Photo by Chris Casella

Into the Hive

Just recently did I have my first encounter with the new brethren of Columbus hip-hop. An unsolicited link led me to “HBO Porn,” by a group called Lost Society. It’s slow-motion, ‘90s inspired boom-bap, warped and submerged in a murky slime, while a cipher of youngsters spit about Pokémon and drugs at Comic-Con. There’s not really a chorus; a conversation about the blurry carnality of the title replaces a hook. It’s fresh, inventive, a bit disjointed, but it’s a perfect entry down the rabbit hole that followed. Next was GoldenWave’s plinky, barely beat-driven anthem “Surfin,” produced by the prolific KMB. Then the psychedelic trap of Brady’s “Touch,” and the phantom darkness of Tribe’s “God Complex,” and on and on and on. Each new track had its own distinct flavorful ephemera. A few hours into it, the journey felt like part of a particularly self-made zeitgeist—a surreality of many distinct voices, all from the same under-25 contingent, all from Columbus, all using the tenets of hip-hop, no matter how grotesquely they twist them, as a platform for mythical expression.

I owe it all to Cromzz. Still a student in Fort Hayes music program, the dragon-mouthed madcap of Lost Society was the liaison in gathering most of the collective in one place at one time. Sitting at a table surrounded by 13 of the city’s most optimistic and avant garde emcees and producers became more of a hip-hop summit than the average weeknight interview at a dive bar. Of course there was the rote journalistic exercise of attempting to give what they do—which is tirelessly creating a dizzying world of abstract aliases and hard-to-tail SoundCloud playlists, ziggurat collaborations, and naive goofing—an umbrella name. No such luck.

“A big component for us is that it’s not only hip-hop,” answers Yogi Split of GoldenWave, “that’s why I don’t think we can give it a name. It’s not even just music. It’s all forms of media and art being developed by these young people of Columbus. Buzz (E. Nova of Tribe) does graphic design. There are people making videos. There’s an EDM and an acid house element. We are just letting it all in.”

So much for pedantic writing or giving our readers something tangible to grasp onto. That was quickly thrown out the window as soon as the crew started enthusiastically talking over each other to give the discussion more definition. There are definite groups within this scene—Lost Society, GoldenWave, and Tribe—and outliers who have been embraced on solo merits—including Brady and Bree—but like bees in a hive, they are constantly crossing paths, dipping into each other’s honey, and working together no matter the affiliation in order to please the queen. In this case the queen is “music.” As generic as that may sound, their music has a sonic familiarity that is wholly foreign when placed up against any other hip-hop artist, old or new, in the Columbus scene.

“What I’ve noticed is that this collective is boldly creative—there are no limits,” says Tribe producer Durr. “It’s impossible to put it into one space. I’ve only recently started to make hip-hop, but I don’t even have to do that intentionally because these guys can do anything over any kind track as long as it’s really f*cking weird.”

“What we are doing is opening avenues that haven’t been explored,” adds Kevin of GoldenWave, whose effortless flows on record sound like Drake on P.E.D.s. “Hip-hop is all about competition. With us, we’re not competing with each other, so there’s no other option than to collaborate. And in doing that it can be uncomfortable, but we’re kind of doing things that haven’t been done before.”

One distinct characteristic is that are no vinyl or CD releases planned—or any tradtional distribution at all. For them, SoundCloud is the new Wild West for any aspiring up-and-comers with wi-fi access and a song to share. The currency consists of “likes,” “plays,” and “followers,” “co-signs” and “re-ups.” Should you head to Cromzz’ page you’ll see a whole list of recommendations and links to other artists. Binge on Lost Society’s broad playlist and you’re bound to find Yogi Split’s superstar-in-the-making solo album, Take. The fluid nature of SoundCloud allows the hive-hop kids to upload and remove as they see fit depending on what’s trending. They could be cutting a track right now and have it up in an instant. It’s also a forum where they can show support and invite new recruits.

“These days, no one pays for music,” says Bree. “So on our SoundCloud pages you really have to stand out. You have to have your best feature front and center. It’s definitely a form of social media, a way to communicate with people who are doing similar things.”

Yet even as their personalities loom large in the virtual world, being embraced by the local scene and gaining traction has proven to be somewhat difficult. As Lost Society’s Ghostt reiterates, “there’s a lot of people in this town whose egos get too big, too fast.” It’s a frustrating chore to get the old crews to pass the torch to what is obviously a hungry breed of exceptional talent. Continuing to pound the pavement is necessary. Tribe alone have calculated they’ve played 120 shows since forming in 2012, none of which were paid. Any place that will have them—Scarlet and Grey, the Shrunken Head, the parking lot of a Sunoco—is fair game to promote their burgeoning scene.

“We want to help other artists out in Columbus,” says Warchief Avalon of Tribe (indisputably the most original name among the interviewees), “and if that support isn’t mutual, we will quickly dismiss you. It’s people, energy, input and output.”

Finding acceptance is minor though; these are millennials who already know what success looks like. In their world the gears are in motion, the branding is there. No gimmicks, no copying—just soul and trust. Throughout the interview there was constant talk about craft, studying music, professionalism, and using their art as an escape from a myriad of problems that affect their real lives.

“Individually, everyone in here worked to a level that caught each other’s eye,” Kevin says, in conclusion. “That’s why I think of this as more of a collective, even if there are different groups here. Individually we all set our own foundation, then joined together and said ‘Let’s put our city on,’ because we love it so much.”

The culture is there, they just need active participants to buy a ticket and partake.

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