In 58 words, here’s Cozz’s life as depicted on his Dreamville Records debut, Cozz & Effect: He’s from South Central, Los Angeles, spends his days at the beach and nights on 65th street. He’s from a Crip neighborhood but doesn’t harp on gangbanging and his dreams of getting rich are only superseded by his fear of disappointing his mother. Oh yeah, and he can rhyme his ass off, especially for a recently turned 21-year-old.
Cozz’s shifting rhyme schemes impress throughout Cozz & Effect. He’ll enter a track bombastically off-kilter, stumble into a separate topic four-bars-in, and then lyrically wreck shop the rest of the way. Call it the stylistic equivalent to “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you. Imma let you finish but…” Altogether, slightly scattered yet brilliantly entertaining. On “I Need That” (featuring Dreamville label mate, Bas) The South Central, Los Angelino chops-in by tossing darts at “bitches” that “think they poppin’ because [they’re] Instagram famous,” then maneuvers seamlessly into the most visceral depiction of his plight and perspective:
“Hit the beach at day / Then I’m back at 65th at night / Bitch I ain’t complaining I just really have to share some light / Still leave the crib and make sure I don’t forget the knife / The knife got me feelin’ like I’m Superman but prayin’ I don’t run into a Kryptonite / That orange Nike sign lookin’ red in a different light / Niggas rather kill than fight / Familiar faces ‘round me but they attitudes could switch at times / A lot of pain, lot of funerals here / I’m still standing like I just lost in Musical Chairs / Prayin’ in my cup… ”
The irony is that large swaths of Cozz & Effect kick more clichés than Air Jordans at a sneaker convention. “I’m Tha Man,” for example, starts off with Cozz rapping about a relationship then quickly devolves into more lifestyle rhymes. To paraphrase: I got bitches and I’m sippin’ and I rap dope and “I’m the muthafuckin’ man! You should ask around!” “Dkbu” is essentially built the same. “Murda,” which comes complete with obligatory faux-Reggae musings, runs along that vein as well, minus the womanizing couplets. All of this would ring redundant if Cozz wasn’t… again… rapping so good—each bar lands somewhere between engaging and relentless. There’s bourgeoning imagination in every stanza. Cozz & Effect brims with promise.
Here’s a quick tale of two tracks. During the listening session for the project in Los Angeles, California (October 1), Cozz shared the back-story to “Western Ave Slaves.” He explained that initially J. Cole considered jumping on the song but decided against it. The imagery of prostitutes on Cozz’s block was too specific for Cole to touch. It’s an absolutely beautiful joint and the album’s most resolute narrative. Convoluted, arguably corny attempts like “Lsn” (featuring Ackrite)—on the other hand—sound forced in comparison, and fail to resonate as authentically as the menacing, “Dreams” for example.
Cole eventually jumped on “Knock Tha Hustle Remix,” another of the album’s most meaningful offerings. But instead of dropping one verse, Cole dropped two. Cozz’s fear, as he explained during the listening session, was that Cole would inadvertently steal the song. He jokingly explained, “I texted him like, ‘My nigga, you tryna kill my career before it starts?’” The results aren’t as polarized as that quote might assume, but Cole delivers two pinnacle verses. The first opens with “Death to the impostors / Label me the King, my dreams could win Oscars / My niggas turned mobsters / My White friends doctors” (which just sounds phonetically awesome) and another, more personal verse detailing his brother’s incarceration. “Reminiscing we was kids screamin’ ‘Fuck the cops!” Cole raps. “Guess he took it serious / For me that was just for props / Arms too skinny to hug the block.”
J. Cole’s shadow will be omnipresent. The reason Cozz has garnered mass appeal-type coverage so quickly is because he’s one of the first artists signed to the Interscope distributed imprint. Even though Cody Macc has his own collective—The Committee—the Dreamville association turnt up the attention. Fortunately for both Cozz and Cole, Cozz & Effect serves as passport to the conversation. It’s brash, passionate, and lyrically impressive enough to anticipate the future—an emphatic win for all involved.