Sacramento’s Mozzy is changing the tone of gangster rap. If trap music glamourizes street life, Mozzy’s music strips the glamour away. His lyrics don’t glorify or romanticize violence; instead, these lyrics focus on the inevitability of it, and the way it dehumanizes those caught up. His style harkens back to artists like 2Pac or Scarface: rappers who wanted only to bear witness to things happening in their neighborhoods, to share the stories of people who usually remain voiceless. If Mozzy’s lyrics sound too specific — like they might be about a situation that you don’t understand — well, that’s exactly right. Mozzy is the narrator of Oak Park, and he takes his job very seriously. He writes every day, records three or four times a week, and has already surrounded himself with an army of fellow rappers from Sacramento (E Mozzy, Hus Mozzy, Celly Ru). He seems to put out a record more frequently than I get my car oil changed. Accordingly, he’s become one of the biggest unsigned rappers on the West Coast.
Two weeks ago, I met up with Mozzy in Fairfield — the midpoint between Oakland and Sacramento. A few hours before I was scheduled to meet him, I received a text message from a phone number I didn’t know. It was an address, followed by a short message: “4 pm. The reservation is under ______.” When I plugged in the address, I was surprised to see that it pointed me to a place called Rosina’s European Health Care and Wellness Center. I was suddenly very nervous. I wasn’t wearing matching socks. Would Mozzy notice this if we were scheduled for pedicures? I was also worried about logistics—how was I to take notes with someone rubbing my hands with oil? Would I feel comfortable asking hard-hitting questions while my fingers were tortured with a cuticle pusher? When I arrived at the spa, located on the third floor of a large office building, the receptionist was thoroughly confused. I reread the text message and realized that the word “reservation” is almost always associated with food. There was a restaurant on the first floor. I rushed down just in time to beat Mozzy and his bodyguards through the doors. Mozzy started his meal with a slice of plain cheesecake without any “extracurriculars,” such as berries or chocolate, a move I admire. We discussed truth and its relationship with rap, the difficulty of leaving your hometown, and the Bay Area. —Justin Carroll-Allan
2016 has been a horrible year for the world, but for you, this year’s been pretty good, right?
Mozzy:I made a lot of money in 2016. Dropped a lot of projects. Done a lot of shows. Seen a lot of progress.
I live in Oakland, and there’s a billboard ad for Mandatory Check a block from my house. You’re on billboards.
Mozzy:Yeah. Mandatory Check’s still doing numbers. Shout out to all the fans out there still tapping into that project. I just seen a dope check from that project. It’s crazy—I wasn’t even expecting that.
How was working with Nipsey and Young Thug?
Mozzy:It was a dope experience. I fuck with both of them heavy. I was working on something with Nipsey and Young Thug came on it after listening to it for two seconds like, ‘Let me eat on this.’ It was out of the blue and unexpected. I’ve got a couple of songs with Nip. He’s a dope artist and businessman.
You also just dropped “Ground Rules” with Snoop Dogg and Trae tha Truth. Snoop’s a legend everywhere, but he’s especially mythic here in California. How was working with him?
Mozzy:That was big. I didn’t actually get to experience being in the studio with him. Trae tha Truth, big bruh, is family, and he locked that in for me. Me and [Trae] got an album dropping last week. [The album, Tapped In, was released December 16th, 2016.] Snoop did his thing on there. Shout out to Snoop—I’m coming for him. He kinda chewed me on that, know what I’m sayin’? [Mozzy laughs] He got me on that one, and I don’t let niggas get me. Unc—I’mma holler at you about that. It’s love though—pure love. That was big; he a legend. Hell yeah.
How was your San Francisco show a few weeks back?
Mozzy:Bananas. It holds about eight hundred to a thousand people, and it sold out. On top of that, I brought about 100 extra people from my jurisdiction. All my opening acts were under the Mozzy camp. It was the first show where all my artists were present. They knew the shit word for word verbatim. It was crazy.
