We had the good fortune of connecting with CAZZ!E AKA and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi CAZZ!E, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was bred and raised in Southwest Philadelphia, which now and at the time was a real rough place. I was raised by my aunt in a religious household, real strict- church every Sunday, Boy Scouts every Saturday, choir rehearsal every Friday night. Because of that, it gave me real structure and and guidance, but I stood out like a sore thumb in school. By the time I was in middle school, it was 2001, and that was the era where everyone had on the newest Air Force 1’s, big t-shirts, “diamond” chains, and all the kids knew all the rap songs that were hot like Jay-Z, DMX (RIP), Cash Money, etc. I on the other hand, grew up with gospel in my house 24/7, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, on the ride to school.
So I was more like Urkel- I had to sneak and listen to music so I could rap all the cool songs with the other kids and sag my “high water” khaki pants when I got to school to try and fit in. I still got bullied a lot though- I even drew a Nike sign on these blank, brown sneakers to escape the wrath of the other kids. The music actually helped me through it, and I started to write my own music to cope with the rough time I grew up in, especially after my aunt passed away.
As I got older, I realized that being different was more like a blessing to be embraced versus something to hide from, and that plus leaning more into my music helped me to start following a more creative path and not only be okay with being the odd one out, but help others just like me.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My art is two-fold; I am primarily a recording artist. and I’m a creative curator. I rap, sing, and occasionally produce music as well, but I also work in graphic design and fashion.
I’ve been in the music industry for almost 11 years, kind of scary actually. To go back to the middle school/bully story- I went to Shaw Middle School, which at the time was one of the worst middle schools in Philadelphia. I had a teacher named Mr. Lee who at time, was supposed to be the meanest and strictest teacher there- and he was. But he had a moral code and a sense of honor about him, and he commanded respect, no matter how tough or “hood” you thought you were. He also rapped on the side, and he challenged our class in 8th grade to keep our grades high and he would help us record and release a song to the school. Everyone knew I was a nerd, but everyone also knew I was a serious rapper, so my teacher helped push me to the point where once the day came where we recorded our song together, I had two verses on the song, and what many argued was the best part of the song (I can’t listen to it today, it was SO BAD and I was so young HAHA). I rapped really to cope with the harsh reality of my environment and it was a source for my frustration dealing with bullies and being made fun of a lot.
From here though, I had different mentors help teach me their ways and show me the ropes. It was NOT easy. I spent a huge chunk of my career trying to emulate street rappers and rap about things that weren’t my life trying to fit in. It wasn’t until high school that a friend of mine pulled me to the side and gave me tough love after reading my rap book- she said, “why are you rapping about stuff you don’t do and what you don’t have? Why don’t you just rap about your life, it’ll be way better than you lying” and from there, I looked at life so different- it all made sense. Everything that I was raised in was to lead me to be different and PURPOSELY stand out. So from there, I made it my mission to be the weirdest I could be, strive to be the odd one out, and help others do the same.
I’ve experienced a lot of highs, traveling all over the world, working with the biggest artists in the music industry, but I fell a lot too, experiencing homeless and depression, watching some of my closest peers on TV with an eviction notice in my hand. I lost my music group at the peak of our careers together, and that really broke me. I went from Webster Hall in NYC to putting on shows and events in my basement where 4 people showed up. With that, I knew I had to take some time offf. I had to step away and get my mental health together, something that a lot of us men, especially us Black men- don’t always take serious sometimes. I focused more on my relationship with the Most High, and with that, my family. I have a 1-year-old and an 11-year-old who both need their father, and I’m also striving to be a good husband. These are two examples I never saw as a child, so I’m sort of working from scratch, but it’s pretty cool and definitely important.
With that, I’m back in the lab working on my 11th project and newest album. I’m also working on my newest brand BXSTINTHEWXRLD, inspired by my mantra that kept me alive in my darkest depression: that I was the best in the world. I want to help brands and artists find and represent the creative side they never knew they had, or knew they had but could never bring out because of lack of confidence, support, and or resources.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
First stop is Hyon’s in West Philly- the best food ever, straight up- four wings and fries, hot sauce and ketchup and salt and pepper. Maybe I’m bias. We have to hit an Eagles game too- you don’t really get Philly experience without that.
Dahlak Restaurant in West Philly is a MUST. Fire drinks, real good vibes, good people. On a good night you’ll catch a chill vibe with a hookah or a fire performance from a random artist (that artist was me many times)- of course this is if things are back to normal. A chill kick-back in Clark Park with some beers is definitely a must also.
Penn’s Landing/Old City is my favorite area of Philadelphia. I’m a sucker for history and old vintage locations, and the water at Penn’s Landing is mad chill.
We have to stop by CRWNGLD Studios, ran by my good man Jay Saif, a fellow creative and dedicated artist. The vibe is impeccable, and once again, good people all around.
Other than that there’s a lot more spots and events that are pretty cool but I’m old now so a lot of stuff doesn’t exist in the city anymore or I’m not hip enough to know about it. A good piece of our time would probably be chilling with my one-year-old chasing us around my house, playing some unknown dope music and me cooking some jerk chicken (my specialty).
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I can’t really boil it down to one shoutout, so I’m going to use this shoutout to give some credit and recognition to the women in my life who helped to shape and mold me into the man I am today, and moreso, women in general. We owe so much them and we as men don’t always give them the respect and love they deserve for what they do and sacrifice for us. For example, the mother of my children and my wife who holds down our house, loves me and our children unconditionally, and still runs a business. Or my “twin” sister, who defied all the odds and raised a baby into a wonderful young lady, despite countless doctors telling her it couldn’t be done. Or my cousins, who helped raise me after my aunt passed, giving me love, pushing me to follow my dreams in music and teaching me how to be a man when I didn’t have that father figure in my life. Even when I left college to pursue my music full-time, my cousin pushed me to take of myself and do better, but she still encouraged me to follow my passion. It’s so many more to shed light on, but for now, shoutout to them and all of the women in the world.