Stove God Cooks Is Ready For His Moment

Stove God Cooks Is Ready For His Moment

I had to do a double-take. I had to hit rewind. For a split-second, I thought I’d imagined it, but no, it was right there, on tape: “Syracuse! Bang! Rock the house! Come on and help me turn it out!” I’d just bought Brand Nubian’s 1993 sophomore album In God We Trust — the one with “Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down,” the one that they recorded after Grand Puba had already left the group — from a discount cassette rack in Syracuse, New York. The album was something like seven years old by that point, and Brand Nubian had already broken up and reunited. I’d just bought the album because it was in ego trip’s Big Book Of Rap Lists and because I loved One For All. I was not expecting to hear the word “Syracuse.” Really, I’m never expecting to hear the word “Syracuse.”

Sadat X shouts out Syracuse on “The Travel Jam,” a song that’s all about touring to different cities. Much of the track is made up of shoutouts to cities that never get shoutouts on rap records, places like Sheboygan and Peoria. There’s something special about living in an out-of-the-way place and hearing a rapper acknowledge that place on record. There’s something especially special if that place is Syracuse, New York. I spent four years at college in Syracuse in the late ’90s and early ’00s, and the place definitely felt like it was dying. The ’90s economic boom had never arrived in Syracuse, but every recession hit. Syracuse University was its own weird little moneyed bubble, but every time I’d venture out of those environs, shit would look bleak — bleak even compared to Baltimore, the place I’d left for Syracuse.

Syracuse had a downtown, but half of that downtown seemed to be boarded-up or abandoned. The interstate highway that cut through town left the city permanently segregated, and this was probably the plan of the people who devastated a historically Black neighborhood to build the interstate in the ’60s. The mayor’s big urban-renewal project was to make the mall bigger, figuring that this would be the magic trick that would put the city’s economy on the right path. It didn’t work. Nothing worked. I’ve got family in Syracuse, and I’ve read more about the city’s ongoing decline, but I probably haven’t been back in Syracuse in nearly 20 years. I miss my friends from school, but I don’t really miss the city of Syracuse at all.

Syracuse loves rap music. This was true of virtually everyone at the college, and it was just as true of the locals who I got to know. Whenever the school would book rap shows, people would show up, even if the shows were haphazardly promoted. But if Syracuse had a rap scene, nobody much knew about it. Every once in a while, a local group would get booked to open one of those college shows, but crowds would never react to them at all. Maybe that’s because the college students weren’t from Syracuse and felt no real connection to the city itself. Maybe it’s because the local rappers who got booked were just bad. Maybe you’re throwing people to the wolves whenever you send unknowns out to open for national stars. Some cities just never support their own rappers. (Post Malone and Toosii, if you even want to call them rappers, were both born in Syracuse, but both moved away long before they got famous, and neither of them reps the city.) In any case, 20 years after I left Syracuse, the city has finally produced a rapper who’s making noise on a national level. Stove God Cooks is one of the best out right now, and maybe he’s so good because he had to work that much harder than just about anyone else.

Stove God Cooks did not have an easy road out of Syracuse. The man was in his late twenties, working civilian jobs and rapping on the side, before he got any kind of attention. Back then, he was known as Aaron Cooks — or, sometimes, Aaron Cook$; he’s never been entirely consistent about whether that last letter should be a dollar sign. In 2017, Cooks connected with Lord Jamar, the former Brand Nubian member who’d gone on to become an actor on Oz and a virulently homophobic YouTube hotep, on Twitter. Jamar became Cooks’ manager, and Cooks earned himself some buzz with an impressive freestyle on Sway’s Shade 45 show. When Cooks signed with Busta Rhymes’ Conglomerate imprint, it made the local news. Cooks’ big debut was a 2016 two-song single that went nowhere. It’s not even on YouTube anymore.

Cooks’ luck changed when he met Roc Marciano, another former Busta Rhymes protege who had to break out on his own, in his post-Flipmode Squad days. Two years ago, Aaron Cooks rechristened himself Stove God Cooks and released Reasonable Drought, his first and thus far only album. At the time, Stove God told DJ Booth that he didn’t really feel like Busta Rhymes and Lord Jamar understood his music. Roc Marciano got it, though. Roc Marci produced every track on Reasonable Drought, and his hazy deep-concentration beats turned out to be an ideal complement to Stove God’s literary crime-life talk. The new name was a signal: The former Aaron Cooks was now going to focus on the granular details of the drug-dealing economy. Roc Marci’s involvement was a signal, too. To those of us who had never heard of Aaron Cooks, this was a guy with no features on his debut album who’d somehow gotten ahold of 12 different Roc Marciano beats. You had to pay attention to that.

The Roc Marciano association wasn’t just a good career move. It made artistic sense, too. Stove God can be a playful rapper and a literary one, but there’s also a runt-of-the-litter striver quality that I find hugely compelling. Here was a guy from Syracuse, a beaten-down and freezing-cold city that had never produced a rapper of any national renown, trying to make his big-stake breakout at age 30. He knew that the odds are stacked against him, and so he rapped with a fire-eyed ferocity. To hear Stove God tell it, those Roc Marciano beats were a challenge: “He just gave me a bunch of shit I wasn’t supposed to have; I’m gonna keep it real with you. A lot of shit that his fans, if I didn’t do amazing on ’em, they would’ve been like, ‘Why did you waste this shit?’ So I had to dig in my bag and really get busy.” That’s exactly what he did.

