Mozzy is living his dream. After generating a buzz in the independent hip-hop scene, the 30-year-old Sacramento native has just released his latest album, 1 Up Top Ahk. Fans lined up outside of Pink Dolphin’s flagship store in Los Angeles’ Fairfax Avenue to meet the gritty wordsmith on the effort’s release date (Aug. 18). It’s just the latest chapter in a seemingly improbably journey from California slums to music industry success. “I couldn’t have even dreamed this,” he tells Billboard, with sincerity in his voice. “If a n—a told me to write this down, I couldn’t even write it down like this.”
Indeed, this was a distant reality for the rapper born Timothy Patterson. As a kid, he was raised by his activist grandmother, who took over for his incarcerated father and drug-afflicted mother when they were unable to care for him. Eventually, he found his way into the street life and subsequently, behind bars. But today, he’s able to provide for his family, legitimately, through his music and that, he says, makes it all worthwhile. “This what we in it for,” he adds. “This was the actual dream.”
Speaking to Billboard, Mozzy explains how that dream became a reality. He breaks down his background in Sac-Town, his resilience through trauma, and the therapeutic power of hip-hop. He also opens up about his latest LP, 1 Up Top Ahk, its thumping singles, and why he’s now ready to fulfill even bigger dreams.
What was your upbringing like in Sacramento?
It was beautiful, it was pleasant, it was love. I was raised by my grandmother and her house was full of love. It was platinum, other than pops serving time and moms dealing with problems, so I couldn’t be in her custody. But other than that, it was platinum. It didn’t start getting spunky for me until I started experimenting with the streets, going outside, and seeing people trip off the color I wear, or the jurisdiction I live in. So I became accustomed to that, like I grew in it. Even though I seen it firsthand with my family, I didn’t get involved until I started getting tampered with.
You revisit your childhood in the video for “Afraid” [which depicts a caring grandmother and a mother’s struggles with addiction]. Why was that important for you?
Them is my identical struggles. As you can see, there wasn’t no father in the household and moms was evidently dealing with what she was dealing with. It wasn’t that extreme but it was slimy and being a kid, you don’t really understand. All you know is right and wrong and I knew that was wrong. I knew that was hurting her more than it was helping her. I didn’t even want moms to smoke cigarettes [because of] second-hand smoke. I believed in all that.
I’m thinking you’ll die in two years [from smoking]. She’s dope now, though. She’s platinum. She’s good. She shook that s–t off. Pops made it home. He got on parole. Everybody doing they dougie. My childhood was peachy other than me wanting to be with my parents my whole childhood. I grew up with grams and I started to understand that I was put in a beneficial predicament. I just took advantage of that position I was placed in. It couldn’t have been doper. I was like her only child. She was starting over with me. So, my childhood was dope.
Who were some of your influences once you started rhyming?
I liked hip-hop and gangster rap in general, but I was West Coast. I was throwing up Westside as a kid. I had dreams of being with Death Row. Tupac’s my favorite rapper. That’s probably one of my biggest influences, but also, you’ve got Malcolm X. I read a lot about him and admired his lifestyle, how intelligent he was. I’m soulful, so you got Anthony Hamilton. I’d ride around and listen to Anthony Hamilton all day. I just like feeling. I like that spiritual s–t, the s–t that grabs your soul.
Tupac talked about the streets, but also had an activist background. He was able to live in those two worlds.
That’s how I feel about it. I’ve been criticized for a long time, but I tell them, this is my side of the story. This is what I see. I can only relay what I see. This is what I relate to and I know I ain’t the only one. There’s a million other ghettos so I’m pretty sure they’ve experienced the same things I have, if not worse. So, I speak for them. I’m the voice of the unheard.
On “Like You Say You Do,” you say, “It’s traumatizing watching bullets penetrate a body.” How are you able to overcome that type of trauma, to push forward?
I haven’t. It still haunts me to this day. I done lost bruhs. It’s something you can’t get over, but you eventually get used to it. After awhile, you become accustomed to it, especially after one of your relatives gets shot, or after you get shot. It minimizes your regard for life. It’s like you don’t really care. N—as didn’t care when they shot me and nobody went to jail when they popped bruh. So, you become accustomed to it. It’s crazy, but in the beginning stages, watching n—as’ noodles splattered and all that, different strokes for different folks, but for me, it was very traumatizing. It was s–t that you go home, lay in the bed and think about.
It’s deeper than a n—a getting shot. N—as end up with s–t bags, paralyzed, or braindead. Not only is it traumatizing to watch a n—a get hit, fall, and squirm, but the aftereffects are slimy. But that’s a whole lot better than a n—a dying and that’s what we’re used to dealing with, death. So, a n—a getting shot is traumatizing, especially for a n—a who didn’t come from them trenches, but once you become accustomed to it, immune to it, that’s like the lesser of the evil.
On the same song, you say, “My momma lookin’ at houses, point ‘em out, and we gon’ make it happen.” How does it feel to come out of the traumatic circumstances we just discussed, and to be able to provide for your family in that way?
