In 2022, rapper Co City finally took some time to lay low and recharge following busy year in which he released a constant stream of new material, both as a solo artist and alongside his brother P.A. Flex.
“I needed to regroup, and I needed to experience some new things in my life,” said Co City, whose temporary absence ends with the release of new solo album Rare Breed (North City Music), produced by Jack “Tha Audio Unit” Burton and out Friday, March 3. “And now I need to come out swinging, and I feel like I’ve done that. … I’m trying to give people my heart, and that’s never going to change for me. But the beats are different. The subject matter is different. There’s been growth as a musician, growth as a man and a husband and a father. I’m just in a different place now.”
Even so, the album’s centerpiece, “Hip Hop I Love You,” finds the rapper looking back rather than ahead, retracing his lifelong love affair with hip-hop and presenting lyrical flowers to the numerous artists whose songs have imprinted on his musical DNA, from pioneers of the form (DJ Kool Herc, L.L. Cool J, Jay-Z) to his own flesh and blood. “Flex drop a bomb on they ass like Pearl Harbor,” he raps.
“I remember standing in line with P.A. at Camelot Music, when it used to be near Service Merchandise, waiting to buy the Wu-Tang album. And then going there to buy Mobb Deep’s first album. These things are engraved in my mind,” Co City said. “Hip-hop is a part of my life; I live it everyday. It’s there when I’m making something in my studio, when I’m outside on a walk with my headphones on, when I’m at a show performing for people. The music is part of me. I couldn’t get rid of it if I tried.”
Elsewhere, the rapper traces his personal resurrection following a stretch in which he lost his grandmother and an aunt (“At the worst time of my life, I rose to my feet,” he offers on “Thanksgiving With Apollo”), toasts to new beginnings (the cinematic “Leap of Faith”) and takes stock of decades of violence against the Black community (“40 Acres”).
“Racist-ass cop, kill another Black body,” he raps on the latter. “Five bullet holes leaking through his new Tommy.” The scene is one familiar to Ohio residents, a point Co City drives home a few beats later, shouting out Ma’Khia Bryant and Jaron Thomas, both of whom died at the hands of Columbus police.
“That song was easy for me to write, because every day when you turn on the news, that’s what you see,” Co City said. “And those are strong images. And I needed people to understand … that this continues to happen. This is what happened then, and this is what’s still happening now. And it needs to stop.”
And yet, Rare Breed is far from a joyless record, with the rapper name-dropping more pro basketball players than an extended broadcast of “NBA on TNT” and relishing in precise wordplay, his conversational style occasionally obscuring the complexity of his bars. Co City attributed this sleight of hand in part to the breath control he developed coming up as a trumpet player, which allows him to deploy larynx-twisting rhymes in relatively effortless fashion.
“Playing the horn, it taught me breath control and cadence, and it helps me onstage knowing when to take a breath, when to not take a breath,” he said. “Bar structure, how to write music, chords, keys – they all tie together. It’s not just sitting down and writing a rap. You gotta know chord structure, you gotta know where the bridge goes, where the hook goes, when to stop the verse. … I really learned a lot about music sitting in those rooms by myself playing horn.”
As he’s gotten older, Co City has only sharpened and refined these accrued skills, deploying them on increasingly incisive songs that reflect his journey in music, but also the larger world in which his verses take shape.
“I’m still the same Co City, but the bars, they get more heavy, because the world is heavy,” he said. “I’m just writing the soundtrack to the world. I’m writing it for what it is. There have been times in my life when a certain record got me through a really, really tough spot. Or if I was dealing with certain things, I could turn on that record and it would be like, all right, I’m good. You know what I mean? So, at the end of the day, it’s the music that’s going to help us through this.”