After grinding for 10 years, working with different indie labels and flirting with fame, Cognito has found the perfect label to call home: Strange Music, one of the most successful independent music labels in the world. “They work hard like I work hard,” assures COGNITO. “They put everything into their artists.”
The dogged determination to prevail at any cost that both Strange and COGNITO share couldn't be a better match. The Fairfield, Calif.-raised father of two has poured his heart into albums, toured relentlessly, and stayed in the studio late numerous Friday nights when he could've been chilling at home with his family – all for the love of the game.
Growing up in the North Bay, COGNITO fast became intrigued with the burgeoning local hip-hop scene led by E-40 and B-Legit. The two hip-hop heavyweights exposed the young emcee to the hip-hop community, tapping his services at the Sick Wid It offices and schooling him in the art of promotion. He is the first to admit he was not the best student. But writing stories was his strong point in school. He started writing rhymes at 16, taking his cue from the people he was around. Yet it was hard to take rapping seriously as a career. A white rapper just wasn't considered normal yet. It wasn't until three years later, when Eminem's The Slim Shady LP released, that COGNITO's path became clearer.
2006 was a big year for COGNITO. He hooked up with Master P and his newly formed Gutta Music to release Recognition. It was an honor to be affiliated with P, a hip-hopreneur COGNITO had admired since hearing his West Coast Bad Boyz compilation in 1997. COGNITO would score his biggest hit to date, “Shift Kits,” from the Shift Kits and Hood Chicks DVD.
As COGNITO prepares for the next stage of his career, he is more than ready for the full-time grind.
What kind of environment or platform does the West Coast give you in order for you to create your own brand of hip hop?
I am blessed to be in the Bay Area. It has helped me because the Bay Area is so diverse. There are no boundaries and the segregation is very limited. You can go to any environment and make contact with other musicians. I have definitely had a good experience in this kind of environment.
Who are your favorite hip hop artists to listen to and how do they add to your hip hop style?
Growing up, I was influenced by Eminem because he broke the barrier to allow me to achieve what I do. I listened to a lot of old school type stuff like E-40 and B-Legit. It is not always about the music, it is also about the way they conduct business. Looking at the whole picture is important. I may not always be a fan of their music but if they are doing something right, then I respect that.
What led you to create your new album Automatic?
The good part about creating this album was that I finally reached the point of being noticed and having others hear my name and know who I am. Getting noticed by Tech N9ne and Strange Music. The personal struggles that I have also endured went into the creation of Automatic.
How does this new album help you in terms of showing people your own individual style?
This album is the first project that I have been able to express myself and let everything out. There were no boundaries as to what I could do with this record. My individuality was not held back. Letting everything out was something I could do with this album.
Was meeting with producer Femi one of the most significant moments in your hip hop career? How?
Femi is about as personal as a producer as you will meet. He will basically lay it all on the table. He can listen, judge and connect with an artist. I have done 20 to 30 songs with Femi. It is such a beautiful connection. A perfect artist/producer relationship is what you can expect from Femi. Meeting him and working with him made me who I am today as an artist.
Has being a father impacted you as an artist?
It has. Not only in terms of motivation. I realized that I have someone to support and that pushed me in terms of motivation. Being a father brings out a lot of responsibility. It allows me to focus on what is really important. Taking on the role of a father is a serious situation that I realized I needed to take serious. It has greatly influenced my music and career.
Where do you see the hip hop industry 10 years from now?
In the future of hip hop, 90 to 100 percent of the industry will be digital. The independent record scene is going to take over and increase. I cannot even attempt to predict what kind of music will be playing but I can see how it will be in terms of business. There will not be million dollar budgets, they will want stuff quick and be able to download an artist’s songs quickly. Music wise, it is going to continue to flourish and be even more diverse.
In terms of contribution, what do you feel that you add most to the hip hop scene?
Today in the hip hop industry there seems to be a constant theme of collar popping and getting chicks. I consider myself as a normal guy who likes to rap. My fans reflect my style as well. I will rap about stuff that I have went through and what others have went through. As far as my music goes, I am about being real and it seems that there is a shortage of real material from rappers these days. I love for people to listen to my music and be able to relate to my material. In my music I seek to help those who have been through what I have been through.
Is the West Coast hip hop scene changing and in what ways?
The way it is changing is that the young guys who are coming up are getting recognized a lot more than what they used to. Back in the day in the West Coast, you had to be like Dr. Dre and Snoop to get recognized. It is time for some of these younger guys to shine and get noticed. The West Coast is more accepting of other genres of music more so these days instead of wanting to hear the same stuff. They are more accepting of South and East coast hip hop.
You seem to be a story oriented rapper. What kind of story do you want to tell through hip hop?
When it comes to stories, I do not want to be limited to stories of what I have been through. Most of what I do will be about the struggles of my life. Occasionally, I like to make people step out of their boundaries. I like to give people hope and realize that you can have the things you want. I like to mix the occasional fantasy element in my songs. Some stuff will be real and some stuff will be off the chart. I like to talk about the ladies, party and club scene from time to time. Everyone has had a hard time and I want people to relate to my songs but I also want to entertain and allow my fans to have fun through my music.
I know that you are going to continue to bring the fire in hip hop. What other plans are in store for you in the near future?
Strange Music is consistently putting their artists on the road. It is up to the consumer to decide if they want to accept me. I want more people to hear me in the world and just let fate take over as far as deciding if I will make it in music. As far as my career is concerned, I am not trying to make a quick million. It is more important for me to establish a relationship with my fans. I want to reach out and communicate with my fans. My fans respect me as I also return the respect. It is very important to me that my fans follow my career. I look forward to getting on the road and performing 200 shows a year and not being a one hit wonder.