Transitioning back to society after ten and a half years in federal lockup was no walk in the park for Ronald Cosby, who’s now one of the most respected and important figures in Aurora’s hip-hop community.
Better known by his nickname, “the Hood Father,” Cosby remembers leaving prison in 2008 with one prevailing thought: “I cannot play in the streets no more, no matter what.”
Indeed, the Hood Father paid dearly when he was charged with possession of and conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine in 1997. The South Chicago native was just 26 years old when he began a sentence that put him behind bars at federal penitentiaries in Leavenworth, Kansas, and Florence, Colorado.
Cosby says he got his nickname from a prison inmate named O’Donohue, who allegedly told him, “You have a genuine caring way about yourself, but you go about things in a hood-like way.” The name has stayed with him ever since; people refer to him as “Hood” for short.
By the time he got out of prison, Hood was 37 — but he had something to show for all that time: “I still got stacks of rap songs I wrote,” he says. “I had a long time [to write them] — a decade.”
The problem, he recalls, was finding a consistent recording studio where he could turn that material into music. After moving to Aurora to be near family members, Hood tried to book recording time only to learn that the few studios around were unavailable for weeks.
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That’s when he decided to open his own place, Yo Hood Entertainment, which he’s helmed since 2009. Hood notes that there was additional motivation for opening a studio beyond his need for a reliable recording space.
“By the time I came home, some of my children were already teenagers,” he says. “There was no way I could raise them by doing bullshit and being in the streets, so I had to lead by example: Go get a job, take care of my business, be a businessman.”
This was no trivial consideration, considering that he has ten children.
“Yeah, ten kids! They don’t call me the Hood Father for nothing!” he says with a chuckle.
Eight years out of lockup, the reformed studio head now plays a critical and supportive role in the hip-hop scene in Aurora, where Yo Hood Entertainment, one of the few studios specializing in rap music, has become a breeding ground for up-and-coming emcees, beatmakers and producers.
Recently, however, Yo Hood was forced to move from its original location. Earlier this year, code inspectors with the City of Aurora discovered that the Hood Father’s former landlord had been illegally renting a single-unit building to multiple tenants, including Yo Hood Entertainment, a tattoo shop and a flower shop.
Now Hood is starting over in a new space, this one at 9905 East Colfax Avenue. And while the move itself took the studio just a few doors down from its old home, the change has caused Hood to reflect on his journey so far, the state of Colorado hip-hop, and where things might be headed for his business.
Hood doesn’t believe he could have launched his studio without the help of local radio DJ Quincy Mitchell. It was Mitchell who introduced him to the basement location on Colfax, where the DJ was running an Internet radio station called Livewire Urban Radio.
The station was the perfect environment for Hood to meet producers and beatmakers, and Mitchell agreed to rent out a control room and a recording booth to Hood for just $300 a month.
“We then got this old, crusty computer [to record with],” Hood remembers. “It was like somebody’s grandma’s Dell, but it worked.”
Gradually, word spread about the indie recording space, and with more customers, Hood was able to bring in producers and professional equipment. Eventually the studio got to the point where it is today. Yo Hood Entertainment “gives off a good industry sound,” Mitchell says. “It’s the go-to spot in Aurora, for sure.
“I watched a number of artists grow through the Yo Hood avenue,” he adds. “Many of them started out there young.”
The studio became known for welcoming transplanted artists from around the U.S. and the world. One of Hood’s recent favorites is an Ethiopian artist named A-nan Tiiya. Other protégés include two of the Hood Father’s sons, who go by the artist names Black Skellington and Ju Ju the God.
But even as business expanded rapidly during Yo Hood Entertainment’s first year, Hood says that June 24, 2010, was a turning point for him.
“I’ll never forget that day,” he says, describing it as a both a high and low point in his life.
Initially, it began on a high note when he attended a beat battle organized by Red Bull at the Church Nightclub in Denver.
The event featured beat producers from all over Colorado, and Red Bull brought in two veteran producers as judges and additional performers– Battlecat from the West Coast (who has worked with Snoop Dogg and Xzibit) and Just Blaze from the East Coast (who has worked with Eminem and Jay Z).
"And I swear — when those two dudes took the stage and played the mainstream sound they pioneered, it was old, and it was dated, and everybody in the whole place left the dance floor," Hood says.
