Faith is the foundation for success, and who better to embody this notion of belief than Kosine, Chicago’s hitmaker responsible for the sloganeering soundtrack for the Biden-Harris campaign ad “Everybody Let’s Vote.” However, this is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the success surrounding Kosine’s genre-defying career run in music.
As a member of the producer tandem Da Internz, the Grammy-nominated instrumentalist has penned credits with the likes of Justin Bieber, Tamar Braxton and Nas to name a few. He’s acquired multi-platinum recording status with his influence and innate musicality, producing a series of rhythmic bop’s that helped define an era: Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake”, MIMS’ “Move (If You Wanna)”, and even Big Sean’s “Dance (A$$).”
With a medley of hit records to champion his sonic palette, presumably, Kosine was living the quintessential entertainer lifestyle at the pinnacle of his career – money, money and the cars, cars and the clothes, and the hoes (I suppose) – but everything that glitters isn’t gold, especially from the outside looking in. “I’m tryna go to the club, it’s the host of the club’s birthday and they’re playing Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake” song and I can’t get in the club, because I don’t have no face card,” he admits to me over the phone during our conversation. Seconds later, Kosine and I shared a laugh looking back on that unexpectedly enlightening moment, but it offered perspective: credit and status are just as different as day and night.
Most recently, Kosine has decided to come from behind the boards and step into the recording booth, pairing up with fellow Chicagoan Jeremih (“Birthday Sex”, “Don’t Tell ‘Em”) for their R&B single “Transparency.” The track explores relationship woes and the complexities of an unrequited love, poetically analyzing the lack of communication that’s present in many situationships of today. In a moment of complete transparency, the timing behind this release is perfect, preceding Kosine’s full-length project Truth Serum, due this Spring.
Naturally, Kosine’s intent is to empower his audience. After successfully graduating from Columbia College Chicago, he became an instructor, at the same institution. Yes, knowledge is power and some experiences are invaluable, but the price of opportunity is weighted in gold, or in Kosine’s case, the price of opportunity is weighted in effort.
How did Kosine initially get introduced to music?
Senior year of high school, when I got my first keyboard. That’s when I just knew, I knew I wanted to be a producer. How do I compete with somebody like Timbaland and Pharell because they’re super dope, I’m inspired by them: Dr. Dre, Kanye of course, I’m so inspired by producers. It’s like man, what do I have to do to get my music to sound competitive enough to be on the radio. It was like this huge challenge for me. I was rapping, singing and stuff in high school, I guess I just shied away from the limelight. It’s like I wanted the smoke but I ain’t really want the smoke, so I feel like production allowed me to be in the mix but not all the way out there. Just because you know, that level of doubt was still hanging around in my mind, so production allowed me to be there but not there there. Around 2014-2015, that became so unfulfilling, giving smash hits to Big Sean; we did “Dance (A$$)” and “Birthday Cake” with Rihanna, “Anaconda” with Nicki, Justin Bieber, Nas; a lot of these songs were giving the hooks, I’m writing the flow pattern and doing so much, I’m not feeling the connection, something just wasn’t right. That just really forced me to focus on my pen and pick up my writing. If you look on the Billboard charts, not one of the songs are instrumentals; instrumentals don’t go number one, songs do. It just really became important for me to work on my pen.
Personally, what do you consider the must-have qualities of a hit record, by today’s standards?
Something about hits just have a level of urgency to em’. When the song goes off you want to call your best friend. You wanna tell somebody, you wanna get up and dance; there’s just some level of urgency to hit songs. Not even necessarily just hits, the songs that you fall in love with. There’s a level of honesty and truth about it sometimes that’s relatable. I think that’s what I’ve been learning and that’s why I’m calling the project Truth Serum, because all of the things that are deep and honest, something you would put in your journal and wouldn’t want to share with people, that’s really all what people care to hear about at this point. The people are so tired of holding our phones up to our faces for so long that we are able to decipher the real from the fake. You giving us all that fake, we can tell: we can sniff out that fufu.
Has the vision ever been compromised for the sake of staying relevant?
I don’t know if it’s compromising my vision, I kind of look at it like being open for business and understanding people. I’ve had managers and A&R’s come to my studio and be like, “ Ya know Kos, your songs are too big; they’re too musical.” People like Walmart, so I literally have a section of beats that I make called “Walmart Specials” where I don’t put more than seven sounds in them. For the ratchets that come around, they love that shit. But, in full transparency, I’m a Jazz artist; there’s a saxophone to my right, here in my apartment down in Atlanta. And I love John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Kirk Whalum, I love Jazz. I love Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, and so that’s why my label and my style of music is called Gourmet Ratchet.
