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Hip-Hop in Four Acts

A few of Columbus’ most talented artists are vying for stardom under the same umbrella

It’s a weekday night up in The Sugarshack. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry, you’re not supposed to. Basically, it’s a small studio at an undisclosed location in the city that only a select few ever actually hear about, let alone enter.

What can be published though is that it’s a place where raw talent, ideas, and emotions are turned into ear candy. It’s also ground zero for Columbus-bred collective Elev8tor Music.

Rashad Thomas, who is a co-founder of the label; the singular in-house producer for every artist who releases music under the imprint; and the studio’s owner, meticulously puts together the finishing touches on a song he’s producing. “What you know about this?” he asks me as he turns up the mixer, making his speakers knock. It was a familiar sample, but one I couldn’t place into a song. That’s usually the direction our conversations go. Music is everything in The Shack.

Thomas’ knowledge and longtime music industry experience bleed into his artists’ creativity, as well as their work patterns. Elev8tor Music consists of four solo acts and a group. Rashad and The 3RD Power, Lil Bizzy, Hodgie, and King Vada are a collective of unique styles. Each has released—or will release—music in March and April, tying them together by the excitement of presenting their music to the world. They’re also all linked by their incredible musical gifts, which eventually crossed paths with Rashad at one point or another. These are their stories, abbreviated and composed under a prevailing umbrella.

The Debut: Lil Bizzy

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“Oooh that hook,” numerous viewers write in the YouTube comment section of Bryon “Lil Bizzy” McCane Jr’s debut visual for a song called “Bizzy’s in the House.” The video, released on March 7, amassed over 200,000 views in just over a week—and yes, it’s an ode to his father, Bizzy Bone, and his father’s group, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Lil Bizzy raps similarly to his father. It’s what quickly garnered him so much attention. Even so, it’s taken awhile to get to the point where a viral video gave the 21-year-old emcee instant Internet fame. He always knew he wanted to be a musician, and part of that came from being the son of perhaps Ohio’s most storied emcee. But he didn’t always know what being Bizzy Bone’s son actually meant.

“Honestly, it didn’t hit me until I was 17,” Lil Bizzy says, while passing a blunt to his producer Rashad. “I always knew my dad was a rapper in a group, but it hit me one day. He made history. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X; musicians like Michael Jackson, Rakim—they made greatness, and it just hit me that my dad is in that bracket. It made me want to strive more and make history.”

McCane and Rashad met in Columbus. At the time, Bizzy was working on music with STIG, a collective of other sons and nephews of B.O.N.E., but after a mutual friend suggested he link with the longtime producer, it became a perfect fit.

“When I met Rashad, I knew it was greatness,” he explained. “I seen God’s light over him and that’s no BS. I just felt through my heart, my soul, and my spirit that this is the guy I need to be messing with.”

Within two years, the duo put together an EP called Son Of Uh Legend or SOUL. Opposed to the darkness and more mumbled cadence of his father, Lil Bizzy’s project is lighter, more carefree. The lyricism he displays is tighter and more refined than his dad’s. You definitely hear the family resemblance, though.

Oh, and that hook. It’s dominated by a sample of the mysterious Shatasha Williams’ naming of McCane Jr.’s dad on the legendary Cleveland anthem “Ruggish Thuggish Bone” from 1994. And just like his father from that era, Lil Bizzy is certainly creepin’ on ah come up.

The FOllow-up: Hodgie

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“It’s a new beginning, a reintroduction, and we’re going to go get a bag,” Brandon Hodgers proclaims of his latest work, Street Lights, on a cloudy afternoon in Olde Towne East. “We’re going to let the world know where it’s at, right here in Ohio.”

For those in the city’s hip-hop scene, Hodgers needs little introduction. Formerly Hodgie Street, the rapper now known simply as Hodgie has already presented the world his story. Now it’s time to capitalize off of the follow-up.

Since his debut album release of American Dreamin’ in 2015, the Lima native’s sophomore effort is less story-based and more hit-friendly. Although for Hodgie, keeping it real in his raps is all he knows.

“Hodgie’s strength is being relatable,” Rashad says, sitting next to his longtime protégé. “He’s like the everyman. I compare him to Tupac in that way. There’s a lot of lyrical-miracle dudes, and he’s just speaking for everybody.”

