Where Richmond rappers are concerned, Cole Hicks is in a league of her own. She established herself as an artist before she even set foot in high school, and she’s been proving her worth ever since.
Hicks’ first introduction to rapping started when she would listen to her cousins dropping cyphers (a form of freestyle rapping) at her grandmother’s house. After listening to her relatives, Hicks would go home to rewrite her cousins’ lines with her own lyrics. No one knew she had an interest in rapping, but Hicks’ hidden talent would soon be revealed when her mom caught her rapping one day in her room while she was grounded.
Bedroom raps molded into radio, when Hicks called into local hip hop/R&B station 106.5 The Beat to show off her skills. People could call in to The Beat and participate in on-air cypher battles — and Hicks was ready to take someone on. When she called in, host Zxulu was taken aback.
“He said I sounded like a little kid, and I was like, ‘Well, I am a kid, but I can rap.’ Then he was like, ‘This ain’t no kids thing,’ and he hung up,” Hicks said. “I called back, and as soon as he answered I started rapping. He was like, ‘Hold up, who is this?’”
Hicks cites Jay-Z as her source of inspiration, and used the NYC rapper’s lyrics as study material.
The first time Hicks performed in front of an audience was at Richmond’s former club, Mansion 534, which was originally called The Boss. Not even old enough to be allowed in the club legally, she opened for Lil Wayne, one of the biggest rappers in the 2000s, who was dropping songs like “Lollipop” and “A Milli.”
Barely 15 years old, Hicks developed connections with affiliates of Roc-A-Fella Records at the time, like Philly rapper Freeway and late Wu-Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Even though she never signed with Roc-A-Fella, the opportunity to rap alongside prolific artists at such a young age put Hicks several leagues ahead of many rappers above her age.
From there, it was only a matter of time before people caught on to Hicks and her impeccable talent. Now 30 years old, Hicks released her debut album, entitled May Day, this year on May first — her birthday. It’s been a long time coming.
“I always had this thing where I would start projects but never complete them,” Hicks said. “I wanted this to be a thing where… it’s another year around the sun and I’m actually doing something that I said I was gonna do and completing it.”
May Day was originally just a mixtape. “[The album] became even more special because it wasn’t even intended to become a full album. The way I had created it, it was just going to be a mixtape to gift myself and gift people… to remind people that I still got bars,” Hicks joked. “Being able to collaborate with all these different artists and create a project out of the love for rap, it’s just an amazing thing.”
The 12-track album invites us into Hicks’ world as she delivers dope metaphors song after song, rapping about her life experiences. Being from Southside in Richmond plays an important part in Hicks’ music.
“It was just like this haven,” Hicks said of the neighborhood. “It was full of hate, but full of love — we all stuck together, it was just like a big family.”
As I sat down with Hicks in her home music studio, I asked her what sets her apart from other rappers in Richmond.
“I don’t know if that’s a question I can answer, that might be a question for the audience,” Hicks said. “But I can tell you that, the type of rapper that I am, I’m a true lyricist. I don’t like to make words rhyme just to make them rhyme. I take my time on different songs, different themes and different rhyme schemes. I challenge myself to become a better lyricist, as opposed to just making a song for the club.”
Hicks’ mesmeric lyricism captures your attention the moment she grabs a mic, letting you know all eyes should be on her.
But despite how far successful women like Hicks can go, there’s always a guy out there to remind them “you’re good, for a girl” — as if women can’t stand alone in their endeavors without being validated by men. Hicks proves herself as the best, regardless of gender, every time she hits the stage.
“If I’m kicking ass on these instrumentals like your favorite rappers are, then naw, I’m the best rapper! I have to carry myself like I’m the best rapper — I don’t like to brag or boast about my lyricism, I just like to show it off,” Hicks laughed. “I challenge myself every time I put a pen to a piece of paper… I put it in my mind that people are already going to say that. We have to aim to be better than who they think the better man is.”
Hicks has some music projects in the works, and has also been collaborating with other RVA rappers on a podcast called The Late Bloomer Podcast, which you can listen to on SoundCloud. It may be some time before we get another album, but when it comes, people should be prepared for another album full of intoxicating songs to fall in love with.
Folks, keep your eyes on Richmond’s rap scene, because it isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“We’re at a beautiful space right now, and I can’t wait to see how much more we’ll grow within a short period of time. We need to stick together with this music stuff. More collaborations and less allegations,” Hicks says, throwing in a bar to show that, even when she’s offstage and out of the studio, her flow never stops.
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