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By most indicators, it feels like Mozzy is on the cusp of a cultural breakthrough. The Sacramento honcho’s catalog has been feeding Northern California rap fans for the better part of a decade. 2015’s Bladadah was saluted by hip hop media, the same for 2017’s 1 Up Top Ahk. His YouTube channel sits a hair away from 1 million subscribers, despite remaining relatively below the radar. He’s blessed with a godly voice. His slang reaches communities across the continent. Toss in a shoutout from Kendrick Lamar during his 2018 GRAMMYs acceptance speech, cosigns from MCs all across the lyrical divide, and a scene-snatching appearance on “Seasons” off of the Oscar winning Black Panther Soundtrack, and everything is rising righteously in all the right directions.
There are glimpses of Mozzy’s financial upsurge on his latest release, Beyond Bulletproof, his sixth in partnership with EMPIRE. But, those moments seldom last longer than a stray couplet about being “worth over 100 kicks in cash” (“So Lonely”) or how gets “a glimpse of 10 Ms when [he] stare at [himself].” On the contrary, the bulk of Beyond Bulletproof is lathered in drama, trauma, and working toward triumph.
“Body Count” featuring King Von and G Herbo stands out as one of few instances of violence for the sake of violence. Manu delivers a masterful track and Von’s relentlessness takes the crown, snatching eardrums the fast way, ski mask way. Just about everything else on Beyond Bulletproof has a cause and effect at its core. And most often snitching is that cause.
On the Mmmonthabeat produced “Betrayed,” Mozzy opens with, “The pain run deep and it don’t go away (Go away) / D.A. tryna prove a case without a throwaway (Throwaway) / You know I’m sturdy, I’m just worried ‘bout my protégé / F**k a blogger tryna instigate an open case.” Several references to cracks like these in his home team spill throughout the album and that deception is clearly encroaching on his psyche.
Two tracks later, on “Bulletproofly” he delivers, “I’m standing confident and firm in what I represent / The murders that I saw f**k with me, I been through hell and s**t / Shh, still ain’t tell ‘em s**t” with the spirit of a man defending his honor, clarifying his value set for anyone daring to doubt. Then, he reinforces his position on “Boyz To Men”: “I’m deeply rooted, n**ga, set in stone / They wanna know if I’m One Mob, run and tell ‘em no / ‘Cause I’m from 4th and only, 4th and 12th my second home / Real traditional gang member, they respect it, though.”
Mozzy spends nearly half of Beyond Bulletproof hammering home the duplicitous nature of the hustle. Such is life when you’re about that life. And while most of this project feels like hyper-localized coded confrontations, his natural poetics often connect even without specific knowledge of the events at play. If you know, you know, so the saying goes.
Beyond Bulletproof lifts past a stock mo-money-mo-problems experience through Mozzy’s visceral honesty and vulnerability. He’s no victim and immensely self aware. He talks empathically about the loss of his grandmother, the pain of seeing his auntie addicted to amphetamines (“Overcame”), protecting his children and looking after his community, funerals he should’ve attended, and drug use he hides from his fans. On the brooding “Unethical & Deceitful” (produced by Jay P Bangz) he leans into the political. On the sublime “I Ain’t Perfect” featuring Blixt (produced by Tariq Beats, Musik MajorX and Pearl Lion), he channels the heartfelt:
“These people use your love against you, they abuse your love / She been abused by all these men in the pursuit of love / We suited up / Never mind the peons who ain’t do enough / Compassion for the hopeless and the homeless ‘cause they been through enough / Right there on the ave with the killers before I knew enough / I just bought a truck for my daughters and bulletproofed ‘em up.”
“Can’t Let You Go” featuring Eric Bellinger, and “PriceTag” featuring Polo G and Lil Poppa are absolutely solid, as well. The former is a surprising example of how Mozzy’s gruff voice and Gangland trappings translate across genders (“Could barely roll a ‘Wood, but she hood and I love that… I tell you about my other bitch before I tell a lie”). The latter is arguably the best suited for mass appeal while never losing a grip on authenticity. Both brim with unexpected replay value.
But, the problem with Beyond Bulletproof is that Mozzy’s stanzas grossly outpaces the overall product. None of the production is terrible, but nothing is worth googling, either, and even fewer electrifying sonic explosions. Somewhere some fan is sitting around loving the album while predicting every snare. The majority sound like Mozzy-type-beat-type-beats—plenty of factory, not enough custom.
That’s especially challenging when so much of the project is spent alluding to local rivalries, and court cases and snitches, which is a very specific existence, yet, in structure, well short of a conceptual look into life in Gangland or a global connection to Gangland’s place in the world around it. This project plays the middle. The micro is infinitely more riveting than the macro.
One of the more powerful verses on Beyond Bulletproof, for example, occurs on “The Homies Wanna Know” (produced by JabariOnTheBeat). Mozzy references himself in conjunction with two fallen icons:
“Painkillers hardly help, but I’ma still pop / No regards for the children, that n**ga still shot / I’m feared in physical form, that’s why I feel Pac / How we let ‘em kill Nipsey, though? I’m still shocked / That n**ga showed me so much love I couldn’t hold the tears / Inspired by the marathon he ran all these years.”
Comparisons are rarely fair to rising artists, and Tupac and Nipsey Hussle absolutely stand on a pedestal all their own. No one’s getting carried away. The inspiration Mozzy’s received through each is evident in how well he emotes duality, the weight every bar carries, the way his quotables hit the earth like a comet. The distinction is that when Pac went to war, he didn’t pull punches, he didn’t excessively cover his conversation in codes. The distinction is that when Nipsey went motivational, he went all the way motivational. He didn’t muddy the waters with I-wonder-what-he’s-talking-abouts. Neither were afraid to take their perspectives global, allowing the whole world an opportunity to tune in.
That’s the challenge ahead of Mozzy, Inc. A team’s ability to move an artist is often at the center of what’s considered transformative bodies of work. Nas didn’t know how to start Illmatic. DJ Premier had to tell him when to begin and MC Serch had to get a gaggle of separate pieces to buy into a fresh vision. If Eazy-E doesn’t pass before Bone Thugs-N-Harmony released its sophomore album, maybe The Art Of War doesn’t accidentally morph into a double disk worth of diss tracks. It takes an extraordinary team to craft the extraordinary, to land on that thinnest slice of history.
Team Mozzy is still figuring it out, but all the tools are there. He’s effortlessly poetic throughout Beyond Bulletproof, delivering combat or compassion equally as easily, weaving wisdom that connects directly to his community, while greatly improving as an artist and rapper. Beyond Bulletproof isn’t the breakthrough project many anticipated from Mozzy, but it’s unquestionably his best work to date.