Sacramento gangster rapper Mozzy is now one of the music industry’s most wanted commodities
Can he escape the streets and make it in the biz?
It’s late one summer night outside a market in Oak Park and Timothy Patterson, known in this neighborhood as Mozzy, dials up a friend with a video camera. “Come through. I’ve got to get some shit off my chest real quick.” An hour later, he’s filmed an entire video, “Bladadah,” that will change his life forever.
The shoot happened at the Bonfare on the corner of Broadway and Alhambra Boulevard. Just another Sacramento gas station with metal bars over its windows. Yet 3 million YouTube views and some heavy police surveillance later, Patterson is now a nationally famous rapper.
“Bladadah” was a hit. But it also could be viewed by law enforcement as evidence: of loitering, of open container violations, and—due to the red colors Mozzy and his associates don—of suspicion of gang activity.
But Mozzy, 28, sees the video simply as regular life in south Sac. He defines regular a little differently than most, though. Regular is having incarcerated and absentee parents with drug-addiction issues. Regular is finding guidance and brotherhood in gangs. Regular is territorial battles and shootouts. Regular is family members and close friends doing life behind bars—or, worse, ending up murdered.
Since his release from prison on April 1 of last year, for violation of probation and possession of a firearm and a controlled substance, Mozzy’s tallied three consecutive impressive albums in the span of five months. This gained him critical praise from Complex.com, Pitchfork.com and Rolling Stone. During the past two months, he’s taken meetings with major record labels to discuss deals.
Mozzy says that, while in jail, all he did was write, plan, plot and strategize. “I told myself when I get out I’m gonna wreck shit. I’m gonna drop over 10 projects within the first year of my release.”
With the Beautiful Struggle mixtape, out last week, and two more albums completed, he’s achieving his goal. Mozzy is now poised to become the biggest rapper ever out of Sacramento.
And yet, in that same breath, the troubled past that informs his raps and fueled his success might also lead to his demise.‘One of the worst days of my life’
Mozzy started rapping at age 12—around the same age he first held a gun.
He shares this detail in the living room of a boarding home deep in Oak Park. Mozzy is lively, wound up, eager to tell his life story. He’s a man ready for his close-up.
Sort of. Consider: His black Mercedes-Benz CL550 is parked outside, but he is dressed head-to-toe in black Wal-Mart sweats and bummy black sneakers. Brand details he shares with a big grin. His undershirt is basic white. Unlike Mozzy from the videos, everyday Mozzy is not wearing the red associated with the Oak Park Bloods. He’s a regular guy.
Across the table is Corey Credic, president of rap at Black Market Records, a locally based label that’s put out albums by Brotha Lynch Hung and X-Raided. Credic is partially responsible for Mozzy’s Yellow Tape Activities mixtape appearing on the label, and he hopes to facilitate a long-term record deal. But, in the weeks to come, Black Market will be competing with major labels like Epic and Atlantic to sign Mozzy on the dotted line.
This isn’t going to Mozzy’s head, though, as the sweatpants indicate. He espouses many maxims, but at the forefront currently: “A nigga wanna be regular,” he says.
Mozzy grew up with his grandmother, Brenda Patterson Usher, since age 2. Her Oak Park home is decorated with Black Panther literature, and she instilled discipline in the young man. With his mother and his father out of the picture, Usher is a pillar in the family.
“She was a nigga’s mother and father,” Mozzy says. “On Mother’s Day I get her a card, and on Father’s Day I get her a card. She really a nigga’s everything.”
He describes her as soulful and having an undeniable strength of self. “She ain’t no turn-the-other-cheek type of woman.”
But a lifestyle outside his grandmother’s home tempted, however, and Usher could not protect him forever. “You’re 13 years old, you come across the gun. Somewhere you found in the house either at your auntie’s or your mom’s. … You rummage around to find that gun. You posing with that mufucka in the mirror,” he remembers of that first time with a firearm.
“And the next day, when you got free time and everybody out the house, you go get it again. Empty the bullets out and start shooting it in the mirror.”
As he grew up, Mozzy emulated television and sought out men living the gangster life in his neighborhood. He looked up to them and learned their various trades, from selling dope to pimping and “gangbanging” (of course, no one calls it that anymore). He witnessed “slidin’,” which outside of Oak Park vernacular might be known as drive-by shootings. Another Mozzy term is “slithering,” a.k.a. hustling or getting by—“slither to the store for some Sprite.” These lyrics are part of Mozzy’s raps, and he at once documents his community, agrave; la David Simon of The Wire fame, and is a product of the environment, like D’Angelo Barksdale. Mozzy believes in realism: If he hasn’t lived it, if it’s not in his day-to-day life, he won’t rap about it.