I’m from Chicago but I graduated with a 4.0, spoke at my graduation and delivered a TED Talk. When I graduated from Columbia College Chicago at 23, the head of my department said, “I know that you want to go to L.A and be like a rockstar, but don’t think you have to run there right away. If you wanna stay here in Chicago, get your things together, get your house in order, you can teach here.” I was making $100 an hour teaching as a 23-year-old, teaching a class that I made up called “Hip-Hop Beat Making” and another class within the curriculum called Producing and Recording 3.
During your tenure as a professor at Columbia College Chicago, what do you feel like was the most tangible takeaway from your role as an instructor?
The most tangible takeaway was the opportunity to develop a formula for my production, giving me a platform to practice articulating that formula to the minds and the lives of tomorrow. If you’re ever in the studio with me, I could teach you how to produce and write and I guarantee you, the way I would teach you, you would pick that shit up so much faster than if anyone else gave it to you because they haven’t been a college professor; they didn’t make up they own class at 23, and sold millions of records afterwards. So, when I started teaching at 23 I was very self-conscious because I didn’t have any hits, so it’s like why would they listen to me. In class, I would always be playing my music and I’d be making music throughout the week to play them new music just so I can sonically kick their ass and get my respect that way, and that’s how I got it. That’s where my respect came from, but I also made sure that the room was a space where we could all learn from each other. We all produce and write in our own different ways, it’s a way for us to share our ideas.
Seeing how things have lined up for you, it appears as though a professional career in music was fate. Would you agree?
Let me pull back the curtain a little bit more. Growing up, my mom is originally from Panama and my dad is originally from Guatemala and he participated in the 1968 Olympics, in the high jump. He was the Michael Jordan of Guatemala. My mom always said to me growing up – he’s also got a new book out, he passed a few years ago, but he had a book drop last year called, Teddy Could Jump and that’s really when I got to know my dad on a whole new level, because the book was written in English, finally. I could read about so much: I had no idea he knew Jessie Owens and stuff like that, but my mom always said her job as a parent was through once I graduated college. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after my freshman year and she passed away after my sophomore year. Three years later, I came back home and I graduated on Mother’s Day, so that opportunity to speak at graduation and dedicate that degree to my mom, that was my first Grammy. I have a lot of Grammy-nominations but I’ve never won a Grammy, but in my mind I’ve won a Grammy, and an Oscar, an Emmy when I was able to graduate from college.
With everything that you’ve experienced, how have managed to remain resilient in the face of adversity?
Well, she passed in 2003. 12 years later, when Da Internz broke up, it was a similar feeling. I moved back to Chicago and moved out of L.A. Those twelve years between me graduating from college and where I crashed and burned out and L.A. had chewed me up and spit me back to Chicago in 2015, I never really all the way healed. Along the process, you mix number one success with my first artist passing away, breakups with my son’s mom and all the craziness with life that happens during that time, I definitely lost it alot of times. The fact that I wasn’t a household name, the fact that I wasn’t out there like that. A lot of people didn’t see the torment and depression; the people closest to me saw that, but the world didn’t see it. And it has been the best thing that ever happened because here we are in 2021 and it’s almost off putting how stable I’ve become. I used to have such a crazy temper because you know artists are so emotional. Not to sound cliche, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and it literally has been just that; getting stronger, trying to grow, continuing to mature and be about my craft.
Majority of your catalog is associated with production credits for some of the biggest names in music. Why did you decide to come from behind the boards and try your hand as an artist?
If you go to my first production credit in 2008, “Move (If You Wanna) ” by MIMS, my first Gold record; I did the track and that’s me on the hook. That’s a 75-percenter out the gate. I told you I was rapping in high school, so I’ve always been on that. My production partner at the time too, wants zero parts to do with that. Right now, he’s the SVP A&R at Def Jam; in his heart of hearts he’s always been this executive, he’s not a musician. He’s more of what I call a Puff Daddy producer where he has great ideas, knows what’s cool and he’s about the business. But for me, the artist bug has always been in me and I’ve been suppressing it. Being unfulfilled in 2014, it was like I was a badass teenager acting out. I was in the studio all the time, greased up with a bunch of chains on, no shirt on, in my pure Bobby Brown, MC Hammer mode. It was just like fuck this producer shit, I gets no respect.