Songs on his EP like “Paper Tags” and “Caution” both present bass-heavy production and catchy hooks, but the verses reveal real-life stories many can relate to growing up.

“Whatever the vibe is, whether a Midwest one where we riding in old schools or where you just want to rock back-and-forth, it’s always going to be authentic,” says Hodgers.

With songs and interviews bumping from Columbus radio’s 106.7 The Beat and Power 107.5, Hodgie’s officially airwave ready. Street Lights is the next step for him to do just that.

The Reflection: King Vada

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“I did a lot of dumb stuff that I really didn’t want to do, but some force or something made me feel it was my only option. Later on, I figured out that that’s ridiculous.”

Vada Mitchell’s soft-spoken nature may dissuade you from the nitty grittiness of his past. Known by his emcee name King Vada, the Philadelphia-bred Columbus transplant has been through some shit. From selling drugs to neighborhood stick-ups, Vada is first to acknowledge his past but quick to demonize it.

Numerous grimy tales from his time of hustling off of East 5th Ave make it onto Mitchell’s recently released 20s Go For Nix album. This isn’t the first go around for him, but ironically the content on the project comes from an era before he began rapping on a mic.

“Some of the content makes me cringe ’cause it’s so gangster, but that comes from a time where I was living that type of life, but that really wasn’t me,” he says, at an undisclosed location near where he lives. “The project is shedding a light on how I feel America forces a lot of kids to live this life. They’re in the streets doing what they have to do, but they’re still good kids.”

Previously, Vada’s projects MURDRxFLWRS and The Measure were more conscious-driven when it came to lyricism. They were metaphorical masterpieces inspired by the likes of Jay Electronica or Yasiin Bey, containing only allusions life in the streets. 20s Go For Nix is a collection of tracks that tell the vivid story of Vada’s prior life. It was also an opportunity to once again collaborate with Rashad like he previously did in 2010 with The Measure.

Now, mostly focused on his work as an illustrator, Vada’s slowly transitioned his storytelling from audio to visual. However, his latest audible effort was, at least for him, something he had to do to come to terms with his past.

“It’s the content that I always wanted to make because I was always trying to cage myself into being this super conscious rapper and in reality, I wasn’t really embracing my demons,” he explains. “I’m trying to mix where I am consciously now with who I was back then. That’s why a lot of people hear this project and were like, ‘What? Wow, I had no idea.’”

The Rebirth: 3rd Power

Those who are aware of Columbus’ long hip-hop history know of the 3RD Power. Comprised of Jonathan Smith (Blaksmif), brothers Albert (PA Flex) and Alex Matthews (Co City), and Rashad Thomas, the quartet of emcees and producers have a history of putting out music, however most of their previous releases were limited when it comes to online consumption.

Their knack for architecting soulful groove and introspective lyricism began back in the 7th grade. The four-man group, along with longtime group manager Dion Thompson, met at Monroe Middle back in the ’80s and have maintained a bond that goes well beyond music. You can tell by the way they interact.

Recently getting together at a Near Eastside bar, the collective, formerly known as just The 3RD, cracked jokes at each other while each acknowledging that they’ve come a long way. Now with kids and committed romantic relationships, each member says that their journey to this point has had its ups and downs, but nothing has been strong enough to break their bond.

“It’s dope to grow through different eras,” producer and primary singer of the group, Rashad explains. “To grow through A Tribe Called Quest, then to be fans of OutKast together, then to fans of The Roots together; Jamiroquai. We all have the same influences for the most part. I always remind my brothers that as much history as we have, I like to look at us as a new group.”

Set to release their official forthcoming and long-awaited sophomore album Attack of the Drum in April, the group is using their experience to their advantage. If you’ve never heard four emcees methodically and viciously attack a beat on back-to-back-to-back tracks, you might want to tune into this one. It’s a new chance for the 3RD Power to reintroduce themselves to the city, and an opportunity to rebirth beyond the confines of Ohio.

“We’ve been able to develop our own sound over the years,” PA Flex says. “We’ve been around each other for so long. It’s just a little maturation in our process in how we create, but this is the best stuff that we’ve done up until this point.

“If you a hip-hop head, soul music head, it don’t matter when you get to a certain age,” PA continues. “Who stops being hip-hop as f*ck? When you grow up in it, you’re just embracing who you are.” •

For music and more information on Elev8tor Music, visit elev8thegame.com and/or soundcloud.com/elev8game.

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