On Before I Awoke, the long-awaited debut of West coast rapper Co$$, duality is the dominant theme. From his guest spots on tracks from artists such as Fashawn and Blu to his collaborations with producers like Numonics and Exile, the Los Angeles rapper presents himself as a man with a conflicted mind – caught between the rough streets of South Central and something much more. On Before I Awoke Co$$ explores both, combining street rhymes with introspective reflections over an ebb and flow of boom bap West Coast anthems to smooth, pensive tunes.
Co$$ wastes no time defining who he is and the conflict he faces on a daily basis, as on the opener “Risen”, he mentions the hell of the L.A. streets and gangsters out to get theirs. He raps, “They ain’t got no love for ya, quick to terminate ya, that’s they murda nature, Schwarzenegger terminator’s the governor, fuck you expect?” But he has awoken, and his wisdom is pushing him onwards as J83’s breathless instrumental reaches for the heavens. Co$$ is trying to do right, but his daily existence tests him. On “Khakis and Taylors” he tries not to indulge in the excess that the streets offer, though Fonetik Simbol’s gutter beat sounds like the hood has already taken him under. Co$$ touches on the guns, money, weed, and other habits of the life, mentioning that he’s “shacked up with the Devil.” “10-4” furthers this feeling with its grimy synth-driven beat as he warns, “First you’ll meet the Co$$, then you meet the Reaper.” The head-nodding “Burn It Down” is the record’s standout banger, with Co$$ taking in the good and bad of Los Angeles while taking the crown of the city.
While many of the joints on the album speak about the hedonistic life on the streets, Co$$ spends just as much time trying to fight back the temptations. On the relaxed, jazzy “Born Again” featuring Blu and Sene he finds himself wistfully pondering on the direction of his life, his environment, and his connection with God. “Pot Ash” is another highlight, as producer Exile provides a wonderful instrumental utilizing a soulful piano and a relaxed, wandering sax that allows Co$$ to provide some of his most thoughtful and introspective lyrics on the record. With eloquent lines like, “The grief is all over my feet, my step’s heavy / He told me ‘don’t look back, Troy, walk fast’ so I ran / Still running today, tears run down my face / I feel hunted like prey, too haunted to pray”, “Pot Ash” is one of the record’s finest moments. The concern with improving himself and rising above the mire is in full force on “In The Wind” where Co$$ raps, “I’m all about the revolution of music, the evolution of humans, and the dollar got ‘em following the false father, I got nothing for them suckers but high life.” Co$$ also brings a healthy dose of spirituality throughout Before I Awoke, seen most noticeably in the complimentary tracks “No Allah” and “Scriptures.” On the former, he chides the unenlightened fools on streets, toting guns and jumping in Impalas: “you know the Lord is gone when the Judas thinks he’s god” while the latter has him looking to a higher power on his own terms, seeking guidance and direction.
Though Co$$ nails the dual struggle of the streets versus his soul, these themes tend to wear a bit thin over the course of sixteen tracks. Also, some of the album’s beats don’t gel with Co$$’s performance, leading to the emcee getting lost in the mix. “Spaceman” is such an example as Co$$ sounds a bit uncomfortable over the fast-paced piano-driven beat.
Before I Awoke is a strong debut, as Co$$ succeeds in crafting an introspective record which knocks, but at the same time gets you thinking. With his many guest appearances and mixtapes, the emcee has already established himself as one of the West’s unknown treasures; but with this one, a giant has awoken.
Burn It Down
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