That’s something… I couldn’t have even dreamed this. If a n—a told me to write this down, I couldn’t even write it down like this. It’s crazy, bro. It’s more than enough. I’m such a humble person so every little blessing is maximized to me because I’m appreciative. This means the world to me. I can provide for my daughter without strippin’ a n—a or bustin’ somebody’s forehead. I ain’t gotta sell dope, I ain’t gotta put no female on the track or tell her to post an ad. I’m making legitimate money. I ain’t gotta hide from nobody, my credit A-1, I can provide for moms, I can pay sis’ rent. This what we in it for. This was the actual dream.
Everything else is perks, but this what we do it for, to provide for your people. Being able to do that while doing something I love at the same time, I don’t even know how to explain it. This s–t is crazy. Where I’m from, bro, if you don’t get shot, robbed, or if nothing happens to your family members, if you don’t go to jail, then that’s a good day. That’s platinum. Where I’m from, we expect police to kick doors, we expect suckers to slide. These are our expectations.
Even though you say you couldn’t dream of this life, you rap about asking for this life on “Prayed for This.” You also say “lots of misfortune done came from this life.” How did that realization come about?
As a kid, I wanted to be a thug. I prayed for this life that I’m living now, but when I was a kid, I used to pray for the street life, until I got a taste of it and realized that it wasn’t as beneficial as I thought it was. It’s not everything it was cracked up to be. I wanted to be a crime boss, a drug lord, and as I grew older, I realized that it’s never a happy ending, and if it is, it’s always because the crime boss went legitimate. I realized there’s only one way to operate this. Legit is all I got.
Anything else will take me away from my family, I’ma get spanked for. Can’t nobody f–k with me in this rap s–t. How these n—as getting bags and I’m not? I prayed for this s–t, bro. On that particular song, I’m talking about San Quentin [State Prison]. I sat on my bunk and I said, “When I get out this time, I’ma make it happen.” I got out and made it happen.
What were some of the lessons you learned behind bars?
I’m a king. The people behind the bars was letting me know I’m a king. They were like, ‘N—a, you our voice.’ So I knew I was a king and that I had to speak for these people. I ain’t gonna be able to speak for them behind bars, they gonna silence me, so I gotta do what I gotta do. I gotta abide by they laws, walk the thin line, get this money, and keep speaking on behalf of the slums. That’s my task and n—as in the streets respect me enough to do that. My trenches don’t want me out there slidin’, trying to knock down a sucker. They’d rather me being out here putting on the way we put on.
There’s a therapeutic aspect to hip-hop and I can hear that in your lyrics. How has that helped you as a youth, behind bars, or even now?
It shaped me. That’s the only kind of music I listened to. Rest in peace to [The] Jacka, Tupac, DMX. That s–t helped mold me into the man that I am. I took they method of expressing their selves and utilized it to my advantage. Each one of them people I just named tell real life stories, current events. They talked about s–t where a n—a will listen to their s–t like, “I swear to God that just happened to me.” I picked up that trait and that’s what I try to incorporate in my music. I try to capture that motion picture for you.
You worked with Jay Rock on “Momma We Made It.” How did that come about?
My management function with Jay Rock heavy. I told management I need that. They’re like, “Jay Rock function with you automatically.” Before [“Momma We Made It”], I did a [“Money”] song with me, Rock, and E-40. That’s the first time we ever locked in and collaborated on anything. But I was telling bruh, “I need bro on something.” Bruh blessed it with no question. He went crazy. That n—a’s bananas. He went nutso.
You also have YFN Lucci and Kolyon on your latest single, “Stay Over There.” How did that track come together?
I function with YFN heavy. I love that n—a Koly. I just cooked up something, put one verse on it and bruh sent it to YFN Lucci without my consent. He just sent it to him and that motherfu–er doubled back. When it came back, I was like, “Whoa. That’s him! Slimy!” He told me to put a second verse, I was like, “No, it’s too dope for me to go again. I need somebody else.” So, I started searching for one of them n—as from them trenches. That’s how we got Koly P.
What message do you want listeners to take away from this project?
That same exact feeling you get when you go to church and you feel anointed, that’s how I want you to feel. I want you to feel like you’re either walking into church or walking out of church. I want to touch your soul. Cry with me, vibe with me, and feel what I feel. I’m basically forking over a pair of the 9s, giving you my shoes and letting you walk in my kicks.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I want Mozzy to be an empire that took n—as off the streets and made them rich. I want it to be, not only a label, but a corporation that’s known for putting n—as with felonies, n—as with no hope, I want to be known for putting n—as in the trenches in position to be their own boss. I want my brand to create bosses. I just want to see the young win, the slums win, the people who look like me, I want to see them win, and I want to have a big role in their success. Like they say, God blessin’ all the trap n—as. When it’s all said and done, I want to do what Gucci Mane did, what Diddy’s doing. Until then, we’re gonna keep pushing this Mozzy.