The first voice you hear on Mozzy’s debut album, 1 Up Top Ahk, is law enforcement. The Sacramento rapper had a show scheduled in Las Vegas sometime last year, but when cops caught wind of the shadow that follows Mozzy’s music, they called the promoter to try and cancel the concert. “He’s a thug,” says the officer on the phone call. “And I know most of them are thugs, but this dude’s got a problem with guns.”

Born Timothy Patterson, the 30-year-old MC will be the first to tell you how violence informs the lives of those growing up in the slums. He was raised on 4th Avenue in Oak Park, a historically Black, working class neighborhood saturated with gang violence. Blood sets like Oak Park Bloods, Fourth Avenue Bloods and Ridezilla dominate the area, so from an early age, Mozzy never felt like he had any choice but to join gang life. Growing up in Oak Park meant automatically being connected to the neighborhood’s activities.

“I was 4, throwing up 4th Ave. I ain’t even know what the fuck I was doing,” he remembers. “I was doing that shit because of my cousins, my big brothers, my uncles, my aunties. I was familiar with [gang life] growing up, but nigga just wanted to be a pimp. Nigga didn’t have no dreams of being a gang member. Nigga family full of pimps and players. But it was just like, ‘Ain’t no hangin’ if you ain’t bangin.’ I just became affiliated naturally, and that shit just took off from there.”

He began living with his grandmother, Brenda Patterson Usher, at age 2; his father was incarcerated for charges including robbery and drug possession and his mother was fighting a drug addiction to crack cocaine. “Nigga really loved his mom, so growing up, that shit was hard to endure,” Mozzy says. “It was hard to watch her go through, hard to watch her struggle and fight that addiction. She good now, though.”

Alan Rohan
Alan Rohan

Mozzy’s grandmother was a Black Panther and a member of the Nation of Islam, so she instilled a strict work ethic in her grandson at an early age. He would read Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey, but he also began listening to 2Pac and DMX, as well as Bay Area rappers like The Jacka and Messy Marv. Soon, his grandmother was taking him to talent shows where he absorbed gospel rap styles and tried to make them his own. According to Mozzy, he started off as a gospel rapper first. By the time he was 11, his uncle, a rapper known as GP The Beast, put him in the recording booth for the first time and had him spit a verse on a song called “I Heard.” Thus began his rapping career as Lil’ Tim.

After attending local schools like Kit Carson and Sacramento High and later dropping out, he earned his GED and got to work delivering newspapers and working at a neighborhood sandwich shop called Togo’s, all while continuing to rap. But gang life kept calling, and when he was about 16, his music began to shift to reflect the lifestyle he was living as he began smoking weed, dealing drugs and hanging around more gang members.

He pressed up his first CD when he was 17 or 18 and handed it out in the streets, but it wasn’t until 2011 when, partially inspired by the A$AP movement, he took on the name Mozzy and put his first project on iTunes called Mozzy Mobbalotto. Two years later, his profile would continue to grow when he participated in DJ Fresh’s Tonite Show series, a rite of passage for Bay Area rappers since 2006.

That same year, in 2013, Mozzy released a video for a song called “The Truth,” calling out rival gang Starz, previously known as Bad Ass Youngstaz, or B.A.Y. On the song, Mozzy named Starz members like Lavish D and Stunna Blu, and a tragic chain of events followed that would get Zilla Zoe, a friend of Mozzy’s who appeared in “The Truth” video, killed within 24 hours of the video’s release.

Mozzy, who counts Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, YG and Chris Brown among his fans, has said his rap career started gaining more traction after he began putting people’s names in his rhymes. Before that, he fell on hard times.

Around 2013, he was completely broke to the point that he preferred being locked up to being seen in the streets. “I was struggling. I didn’t mind going to jail,” he says of that period when he was still staying at his grandma’s house. “It was like, let’s go. Rather go [to jail] than have people see me in the streets struggling. And it was basically like… I’ma get a record deal, die or go to jail. I don’t give a fuck, but one of them motherfuckers gotta come right now.”

