Mozzy on the big screen

The Oak Park rapper’s inclusion in Marvel’s Black Panther harkens back to his humble beginnings on Fourth Avenue

Despite successes like his record <i>1 Up Top Ahk</i>, Mozzy’s still booking new gigs.

Despite successes like his record 1 Up Top Ahk, Mozzy’s still booking new gigs.

Photo courtesy of orienteer

When I finally talked to Mozzy, he almost didn’t believe I was the person I said I was. I explained to him that we grew up together, two houses down from one another. The details made sense, but skepticism still buzzed in the Oak Park rapper’s voice. Finally, he settled on a tidbit that fully convinced him.

“Eddie?” he said, still incredulous. “In the pink house, with the crate attached to the garage? Like a basketball hoop?”

That was all it took.

The Mozzy I remember was a young, adventurous and always-confident boy named Tim who always had his cousin Eric—now more famously known as E-Mozzy—right behind him wherever he went. Tim attended Oak Park’s Father Keith B. Kenny Elementary, which required uniforms that he wore as we ran around the neighborhood after school.

We sported the same hairdo back then, an unsightly flat top with a rat tail hanging behind, mine flowing untamed and Tim’s braided tightly. We were just normal kids, even if the dangerous neighborhood lurked in the background. We’d scrounge up 50 cents on summer days to go swimming at McClatchy Park, or walk to the community center to shoot pool. We’d point at the nice cars that drove down Fourth Avenue and proclaim, “That’s my car.” Even at just 8 and 9 years old, Tim wanted to rap, badly.

Around that time, that same Tim shot hoops in my driveway on a makeshift basketball hoop, fashioned out of a milk crate and a few crooked screws nailed to the wall. That crate was the best we could do, and it became a symbol for resilience, resourcefulness and ambition for two young, impoverished kids in the most notorious neighborhood in the city. Somehow, that symbol resurfaced on the biggest stage possible: Marvel’s Black Panther.

The very first frame of Black Panther is a milk crate nailed to a piece of plywood to make a basketball hoop for a group of children in Oakland. The movie is ripe with symbolism, and the milk crate isn’t hard to figure out. In the final scene of the film, the milk crate basketball hoop returns, and this time the soundtrack for the moment is Mozzy’s “Sleep Walkin,” from his spectacular album 1 Up Top Ahk. Once again, the hoop was meant to embody struggle, hope and ambition, and Sac State graduate and celebrated young director Ryan Coogler knew Mozzy was the perfect voice to attach to that moment.

“A nigga really genuinely in love with where I’m from,” Mozzy told SN&R about his propensity to return home despite the danger in such a trip. “I’m just fatally attracted to it.”

Mozzy made headlines and transcended to a new, unseen height for Sacramento rappers with his inclusion on the Black Panther soundtrack, cosigned by Kendrick Lamar after a shout-out at this year’s Grammy Awards. “Sleep Walkin” is the same track Mozzy challenged his fans to rap over, with the reward for the best verse being a spot on his tour last fall.

Now, it serves as the only song in the movie that wasn’t originally composed specifically for the soundtrack, quite the nod of respect from a director helming a $200 million blockbuster to dip into his own personal playlist to instill a little bit of West Coast authenticity into the film. With the screeching vocal sample repeating hauntingly in the background, Mozzy somberly rumbles through the track, remorsefully speaking on his life of crime and his desire to atone for it.

“My last trip to Quentin for that yicki really saved me,” he raps about his prison time on the track. “I was moving mainey every daily, on my baby.” It fit the moment in Black Panther—sonically, aesthetically and symbolically.

For Mozzy, it’s just the next step in his ascension towards superstardom: There are murmurs about his connection with Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment, and Mozzy even cites a chance meeting with Kendrick as the moment he felt like he finally made it.

“Kendrick Lamar, when that nigga started rapping ’Ima Gangsta,’ I felt like all the work paid off,” Mozzy said. “He spit me a bar, not even the hook, he spit me a bar from the verse and that shit just touched me. That shit was like, ’Whoa.’ Not because he’s from the West Coast, but that’s Kendrick Lamar, that’s top dog in this rap shit.”

Still, despite the murmurs, he remains independent, with a new EP releasing in March on Empire Records titled Spiritual Conversations, and an album to follow.

“I got a hell of a team,” he said when asked about his major label affiliations. “My team work like a label.”

Still, with such humble beginnings, Mozzy is taking time to enjoy the fruits of his decades of labor.

“This shit right here is such a dream come true,” Mozzy said. “I’m such a humble soul, the smallest things fulfill me. This shit is fulfillment. I feel like I’m there, like I can’t even go no further. I’m still hungry, still foaming at the mouth, but I’m beyond blessed and I can identify that.”