Syracuse rapper Stove God Cooks is one of the most distinctive and exciting artists to emerge from the Northeast hip-hop underground in decades. Cooks’s calling card is his melodic approach to boom-bap, combining ’90s-style with sonic elements from gospel and soul. First entering the scene around 2015 as a rookie protégé of Busta Rhymes, Cooks spent several years developing his chops with the East Flatbush legend. Cooks’s 2020 debut album “Reasonable Drought” — which was produced by New York City-based rapper-producer Roc Marciano — caught the ear of Griselda Records president Westside Gunn and established the Syracuse rapper as a notable up-and-comer.
Now a signed member of Griselda, Cooks has matured into the rap equivalent of a veteran five-tool player; appearing on nearly every 2022 release from the Buffalo label to provide sung melodies, spoken hooks, and guest rap verses.
“We push each other. I’m rapping with the most elite in this shit right now,” Cooks said in a phone interview with The Harvard Crimson. “Just to be included in the conversation and that I can stay afloat with some of the best doing it, I’m good with that.”
With his forthcoming debut album under Griselda scheduled to release this year, Cooks is poised to push his singular hard-edged style further into the mainstream of modern rap.
“It’s curated by Westside Gunn,” Cooks said. “We’re gonna give you another classic. We’re gonna keep pushing the culture forward. I’m going to keep talking the shit I talk and giving the fans these melodies.”
“This one is gonna be like ‘Reasonable Drought’ on steroids,” the rapper added.
In Syracuse, Cooks grew up surrounded by music. He spent his youth in his grandfather’s church and taught gospel choir music by his mother. His older brother showed him how to rap and educated him on Golden Era hip-hop titans like Nas, AZ, the late Half A Mill, and the late Big Pun. As Cooks got older, the rapper found himself gravitating towards artists like Puff Daddy and The LOX.
“For me The LOX, Mase, Big, were all really lyrical,” the rapper said. “How Puff was doing it then was exactly what I came from: gospel mixed with the streets.”
A young Stove God Cooks had dreams of becoming a star like his Golden Era heroes. However, he faced the disadvantage of coming from Syracuse, a place that is not particularly known for its music.
“There was no one to look up to and say, ‘Oh, yeah, we can do that.’ It’s not like being outside in Brooklyn, like, ‘Oh ya, Biggie from here. HOV from here.’ There was nothing like that in Syracuse.”
In 2015, the rapper garnered his first major recognition outside of his hometown. Busta Rhymes offered to sign the Syracuse artist after hearing some of Cooks’s music on Twitter. It was actually Busta’s close friend and collaborator Lord Jamar that had initially found Stove God Cooks online.
“My people were telling me, ‘You need to put [songs] on Twitter. I’ve never been an internet or social media person. It was really them pushing me like, ‘Put this shit on there and the right person might hear it.’”
Beginning in 2015, Cooks locked in with Busta Rhymes, absorbing the Flatbush legend’s creative process and learning about the business side of the music industry.
“Buss is a fucking genius,” Cooks said. “I’m talking every night for like three years from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. Every night. Buss don’t take days off. To be in the game for that long and still be that dedicated just blew my fucking mind.”
It was through his mentor Busta Rhymes that Cooks was introduced to one of his closest collaborators, legendary NYC rapper-producer Roc Marciano. Marciano had also begun his career with Busta Rhymes, first joining Busta’s Flipmode Squad back in 2000. Cooks first became acquainted with Marciano after the rapper-producer respectfully declined to contribute vocals to a Flipmode reunion album that Busta was organizing. According to Cooks, Marciano made the decision in order to stay true to the new sound he had pioneered since stepping away from Flipmode.
“I understood it, honestly,” Cooks said. “I understood that he kept his sound raw while everybody gave up on it. While everybody chased the South. While everybody chased Houston. Whatever they was chasing, he stayed true to that real New York sound.”
Around 2019, Cooks felt like he still had something to prove to his peers and him and Marciano bonded over that. They quietly began work on a collaborative album that would become “Reasonable Drought.”
“I knew if I brought them into my world. I knew they would understand. If they could live with it, I knew it was over. He knew if he got the right person to get on his beats. He could prove what he wanted to prove with his production.”
Released in March 2020, the album also marked the debut of the Stove God Cooks name, a decision that, according to the Syracuse rapper, came about as a result of his personal satisfaction with the music.
“Once the project started coming together, it just felt like this was me for real. Like I said, ‘If I bring them into my world, it’s over.’ I’m really gonna bring you into the kitchen and this shit gonna feel like a conversation with me and my n****s while we cooking. And I’m God. The God of the Stove.”
With “Reasonable Drought,” Cooks and Marciano delivered on their goal. Blogs, fellow rappers, and industry executives alike quickly identified “Reasonable Drought” as one of the best rap LPs of 2020. The buzz from the project led Westside Gunn to contact Cooks directly.
“West reached out to me for “Awesome God.” These were his exact words: ‘I got three joints. You got a classic album, but nobody knows. You do these three joints and they’re gonna go back to your album and give it the respect it deserves.’”
Since his three song guest appearance on Gunn’s July 2020 album “Flygod is an Awesome God 2,” Cooks has recorded over 20 guest verses for numerous Griselda and Griselda-affiliated releases. In the process, he has become one of the most highly sought-after feature artists in the game. Cooks features prominently on Gunn’s highly-anticipated album “10,” released in October 2022. The project’s eighth track “Science Class” hears the Syracuse rapper match wits with a guestlist including Busta Rhymes, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah.
Yet despite all his success, Cooks remains humble, sharing that he does not think of himself as being famous. Last November, the Syracuse rapper attended a Celtics game with Westside Gunn and Ramon ‘1000WORD$’ Lazo, eliciting cheers from players and fans alike. Such a greeting made Cooks feel like he has officially made it as an artist.
“There’s only been a handful of moments where I felt like a real rapper. That was one of them,” Cooks said.
—Staff writer Ryan S. Kim can be reached at [email protected]