I’m tryna go to the club, it’s the host of the club’s birthday and they’re playing Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake” song and I can’t get in the club, because I don’t have no face card.
That’s strangely specific, has that actually happened to you?
Yes bro (laughs). I’m in Atlanta with Chaka Zulu, Ludacris’ manager, and he takes me to a store that he invests in, he manages the owner, it’s called Slutty Vegan. We’re in Slutty Vegan, it’s somebody’s birthday, the guy on the mic proceeds to play the song – I literally go over to the counter and I’m like, “Yo, I produced this song, I didn’t give y’all permission to perform it in here, who am I suing.” I made a big joke about it, but it’s kind of like the story of my life. And I do like it though, I like being able to live a normal life but with having superstar ass credits and shit, but there’s still so much that I have to say and so much that I have to give that I can no longer hide behind that. There’s healing in sharing my story.
The process behind creating, does that bring you comfort?
100%, for my personal artistry. I wish I could just wake up and go record a song everyday, but that’s not how it works. I literally have to be inspired, it’s such a crazy feeling. I get that feeling and because it’s my own music, it’s my own label and I’m my own artist, I’m the boss, I can work on a song – there’s a song on my album from Diane Warren that I produced nine different times…nine times. There’s no deadline. The ninth version is what’s on Truth Serum and it’s so good. The days of going to a label and playing it for an A&R for them to tell me something, I can’t; I’m doing a disservice to the music. Not taking anything away from that, but I’ve dedicated my life to music, so I know what it’s supposed to be.
In a moment of complete transparency, do you have any regrets about the path you’ve chosen for your life?
Hell yeah. I was fucking out of my mind bro. If I could go back and do stuff over, of course. But I think that’s what makes me so real and authentic now, because I did the dumb shit. So when I’m talking to brothers, I’m talking to brothers from a place of – bro, I’m one of the most hard-headed people I’ve ever heard of. When it comes to being in the crew and being in these streets, I was the leader of my crew in these streets. I walk in the room, I’m looking for the baddest one in the room, because that’s normally who gravitates towards me. When I’m speaking from a place of growth, I’ve been there, done that. Chasing the cool will have you out here fucked up. Some of us have to learn the hard way. I’ve been very fortunate, everybody doesn’t get a second chance. Where God is taking me, it called for real refinement. What I’m noticing now is how far I’ve drifted from some of my childhood homies. When we have our conversations, we share different beliefs now.
At this stage in your career, what role has your faith played in your life?
My faith plays the biggest role in the whole play. When my mom passed, I had a real conversation with God. I don’t understand, but even though I don’t understand, I’m not going to stop acknowledging you. I felt God say – If you continue to acknowledge me, one day this will make sense. I hear that you’re broken, I know that you’re broken, but if you continue to acknowledge me in your walk, this will make sense and I will put you back together. When I look at my life right now, he’s over delivered.
I still get very nervous when I start new projects and I don’t know what that’s about. Literally, I get anxiety. But then I go into the project and eight times out of ten I kill that shit. I feel like that’s him (God) and his power, because me, I’m nervous and unsure. I don’t know what beats I’m going to play or what’s going to come off my fingers. That’s the thing about writing songs, when you go in there it’s dead silent, and when you walk out, everybody’s dancing and stuff. My faith is everything.
With your upcoming album, Truth Serum – what are you most excited about?
I’m just excited to have my project out. As a producer with all these hits and as someone that has dedicated my life to music, I still haven’t had one definitive body of work that I can say embodies me and everything I believe in and stand for musically. I’ve never had that. Finally, with this EP, this Spring, Truth Serum is very honest. I basically produced the whole thing. I tapped some of my super-friends to help me out; Marsha Ambrosius executive produced. I got a producer named Young Fyre that I’m a super fan of, he works a lot with Trinidad James and Cardi B. Ayo N Keyz, they produced “WAP” for Cardi. Jaycen Joshua, he’s a famous engineer. This is a definitive body of work so people can see exactly who I am and hear my story. The way I can send someone a TED Talk, I can finally send them that in audio form. And I’m gonna keep doing that for the next three to five years, I got at least five projects already done. Now it’s just a matter of creating story lines behind them so that people can digest them. The music is so versed and dynamic that we had to break it up into EP’s and roll it out so that people can understand.