Cozz set out to tell an important story on his debut album, Effected. After breaking into the game under J. Cole’s tutelage, the South Central rapper took his time, crafting a 14-song narrative about ambition, maturity and self-discovery. The result can be found on his soulful new LP, out now via Tha Committee/Dreamville/Interscope.
“This album is about growing pains,” he explains. “Everybody goes through it. You grow up and realize shit. As a kid, you think the world is a joke. As you get older, life hits you. Shit is real. You gotta be strong to be able to keep going. … [This album] is about figuring out what you like and doing what you gotta do for you.”
To help his fans get a deeper understanding of the intricate album, the 24-year-old wordsmith sat down with Billboard to break down every single track, detailing stories about what it was like to work with childhood hero Kendrick Lamar and longtime mentor J. Cole in the process. Here’s an inside look at the making of Effected.
“Questions” feels like the sequel to “Dreams” from Cozz & Effect. I had dreams of doing what I’m doing. Now, I’m kind of living that, not to level that I know I’m going to get to, but now I kind of see what this is about and I’ve got questions…When you first get signed and drop your first project, you have this idea of what’s gonna happen.
I’m confident so I said, “I’m gonna be here.” That didn’t happen, which is cool. I understand it. At the time, I had been quiet for so long, so I was like, “Motherf—ers is doubting me.” I’d see it a lot on the internet. “Does he rap anymore?” I know my ability, but I was in my emotions at the time like, “Motherf—ers are actin’ like I ain’t got it, but I know what I got.”
2. “Hustla’s Story” feat. Kendrick Lamar
I’ve been a fan of Kendrick since ninth grade so this was super exciting and it happened organically. Cole didn’t hit him up and I didn’t ask him for the feature. I was at the [Interscope] studio…and he pulled up. He asked what I was doing. I said, “I’m working on my album. If you wanna hear some songs, come by.”
He pulled up to the room I was working in like an hour later and I played “Hustla’s Story.” He was like, “Let me hop on that.” That was amazing. It was an honor because it wasn’t no favor. He just liked that song so much, he wanted to be on it.
Those are true stories. There are ups and downs [to hustling]. You get caught up, stuck in your ways. That’s why they call it the trap. You got this mindset like, “This is all there is. This is what I am.” So when n—as get out of jail, they be on the same shit and it’s a cycle. This was me [saying], “Don’t glorify that.”
Real motherf—ers that do it are trying to get out of it. I had real n—as tell me that my whole life. My mom was in my head anyway, but I had real n—as that was in the streets tell me that route was not for me. I could have been a different person.
3. “Ignorant Confidence”
It’s the story of my school days. Where I grew up, if you ain’t got new shit, they talk about you and make jokes. Growing up, my [parents] didn’t have money, so I had two pairs of shoes, two pairs of jeans. I would sell lunch tickets or I sold weed for a little bit…I was stealing shit, nothing crazy, but I did little shit to try to gain confidence, to get clothes, and to look how I wanted to look.
When I started getting shit like that, I got confidence from that ignorant shit. It was like, “I’m confident because I got the clothes I wanted, but it came from some ignorant-ass shit. The song was just reminiscing on that ignorant confidence.
4. “Demons N Distractions”
I grew up stressed out. My household wasn’t the most stable. My parents fought a lot and I grew up in the hood so I’ve been angry my whole life. That changed, of course, but it’s the demons. The only way I was getting away from that was smoking weed or drinking. That’s why I say, “I need a drink and a joint lit.” I was trying to find happiness, but it wasn’t the right way to find happiness.
When I found music, that was the first time I found something I loved to do, that also took my mind off the world. It became therapeutic to write problems down. It’s good to get that shit out. I was a quiet kid, I never talked to anybody, never came to my parents to talk about a problem. I dealt with it myself.
Music was the first time I opened up. At the time [of writing “Demons N Distractions”], I was dealing with a girl who didn’t believe in space. I also had homies in my life that were bad people. I gave people a lot of chances when I shouldn’t have. That was in my head.
5. “Freaky 45”
I’m young, but mentally, I feel like I’m a little more mature than most my age. I’ve dealt with older women as well so when I made “Freaky 45,” it was really just expressing the pain I was going through with younger women. I feel like every girl learns from a heartbreak and pain. At my age, a lot of women haven’t [learned that] yet. I’m not a dude to lie, so I’ll let you know, “I’m not ready for a relationship but I like you.
We can kick it but I’m not guaranteeing that I’ll be the most faithful dude ever.” When I do what I said I might do, they’re heartbroken and can’t believe it. Older women already been through that stage, so they get it. If I tell an older woman that, they’ll be like, “I see what you’re doing. Let’s do it and I’ll leave your ass alone.”
When I made “Proof,” I didn’t expect it to be on the album. The plan was to drop some songs before the album, so I was making joints [for that]. But they ended up being pretty fire, so I said, “Let’s put all of the energy into the album.” When I heard this beat, I thought, “I’m gonna talk shit and have bars.”
Most of the album is a story but this was like a [radio] freestyle. What really made me put it on the album was Cole. He hit me and said, “You’re not putting ‘Proof’ on the album? I feel like your core fans would love that shit.” That’s the one song that didn’t have a specific meaning on the album. It was just showing off.
