Over the decades, South Central Los Angeles has acted as an incubator for hip-hop, where rappers and groups like Ice-T, N.W.A., and Cypress Hill pushed the city to become the genre’s focal point. After so many years, L.A. has risen again with MCs like Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, who have aided in the city’s musical reincarnation. While the reign of King Kendrick and his TDE crew persists, it’s no surprise that L.A. has now churned out another promising young rapper, 21-year-old Cozz, or Cody Osagie, a pleasant addition to L.A.’s growing roster.
Yet, it seems that Cozz has popped up out of nowhere. After dropping his debut single, “Dreams,” this past March, and subsequently releasing his video for the single a couple months later, labels began scouting him, including J. Cole’s Interscope imprint, Dreamville. After Cozz showed Cole his entire project — what was to be his first offering, Cozz N Effect — he was signed to Dreamville in June, becoming the label’s second signee. He dropped his album on October 3, and is now on his first headlining tour. He most recently played the CMJ Takeover showcase at the Highline Ballroom, opening for Joey Bada$$ and Smoke DZA.
Cozz hasn’t been doing this for years; he more or less stumbled onto rapping through a friend in high school. “In 10th grade, I met this dude Chris Martin at school. He rapped, he was writing and shit. It was dope. So I was like, man, if he can do it, I can do it. I tried it. At first, it became a hobby for me, just freestyling and kind of bullshitting, just trying to beat him. It was a competition between me and him, starting off. I took it seriously later down the line.”
Cozz N Effect is his first major project, which — before Cole got to him — he was planning to release as a mixtape. If you just scratch the surface, it looks like Cozz is yet another young, unwaveringly confident rapper who has had a fast rise to the near-top. But bar by bar, Cozz proves his power, using “Dreams” as a launchpad for his unrelenting certainty, surprising for a rapper who picked up the pen only a few years ago, when he was 16.
Cozz grew up in South Central L.A., on 65th and Western Avenue, to be exact. “I grew up with the Moms and the Pops. It was diverse because my pops is Nigerian, he started out in Nigeria, he moved over here when he was 18. He listened to a lot of reggae. My moms, she loved reggae too, she would play old-school hip-hop, a lot of r&b. So I guess that was my music upbringing, without me even realizing it.
“I went to school around the city. I went to a lot of private schools, like Christian schools. I went to a predominantly white high school, but that was a whole new scene for me, it was a better area. It was kind of a mind-opening experience. A lot of people don’t leave the L.A. area and experience that,” Cozz says. “It’s always the same shit, same homies. But going to that school took me out of that vibe, it showed me how other people live, everybody’s not the same, everybody’s not brought up the same. It definitely opened my mind. I’m glad I went there. I’m happy I went there.
“That’s the reason I started rapping. I met the dude who inspired me to start writing. Shit happened for a reason.”
After high school, Cozz enrolled in community college but found that he wasn’t taking it seriously. He dropped out and started recording last year. Less than a year later, Cozz has already been given the chance to be great; he believes what’s happened to him is fated. “I feel like I’m here for a reason, like I’ve been given a platform for a reason,” he says.
If you choose to look beneath the surface, it indeed seems like Cozz is here for a reason. The moment the beat drops on “Dreams,” Cozz goes in with energy — “Always had dreams of being rich, huh!” — presenting an intensity that is matched throughout the album. Cozz’s hunger is a characteristic not unknown to L.A. and its rich musical history. If you ask Cozz who inspires him musically, his list of names includes many L.A. rappers who were at the forefront of the gangsta rap movement: N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Tupac. Yet Cozz’s music doesn’t exactly subscribe to that genre, deviating from gangsta rap’s violent and sociopolitical themes, as well as the thickly layered production. So where does he think he fits?
“I’ve definitely formed, like, a lyrical lane. I feel like I should be taken seriously; it’s not like some come-and-go type shit. I feel like it’s gonna last.”
While Cozz N Effect doesn’t give us every bit of Cozz — “[The album] is little bits of me, honestly,” he says — it does show us the intensity of a young rapper on the brink of something big; and the fervor of a young rapper who views rapping as the only way out, as a life-and-death decision. Cozz’s brand of music that’s “gonna last” definitely borders on gangsta, his cadence and passion intimating the genre. While Cozz doesn’t allow violence and politics to lie at the heart of his music, he still voices his anger with a system that acts as an opposing force, that resists the progress he’s trying to make in moving forward.
As far as confidence goes, Cozz is “just a confident person, period,” he says. “I’m confident in life. I have a good ear for music. When I listen to my stuff, I’m like, ‘Would I be listening to this if this wasn’t me?’ When it comes to my music and being confident with it, I go to a place knowing that I’m sure this shit is good or not. If I could bump it, I know somebody else would. That’s just me knowing music.
“This is my outlet. I’m not a person that really expresses himself, so music is a way for me to express myself. I feel like I’ve got a real love for music. And I love doing it; it’s not a chore for me. It’s something I like to do, a competition thing. Live for it.”
Catch Cozz Tuesday at the Santos Party House for his first headlining show in New York.