“The Stove God comin!”
Over the past few months, Syracuse native Stove God Cooks would tell rapper-producer Roc Marciano the same thing every time they spoke on the phone. Cooks, who was working in secret on his debut album with Marciano, kept details about the project close to the vest. There wasn’t a pronounced single, a devised marketing campaign in place, or even a strict concept for the project, entitled Reasonable Drought. There was simply a mutual trust between an emcee and his executive producer.
“[Roc] calling me back, and I’m not letting him hear it really,” Cooks tells me over the phone. “But I’m like, ‘Yo, wait till you hear this. Like, the Stove God comin! I’m telling you!’”
What Cooks, 27, was hinting at isn’t something ominous. What was coming, in Cooks’ mind, was less of a threat and more of an inevitability, an overdue formal introduction to an artist who had been waiting patiently for years for his moment.
You see, the reason you haven’t heard of Stove God Cooks is that virtually no one but Cooks himself was aware of his rap name until he finished Reasonable Drought. Despite the lack of notoriety, Cooks is far from a brand new artist. Formally known within hip-hop as Aaron Cooks, the New York-born emcee burst onto the scene in 2015 under the wing of Brand Nubian rap legend Lord Jamar and with the label backing of Busta Rhymes’ The Conglomerate. You can find freestyles and interviews with Cooks from almost every major hip-hop media outlet, with everything from a BET Awards Cypher placement to an interview and freestyle on Sway In The Morning. Cooks even shot official videos for the lead singles of his supposed debut, “Yellow/Day Up,” featuring a cameo from Busta Rhymes.
Then, the artist formerly known as Aaron Cooks vanished. Despite his most notable advocates recognizing his talent and ability, Cooks had lost faith in himself and the process.
“I fell back for a minute,” Cooks explains. “It felt like nobody knew what to do with me. They didn’t understand me as an artist. [Busta] would say, ‘We need this kind of song.’ But Busta’s different than I am, and he works his records [differently] than I would. And Jamar’s shit is way different than mine. I felt like nobody understood what I wanted to do, and the shit I wanted to talk about. So, I just had to step back for a minute.”
“When I met Roc, shit got real different,” Cooks continues. “Me and Roc think a lot alike. When I met Roc, he was working on his album [Behold A Dark Horse]. Then after that, I did the Conway joint with Buss. When Roc starts sending me beats, I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m starting to feel it again.’”
Meeting Roc Marciano wasn’t Cooks’ first career break in hip-hop, but it was a turning point he highlighted over and over again during our conversation. Marciano’s steady hand and “vision,” as Cooks puts it, steered Cooks towards not only loving the music again but recognizing his strengths as an artist. “Kinda like how LeBron sees the court, that’s how Roc sees the music,” Cooks says when reminiscing on how the two initially met during 2018 while Marciano was recording Behold A Dark Horse.
Over the next year or so, Marciano and Cooks’ connection and trust for each other deepened. In December 2019, while Marciano was finishing his latest album, Marcielago, they both came to a stark realization. That is, a full-length project for Cooks, entirely produced by Marciano, could work.
“[Roc] was like, ‘Just let me do the whole album, man!’” Cooks jokes. As the story goes, their initial exchange of just a couple songs for Marciano’s Marcielago album made the New York legend realize Cooks’ potential was unmistakable. “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.”
The brilliance of Reasonable Drought lies in the familiarity baked in with Cooks’ particular recipe of perspective and energy. Cooks’ style itself is an amalgamation of past and current legends, recognizable enough to grip you, but never in a way that feels derivative. From the quotables of those like Ghostface Killah and even Roc Marciano himself to Nas’ narrative abilities to the menacing energy of those like The LOX and Pusha-T, one can hear the connective tissue in every single bar that Cooks laces throughout the album’s 12 songs.
Cooks and his debut are equally captivating because they both find ingenuity and singularity in spaces where there shouldn’t be any left. While the sounds and content may feel familiar on a purely surface level, the journey is Cooks’ own. “That’s all I told Roc I wanted to do,” he explains. “Like if we’re gonna do it, I gotta make it mine. They gotta put me on the chessboard with everybody else, but my piece gotta move different. I gotta be able to move how I want to.”
Reasonable Drought’s successes arise from every avenue imaginable—from Cooks’ early days of rapping when he was 13, learning how to make music by listening to his older brother rap, to his uncanny approach to songwriting and a clear understanding that great hook-making can grip you just as well as the perfect quotable. Every aspect of Cooks’ life and career has been leading to this moment.
From conception to release, Cooks treated Reasonable Drought like a last stand. The energy and triumph we feel on the album’s peak, “Cocaine Cologne,” are a direct result of Cooks finally feeling like his time has arrived. “You know it took a while, so if this is my last chance to lay it out, let me lay it out for ‘em,” Cooks says. “And that’s where the name came from. Reasonable Doubt saved n****s lives; there’s a lot of game in that album. I said if I can do that, then I’m good. It don’t matter what I do after that. If I’m gonna be able to do [an album] that feel like that, and I felt like I gave you my soul, then I’m Gucci.”
This uncompromised triumph, and the necessity to succeed in a mostly vacant and overlooked Syracuse hip-hop scene, is the separation between Cooks and his counterparts. There’s no telling where Cooks will go next with his music, and he’s unwilling to commit to any particular direction. As he sees it, he’s a different person now than he was four years ago, and he’s willing to let the changes within his life dictate which story he tells next. What we do know is, as Cooks assures his listeners and fans at the end of our interview: “The Stove God is here.”