Columbus Alive's Bands to Watch 2020: Joey Aich

Julia Oller
Joey Aich

Catch Joey Aich around town wearing a yellow headband and you know he’s having a good day.

If the sweat-trapping circle is green, he’s having a great day.

The rapper — born Joseph Holbert — owns a headband for every mood. (White and black are his everyday look.) What started out of desperation when he couldn’t find a barber to give him a line up haircut while attending Denison University in Granville turned into a statement accessory that he rarely goes without.

“Now I’m the headband assassin,” said Aich, 25, referencing his Twitter name. “You see me with the headband on before the show and it’s like a totally different person. At that point, it’s game time. It’s showtime. I’m here to kill the stage and that’s it.”

No matter the color of his headpiece, Aich brings an unleashed energy to his performances — including, presumably, his Bands to Watch set at Ace of Cups on Saturday, Jan. 25 — that mesmerizes and entertains. Back flips are standard.

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Aich developed his style, quick flowing and expressive, beginning with rides on the 5 bus, which shuttled the adolescent to Ballard Brady Middle School near Woodmere, the Cleveland suburb where he grew up.

He was good for his age, but didn’t consider himself a rapper until late high school, when Aich wrote poetry as a way to vent at the same time his peers wrote verses about fast cars and hard living.

“The legal limit to drive in Ohio is 16, and you’re 15 and you’re talking about having these cars in your music. And it doesn’t add up, because we go to school together and you don’t have guns, because we’re in suburban Cleveland, Ohio,” he said of his high school experience. “Everything just didn’t line up. I didn’t like to listen to music like that anyway. It was like, ‘Say something with some substance, or tell your story. Talk about your life.’”

Aich instead drew inspiration from Pennsylvania rapper Asher Roth, whose self-deprecating mixtape Seared Foie Gras with Quince and Cranberry taught the young hip-hop artist that he, too, could rap about real life without taking himself too seriously.

Debut album If Money Grew on Trees, from 2018, features a skit, “Booking,” that imagines a world in which Aich misses out on a huge festival opportunity after not responding to a booker’s request.

It’s a light jab at himself that resolves in final track “Sanity//Testimony,” during which a crowd of adoring fans chants his name before Aich flaunts with, “I gotta testify/I’m gonna come up in the spot looking extra fly.”

Despite his lighthearted reputation, Aich still finds plenty of earnest moments.

On “Meccas,” he contrasts the violence and racism directed toward black lives with his desire to make an impact in his community, which since 2017 has been Columbus.

After graduating from Denison in 2016, Aich opted to stay in Central Ohio, where he found a strong and supportive musical ecosystem. It will be hard to uproot him at this point, he said, especially since he no longer wants to be the world’s most recognizable rapper.

“I’ve kind of gotten out of the mindset of being the biggest artist,” Aich said. "A lot of people see me and they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s so outgoing. He’s the life of the party.’ But I’m also an introvert, where I don’t like to go out much except to do music stuff. Clubs don’t do it for me at all. I’d rather chill and be in the house, for the most part. Being this huge artist wouldn’t really align with myself. I would love to be able to go to Walmart with my mom and nobody knows who I am.”

Even if he never wants to reach Drake-level fame, Aich is still trying to make music his day job.

On Nov. 1, he finally made the leap, quitting his job at a call center to pursue his craft full-time. His second full-length is due in early summer; a backlog of stray singles and features is ready for release.

His nonchalance aside, Aich still finds himself somewhat of a recognizable figure around town. He’s witnessed several people roll down car windows and yell his name as he walks by.

Usually, he said, it’s because of the headband.

Ace of Cups

7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25

2619 N. High St., Old North

Columbus Alive's Bands to Watch 2020