Get to know the artists of 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival
Now in its fifth year, the 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival, which takes place in Hilltop on Saturday, July 27, has continued its growth curve, this time out attracting national headliners such as Los Angeles-based Evidence and Blu & Exile, a duo that has refined its bond over the past decade and is still going strong with a new EP, True & Livin. At the same time, the fest hasn’t forgotten its deep Columbus roots, and its two stages are packed with both local legends and promising up-and-comers. In advance of Saturday’s action, revisit some of our past interviews with a handful of this year’s performers
Tha Audio Unit
For Jack “Tha Audio Unit” Burton, ComFest 2017 was cause for celebration.
During the June festivities in Goodale Park, the Columbus native and longtime beat-maker appeared onstage with friend and collaborator Sheron “Nes Wordz” Colbert, a skilled rapper who appeared to be on the verge of moving beyond local acclaim. Just days later, however, Colbert was dead, and his family and friends, including Burton, were left reeling in the aftermath.
Rather than allowing grief to derail him, Burton forged ahead and returned to the studio the next weekend, determined to transform his pain into art, as his friend would have wanted.
“I felt like I had no choice. Nes’ last words to me [in the hospital] were that I’m a soldier ... and he said, ‘Keep fighting,’ those were the last words I heard from him,” Burton said during a May interview in his East Side recording studio. The producer then pointed to a star tattoo on his hand and explained its importance. ”[Nes] was in and out, but when he talked to me, he was there, and we connected. ... The last thing before walking away, I was holding his hand, and I looked at the star [tattoo] on his hand."
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When Tim Gmeiner was a child growing up in Dayton, Ohio, his mother injured her back on the job, leading to myriad physical complications that have spanned decades. On regular intervals, she would slip or fall, causing a painful flare-up that could undo months of self-guided therapy.
“She would have this cycle where she would fall and be hurt really bad, and she would cry and be depressed and angry, and then she would get back up and she would start walking,” said Gmeiner, best known by his rap name, Ill Poetic. “We lived in an apartment complex across from a park, and at first she would just walk to the entrance. ... Then, the next week, she might walk to the top of the first hill. The park was maybe a mile long in total, and every week, week after week, she would walk maybe another 500 feet farther than the last week, until we got to the very end. It took weeks and weeks and months to get to this point, and it was such an amazing feeling of victory.
“I think the biggest thing is, though, she would make it to the end and then she would fall again, and then the same cycle would start all over again. ... It could have felt pointless, but she kept doing it. And maybe you don’t know why you keep doing it, but maybe you keep doing it because the other option is way worse. ... You have to start somewhere and keep going.”
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The most recent album from rapper C10 begins at the ending, kicking off with the title track, “Fin.” The song, which finds the MC reflecting on his decades-spanning career, closes with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek parting shot. “Autobiography of a rapper who never made it,” raps C10 as a means of signing off.
“I say it jokingly. A lot of the lyrics on the album are very sarcastic ... but I do feel like that, yes,” said C10, born Chad Tennant. “At the same time, I don’t see that in a negative way. We had opportunities that never panned out, but, the autobiography of a rapper that never made it, I embrace that.”
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J. Rawls, the Columbus-born musician who first grabbed national attention with a production credit on the ’98 hip-hop classic Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star and has since carved out an influential career as a DJ, producer and sometimes rapper, spent the last few months putting the finishing touches on his final solo project, The Legacy - though few of Rawls’ peers actually believe he’ll follow through on his threat to step aside.
“I honestly don’t believe him,” said rapper King Vada, 30, seated in an Olde Towne East coffee shop. “Knowing him so well, I know it’s impossible for him to not be involved [in music]. He’s one of those guys like [late DJ/producer] J Dilla who’ll be about to check out and still have his ASR-10 [sampling keyboard] next to his bed.”
It’s a point echoed by everyone from scene veterans — “I believe when J. Rawls is 60 he’ll still be collecting records and will still be making beats and will still be sharing that music with his friends, at a minimum,” said Blueprint, reached in the midst of a Texas tour — to relative newcomers like rapper P. Blackk, who described his emotions surrounding the news as “bittersweet.”
“It’s like, ‘Why? Why do your last album?‘” said Blackk, 23, who first met the producer as a teenager when he visited Rawls’ home studio to record the track “She and Her” with Vada, then known as L.e for the Uncool. “I have no doubt he’s going to continue to make music, and he’s going to continue to make music with other people — hopefully me. When we both have free time and we’re ready to build I’m hoping he won’t be like, ‘Nope. I’m done.’”
Co City’s solo debut, Coming to Grips, which he expects to release late summer, opens in darkness, with the rapper holding his grandmother’s hand as she lays on her deathbed. The production, courtesy of friend and longtime collaborator Rashad Thomas, matches the weighty feel, building on a claustrophobic soul sample and heavy, thundering brass.
“At that moment, I felt like giving up. Outside of my wife and daughter, my grandmother was the anchor for me,” said Co City, who performs at the 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival in the Hilltop on Saturday, July 27, backed by DJ J. Rawls. “And so I started the album talking about that experience, and then I walk people how I felt when my aunt passed away. I was going through a lot of downs.”
As the record progresses, however, the weather begins to break, dark clouds dissipating as the rapper rediscovers his faith, takes pride in his daughter’s graduation and generally regains his footing following years spent lost in the wilderness — years the MC started to document on Attack of the Drum, a 2018 EP from Co City’s long-running rap group 3rd Power, which includes fellow members Rashad, Blaksmif and Co City’s brother, P.A. Flex.
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Noon Saturday, July 27
3440 W. Broad St., Hilltop