Watkins, who has three brothers and four sisters, was born in Chicago on July 26, 1975. His interest in music was sparked at around age three when he first saw his father playing drums at a local Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God. Prior to devoting himself to religion, Alious C. Watkins Jr.
had played trap drums and other percussion instruments with the Pharaohs, a now-legendary jazz-funk group in which Earth, Wind & Fire leader Maurice White had been the original drummer, and he also backed the Dells on local engagements. His dad’s drumming led Kobie and his brothers to bang on pots and pans around the house. Kobie took up trumpet in fourth grade, played it in the jazz band while attending Orr High School, and later used it in his work as an elementary school music teacher in Joliet, Illinois, where he also played oboe, flute, clarinet, trombone, tuba, and French horn in order to demonstrate them to his fourth- and fifth-grade students.
Alious bought a toy drum set for Kobie when he was nine and a real one when he was 12. Kobie shared the set with his younger brother Asa (who remains active as a drummer in Los Angeles), and they began playing it in church, where their father had become pastor. The lessons learned from playing for a Pentecostal church choir continue to inform Kobie’s playing. “The intuitive part that goes with gospel drumming is making sure your eyes and ears are in tune with whatever’s happening in front of you,” Watkins explains. “Those are probably the most important things that I have learned with music in general, especially in jazz. When people tell me that jazz is all you need, I’m, like, wow!