Realism has consequences. Gang experts with the Sacramento Police Department keep close surveillance of local music and YouTube videos to identify members. Mozzy is on their radar. Affiliation with the Oak Park Bloods and Ridezilla clings to him despite his current claims of dissociation.
Much stems from a dispute with Starz gang member and fellow Sacramento rapper Lavish D. Mozzy dissed Lavish on his 2014 track “I’m Just Being Honest,” from his mixtape Next Body On You. Police say this led to the notorious Arden Fair Mall assault at a shoe store.
Lavish D is currently serving six years for videotaping the mall assault, a sentence escalated by his gang affiliation and a previous charge from 2013 for firearm possession.
As for Mozzy, the blowback from above-the-law boasts caught up to him on March 21, 2014.
Detectives were conducting surveillance of alleged gang members, due to an ongoing feud and shootings between the Oak Park Bloods and Starz gangs. Mozzy was riding shotgun in a sedan that was under surveillance when police pulled it over for a traffic violation. A search of the vehicle produced two white Styrofoam cups containing codeine syrup, a green-and-black Glock handgun loaded with a 17-round magazine, additional Glocks loaded with .40-caliber ammunition, and a Sig Sauer handgun, also loaded. Detectives then searched the household of Billy Dee Smith, which produced a stolen M16A2 Commando automatic assault rifle, a 30-round magazine and another .40-caliber pistol. Essentially, military-grade weaponry.
“I wouldn’t have been around them cats if I knew there was surveillance,” Mozzy says of the incident. “I still feel like it’s a setup.”
At a preliminary hearing, local gang expert Detective Joseph Ellis claimed that the defendants possessed the guns for the benefit of and in association with the Oak Park Bloods. Police requested to submit seven Mozzy tracks, including “I’m Just Being Honest,” as evidence. The intent was to play, transcribe and watch videos to demonstrate the purpose of their possession. All three defendants pleaded no contest and received state prison sentences. Mozzy did a full year due to a probation violation for a previous firearm conviction.
“It was one of the worst days of my life,” he says. But he also called it a “blessing in disguise.
“I needed to get my mind right and reflect. That’s exactly what that shit helped me do.”How Mozzy got famous
The night he shot the “Bladadah” video outside of Bonfare started like any Sacramento evening. Mozzy was shirtless, wearing crisp white jeans and a red hat bearing his name—the red of a politician’s power tie. He sweat in the summer heat, his skin glowing under the fluorescent lights.
Mozzy says the term “bladadah” is the sound of automatic weapon fire. It’s an Oak Park patois used to provoke rival gangs, something heard when threats turn into “slidin’” activities. He didn’t invent bladadah, but rather absorbed it by proxy.
It’s also the name of a record released last year, and the video’s success reflects Mozzy’s aesthetic: simple and real. The video budget was the price of Luc Belaire Rosé bottles poured into Styrofoam cups.
“If I could’ve got it all in one scene, naturally, I would’ve did it,” Mozzy reflected on the shoot. “We decided not to try too hard, because we really wanted to focus on the wordplay itself. Just the words.”
Mozzy’s gift of gab separates him from the average rapper. When Black Market released Yellow Tape Activities on September 11 of last year, it was his ability to surprise founder Cedric Singleton that sealed the deal.
“My measure of a rapper worth signing is whether or not I can predict the next word he’s going to rhyme,” Singleton said. “With Mozzy, I was never able to do that, and that right there tells me he’s got something special.”
His wordplay garnered the interest of music journalist David Drake, who declared Mozzy the best rapper no one has heard of for Complex, a youth-culture website, in addition to a 7.5 out of 10 Pitchfork review and inclusion at No. 22 on Rolling Stone’s 40 Best Rap Albums of 2015 list.
His lyrics zero in on issues that matter: minimum wage and crummy retail jobs, and the temptation of hustling on the streets. On the heartfelt “Off the Dribble,” from Yellow Tape, Mozzy raps about the allure of illegal entrepreneurialism, especially for a young man with only a GED: “McDonald’s ain’t gonna cut it, bitch / we on the turf / the fuck I look like waking up to go to work?”
Much of Mozzy’s music is produced by JuneOnnaBeat, an Oak Park producer that he’s known since childhood. Much of it evokes melancholy through soft synthesizer sounds, Mozzy says: “I need something that’s going to cry so I can get this pain out.”
Mozzy on his process: “I talk to myself while I be driving and shit. Smoking weed, sipping syrup and talking to myself because I ain’t got nobody to talk to. So I talk to these records every chance I get. In order for that, you gotta give me that crier. That crier that has substance.”