Ever since Reasonable Drought, many of Stove God’s biggest moments have been features on records from Westside Gunn, another unlikely upstate New York success story who’s always been great at spotting and understanding talent. Gunn has a gift for casting. In recent years, he’s been helping to elevate and curate music from similarly gritty underground rap veterans like Boldy James and Mach-Hommy, guys who spent years ignored or underrated before the rap world started to catch up. Stove God belongs in that lineage. On a posse cut like the 2020 Westside Gunn track “Frank Murphy,” Stove God truly pops. Last year, Stove God was all over Gunn’s double album Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerely Adolph. Even when stacked up against the toughest possible competition, rapping alongside Boldy James and Sauce Walka on “Westheimer,” Stove God brought a clear-eyed sense of purpose.

Sometime recently, Stove God signed with Babygrande, the pretty-big New York rap indie, and released a few singles. Thus far, those singles haven’t done a lot for me. Last year, Stove God released the French Montana collab “Dope” and the solo single “That’s The Game,” and those tracks don’t really bring the same sense of purpose and personality as Reasonable Drought or Stove God’s features on various Griselda records. They sound like autopilot rap records — songs that would’ve been blog fodder in the era when rap blogs were still thriving. (Maybe they’re playlist fodder now.) But Stove God’s not in any danger of running out of steam. Earlier this year, on Benny The Butcher’s “Back 2x,” Stove God dropped in with one of those verses that cause multiple involuntary stink-faces: “Hear the barkin’ from them bundles, had that dog food on deck/ Now my last check look like I play for the Nets.”

This past Friday, Westside Gunn released his new mixtape Peace “Fly” God. The idea was for that project to capture a certain sense of urgency, so Gunn recorded it during one 48-hour stretch immediately after getting back from Fashion Week in Paris. Possibly as a result, Peace “Fly” God might work more as a showcase for Stove God Cooks and for Estee Nack, the Boston rapper who was also in those sessions, than for Gunn himself. This is honestly the perfect situation for Stove God. Westside Gunn is probably better at picking beats and showcasing hungry rappers than he is at rapping himself, and the woozy, seasick tracks on the album are cousins to the Roc Marciano beats that Stove God had on Reasonable Drought. On “Jesus Crack,” the tape’s first proper song, Stove God gets a real star entrance. The beat drops out, and we get a few bars of Grand Puba rapping on “Slow Down.” (I don’t know whether this is a nod to Stove God’s come-up alongside Lord Jamar or whether it’s just a coincidental nod to the early-’90s canon. Either way, I’m surprised at how many times Brand Nubian is coming up in this column.)

When Stove God arrives, he’s fully locked-in: “What’s action to me?/ When they shoot the driver’s side and you die crawlin’ out the passenger seat/ That boy elite/ Eyes closed, trap in my sleep/ I brush my teeth with Ace Of Spades, I spit champagne in the sink.” Elsewhere, over multiple appearances, Stove God gets to ruminate on his come-up — “They wire the money now, they used to wire the room/ We was cuttin’ dog food out designer balloons/ I was prayin’ in the dirt, one day I bloom” — and to brag about flying from a vineyard in Sonoma to sit courtside watching Syracuse play Villanova. He sounds dizzy and hungry and charged with creativity. He sounds like he could do anything, and maybe he could. At this point, Stove God Cooks’ hometown legacy is assured; he is already the most important rapper ever to come out of Syracuse. But if his performance on Peace “Fly” God is any indication, he has a chance to become a whole lot more than that.


1. Doechii – “Bitch I’m Nice”
If you’ve got enough verve and personality to cut through the clutter on a song that lasts less than a minute and a half, then you really are nice — no lies detected. This track has energy, and it makes me wonder how much more Doechii has to offer.

2. Digga D – “STFU”
London’s Digga D has a singing voice that sounds nothing like his rapping voice. Most rappers are lucky to just get one cool voice. Digga D has two. That’s not fair.

3. Finesse2Tymes – “Get Even”
Memphis rapper Finesse2Tymes just got done serving nearly five years in a federal prison on a weapons charge, and he came back ready to go. That first-day-out fire can be a beautiful thing.

4. Yo Gotti, Moneybagg Yo, EST Gee, 42 Dugg, Blac Youngsta, & Mozzy – “Steppas”
Speaking of Memphis: Yo Gotti deserves credit for putting together an absolutely ridiculous roster. Gotti’s CMG label might represent the greatest collection of street-rap talent currently operating, and this posse cut works as an irresistible show of force.

5. Yungmorpheus & Theravada – “Beneath The Visage”
It must be difficult to say tough shit when you’re floating underwater, but Yungmorpheus makes it work. (I know he wasn’t really underwater when he recorded this. The song just hits like he was.)


more from Status Ain't Hood

Hi. It looks like you're using an ad blocker.

As an independent website, we rely on our measly advertising income to keep the lights on. Our ads are not too obtrusive, promise. Would you please disable adblock?