Show & Prove
Words: Peter A. Berry
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

On a brisk January evening, Comethazine is sprawled out onstage at Manhattan’s Gramercy Theatre, staring into the dim lights above. In three hours, the venue will be packed with Generation Z-ers waiting to see the spindly 20-year-old artist perform the lo-fi, trap-influenced songs that have made him a star. But for now, he’s in a zone, quietly rhyming to himself.

This New York City backdrop has played a special significance in Comethazine’s come up. It’s here that the man born Frank Childress trekked from his impoverished East St. Louis, Ill. hometown by himself to ink a deal with Alamo Records in October 2017. That same month, he set up shop in Manhattan’s Chinatown to shoot the deliberately glitchy video for “Piped Up,” a hyperactive, ChaseTheMoney-produced track that’s now been streamed more than 20 million times.

With his humorous videos and unfiltered approach to songwriting, Co has, in just over a year, transformed himself from class clown to the next torchbearer in the SoundCloud rap continuum. So, tonight’s performance might feel a bit like a homecoming. “New York’s, like, my favorite place to perform,” Comethazine says later, after picking himself up from the black stage surface. He’s sporting a greenish-blue hoodie, gray joggers and some frosty white Air Force Ones. “This is where my music career started.”

Comethazine (a portmanteau of cocaine and promethazine) got his first taste of the spotlight back at home. The former skateboarding fanatic would perform Michael Jackson songs for prodding relatives at family functions. “I had the wigs, the shiny glove, everything,” remembers Co, who is the youngest of three siblings. “I used to do the dance. It was attention, you feel me? I loved it. It was cool, still is.” Yet, his parents’ disputes and eventual separation when he was 7 years old led him to withdraw and become introverted. “I know how to be me ’cause of that shit,” Comethazine says. “I was never a nervous nigga ’cause I was always by myself.” His King of Pop impersonations transitioned into toying with his own music after being gifted a drum set, electric guitar and microphone during his pubescent years.

Today, Comethazine’s lyrics comprise choppers and tongue-in-cheek sex references, yet his earliest rap creations were inspired by the neo boom-bap stylings of Pro Era. “I was a gimmick version of Joey Bada$$,” Comethazine recalls. He’s now standing against a hallway wall in the venue, clutching a doobie between his fingers. “Capital Steez was that nigga. He was hard, bro. He a robot… It took me three days to learn ‘Survival Tactics,’ every word.” After Steez’s death in 2012, Comethazine latched onto the irreverent rhymes of Odd Future. “The ignorance in me came [out],” he says of the influence that Tyler, The Creator’s crew had on his own cheeky raps. “That shit’s not that lyrical at all, but some of it is...that had me leaning towards shit that was funny.”

After graduating from night school in 2017, Comethazine became a mechanic, with plans to open up a chop shop with his brother as a means for quick cash. But he’d began hitting his musical stride during this time, releasing underground slappers like “Hella Choppers” straight to the web. Evoking the free-associative boasts and vocal inflections of Playboi Carti, the murderous glee of the incarcerated Tay-K and a macabre sense of humor (“Murk a nigga put him on the news, he on TV,” he rhymes on “Walk”), Comethazine has forged his own style—a raucous calling card that helped land him a deal with Alamo Records after his music gained traction on SoundCloud.

“He had a distinct sound,” says his manager, Mateo Dorado, who feels his perfectionism and endearing qualities recall XXXTentacion. “A lot of new music that’s being signed right now, [these] kids live in a shell and they’re afraid of being caught. They walk around trying to act like something they’re not. [Comethazine] was just being himself—being goofy, laughing. It wasn’t that serious to him and that’s what was captivating [about] him.”

In August 2018, months after dropping exuberant tracks like “Bands” and “Let It Eat,” Comethazine accentuated his rise in music with Bawskee, a maiden mixtape that gave the rap world its first extended look at the soon-to-be rap star. After partnering with director Cole Bennett to film the video for his breakout hit, “Walk,” which finds the rapper living as a middle-class family man while rhyming about guns, his fame leapt to a new level (the video has been viewed more than 30 million times to date). In January 2019, he released Bawskee 2, a project that doubled down on the energetic, relentlessly obscene vibes of its predecessor.

Still, Comethazine continues to evolve. For his upcoming, as-yet-titled debut studio album, he plans to expand on his subject matter to include more serious fare and explore the world of melody. “Kodak [Black] started doing some different shit, [incorporating] melodic, actual singing shit,” he says, adding that his own fans have been responding positively to his hints of musical growth. “They waiting on the shit.”

Outside of Gramercy, there’s a growing line of eager fans patiently waiting for a high-energy show from one of hip-hop’s more exciting up-and-comers that’s set to take place a couple of hours from now—just one stop on a 21-city nationwide headlining tour. Meanwhile, Comethazine is coordinating a pre-show hotbox session in a black SUV parked outside with fellow rhymer TNT Tez and producer BHunna, who produced five songs on Bawskee and calls Co “the next living legend.” Comethazine takes a moment to muse on his objective in hip-hop. “I never gave a fuck about expressing myself,” he says of his music. “Have fun when you listen to it, ’cause it was fun to make.”

Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2019 issue including our Dreamville cover story featuring interviews with J. ColeJ.I.DBasCozzEarthGangLuteOmen and Ari Lennox; Show & Prove interviews with Flipp Dinero and Blueface, a look into how Hot 97's Ebro Darden went from fish mascot to hip-hop gatekeeper and more.

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