Feature interview: 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival remembers Nes Wordz

Andy Downing
Nes Wordz

Attendees at the 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival might do a double-take during a planned tribute to Columbus rapper and educator Nes Wordz, born Sheron Colbert, who died in late June.

At 7:30 p.m. on the main stage, Nes' 13-year-old son, Daylon Colbert, who has adopted the stage name Young Nes, will lead a celebration in honor of his late father, performing a pair of his dad's best-known songs (“Get It Gone” and “Holy Ghost”) in addition to a handful of newly recorded tunes.

“It's going to freak a lot of people out,” said Demetrius Howard, aka SupaNatra, who will be DJing for Young Nes just weeks after manning the decks during Nes Wordz' final performance, which took place at ComFest in June. “He's tall. He has [the same] skin tone [and the same] mannerisms. He even has short curly hair. The only thing he's missing is the beard.

“At [Nes'] memorial benefit at Avalon [on July 5], that was Daylon's first time in front of the [turn]tables, and it was eerie. He sang his dad's words really loud with a big smile on his face — a very familiar smile. And we want to bring that to 2x2 as well.”

The performance will also include a duet between Nes Wordz and Young Nes, who, in recent weeks, put the finishing touches on a track started by his father.

“[Jack] A.U. [Burton] produced the record, and Nes had laid down a hook and a verse. After he passed, Jack said [to Daylon], ‘This was a song your dad didn't get to finish. If anybody is going to finish it, it's you,'” Howard said. “It's weird. He and his dad actually wear the exact same shoe size. Seeing him in his dad's shoes these last few days — figuratively and literally — it's been something.”

For two years, the 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival — the third edition of which takes place at Rice Paddy Motorcycles on Saturday, July 22 — has showcased Nes on its stages. In 2015, the rapper delivered a particularly memorable set at a packed, sweaty Roofless Stage, spraying the crowd with water bottles and rapid-fire syllables in equal measure. (It still stands as the best performance I've seen at the event.)

Following the rapper's death, 2x2 founder Josh Miller knew the festival wanted to honor Nes in some way, but he also wanted to make sure it was done tastefully, and was in no way exploitative.

“I went to the tribute at Avalon, and it was incredible seeing all these people out and how much love everyone had for this dude, not just in music but in life in general,” Miller said. “The city has really come out and supported Nes. He was a big part of everything around here. Everybody he touched he had a huge impact on. It's good we can do something good for him at 2x2.”

In addition to the performance, which was initiated by Nes' family and further spurred on by the enthusiasm of his children — “We wanted [the kids] to have their time and space,” Howard said, “and his son was like, ‘Hey, I'd like to rock my dad's song, if I can'” — artists will paint a tribute to Wordz on one of Rice Paddy's exterior walls, which have become a year-round destination for graffiti enthusiasts ever since 2x2 embraced the building as a canvas in its inaugural year.

“The best thing about Rice Paddy … is they let the pieces ride all year long,” Miller said. “We found a good spot right on Grant [Avenue] where people can drive by and see it. We want to keep it up and keep it riding as long as we can.”

For Howard, Nes' longtime friend and musical collaborator, the tribute is an important first step in a healing process that no one is ever ready to undergo.

“No one can really prepare for these moments,” said Howard, who noted he also lost his own father when he was Daylon's age. “It's hard to say [what will be going through my head onstage]. It might be a bit emotional, but if the kids are smiling, man, it's going to be hard for me to do otherwise.

“It's a challenge for us all, but we need to keep things going. I'm motivated even more now to make sure [Nes'] music reaches the people it needs to reach. We're going to do everything we can to keep his legacy growing. And this is a great start.”

Rice Paddy Motorcycles

Noon Saturday, July 22

1454 N. Grant Ave., Campus