By Jose Mujica
Cover photo: Joshaun Anderson
September 14, 2018
It hasn’t been a simple path for Greg Cox, but the Wilson, NC musician shows off his soulful southern roots in every song he sings. Though his distinct blend of gospel, R&B and lyricism may draw comparisons to modern artists like Chance the Rapper, it’d be a mistake to call Greg Cox a “rapper” or even a “hip hop” artist. Hip hop is simply one of the many and various tools employed in creating the funky, powerful and deeply resonant soundscapes entirely his own. His latest project ETC. is a testament to his versatility as Cox expertly strikes a hopeful cohesive tone throughout while unflinchingly confronting demons head on.
The album begins with “Bigger Dreams,” a moving soul anthem that explores the ups and downs that come with living life in pursuit of your goals. Cox is no stranger to adversity or setbacks. At 19, he auditioned for Making His Band and exceeded expectations when he passed the first round of auditions and moved to Los Angeles for the next round. Going from partying at ECU to auditioning in a celebrity mansion in LA would leave a lasting impression on anyone, but even more so to a 19-year-old Cox. He recalls meeting Diddy for the first time, remembering “he smelled [like] 300 hundred million dollars.” Unfortunately, Cox’s flirtation with stardom was brief as he was eliminated early in the rounds for a mistake on a scale exercise. The production team filmed three takes of his audition and, despite the error in the first take, Cox felt confident in the other two. It wouldn’t be until the episode aired that Cox would see that, of course, it was the flubbed take that was aired instead of the favorable ones. He was eliminated but couldn’t head back home so soon to spoil the hopes of many who cheered him on. After half a year of Cali life, having fully experienced the fickle nature of show business first-hand, Greg Cox returned to Wilson to plan his next steps.
It’s during such moments that the chorus of “Bigger Dreams” hits home. When Cox belts out “So I’m going back to sleep!” you feel it. In the song, he means it as a new beginning, to come up with some new dreams. It’s a feeling we can all relate to, especially when you are faced with significant setbacks and challenges.
That was simply one of many lessons Cox would learn on his path as a musician. In the decade since, Cox gained experience as a music director, moved to Charlotte, got married and had children. He’s a much different man than he was when he was 19 and has the battlescars to prove it. Fatherhood and marriage present their own set of challenges and, with these new responsibilities, Cox’s perspective has been forced to adapt. By drawing from these real-life experiences he is able to imbue this conflicted and self-critical essence into his music. He sings “I’ve been thinkin’ bout’ me. I’ve been selfish been a jerk and you’ve been so bored, Et Cetera, Et Cetera so on and so forth.” A hint at the meaning of the album title.
While the first track is reminiscent of a Randy Newman-esque power ballad, the rest of the album is eager to showcase its varied styles and influences. The second track, “Everythang,” is a bouncy number with glitchy production. Cox playfully serenades his audience with promises to give them “everythang,” a subtle nod to his southern roots. Cox is unafraid to experiment sonically as well as thematically with tracks such as “Play Outside,” tackling the reality of police brutality in America, and “Ego,” which portrays Cox pointing the critical lense inward. Despite the overall positive tone of the project, it doesn’t get there by paving over the unpleasant truths of life but by confronting them head on without hesitation. It tells us that peace isn’t found by running away or ignoring your problems, but by acknowledging them and holding yourself accountable for your own shortcomings.
In his youth, Greg Cox gravitated toward Barry White or D’Angelo rather than contemporary hip hop acts and you can sense those influences in his music. There’s no hint of the typical cynicism or hedonist extravagance; instead you get the flavor of a soul wise beyond his years, genuinely interested in sharing lessons learned through painful experiences in music that aims to make you smile. Greg Cox is now 28 years old and the audacity of youth shines through in his willingness to experiment with a fresh sonic structure of songs to convey his message. In this age of post-irony, where more stock is put on genuine sincerity, Greg Cox comes through as thoroughly refreshing.