By Randy Wagstaff
Dillon Cooper is young — he will turn 22 this year — yet his ambitious first project, Cozmik (2013), a 17 song mixtape, sampled “Mrs. Jackson” and “Survival of the Fittest” and sounded of another era of hip-hop. Cooper’s career is just getting started; his style still invites comparisons to his recently successful contemporaries (Joey Bada$$, Chance The Rapper, etc.), but the young Brooklyn MC is slowly carving out his own identity, using his extensive musical background (piano, guitar) and dynamic multisyllabic rhyme schemes (“I’m in my kitchen, just chefing up all of my defensive for the opposition/
Affirm mission, missionary positions”) to produce some of the most exciting hip-hop coming out of the (B)East Coast. We recently chatted with Cooper over the phone and asked him about how it all started, his musical inspirations, and his thoughts on the Beast Coast movement.,
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You started rapping professionally relatively recently, but before you made that decision, what were your life or career plans at the time. Was it always music-based, or did you consider becoming a dentist or something?
It was always music based. I was at school at Berklee College of Music, so I was up there studying guitar and music business, so I was always planning to do something within the music industry.
When did you decide to start rapping as a profession and take that seriously?
During my first semester at Berklee, I just started my rapping a little more seriously and stuff because I always rapped just for fun. When I was up at Berklee and everything, it’s just full of guitar players, full of musicians and stuff, and I was good at rapping and I just wanted to do something different, you know, bring something else to the table while I was up there and I wanted to focus on that.
On “Shadows” it sounds like you’re venting about life a little bit, letting it all out. What was going on at the time when you made that track?
When I made “Shadows” I was dealing with a lot at school, at Berklee, that was around the time when I stopped going to school. And year prior to that, my homie, my best friend Cozmik passed away, so I just wanted to get everything out at that time. I just felt that was the right time to do it because I had a lot going on, you know? Money wasn’t great. School wasn’t great. That was a transition point in my life, so I just wanted to get everything out.
That definitely comes through. You’ve probably been performing that song a lot over the years, so it must be a little tough to going back to that mindset over and over again when you’re performing it.
A little bit, but not really, just because I love that song, and just because I can always reflect. Now that things are moving forward in my life, it’s always good to remember what was going on, you know? So there’s no problems performing that song.
How have your shows been changing over the last couple of years?
They’ve been just getting better and better and better. I’d say from my first show, everything is just getting better. Even when I perform now, after every show I take something from that and apply it to the next show because there’s always something you can do better.
Can you talk a little bit about Beast Coast and how you fit into it?
The whole Beast Coast movement with Joey and Underachievers and everybody like that, it’s just a new coming-of-age in hip-hop right now and I’m happy to be a part of the movement that’s going on. It’s a resurgence of East-Coast hip-hop and just a rebirth of everything. The West Coast’s been doing their thing as well, but I think New York in general has been a staple. We’re the birthplace of hip-hop and we’re just showing that we still got it.
What’s your relationship with those guys, the up-and-comers, the Pro Era guys?
The homies, man. Everybody’s mad cool. We’ve chilled, had shows together, and they’re all real cool. Everybody’s just a normal kid out here [laughs], everybody grew up in Brooklyn, there’s just a lot similarities growing up in New York, growing up in Brooklyn, and it’s real cool.
You have two younger siblings. Do they listen to your music, do you play it for them? Do you feel some responsibility to be a role model for them in your lyrics and your music?
My little brother and sister, nah, they don’t listen to my music, just mainly because of the content that I have in my music. They know that I do shows. Going to shows and everything like that, that’s my job to them, so when I go to perform, when I’m not home, they just see that’s my job and I’m working. But as they get older, they’ll be able to listen to it, and I’m going to do some stuff that they can listen to because they do look up to me.
Your parents were very musical when you were growing up. How did that influence you?
My step-dad, he was the one who really introduced me to a lot of music because he used to play bass and DJ and do all that musical type of stuff when he grew up in London. My mom, she was a journalist, so she was always around entertainment, so I grew up seeing that. It helped a lot with me now, because I’ve seen a lot growing up in terms of the industry and in terms of how things work and how to talk to people. I’ve been blessed to have that opportunity to have that be a part of my life.
Do you have some more songs that you’re working on on your next project that are lyrically expressive like “Shadows” and “Mrs. Jackson”?
I would say that all music is supposed to be relatable and everybody goes through the motions. Everybody goes through something in their life everyday. The best music is music that people can feel that they relate to, and if you don’t put yourself into your music, if you’re not vulnerable, if you don’t open up and allow people to see what you’re going through, then you’re limiting yourself.