Bay Area rap is experiencing a renaissance. A lot of young talented rappers are breaking out right now. I know you’ve collaborated a few times with Nef the Pharaoh, one of the most talented new voices coming out of the Bay. Who are some of the others you like?
Mozzy:Off the dribble, I fuck with Lil Blood, Mike Sherm, Tay Way, Lil Yee, Lil Purp. I hate leaving people out, but there’s a couple of ’em that you can look up.
What do you think of Kamaiyah?
Mozzy:She dope. I saw her when G Eazy brung me out. She go crazy. I’d love to work with her.
They love you in San Francisco, but you’ve got a complicated relationship with Sacramento. Would you consider the Bay Area your home?
Mozzy:Nah, not at all. San Francisco, the Bay Area—they second homes. My home is Oak Park. Sacramento is my home. Even though we have a complicated relationship, [Sacramento] is where I call home, where my people at, where they go bananas for me at, where they kill and die for me at. So that’s home. That’s all I’ve ever known. Bay Area is second home, though. They ain’t showed me nothing but love.
You’ve dropped about six albums in the past two years, right?
Mozzy:Yeah, but I’ve dropped about twenty projects.
You’re one prolific man.
Mozzy:Hell yeah. I just naturally let it ooze out of me. I hate to throw good work away; I know the majority of my shit is dope. I like to cook and give it to you hot.
When are you playing Sacramento next?
Mozzy:Now that I’m off probation, as soon as they book me.
You’re off paper now?
Mozzy:Yessir. I’m wigglin’.
Are you hoping to tour in the new year?
Mozzy:Yeah, let’s tour it up. Let’s cook.
Anything in the works?
Mozzy:Everything still under construction. Nothing I can announce now. I’ll post my dates on Instagram.
Your song ”Stranger to the Pain” touches on the messy nature of wanting to escape where you’re from while being inextricably linked to it—out of love, out of a sense of obligation, etc. How hard has the transition to being an LA resident been for you? Do you miss Oak Park?
Mozzy:I’m very homesick. I feel like [Oak Park] is my people. I’ve been chasing my dream, and while I’ve been chasing my dream I’ve lost contact with a lot of my people. I don’t answer my phone a lot, I’m working a lot. Now that I’m off paper I had to double back and come touch my people. I think working—like NBA players, they get drafted and go off to play for whatever team, but they get homesick. Same for me. I fly a lot of people out. So you know, That’s how I deal with it. I have them around. That’s why I brought so many people to San Francisco. I had the whole hood in that motherfucker.
Do you think your music will always focus on Oak Park and your people there?
Mozzy:I’m broadening my horizons, I’m traveling and seeing new things, but Oak Park is where I’ve been for twenty-six, twenty-seven years. It’s embedded in me. It’s in the way I talk, my vocab. It’s not just me inventing words—it’s how people talk in my jurisdiction. It’s how we communicate amongst each other. It’s in the way I walk, know what I’m saying? I walk like a P nigga, I talk like one. You can just feel it, you can smell it—just like an Oakland or Frisco person, you can tell the swag.
I’ve got people dying to this day in my neighborhood. People I’m close to are still heavily involved in that activity, so I think it’ll be forever in my music because that’s what my people are involved in. I call home and I hear about it, and I can’t do nothin’ but scream “Rest in Peace” or “Free Wookie Woop Woop” or talk about the incident that happened and how I feel about it. So naturally I think that hell yeah, I’ll talk about this shit forever.
A lot of the rappers that influenced you growing up were Bay Area guys—The Jacka, Messy Marv. You didn’t listen to C-Bo or Brotha Lynch Hung?
Mozzy:I wasn’t really into them for political reasons. My neighborhood wasn’t slappin’ their music. You’d look like a dork walking up rapping to T-Nutty or C-Bo or Brotha Lynch Hung.
Who were some Sacramento rappers you were into?
Mozzy:My uncle, GP the Beast, was a big influence.
You were on one of his albums really early on.
