J Rawls was prolific. He rapped, produced, and collaborated on well over a dozen albums during the course of a 14-year career, shifting stylistically from hip-hop to soul to jazz. He worked with Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Casual, from the seminal hip-hop act Hieroglyphics, while also forming groups like The Liquid Crystal Project and 3582. In July he released his third solo album, The Legacy, which signified the end of his career as an artist, a fitting title for his final bow. But the release also marks the start of the next chapter, an inflection point for his contribution to local music.
That next chapter will revolve around Polar Entertainment – the record label Rawls began in 2005 while he was still in the midst of his rapping and producing career – which he founded after scoring a deal with Groove Attack distribution in Germany. In addition to his personal foray into music, he wanted to establish his own brand, a way to branch out beyond the confines of the studio.
“Really what I wanted to do was try to help other talent in Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio in general,” Rawls said. “We are trying to basically let people know that there’s talent here, that this is a place where new, exciting ideas and things like that go on.” Now, he’ll focus most of his energy on producing and running his label, as well as working toward his doctorate in educational administration from Ohio University.
“I think the biggest thing is really trying to bring some notice and shine a light on Ohio.”
Polar currently has about a half dozen acts on its roster, including Rawls’ jazz-hip-hop group, The Liquid Crystal Project, as well as young artists like soul singer Brittany NaCole and TheFwd, a hip-hop duo consisting of rapper Ceezar and EDM producer Satele. TheFwd will put out a self-titled album in December, and NaCole is preparing for the release of FlowerHead early next year. Rawls relies on his career connections and his name brand to garner attention for these up-and-coming artists, but even with his credibility and international distribution from Groove Attack, it’s not an easy task.
“The market is so saturated right now, it’s really difficult to set yourself apart,” he said. “Thankfully, I have a foundation and a base, a fan base, and that helps us get the word out, but it’s very difficult.”
Rawls sees local labels like Polar as essential to the vitality of the scene because they showcase artists who aren’t featured on urban-pop radio stations like Power 107.5. He would like to see more support from local venues – or simply more venues – because there aren’t enough places to host live performances for local acts. He also wants the city to embrace more festivals because of the opportunities they provide young artists and small labels to network with others in the industry and gain exposure. Polar also uses festivals to scout for raw talent that the major labels miss.
“We’re the trailblazers,” Rawls said. “The small labels are the ones where we harvest that new [unbroken] talent that people haven’t heard.” Ultimately that’s what it’s all about for him – bringing attention to Polar’s artists, and to the place they make music. “I think the biggest thing is really trying to bring some notice and shine a light on Ohio.”
For more information about J Rawls, TheFwd, Brittany NaCole, and Polar Entertainment, check out polarentllc.com.