7. “Badu” feat. Curren$y
Curren$y actually reached out about a year and a half ago on Twitter. I shot him my email, he shot me his, but we left it at that. When I made this song, it was just the first verse and the hook. [Dreamville President Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad] was like, “You know who’d sound crazy on this? Curren$y.”
I was already thinking that, so I told him to hit him up because they’re cool. Curren$y sent that shit back the same day or the next day. It was mad quick. I didn’t get to work with him in the studio yet, but I plan on it very soon. Also, when I heard this beat, it felt like an Erykah Badu vibe. There was no crazy meaning behind the title besides that.
8. “Bout It” feat. Garren?
At the time, I was dealing with a lot of people who was on some weird shit. This song happened naturally when I heard the beat. The melody and the hook popped in my head and I was like, “Let me try it.” I’m very hard on myself, so at first, I was like, “Eh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s dope.” The more I played it for people, they were like, “This shit is hard as f—! You trippin’.”
The more I live with my music and get to look at it from the outside in, that’s when I realize if something is good. I’ve got a good ear. That shit was dope. I loved doing that song.
Van Ness [Recreation Center] is down the street from my house. I played sports there and it’s always been a staple in my life. My neighbor and I would ride our bikes there and it was like an event. “Let’s go to Van Ness to pick up on girls!” It’s always been a big part of my life. Van Ness is also a street that I always take.
When I leave my dad’s house to go to the beach or anywhere, I take Van Ness all the way down because it’s a small, low-key street. You can duck the cops if you’re riding dirty or don’t have a license. Everybody’s always trying to take Van Ness to get down anywhere. I felt like I had to talk about all of that because Van Ness made me think about my childhood.
The message of the song is to watch who you trust. Growing up in the hood, you learn that early. I used to love Pokémon. The story [about a holographic Charizard] is a real one. That shit happened, came through, [a friend] put it in his pocket, helped me look for it, and my dad was like, “Nobody’s leaving this house until we find that f—ing card.”
We’re all looking for it and eventually, [the friend] takes it out of his pocket, throws it in the closet, and acts like he found it. I knew that’s what happened back then and later on, he admitted it. We’re still cool to this day, but that taught me a lesson. Even people you consider family could be a little shaky. That stuck with me.
11. “My Love”
The album is a story. On “Ignorant Confidence,” I say, “I finally got the girl I wanted…She hella fine / And she mine.” On “Demons N Distractions,” I’m like, “It’s love, but you’re starting to annoy me.” By the time we get to “My Love,” it kind of pinpoints that I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship. “My Love” was me realizing, “I can never call anyone ‘My Love’ because I’m not ready for that. I need to be doing me. I’m not where I need to be yet.” It’s funny because “My Love,” sonically, sounds like a love song but when you listen to it, I’m talking about how I’m on some other shit.
12. “That’s the Thing”
It’s one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s about realizations, saying, “I’m tired of not being where I need to be. I’ve been through shit with people I don’t trust. Now, I’m doing what it takes to get where I need to be..” That’s why I talk about how I “practiced with Cole.”
[Practice consisted of] writing drills. He was giving me tips to stay sharp. He was telling me to start off by writing anything to get the brain flowing, and it didn’t have to rhyme. That helped more than I thought it would. Then, he was like, “Take 10 minutes and rhyme with one phrase, like ‘cut-the-grass.’
Do 16 bars with just that rhyme.” Then another 10 minutes, “Try to write a 16 to somebody’s beat in their style.” So take somebody’s beat, a song that’s already out, by say Busta Rhymes, and do it in his flow. It was just to keep our brains sharp. After that, making a song was nothing. It was like a warm-up before working out. It’s the same shit for your brain.
13. “Zendaya” feat. J. Cole
We did “Zendaya” while I was working with Cole, doing those writing drills. One of the days, I brought up Zendaya while we were talking about life and random shit. We had a conversation about girls and I asked him how his relationship’s been with his wife, and then, I was like, “Zendaya’s kinda fire.”
Not only is she cute, she’s on her shit. She’s super Black power-ish and she just seems smart. I’m more attracted to brains and people who are on their shit than anything. And, [she’s a] beautiful woman, as well. I look at women as art. So we had this conversation and got to the music making.
He made the beat and wrote his verse. He laid it down in front of me and I was like, “Oh, shit! You threw me a f—in’ lob, boy?” Half of my verse was kind of there, but I changed it up because I was like, “I have to respond to that”…She ain’t responded [to the song] but she followed me on Instagram and Twitter. She’s watching my Insta-Stories and shit, and she liked a picture. Little stuff. She ain’t gonna hit me up. I’ma still have to hit her up, if I want to do that, but she showed a little love. Nothin’ crazy.
14. “Not a Minute More”
I knew that was gonna be the outro even before I had the whole album figured out because it felt so relieving. “That’s the Thing” was the introduction to the new Cozz. By “Not a Minute More,” it was like, “I want this right now and I know what I want to do. I’m mature.” It just felt good and it felt like I’ve been through everything that made me what I am to this day. That was the point of knowing, “This is what happens when you pray to God. I know I’ma make it. I know this is gonna take me to the next level.”