Cincy Hip Hop artist Juan Cosby enlists guest MCs for eclectic debut LP, 'Inhospitable Planet'

Juan Cosby is the Hip Hop guise of Cincinnati music Renaissance man Nick Mitchell.

click to enlarge Juan Cosby - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Juan Cosby
For a guy who’s chest deep in Greater Cincinnati’s Indie Rock and Hip Hop milieu, Nick Mitchell has a fairly normal life. When he’s not booking local Hip Hop shows, doing the day-to-day grunt work for his label Grasshopper Juice or planning his 12th-annual (and imminent) Adjust Your Eyes Music & Art Festival, Mitchell is working promotions for the club Chameleon in Northside and putting the finishing touches on the next-door Chameleon Pizza Oven.

And if not for the fact that his wife Emily works with him as Chameleon’s bar manager, he’d barely have time to see her or their 6-month-old daughter.

“Without the support of my parents and Emily — oh my God,” Mitchell says. “I barely get by as it is, but they help. A lot.”

His schedule would break most people, but Mitchell is not most people. When he’s not doing the above, he’s doing more than the above — gigging and recording with Hip Hop group Counterfeit Money Machine, operating within the Cinthesizer collective and developing Juan Cosby, his Hip Hop production and artist nickname. Mitchell’s first Juan Cosby album, 2015’s Amanap, was essentially a single musical idea stretched into an album-length suite, while his EPs were more song structured but still very diverse musically, similar in tone to his all-over-the-atlas work with Chick Pimp, Coke Dealer at a Bar, his eclectic and on-hiatus Cincinnati band. 

When he began planning Inhospitable Planet, the brand-new Juan Cosby album, Mitchell envisioned a very specific form.

“I realized that I wanted to get all these rappers on it, and I had the opportunity to get all these talented people, but I was trying to think of a way that it could still be mine,” he says. “I didn’t want to lay down a boom-bap beat and then three guys make the song. On the Counterfeit stuff, I sing and rap, but I decided early on I didn’t want to do that at all with (Juan), so I started thinking about music like Boston or Jack White, where the hook is an instrumental melody, and I was like, ‘That’s what I need to do.’ That was the main idea — to put my signature on it without using my actual voice.”

Taking his title from a nerdy inspiration — the title crawl for Star Wars: The Clone Wars states that Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are attempting to escape from “an inhospitable planet” — Mitchell wanted to address America’s current contentious nature and the unease that is gripping the country. But he didn’t want to hamstring his talented vocal guests (which include Blueprint, CJ the Cynic, Spoken Nerd, Eyenine, Ronin, Ialive and many others) by putting words in their mouths, so he merely provided the project’s title and a specific beat to each featured artist and let them run with it.

“People are comparing everything that’s going on to the ’60s and ’70s, and (Inhospitable Planet) fits with the politics and the pipeline and police brutality, everything,” Mitchell says. “So I left it up to (the MCs’) interpretation.”

The result is an incredibly musical Hip Hop album that gives voice to the palpable frustration and anger that permeates American culture while offering a few rays of hope for its resolution. That lyrical range, balanced against Mitchell’s evocative and singular beats and melodies, creates a compelling and engaging tension over the course of InhospitablePlanet’s 13 tracks.

“Some, like Blueprint or Weirdose, were looking at it in a more positive light — focus on yourself, try to do better than everyone else,” Mitchell says. “Billy East brought up Trayvon Martin. Everybody took it in different directions. I just said, ‘The album’s called Inhospitable Planet; take that how you will.’ Everybody either let all their aggression out or tried to spin it into a positive. I was glad it happened that way.” 

If Mitchell’s Hip Hop alter ego sounds vaguely familiar, it’s no accident. Years ago, he was watching a University of Texas football game and heard the announcer introduce freshman receiver Quan Cosby (who was later signed by the Bengals). It struck Mitchell’s ear oddly. 

“They kept saying his name, and with the roar of the crowd, it sounded like ‘Juan Cosby,’ and to us — I don’t know if it was what we were smoking or whatever — we thought that was hysterical,” he says with a laugh. 

Mitchell eventually established Juan Cosby as a whip-smart beat producer and board manipulator, using the identity to explore B-roll material from his various musical projects at the time. But when Chick Pimp went on hiatus, a recently married Mitchell decided to direct his energy toward production and wound up working with Counterfeit Money Machine in 2013.

“I realized the smart move would be to not have to go to band practice three days a week, but engineer my music career in a way that most of the work could be done at home when I get a chance,” Mitchell says. “I was DJing for Counterfeit because I really thought those two guys were talented, then it came to a point where I was like, ‘Look, I’m willing to take this more seriously, I just want to concentrate on beat production and use Counterfeit as a way to launch me into that.’ They were all about it. I had a lot of connections that they didn’t, so once I committed to it, they started to take off and do really well. I’ve met all kinds of new Hip Hop people and been doing tracks with them. Counterfeit is like home base. I wasn’t really taking Juan Cosby seriously at that point, it was just a name I attached to stuff.”

That has clearly changed with the rising profiles of Counterfeit Money Machine and Cosby. With Inhospitable Planet’s release show safely behind him, Mitchell still has several irons squarely in a well-stoked fire, and he’s reminded of them daily. The next big one is the Adjust Your Eyes fest, which returns July 28-30 to venues in Northside. 

“(The festival) is the big focus right now,” Mitchell says. “(Area Hip Hop artist) Haskell helps with a lot of the label stuff. The release party wasn’t five minutes over and he’s like, ‘We’ve got five or six things we need to talk about for AYE.’ Obviously I’m lucky to have that kind of support — none of this stuff would work if I didn’t have him and (Counterfeit Money Machine’s) AP — but let me take a couple of days.”


JUAN COSBY performs at the AYE Music& Art Festival in Northside July 28-30 (details at adjustyoureyes.com). More info: here and juancosby.bandcamp.com

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