When he started speaking about things really happening in his neighborhood, more people latched on to his music. “I guess people fall in love with drama and all the extracurricular activities that come along with that,” he explains. “So the people just start following that, and I can feel it, it was little by little but I can feel it growing. So I already knew once I had everyone’s attention, it was gon’ be a takeover because can’t nobody fuck with me.”

In 2014, he released a video for “I’m Just Being Honest” with Bay Area rapper Philthy Rich. He named Lavish D in that video as well, and it too caused a backlash, with Lavish and friends later jumping Billydee "Kill Bill" Smith, a Mozzy affiliate in Arden Mall, and filming the scuffle on camera (Lavish was sentenced to six years for his involvement in the skirmish, but was released earlier this year).

All of this illustrates the very real effects Mozzy’s music has on gang activity in Sacramento. “In the back of my mind, I felt guilty,” says Mozzy as he reflects on the death of his fallen friend, Zilla Zoe. “He got a daughter, so if he did die because of this video, that means there’s blood on my hands. That means I got questions to answer. His family looking in my direction, they wanna know what happened. They wanna know why would I do something like that. Why would I jeopardize my nigga life?”

On “Take It Up With God,” one of the most powerful records on 1 Up Top Ahk, Mozzy wrestles with the irreconcilable pain of losing family and friends to the streets: “Bangin' the same gang her son died for/So we pay for the funeral then we slide for him/The good die young, shit I can only vouch/Conversatin’ with the clouds like, ‘I’ma hold you down.’”

“I lost a lot of family members, when I say family members, more like gang members, we consider each other family,” he says of the inspiration behind that song. “It don’t matter which gang member it was, their mom attended the funeral and we got a relationship. You don’t know what to tell a mom who just lost her child. What do you tell her? What do you say to console her? What do you say to somebody who doing life in prison to console ’em? What could you say? It’s really nothing you could say, and I just wanted to have that conversation on record. I wanted to holla at the moms who suffer, who go through this shit, who lost children to the streets, to the institution, who out here raising their children’s children, I just wanted to hold that conversation with ’em.”

Lately, Mozzy’s cooled off with all the explicit name-dropping, though he still gets his fair amount of diss records in. During a recent interview on the No Jumper podcast, when he named older Sactown rappers like C-Bo and Brotha Lynch Hung and said he was “funkin” with their legacies, C-Bo took it the wrong way and hopped on Instagram to tell Mozzy his pass in the city was “revoked.”

In the past, C-Bo, who reps the Garden Blocc Crips in his music, has made disparaging remarks toward One Mob, a group Mozzy was in, and referred to himself as a “Zilla Killa.” So when C-Bo posted a video to Instagram threatening to “pull every dread” out of Mozzy’s head following the No Jumper interview, it was the last straw. Within a week, Mozzy dropped a video for a diss record called “New Era New King,” calling out C-Bo as a “bald-headed bum” who’s “living like a peasant.” The song quickly caught fire, and within weeks had over a million plays on YouTube.

Alan Rohan
Alan Rohan

“When I said ‘funkin’ on No Jumper, I was talking about funking with their legacy,” clarifies Mozzy when asked about the situation. “I wasn’t talking about funking with them as a people. Them ain’t who I’m funking with as a people. I ain’t even gon’ say no nigga name who I’m funking with as a people. As far as these streets concerned? I’m not finna get on no interview and say, ‘I’m funking with this dude.’ You know what funking mean? Funking is murder. I’m not finna get up there and say that. But when a nigga get on the internet and say he gon’ pull a nigga dreads out, he gon’ slap a nigga. Bruh, you playing with my ism, you playing with my gangsta. Fuck the rap shit, I ain’t even worried about that. You playing with my gangster as a man. You up there, you talking tough. I’ma see if you can purchase that ticket you want.” C-Bo has since responded with his own diss record, “Body 4 Body.”

