Cozz emerged from anonymity with dreams of getting rich and a pair of loaded dice.
The warning shot was his first video, “Dreams,” set on the nocturnal streets of South Central, surrounded by pit bulls, liquor stores and police helicopters. In 200 seconds, the 20-year-old catapulted into the elite ranks of young L.A. rappers.
Within a week that March, blogs hemorrhaged praise and labels started calling. Unlike most hair-trigger starts, no gimmick or co-sign fueled the hype machine. Just snarling raps, an anchoring hook and the vocal menace that often comes from the hungry and unknown.
The list of suitors expanded to most major labels, Mass Appeal Records, The Game and Wyclef Jean. After quick deliberation, Cozz signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville/Interscope imprint in June.
“I was surprised at how fast everything went,” the rapper born Cody Osagie says. “We were confident in the work and knew people would fuck with it, but we didn’t know how much.”
Cozz speaks from his childhood home on 65th and Western, dressed in a black-and-white squiggly shirt, Huf hat and blinding Nikes. It’s a Friday afternoon di-rectly before a minitour, which includes his first shows in New York and Chicago. He has a photo shoot later but mostly wants to hit the liquor store to celebrate a combination of things: good fortune, finally reaching legal drinking age and weekend possibilities.
When he was born in 1993, this block was a war zone — the heatedly guarded turf of the Rollin 60s Crips. It’s calmed down since. There’s now a Starbucks a mile away, and Cozz mentions that you can walk from here to the Slauson Swap Meet without getting jacked. It might not be Boyz N the Hood, but plenty of stories still wait to be told.
What isn’t clarified in the “Dreams” video is illuminated on his debut full-length, October’s stellar Cozz N Effect. As he bluntly snaps: “This is that soulful shit/That Food for Less talk/Not that Whole Foods shit/Nothing fake/Not that tofu shit.”
“It’s my perspective of life in South Central. I never gangbanged, and had a good mom and pops who kept my head on straight,” Cozz says. “But I did dirt, too. Sold a little bit of weed. Just typical ’hood shit that every nigga on this block has gone through: getting banged on at the bus stop, shit with girls.”
Since signing his deal, he has continued to live at his father’s place, a modest but well-maintained house with a large flat-screen TV, PS4 and photos of a young Cody Macc. A nod to the family’s Nigerian heritage comes from a stray Chinua Achebe book lying next to a copy of NBA 2K15. As soon as the tour ends, Cozz is moving out.
Introduced to rap through his parents, he came up on the canonical MCs who peaked when he was in preschool: Nas, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, 2Pac and Biggie.
When his parents split up during his high school years, he joined his mom in Redondo Beach, attending nearby Mira Costa High and experiencing the culture shock of transferring from South Central to the heart of surf-bro territory.
Soon after he discovered his passion for making music, Cozz started skipping school to record. He dropped off the football and track teams. A later stint at El Camino College didn’t stick, either. Odd jobs paid for recording time until his manager passed along some demos to Tunji Balogun, an A&R executive at Interscope, who later linked Cozz up with J. Cole. Once the “Dreams” video dropped, the rest was 7s and 11s.
“This is really just a short résumé of who I am,” Cozz says, reticent to say too much too soon. “Music is my only way to express myself, and I have a whole lot more stories to tell.”