"For me, it was like an epiphany - Jesus Christ! – everybody was in tune with this sound that they didn't even realize was their own sound. It was Colorado beats, man. It was Latino cats, brothers, white boys, and they were making the crowd go crazy.”
Hood Father says this was the first time that he realized there was the potential to hone a distinctly Colorado sound in hip hop and rap. Ecstatic with this discovery, he obtained as many artists’ phone numbers at the event as possible.
But his night would then be flipped onto its head with some unexpected news. After the show, Hood was at a 7-eleven on Broadway when his phone rang.
"Baby, if I ever call you this late at night, then it ain't good news," said his mother on the other end of the line.
"It's your brother. They came in his house, they robbed, they shot him, and they killed him."
Hood's brother, who was also a single dad, was living in Chicago when he was murdered. The killing may have been premeditated, Hood adds, because the suspect who is currently on trial in Cook County, Illinois knew his brother from before the robbery.
In any case, the Hood Father says, “my whole world imploded.”
What followed was five years during which - even though his business continued to grow – Hood says he lost his “hustle.”
“I didn’t realize until six, maybe eight, months ago that my brother’s murder took such a toll on me,” he says. “I went on autopilot for like five years, and I’m still coming out of it.” In particular, Hood faults himself for not being more proactive in pushing recording artists to brand and promote themselves under the unified “Colorado sound” that he discovered at the 2010 beat battle.
Despite a belief that “artists in Colorado are getting more serious,” Hood also views the Colorado hip-hop scene as divided.
“Colorado has always been really tribal. You still see guys that are working, but not particularly working together,” he says.
This division is apparent when fights break out at local hip-hop shows, which has been an ongoing issue around Denver.
“Everything’s cool until these cats start fighting,” Hood says. “They can’t seem to keep their personal feelings outside of their careers.”
In part, he says, this is because many Colorado rappers don’t consider themselves ambassadors for a Colorado scene, so instead they maintain separate fan groups and turf affiliations, and they all try to promote themselves on their own.
Hood even claims to have prevented violence at a hip-hop show himself.
He describes being at a Denver club in 2013 (he declines to name the venue, because he’s concerned about giving it negative publicity) when he saw someone crouched between two cars in the parking lot with a “big ol’ Yosemite Sam gun” resting on top of a side mirror and pointed down an alleyway. Hood says he considered “taking the opportunity to run and minding my own fucking business,” but he recognized the man, and he knew the guy was about to ambush a group of men at the venue with whom he’d been arguing earlier.
Instead of leaving, Hood yelled, “Hey, man! What the fuck are you doing?!”
“Hood!” the man responded in surprised recognition.
“Man, put that gun away! What — they pissed you off? So what you going to do? You’re going to kill them, in front of everybody, go to jail for the rest of your life? C’mon — put your fucking gun away!”
To this day, Hood claims that “me and him are the only ones that know” that a shooting almost occurred.
These days, the Hood Father is more concerned with rent increases and the future of Yo Hood Entertainment than he is with violence at hip-hop shows.
Although the studio has kept abreast of the times, upgrading with each new version of Pro Tools and acquiring new recording equipment, “right now we’re really on the edge,” Hood says. He hopes that an idea he has for an “interactive” recording studio will help secure Yo Hood’s financial future.
“A lot of times, people come with a crowd — sometimes ten, fifteen, twenty people — just to record a song,” he observes. “But then their entourage usually just sits around.”
He envisions giving visitors to his studio a sort of art-gallery experience, where they can be filmed on video and watch producers at work and feel like they are part of the recording process, even if they’re only observing. He compares this concept to watching live painting at a gallery space — “only the difference is that you come to see a recording musician on display.”
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He wants to make going to a recording studio a memorable experience for everyone involved, not just recording artists. If he’s successful at creating such an environment, it could help introduce more local artists to each other and inspire them to promote the Colorado scene.
“We’re still realizing we’re our own entity — and Colorado artists are out there killing it!” he says. “They didn’t push the 303 like they’re starting to now.
“There’s so much that has come from this company,” he continues. “So many people that started their careers here, started doing music here.”
And if the Hood Father has his way, they won’t stop anytime soon.