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— by Alyssa Rashbaum, with reporting by Sway Calloway

Rapper Cory Gunz has lofty expectations for his career, aiming to be no less than one of the top MCs of all time. With a father who put the Bronx on hip-hop's radar and a godfather who happens to be one of basketball's living legends, Gunz is already well on his way to achieving notoriety.

"I have to let people know that what I'm doing is real, that it's not going to be easy," he said. "I'm going to be remembered. If I'm the 10th [best] MC it's gonna be something; y'all going to remember me. If I'm not the next Tupac, Big, anybody, by the time I'm gone or while I'm here, it's gonna be a problem."

Strong words for a 17-year-old rapper who has yet to release his debut album. But Gunz has a mighty history behind him. His father is Peter Gunz, who with partner Lord Tariq wrote "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)," the Bronx anthem that helped reestablish the borough's place in hip-hop, and his godfather is Shaquille O'Neal.

"I think I did have an advantage because my father did have a lot of relationships with different people," he said. "So they were familiar with me. ... But at the same time, I felt like I had to make a name for myself. [My father] said he wants me to be a man and stand on my own two feet, so I gotta do what I gotta do and establish a name for myself and solidify my spot in hip-hop."

Gunz has two hurdles to jump on the way to making a name for himself: separating himself from his father's legacy, and differentiating his rhymes from those of other teen rappers. His plan of attack? Sing about the streets. Where Bow Wow and Lil' Romeo tend to pen rhymes about girls and other teen-related issues, Gunz places his focus squarely on the streets that raised him.

"I come from the ghetto where a lot of people don't believe kids my age go through things we go through," he said. "For example, there are kids on my block right now that are selling crack, shooting people, getting shot. They don't believe that kids are capable of doing things that adults are doing."

Despite his father's status in the hip-hop world, Gunz's street rhymes didn't immediately win him a record deal. In fact, most labels, he said, were too scared to take a chance on him.

"I'm young and they don't believe me," he said. "The don't believe everything I rhyme, I go through or that I've seen. They think it's all peaches and cream, all castles and rainbows out here. ... I just tell them to open their eyes. I didn't make none of this up. I'm in the 'hood still, it's real out here."


One track on his debut album, The Commencement, is titled "1668," the address of the apartment building he grew up in. On the track, Gunz rhymes about the personality of each floor, and because of his history with the building, the song is one of the most important tracks on the album for the young MC.

"I was born and raised in this building," he said. "This building is the reason I rap. ... Floor six, I'd have to name that the drug floor; a lot of drug addicts live on that floor. Floor number four is two different situations: A girl younger than me, she's about 13, 14, got pregnant, had a child. And, I'm not going to name him, but there's an alcoholic guy over there."

While recording his album, Gunz received some sage advice from seasoned rap vets. 50 Cent "complimented me and told me to keep my head up," he said, and P. Diddy "dropped a lot of jewels on me, like stuff that he learned from Biggie."

Tracks like "Young, Single and Free" about "just enjoying yourself when you're young" and "Comfort and Joy," a track about Gunz feeling a sense of comfort in what he's doing, and not having to deal drugs to make money, show a different side of the MC from his otherwise serious persona — one so serious that he says he goes to the studio for fun instead of on dates. And he's especially serious when it comes to his career.

"I want to have a #1 album," he said. "I want to be consistent. I'm never going to give up. I'm going to be one of them artists that keep gunning and gunning and dropping albums and people accept me regardless of what I have to adapt to. I'm willing to just risk anything for this music. It's what I live for."


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 "Comfort & Joy"