1 Up Top Ahk was supposed to be the album Mozzy dropped when he got out of jail for charges including gun possession and possession of a controlled substance in April 2015, but a number of factors played into its' two-year delay, including cops raiding the studio and taking the computer that had 1 Up Top Ahk and Bladadah on it. He also didn’t feel like dropping the album amid a flurry of other projects like Gangland Landscape and Yellow Activities, so he held on to it and took his time to nurture the album. In the interim, he had a minor falling out with his main producer JuneOnnaBeat (they’ve since made up), and Mozzy brought his manager Dave-O in to provide a couple beats and pull in a few more, like “Sleep Walkin,” a highlight off the LP produced by Dave-O’s homie, Jay P Bangz. The album was already finished when Dave-O sent Mozzy that beat, but he immediately fell in love with it, and once he recorded to it, he knew it had to be on the album.

Mozzy’s music doesn’t romanticize the horrors of gang violence, but it does embrace them as though they’re inevitable. The cover of his album is a mugshot taken when he was 18 after he was busted selling drugs to an undercover cop at a local market. He’s been in and out of jail cells throughout most of his life, and friends like Deezy and Snubbz, who he mentions on the LP, have been swallowed either by the streets or the justice system. Getting sent to San Quentin in 2014 was almost a blessing for Mozzy, because he finally realized he had to stop living a certain way if he wanted to stay out of prison. Throughout all the hardships of his life, from poverty to drug addiction, music has been the most therapeutic thing for him, but if you listen to his raps, violence is the most constant way of life.

“Revenge takes its course, and that shit right there kind of soothing,” Mozzy grimaces. “Not to say I went and got revenge, but that shit helps, that shit therapeutic. That’s the only way the streets know how to deal with the shit. That’s how we sooth ourselves, that’s how we get over losses like that. It’s the ongoing cycle.”

Alan Rohan
Alan Rohan

When we talk about how he started naming more people in his raps, he brings up Chicago drill music as a blueprint for that formula. He admits he uses some of their slang (“I say shit like, ‘No lackin,’ ‘No loafin,’ niggas out here doing drills’) but falls short of allowing that he was influenced by their music; it was more the street culture of Chicago that reflected what was going on in his hometown.

“I was fucking with the murder rate, the deaths, the stories, the headlines attached to the music,” he remembers. “I wasn’t really riding around just slapping hella Chicago drill music, but I was on the internet surfing, looking at all the murders that occurred, this rapper getting killed, this nigga getting stabbed. So that shit was very influential as far as what’s going on in my community. It don’t matter—anywhere niggas are dying frequently, you gon’ tap into that because it’s so real.

"That shit reminds you of home, like this the same thing that’s going on in my community, but it’s happening on a major scale. Just to watch that, it’d be like you was looking at you. Them niggas look like me. Them niggas wearing the same kinda gear I’m wearing. Them niggas living the slimy lifestyle like me. They infatuated with g-locks like me. It was mainy. They chucking up their gang signs to disrespect another nigga like me. They put niggas names in raps, niggas who just got smothered. That shit was like watching home.”

Back in February, Mozzy pulled up to the TDE studio to record with Jay Rock, and it was there he met Kendrick for the first time. “Kendrick told me he was inspired by my music, told me I’m an inspiration to the youngins and delinquents in his community,” says Mozzy. “The niggas in his trenches, where he from, they tapped into Mozzy. That’s who giving them hope. He knew some of the verse of ‘Ima Gangsta’ and started rapping it. It’s crazy to hear that from a rap guy.” 

With 1 Up Top Ahk being perhaps the most powerful project Mozzy’s ever put together, his sights are now set beyond Sacramento. While he once strived to gain the kind of local legend status that the late, great Jacka enjoyed, he now lives in L.A. and wants his official debut album to take him outside of his hometown. “I want 1 Up Top Ahk to be my classic. I’m making this project for me. Other albums, I was introducing myself to other markets. With this, it feels like the world is watching.”

Alan Rohan
Alan Rohan

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