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After grinding for 10 years, working with different indie labels and flirting with fame, Cognito has found the perfect label to call home: Strange Music, one of the most successful independent music labels in the world. “They work hard like I work hard,” assures COGNITO. “They put everything into their artists.”
The dogged determination to prevail at any cost that both Strange and COGNITO share couldn’t be a better match. The Fairfield, Calif.-raised father of two has poured his heart into albums, toured relentlessly, and stayed in the studio late numerous Friday nights when he could’ve been chilling at home with his family – all for the love of the game.
Growing up in the North Bay, COGNITO fast became intrigued with the burgeoning local hip-hop scene led by E-40 and B-Legit. The two hip-hop heavyweights exposed the young emcee to the hip-hop community, tapping his services at the Sick Wid It offices and schooling him in the art of promotion. He is the first to admit he was not the best student. But writing stories was his strong point in school. He started writing rhymes at 16, taking his cue from the people he was around. Yet it was hard to take rapping seriously as a career. A white rapper just wasn’t considered normal yet. It wasn’t until three years later, when Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP released, that COGNITO’s path became clearer.
“I don’t think being a white rapper has held me back,” relays COGNITO about the always-controversial topic of the White Rapper. “It got me seen more. It got me out there. I stand out because I am white. But let my music speak for itself.”
As for the Eminem comparisons, COGNITO is flattered but suggests otherwise.
“When Eminem dropped minds were blown. I look at the Eminem comparison as an honor. He’s the best rapper in game. But never once has a guy I work with said I sound like Eminem.”
At age 21 COGNITO earned himself a new title; father. In order to care for his family, he put hip-hop on the back burner for the next year, popping into the studio every so often to record tracks with producing partner D Buck. Mike Mosley, who had worked with E-40, TQ, C-Bo, Richie Rich and Tupac, heard COGNITO’s music, and in 2002, offered him a deal with his Steady Mobbin’ label.
“When Mike wants to offer you a record deal,” COGNITO states, “you take your career serious.”
COGNITO never dropped an album, but he did make a handful of important connections in the industry, one being QD3 producer Femi, one of the two producers he still consistently works with today. He continued doing shows and brushed up on the record industry rules.
2006 was a big year for COGNITO. He hooked up with Master P and his newly formed Gutta Music to release Recognition. It was an honor to be affiliated with P, a hip-hopreneur COGNITO had admired since hearing his West Coast Bad Boyz compilation in 1997. COGNITO would score his biggest hit to date, “Shift Kits,” from the Shift Kits and Hood Chicks DVD.
COGNITO stayed busy touring with fellow Bay Area rapper Andre Nickatina. When Nickatina took some time off, COGNITO hit the road solo. As fate would have it, COGNITO and Strange shared the same booker. Together on a string of show dates, COGNITO witnessed Strange’s impressive stage show and extreme professionalism. COGNITO even shared a joke with Tech: He had previously recorded over Femi’s “Slacker” beat, a song that appears on Tech’s Absolute Power (2002).
The groundwork for the COGNITO-Strange merger was set in motion. Three years later when hip-hop activist Violet Brown, a longtime supporter of Strange, approached COGNITO about shopping a deal to the indie powerhouse, he was with it.
One conversation with Strange Music co-owner and CEO Travis O’Guin and another with Dave Weiner, Vice President of Strange Music West, plus one visit to Kansas City, the label’s home, and COGNITO knew he was home. “I know it sounds cliché, but you can do anything you want,” tells COGNITO. “My motivation has been people saying I couldn’t do this. I’m hardheaded. At the end of the day, you have to go get it and no one is going to give it to you. But I look at my progression. Seeing what I’m accomplishing on my own and knowing that if I go get it, it could happen. There hasn’t been a goal I shot for that I haven’t achieved when it comes to my music.”
Building on his own persistence, COGNITO is quick to admit his success has been buoyed by his supportive team: Violet Brown, Femi, Mike Mosley, Darien Smith, his studio engineer for the past seven years. The 29 year old has had an amazing team behind him, which has catapulted him to where he is today. Currently, COGNITO is working on his Strange debut, Automatic, scheduled for a February/March 2010 release.
“Stylewise, I’m a storyteller,” COGNITO points out. “Whether it’s a club track or a serious, depressed track, I’m going to tell you a story and get my message across to you. I like when people can relate to a song. That’s what I love more than anything.”
“I don’t follow trends,” he adds. “I pride myself in making my music real. I don’t like to front, but I also like to have fun. Take me serious, but don’t take me too serious. Listen to me with an open mind. I want to be an inspiration like my musical influences were to me.”
As COGNITO prepares for the next stage of his career, he is more than ready for the full-time grind.
“From 21 until now I have given this everything. I don’t stop until I achieve my goal. With Strange backing me, I feel that I can accomplish all my goals. I got a shot like this and I’m going to run with it and make it happen.”
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