Locals: Copywrite survives and thrives on Blood Bath & Beyond

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

In the HBO miniseries "The Night Of," the main character awakens from a booze-and-drug-induced blackout covered in blood with little awareness of what he might have done the evening before. It's a terrifying sensation rapper Copywrite experienced in late 2013 when he emerged from a booze-fueled binge handcuffed in the back of a police car.

"You see your hood's ripped and you're like, 'Whose blood is this? Did I hurt somebody?' You're scared. It's fucked up," said Copywrite, born Peter Nelson 38 years ago (the rapper served six months in lockup and still has three years remaining on his probation). "They said I hit a Mazda Miata and it flipped [over] and I drove off. I hit a Ford Explorer and drove off. Then I ran into a house on Buttles [Avenue]. On top of that I assaulted a cop in the hospital because I wouldn't do a sobriety test, so they had to go and get a warrant to get inside my body to get the blood. I'm just happy I didn't kill anybody - or myself."

Death surfaces throughout Copywrite's latest long-player, the excellentBlood Bath & Beyond (Public School Records) - "Found another dead body? Pile it on," he spits on "Hemophilia" - a concept informed as much by the MC's past as any recent experiences. The rapper lost both of his parents over a span of years (their deaths inspired much ofThe Life and Times of Peter Nelson, from 2010), and in 2008 best friend and MHz running mate Camu Tao passed away following a months-long bout with lung cancer. More recently, Copy has struggled to come to terms with the 2015 death of fellow rapper Sean Price, who served as both a lyrical measuring stick and an occasional sympathetic ear.

"We talked about our parents being addicts. I talked to him when his daughter was born. We did shows together and songs together," said Copywrite, who will appear at the 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival at Rice Paddy Motorcycles on Saturday, July 23. "It's like, damn, you don't know when you're going to go."

Regardless,Blood Bath is far from a dour affair, mixing Copy's inventive wordplay (on one track he threatens to load the earth into a slingshot, like a comic book supervillain bent on galactic destruction) with chest-thumping boasts and more vulnerable turns like "Na Na," which the rapper wrote and recorded for his grandmother in the months before she died. "That's my Na Na, little older and slower than my mama," he rhymes. "80-something years old, still voted for Obama."

"She was dying of cancer and I was taking care of her, and I wanted to make something she could hear," Copywrite said. "I have songs like 'June' [off RJD2'sDeadringer, released in 2002], but my dad can't hear that. I wanted to make something she could listen to as a thank you. She cried [when I played it for her]. We both did."

Copywrite has been long celebrated for his lyrical prowess - and rightly so. In a 2015 interview recalling the mid-to-late '90s era of Columbus hip-hop, DJ and producer RJD2 said, "There were maybe 15 rappers who mattered … and Pete was the pace car. Among the people who were there, Pete was generally agreed upon as the best rapper in the city." Da Intalec, who first met Copywrite when the MC was a teenager and later served as a musical mentor, summed it up more succinctly. "Copywrite is talented," he said.

Forged in the late-'90s battle scene, Copywrite distanced himself from his peers through his willingness to embrace his vulnerabilities. Recording "June," for example, RJD2 recalled being struck by the personal nature of the rapper's verses, which detailed the emotional fallout of his father's death. "I remember we cut that at Intalec's house … and we all just looked at each other and couldn't believe," RJ said. "The information in that song was new to us because we never talked about that personal stuff."

"I honestly don't know what [made me write that song]. I had these verses about some girl or something and I was like, 'I don't want to do that.' I think it was the music; it had so many layers to it and when I heard the beat I wanted to put something meaningful to it," Copywrite said. "I knew I always wanted to make songs that could make people cry. I looked at it like, 'That's a trick I'm going to have to pull out of the bag at some point.' Then I cried at the end of that second verse in the vocal booth."

Occasional shows of emotion aside, Copywrite admits there were countless years many would have described him as equal parts hardheaded and obnoxious - particularly anyone outside his own social circle. "When I did my first album I was 23 or some shit," he said. "And we're talking a slow-maturing 23."

"Lets's be fair, we were all jerks," longtime friend Jakki da Motamouth said in 2015. "I'm a jerk. Copy's a jerk. It's why we all liked each other."

Now more than a decade removed from most of this behavior, Copywrite is still occasionally confronted by the fallout of the shoulder chip he carried throughout his 20s.

"I did a lot of stuff when I was younger that alienated me from my peers … and a lot of those guys are bigger than me now, either musically or status-wise, and they don't want to work with me because I did asshole shit," Copywrite said. "I don't stand behind all the things I did over a decade ago. That's one of the hardest things people don't get. You're a different person when you're in your early 20s growing up the way I grew up. I was wild. You're talking to a guy who's been shoplifting since he was 9. You're talking to a guy who never had rules. You're talking to a guy whose dad always had cocaine in the closet and whose mom was an alcoholic. I basically did what the fuck I wanted when I wanted, and it created a monster.

"There's so much negative folklore in the city about the legend of Copywrite doing this or doing that and fucking this shit up and, 'Oh, he's a super asshole.' So many people who've never met me … still believe all that shit. But, hell yeah, I feel like I'm not where I should be. There were times in my career I was on that path, but I fucked things up. But that's life."

As a child, Copywrite loved drawing, and there was a stretch before he discovered music when he was convinced he was going to be a comic book artist. Even now, the rapper maintains a fondness for superhero tales, reeled in by the redemptive nature of heroes who regularly bottom out before rising anew. It's an arc that has started to play out in the rapper's own career, with past resentments and immaturities gradually giving rise to a more grown-up perspective. Witness theBlood Bath-closing "Axe Me," where the rapper reflects on just how far he's come while keeping an eye fixed on better days just over the horizon.

"I don't have the will to give up in me, and I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing," Copywrite said. "Losing my dad was hard, but losing my mom my fucking world got flipped over. Losing [Camu], too. There's not a day that goes by where I don't think of him or wish he was here. But if I survived that, I feel I can survive anything."