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Crescent City Sounds Artist Spotlight: Sozi

Originally from Chicago, local rapper Sozi started performing when he was 16 years old at weekly open mic night hosted by his hometown library. Just over a decade later, the 27-year-old has come full circle, with his debut solo album “Time Will Tell,” featured on Crescent City Sounds, a streaming platform for local music created by the New Orleans Public Library. 

For Sozi, the recognition is an honor and a nod to his roots.

“Libraries have always been really important to me. When I was a kid, instead of sending me to my room when I was in trouble, my mom would send me to the public library and tell me to read and write her book reports,” Sozi recalled.

“I would do my reading and write up a report, but then I’d always find time to go listen to the CDs and borrow a few. Looking back, I think the Library is where I really got into music. It’s where I first heard Amy Winehouse. It’s where I first listened to the Beatles, it’s where I first started performing.”

So, having his first album featured in his adopted hometown’s library feels like fate, Sozi said.

“I can’t stress enough how much libraries have influenced my relationship with music, and I just feel so grateful to be given this opportunity,” he said. “I love libraries. I’m a rapper because of the Library, I believe that to my core. I can go rock a stage because my foundation was at a library. And now, to be a part of this platform? I think it’s beautiful. It speaks to me as a person, not just as an artist.” 

Born Isaiah Garner, Sozi moved to New Orleans in 2014 to pursue a degree in psychology at Dillard University. While there, Sozi started his own open mic for students, inspired by the impact the Chicago Library’s open mic night had on him as an artist and performer. 

“On a personal level, open mics are near and dear to my heart. That’s how I got my start, and I wanted to inspire other people with a similar type of safe space and venue that I had coming up in the library back home,” he said. 

After graduating, Sozi spent two years teaching English and music production at Livingston Collegiate High School. “Time Will Tell” was released in November 2021 by an independent record label Sozi founded in 2018 called Unique Visions, or UV Sound. The label is fully housed by Dillard University graduates and students, Sozi said, and he hopes UV Sound grows into the first major record label operated by HBCU Alumni. 

Sozi describes his sound as soulful and musical and said his main inspirations come from New Orleans’ rich music culture. 

“Even though I’m not originally from here, I very much consider New Orleans my home,” he said. “I came into myself here –– both as an artist and as person –– and I wouldn’t be making the music I make today if not for my experiences living and growing in New Orleans.” 

Time, as a concept and a reality, is another major inspiration for Sozi. 

“The album “Time Will Tell,” is about what it sounds like –– time. It’s 12 songs, which represent the 12 numbers on a clock, meaning each song represents an hour of the day, as well as a different time of my life,” he explained. “When people listen to this album, I hope people can find themselves within the music, and also within another person’s story. I think storytelling is the foundation of hip-hop, and I just hope people find their own story and are inspired to follow their own dreams, when they listen to mine.” 

In addition to “Time Will Tell,” Sozi collaborated with another local artist, Kr3wcial to release “As We Proceed” in 2021, which was nominated for OffBeat Magazine’s, “Best of the Beat Awards’ for Best Hip-Hop/Rap Album. Sozi also recently filmed a short film called “Revenge of the Time,” which he hopes to screen at the Atlanta Black Film Festival. 

In the meantime, Sozi is performing around New Orleans while gearing up for his next album, which he said is coming soon. You can stream “Time Will Tell,” on Crescent City Sounds now, and follow Sozi on social media to stay up-to-date on performances and new releases.

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