Most aspiring rappers view signing a deal with a major record label as confirmation that they've made it big—more like a finish line than a fresh beginning. Once the ink dries, these artists can lose the sense of hustle that landed them their spot in the first place. Luckily, J. Cole protégé Cozz doesn’t subscribe to that kind of complacency. In fact, his prowess as an artist has grown exponentially since signing with Dreamville/Interscope in 2014.

Effected is Cozz’s second full-length LP and third project to be released under the Dreamville imprint. While the technical rapping that Cozz displays on Effected is on par with the dazzling lyricism of 2014’s Cozz & Effect and 2016’s Nothin Personal, he's grown significantly as a songwriter. Whereas the past two releases rely heavily on lyrical exercises and vivid storytelling, Effected possesses replay value thanks to songs that don't get puzzlingly dense with bars. Here, Cozz delivers more with less.

Coming out of the gate swinging on “Questions,” Cozz (born Cody Osagie) inquires about the aforementioned category of rappers that abandon a true musician’s hustle: “Tell me why these niggas pride is bigger than they work ethic/Bad at they struggle, but don't hustle to earn cheddar/I work, get up early to earn the first letter/A+ effort, I know I deserve better.” The entire two-and-a-half minute track renders itself as an honest line of questioning from an artist caught between his harsh realities and impending fame.

Next up is the atmospheric, laid-back, Kendrick Lamar-assisted “Hustla’s Story,” which finds the two West Coast MCs catching parallel ambiences with slow-rolling deliveries woven through Hollywood JB’s silky-smooth beat. The way Cozz slows himself down and gently exhales his rhymes is a testament to his growth as a vocalist. Plus, the oozing “If I can't lay up in the streets I feel lonely/If I gotta break up with the streets I feel lonely” chorus make this one of the album’s catchiest cuts.

While “Hustla’s Story” possess a relaxing pace, “Ignorant Confidence” is a violent splash of cold water to the face, waking up anyone who thought of sleeping on Cozz’s bravado raps. Here, he shows off his dichotomy—a thoughtful rhymer who can lyrically spazz out with swag raps at any given moment (see: "Proof" and the merciless "VanNess" as further evidence). He's at ease on tracks like “Bout It” with Garren and “Zendaya,” a J. Cole-supported ode to the namesake Disney star. These records throw aside Cozz’s tough-guy persona and ultimately exposes the 24-year-old to vulnerability; unraveling Effected like a pages of straight from Cody Osagie's diary.

While the songwriting on Effected has been elevated, the album still lacks a widely streamable song for a mass audience to latch onto. There's no distinct track that would launch Cozz past the borders of his already-built Dreamville fanbase. That’s not to say he needs to chase after smash records that get serious spins at LIV or Magic City, but something with crossover appeal (a la his feature on Ari Lennox's "Backseat") could offer a different feel to the overall tapestry.

There's no denying that Cozz can rap his ass off—that much was confirmed after one play-through of his 2014 debut. Effected, however, confirms that Cozz has more in him than just straight bars. He continues to tell his own story but through new flows, different hooks and an advanced way of making rap songs. Only time will tell if Cozz has what it takes to truly become one of the best but if nothing else, he’s putting his best foot forward.

See New Music Releases for February 2018

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