So much of mainstream rap is a capitalist celebration of luxury, but Mozzy is the antithesis of lavish. He is drinking from Styrofoam cups, shirtless outside a gas station. He’s no provocateur out to scare middle America, either. His lyrics invoke a harsh realism that makes no apologies for the things he’s seen and done. “You don’t wanna live how I live / my life difficult,” he raps. “I’m all in and I ain’t trippin’, though.”
As music critic Drake wrote in his Yellow Tape Activities review for Pitchfork, Mozzy’s “unprecedented directness makes murder less abstract, an absurdity transformed, seen through the more familiar lenses of peer pressure and shared burdens.” He later wrote in an email that Mozzy’s “treatment of violence is deceptively ethical.
“By producing a shock in listeners rather than relying on generic tropes of violence, he is forcing us to confront street violence not as a familiar tool of entertainment but as something alienating and horrifying,” he wrote.
It’s also therapeutic for a young man pained by a life he often refers to as a beautiful struggle:
“I know there ain’t no future in this way of living / the way we living / either death or on our way to prison.”Life after gangland
Back in his Oak Park living room, Mozzy talks about the future. He repeats lyrics from his song “Dead And Gone,” off Gangland Landscape: “Nowadays a nigga dream about a normal life.”
Mozzy keeps a close circle of confidants, and he makes a point of noting that he isn’t joined by his posse for his SN&R interview. He came alone.
“I’m real cool by myself. Always been a very solitary person. I can sit in the room—read books, write raps, work out. Just hella weird shit like that. I’m comfortable with me. I get a lot more done that way.”
Since his release from jail last April, Mozzy has had multiple 10-day arrests, encounters he describes as “bousy shit.” (It’s a reference to a codeine habit.) But Singleton of Black Market Records sees the artist as having put the gang life behind him. He tries to be a mentor for artists on his label, hoping that past affiliations fade. He thinks that, given Mozzy’s maturity, he can look beyond that life.
There’s also the fear. Singleton remembers Mozzy confessing to him: “’Ced, I could be pumping gas and they’ll take my life.’”
Singleton responded: “You have the ability to choose where you pump your gas.”
Mozzy is trying to move forward. There is the saying “you’re only as good as the company you keep,” to which Mozzy added, “You fuck with nine broke niggas, you’ll be the 10th one.”
His past is marred by a decade on probation and he lives with the awareness that death is just as likely. This year, his cousin and fellow rapper E-Mozzy was shot in San Francisco, but has since recovered. Though he’s animated and jovial mostly, addressing the number of people he’s lost to life imprisonment or murder wipes away Mozzy’s smile, his voice loses levity.
“Regular to the point that niggas get numb to it. Like you dealing with so many deaths that you stop showing up to funerals, even though they your brothers. You just numb,” he said.
He keeps the words “tomorrow ain’t a promise” in the front of his mind, he says, since the day he left prison. He said he slept in the studio for two straight nights. In those 48 hours, he recorded most of the Gangland Landscape mixtape, until he experienced headaches and fatigue. “I can’t keep this shit bottled in. It’s got to get out of me.”
Mozzy pauses to make a phone call to his probation officer, putting him on speaker phone. He’s supposed to meet with a PO named Brad, and he assures Brad that his tardiness is due to an “important-ass interview.” On the other end, Brad can be heard saying “don’t say nothing stupid” in encouragement. When Mozzy hangs up, he refers to Brad as the dopest probation officer.
“He really fuck with me. He do his job. If I fuck up, I fuck up. He genuine, man. That’s what we lacking as far as authority. He assists me, and he calls me. He tells me ’You need to take that off your Instagram, fuckisyoudoing? You need to take these classes, fuckisyoudoing?’”
Michael Bays, division chief of the Sacramento County Probation Department, says screening of social media is not uncommon; it’s part of an effort to reduce risk to reoffend, one he says hasn’t always been the department’s approach.
“We have to retrain them cognitively as to how to make appropriate decisions when they are out in the community,” Bays explained. “You have some unique relationships, in which we’re trying to help these folks succeed while we also hold them accountable.”
Bays says protocol when he was a field officer in the 1990s was much different. Back then, if you slipped up, it was back to prison.
Recently, Mozzy earned himself work service hours for published photographs of him smoking weed. A mistake he intends to not make again. Bays says it’s about treating people on a human level and being forthright in order to become a team. A strategy that kind of makes the probation department part of Mozzy’s management team.
“We have officers that are open-minded and get to know the people well enough that they are able to look at things differently than we used to,” Bays said.
It helps Mozzy realize that there are possibilities beyond the life he lived in Oak Park.
“A nigga just want to live a regular, normal life. Have a dope ass house, paid for. Dope ass vehicle. And just [money] tucked off for my daughter. Regular shit like going to Chuck E. Cheese and getting ice cream.
“It ain’t the case right now, but I’m regular. Period.”