Mozzy:Yeah, he had me on a few tracks. He was the first person to put me in the studio, then drop the music to where I can take the CD, crack the plastic, and say: “Look, number fourteen, Lil Tim, last verse: that’s me.” We also had Skee 64, J-Mack, Big Slep Rock, Capital Boyz. It was shit like that we was fuckin’ with. I fucked with Lord da Real, too. Now Sacramento’s got E Mozzy, Cellyru, Snubs, Noni Blanco, and Hus Mozzy, and we got June on the Beat.
Sacramento’s coming up.
Mozzy:We cookin’. You know I had to open the door and let them all stampede through. It’s only right.
You’re responsible for perhaps one of the best album titles in history.
Dope Fiend Tryna Get His Corsica Back.
Mozzy:Oh. Yeah that’s dope. I need to come up with more shit like that.
Why the Corsica?
Mozzy:Because that’s what I was driving at the time. It was real. The dope fiend was my [girl] at the time, and she was trying to get that [car] back. I wanted to take a picture with it. Usually people put a picture of a Benz or something on their album cover, but I wasn’t on in a Benz, I was in a Corsica, and the dope fiend was trying to get that motherfucker back. I wanted people to see what I was going through. I was embracing my struggle. I wanted to tell the truth.
You’re a very honest rapper. Can you touch upon the importance of truth in your work?
Mozzy:Truth is very, very important. It’s everything. In my neighborhood, you rapping to a nigga and he don’t believe you, you don’t get no play. You can spit the dopest rap about chopping with the AK, but if yesterday you got stripped, nigga took your chain, phone, your shoes, and today you’re talking about chopping with the AK and that you have more money than anybody, then nobody’s going to believe you. It’s not credible. It holds no weight. But when your shit is truthful and you’re credible, it could be sloppy, you can be unfashionable, and we still going to tap in because it’s the truth. We want to hear it. You don’t even got to rhyme. We want the real. Truth gives you credibility.
Would you say that credibility as important to success as money?
Mozzy:In gangster rap, yes. In hip hop you can probably get away with saying anything, but in gangster rap, a nigga’s going to look into your background. If you say you did five years in the pen, a nigga from the hoods going come out and say, ‘Shut up, bitch—you did a year and a half.’ If you claim you got shot forty-three times, the homies going to say, ‘Bitch, you got shot four or three times.’
Which would be impressive enough in its own right.
Mozzy:You feel me? [Truth is] very important as far as gangster rap is concerned. So, yeah, I think credibility is more important than money. Truth’s what gravitated the people towards me. It wasn’t money, the big chain, the fat house, or the flashy car. It was that I spoke honestly. Even if it diminishes my character, I speak honestly. I talk about a drug habit I used to be in the closet about, and how my mama burnt me with a Newport when I was only two, I still got the scars. My mom was going through some crazy shit. I’ve got a relationship with her now, and she’s been recovered for a few years now, and she gets offended by shit like that, but I’m just giving the people the truth.
The music video for “Bladadah” features you, E Mozzy, and Hus Mozzy outside of a liquor store drinking Luc Belaire—an inexpensive wine—out of Styrofoam cups. ”Perk’s Callin” [Mozzy’s remake of Future’s “Perky’s Callin”] shows you in an unfurnished apartment lighting blunts off stoves. What’s the connection of this spare style in the videos to honesty?
Mozzy:That’s part of the honesty. We’re not going to get rent no thousand-dollar-a-day cars, we ain’t fixing to rent no double R and bring it outside. We’re not wearing no fake-ass jewelry or bring out all the models and all that. That ain’t how we live, and that ain’t what we’re talking about. How we live and what we talk about are in sync. That’s what people gravitate to. I’m speaking to an audience that isn’t rich. My crowd taps into my shit because they can relate to it. We shoot [the video] as we are right there, as is.
What can you tell me 1 Up Top Ahk?
Mozzy:It’s my dopest project. It’s dropping on Empire. It’s the only project that I spent a lot of time editing. I’d go home, listen to it, then be like, ”Nah, I’ve got to change this,” then go back to the studio to re-tweak it. It was supposed to drop before Bladadah. The project should drop in the first quarter of next year. I want this project to be the one everyone know me by.