Huddled around the laptop computer in his room, wearing oversized headphones, senior television-radio and audio production major Jonathan “Cosmo” Kagan looks at his screen, making potential edits as he closes his eyes quickly, squinting, as if photographing the music in his mind.
What seems to be a distant dream for most people has become a reality for Kagan, whose first EP, “Pieces,” became available on hard copy this week. He said he hopes by finalizing this project people will see him as a talented rapper.
“What I want most from the making of this album is for people to accept me and respect me as a hip-hop artist,” he said. “You would not believe how many people don’t believe me when I say that after college I want to be a professional hip-hop artist.”
Though the record came into full fruition this month, the project has been a lifelong effort beginning for Kagan when he was 11 years old — the age he started writing poetry. At age 14, he realized hip-hop was his favorite medium to perform.
“It was a way for me to express myself comfortably and share who I was in ways I couldn’t in person,” he said. “I’m so motivated by this honest music that lets me express who I am.”
Senior Jaylene Clark, who is the president of Spit That!, said she enjoys listening to Kagan’s poetry at the club’s spoken word workshops and performances.
“Jon brings a new flow and positive vibes to the hip-hop scene on campus,” Clark said. “He brings lyrics that are thought-provoking, sincere and genuine, which is something that commercial hip-hop and rap is lacking.”
Kagan said inspiration for his lyrics comes from issues in the news. One of the tracks on his album “Ghost on the Field” was written right after the Jena 6 incident, when six black students were charged with attempted murder after getting into a fight with a white student. Kagan said the song focuses on people coming together as a community.
“We’re all on this field separated by politics, race, religion, economic status and class, but in the end we all become ghosts doomed by not identifying ourselves with others,” he said.
Rick Warren, Kagan’s childhood friend who grew up with him in New York City, produced “Pieces,” and said Kagan likes to maintain originality in the studio.
“With Jon it was a special process, unique to him and hip-hop,” Warren said, “The process for this album was more organic and natural.”
Including 14 songs and a cameo by Clark, the EP has a do-it-yourself element with the music produced by Warren and the graphic art for the cover drawn by senior Tatenda Mbudzi.
Warren, who has a studio in Harlem, worked on the album with Kagan for a year, but he said some of the songs on “Pieces” were written when the two were in high school together.
In high school, Kagan said he originally opted not to continue on to college because he wanted to focus on a music career.
“I wanted to pursue music and thought that college would interfere, but now I’m happy,” he said. “I have a back-up career in audio production that also complements rapping.”
The album represents Kagan’s success in achieving the goal he set his freshman year.
“If I was going to college, I wanted something to have that had represented my time there, which has in turn become ‘Pieces.’”
After college, Kagan hopes to pursue a full-time rapping career.
Warren said working with Kagan made him realize how important the connection between two artists is for creativity in the studio. He said producing the record has made him and Kagan closer.
“What our process has demonstrated to me is that it doesn’t matter what music you’re making,” he said. “It matters who you’re making it with. And I’m really proud of the record.”
Clark said the album will be successful and working with Kagan is always a productive and enjoyable experience.
“His poems are meant to flow to a musical beat, which is cool,” she said. “He even inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and write a hip-hop piece in response to a piece he had written.”
Kagan said producing records is his passion and he is not too concerned with his record sales. Giving people music they can vibe with is all that matters to him.
“The ultimate compliment is not how many records I sell, but a person coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey man, I was really able to identify with that song,’” Kagan said. “That is all the satisfaction in the world.”
Kagan’s album can be downloaded for free at www.cosmohiphop.com.