 360–within a year. So everything is new. Everything that’s happened is new for me. Like I said, I never really performed until this year, I never did shit with music seriously until this year. So, everything has been moving really really quick, but I’m in adjusting so I’m just quick.
It sounds like you’re also you’re still coming into your own as an artist?
Cozz: For sure, for sure. I’m still developing as an artist myself. I feel like subconsciously, over the years, with just me bullshitting with rap as a hobby I’ve been developing myself as an artist. That’s where I’m at right now, but I now that I’m doing it. I’m in the biz, I’m in the game now. I know I have a lot of work to do, I feel I have a lot of space to grow.
In the past year, what have you learned about yourself as an artist?
Cozz: Shit, I’ve learned …I gotta think about that. Shit, man, honestly I’ve learned that the sky is the limit because last year I never thought in my life I could go on stage and perform and then perform like I do now—like not even trying to brag but I go on stage and I kill shit. I pour my heart out on stage. I’ve just really learned that this really is for me. It was a question over the years, not being sure I could do this seriously but I think this past year I really realized it’s for me so I just keep going.
Which feels better to you, creating or when you share it live with people?
Cozz: I would say sharing it live with people. I do love creating too because it’s just so fun for me when I hear some shit that I actually like that I made, but performing, I would give it to performing because performing is what you’re waiting for. That’s what you create for—to share it with people. Performing you get to do that, you get to see how they react to your art. So I feel like that’s what most artists live for, to see people’s faces. So definitely performing.
Who is Cody Macc?
Cozz: [laughs] Cody Macc is Cody Macc, man. Cody Macc is a cool kid—he’s not that serious. He’s probably smoking weed and drinking a brew and he’s just mackin’, mad chillin. That’s the kid in me. That’s the cool side of me, Cody Macc. Cozz is serious, Cozz is that rapper, he’s a hardcore serious dude. Cozz just wants to get the work done, Cody Macc is laid back. Cody Macc came about because that’s my nickname since I can remember. My uncle been calling me Cody Macc probably since I was born, so Cody Macc has always been me. Cozz, I ain’t gonna lie, was just kinda random. When I started rapping at 16, I kinda needed a rap name and for some reason—I don’t know why I didn’t pick Cody Macc—I was just like ‘Cozz!’ I ran with it and people really started calling me Cozz all the time so it worked out.
Can you walk me through the idea behind the videos for ‘Dreams’ and ‘Cody Macc’?
Cozz: In ‘Cody Macc,’ the hook says, ‘I got the whole world waiting on this, I got the whole city going crazy for me.’ Ironically, in the whole video I run the city and there is nobody there. So in a sense, it’s like the world really is waiting for me. In that video I am kinda lost. I’m solo dolo and I got to find out where I fit in. That video is also on some I Am Legend-type shit, like I’m just walking around and I’m rapping through the streets. At the end of the song I open up the door and it’s like my entrance to the game. I feel like Cody Macc is an example of who I am, but I’m not somebody to play with when it comes to these bars. I’m kinda barring out in there and I’m just trying to show off. I felt like it was a creative way to do it instead of just being clichéd and having a bunch of people in the video jumping around and acting crazy. ‘Dreams’ is more straightforward. ‘Dreams’ is dark hip-hop, gritty, you know what I’m saying? That was kinda my first song too, so I just wanted to show where I’m from—like South Central. We shot most of the scenes on 106th and Western. I live on 65th and Western but I was at one of my homies house at 106th and Western so we shot down there and it was kinda just like an insight of L.A.—the night life and what it looks like so you can get that feel. That’s why we was in the alley way where we shoot dice and you know, just around my city.
What was your mind state when you were creating that song? It’s dark but at the same time it’s passionate.
Cozz: It was a bit of passion, a bit of frustration and a bit of truth—it was like a short introduction to me, kinda just telling you why I dreamed of being rich. I think everybody goes through a period of time where they dream of being rich, you know? And that was me telling kinda like why I felt like I had dreams of being rich—some of my problems, crap with my mama like, ‘can’t even lease her a whip.’
So L.A. is going through this beautiful time where there is a big resurgence in rap that is about L.A.—people born and bred here. There is a lot of newer folks like Vince Staples, Joey Fatts, the TDE cats—what separates you from some of the other newer cats?
Cozz: I feel like I don’t even think about that. I don’t think about what other L.A. artists sound like. I feel like because of that, I just give an original sound, it’s just me. I don’t even listen to nobody else right now. I just do me. I don’t listen to hardly anybody except myself. It just comes natural, just me being me and being original and building my fans and not worring about what is predominant or cool or coming from L.A. I just feel like we doing our shit and if we keep doing that, we can’t go wrong.
You dropped Cozz N Effect already and you’re definitely getting some ears on it. What does the next six months or the next year look like for you?
Cozz: Well shit, man—just keep grinding, honestly. To be specific, I know when Cole drops his album and goes on tour, I’m going on tour with him—shit, I don’t think I’m supposed to say that. I’m always working. I plan on putting out a free mixtape real soon since I did sell my first project I still gotta give the people free music. You gotta do that to give people a reason to come. I wanted to give Cozz N Effect away for free like a regular mixtape. I’m just going to keep working and keep recording, I’m hoping to get my free mixtape by next year and just keep doing shows and just keep pushing. We still have videos to shoot for Cozz N Effect as well. We’re going to keep pushing Cozz N Effect for now and just get that as big as possible and keep feeding the engine, man.
At the end of the day when it’s just you—you’re not in the studio, you’re not around folks—what will satisfy you as a human?
Cozz: What will satisfy me as a human? I think I’m still trying to figure that out myself. This is so new for me and I didn’t realize that I really wanted it till now. Now that I’m doing it, I feel like I’m here for a reason. I’m still trying to figure that out myself, I’m still trying to figure myself out. Before I can figure out what can satisfy me, I got to figure out everything about me, man. I’m a mystery to myself still.
COZZ WITH J. COLE, YG, BIG SEAN, JEREMIH, BAS AND OMEN ON SUN., JULY 19, AT STAPLES CENTER, 1111 S. FIGUEROA ST., DOWNTOWN. 7 PM / $30.75-75.75 / ALL AGES. MORE INFO HERE! COZZ N EFFECT IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM DREAMVILLE/INTERSCOPE.