By Zane Osler

Class of 2017: Sarob

No sense in lying—I know about as much about hip-hop as I know about astrophysics, and I might even know a little bit more about astrophysics…

I’m not completely ignorant; I know when I like something, but it just isn’t my main thing. I mention this because when my editor suggested I interview Sarob, I was not at all surprised that I wasn’t already familiar with him. But once I heard his 2015 release, the down., I felt like it would be my personal loss not to do it. So I sat down with him at a coffee shop, inhaled an iced tea and came right out with my disclaimer:

“I don’t really listen to a lot of hip hop.”

He just smiled. “Oh, I don’t either.”

Born Robert Tate III, in Dayton, Sarob was exposed to the world of words at an early age. Music, however, wasn’t an early passion for him.

“I didn’t really have much of a musical background growing up, I was more of a writer and illustrator,” he said. “My mom was a journalist so I grew up really into creative writing.”

Like many musicians, he didn’t really discover the power of his words until something got him pissed off. Sarob attended a private high school school in Centerville, where he was one of a few black students enrolled. The resulting combination of latent racism, social discomfort, and general teen angst made for a powerful creative cocktail. Since he was also the only one pursuing hip-hop at his school, he found himself standing out from the crowd in a way that felt positive.

“I was looking for a way to prove to other people that I was intelligent,” he said. “Writing lyrics was a really cool way to demonstrate that. At my school, no one was rapping—everybody was worried about who was going to Yale or Cornell.”

Tate has this peculiar Venusian energy that radiates around the persona of Sarob—an effortless, artistic smoothness. His real-life personality is very similar to his musical persona—laid back, smart, tastefully rakish, but with depth for miles…and miles. In 2013, he released his first single, titled “High Noon,” which anteceded his mixtape Noon. The single and video picked up press from prominent music blogs and plugs from respected artists, opening doors to bigger shows, like the Ubahn Fest in Cincinnati where he shared a bill with hip-hop legend Nas (okay, I do know him). Such validation early in one’s career can be overwhelming; but all signs point to Sarob being fueled by the respect of his peers.

As someone who isn’t a rap expert like some of my friends, the rappers who resonate with me are the ones who put lyrics first. Through Sarob’s words, you can glean that he is a passionate and keen observer of the world around him and he makes tasteful reference to other artists he admires. The musicality is extremely lush and well-crafted for someone who came into their self-awareness as a musician as he put it, “late in the game.” He sings, too, with a voice pure and unadulterated—it’s just him and you can tell it’s him. It’s a respite from the repetitive, autotuned claptrap pumping from pop-rap circles. His musical aesthetic is rooted in neo soul and R&B (it’s easy to catch a few D’Angelo references on his tracks), and as a laid-back, mildly shy guy, he sometimes wonders if his style is too off the beaten path.

The truth is, it’s an oasis. It’s all about what’s being offered here, which is a piece of Sarob’s soul. Would we be fools not to indulge in the opportunity to see that? I think so.

Sharing the stage with legends. Creating his own path. What else at this point in a young career could Sarob desire? What else does he want?

“What do I want? Damn ….”

No bravado. No forethought. Just another way for him to prove himself.

“I really want to be a better keyboardist.”

You can catch Sarob at Comfest on Sunday, June 25 at 4 p.m. on the Offramp Stage.