Locals: Lima-born rapper Hodgie tells his own story with American Dreamin

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

On the surface at least, American Dreamin, the debut full-length from Hodgie (formerly Hodgie Street), appears narrow in scope. Over the course of the album’s 15 tracks, the Lima-born rapper unpacks his single-parent upbringing in vivid detail, touching on everything from his father’s abandonment to the sense of escapism he sought on the high school football field.

“With this record, I wanted people to understand who I am and what I represent,” said the MC, born Brandon Hodgers 28 years ago, who will host an album listening party at the Reserve on Friday, May 15. “This record doesn’t have a lot of crazy singles or crazy party music because I was just trying to get that story out there.”

In telling his own story, however, larger, more universal themes begin to develop, with Hodgie expounding on the broken judicial system and the ways roots can gradually become shackles, unwittingly making a person a prisoner of his or her surroundings.

“I got friends where you wish the best for them, but people just get stuck,” Hodgie said. “You could call it giving up, and you can’t ever give up. You have to understand what your circumstances are, and then maneuver through them however you can. Don’t let your circumstances become you.”

Growing up, it would have been all too easy for Hodgie to fall victim to the same trap. When the rapper was just three years old, his father, then in the throes of drug addiction, left home, abdicating any responsibility for raising the youngster. Instead the burden fell on Hodgie’s mother, a postal service employee who often worked the third shift so she could still be home to care for her children. It’s a dynamic that surfaces time and again throughout American Dreamin, with the MC paying tribute to his mother (“It take queens to make kings”) and brushing aside his father’s meager contributions, spitting, “As far as dads, we don’t really need those.”

“I’m happy I made it this far, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that without having a strong mother; she definitely raised us well,” said Hodgie, who finally made peace with his father in 2013, around the time he started work on his debut. “[My father] was a good guy, and he just got caught up in drugs and everything else. I reconnected with him when I was at South by Southwest, because he lives out in Austin, Texas, and we had that conversation. I’ve forgiven him, and we talk more often now, but I still had to get those records off.”

Regardless of these sometimes trying circumstances, American Dreamin still exudes optimism — “Everything happens for a reason,” Hodgie cautions on the jazzy “Ethos” — and there’s little doubt throughout the rapper is focused on carving out a better life for his own son, who’s pictured reclining with a microphone on the album’s cover.

“Coming from little Lima, Ohio, there was a lot of hurt, pain, anger, but you roll through those bumps,” Hodgie said. “A lot of people see the title and say, ‘What’s the American dream to you?’ The purpose of it is supposed to be motivational, in a sense. It’s saying, ‘Whatever your dream is, chase it.’”

Photo by Tim Johnson

American Dreamin listening party

The Reserve

10 p.m. Friday, May 15

145 N. Fifth St., Downtown