Feature: Old-school Columbus hip-hop

From the 08/18/2011 edition

Last month's Alive cover story on today's Columbus hip-hop scene dipped back in time to provide context - but not all the way back. While the Groove Shack is universally regarded as the city's first centralized hip-hop hub, there were pockets of activity for years before that Short North vinyl shop opened in 1993.

"The Groove Shack was a beautiful thing, and it pulled a lot of people together, but we already knew each other before that, a lot of us did," said Eric Weaver, a former member of Poets of Heresy who now performs under the name Numeric.

The history of hip-hop in Columbus reaches back at least to the late '70s, when Derek Baldwin, who grew up to become the influential Columbus rapper and producer The Intalec, remembers his older brother deejaying hip-hop parties in the apartment upstairs.

In the '80s, Columbus rap was wild and free. Mike Kellum, aka DJ Phazo, remembers when trucks would pull up to Franklin Park with speakers in the bed and rappers would gather for a cipher - a group freestyle battle. The cipher was rap's predominant form in those days, with lyrical supremacy prized above all else. Rival crews would verbally spar at malls, parks, street corners and even homes.

"Before (Groove Shack), it was from bedroom to bedroom all the time," said Anton Colvin, a.k.a. DJ C-Magic.

Hip-hop wasn't on the radio back then. Pop station WNCI even ran anti-rap ads and insisted they'd never play it, so rap fans heard the latest jams through a cable radio station called CTNT. Deejays like Phazo would rush to collect all the freshest records and thread them into live mixtapes to sell from a backpack.

As for live performance, hip-hop groups sometimes performed at talent shows in the late '80s and early '90s, but they weren't in the campus bar scene until Poets of Heresy added live musicians in 1991 to enter a battle of the bands.

The band stuck, and soon the Poets were performing alongside punk bands like New Bomb Turks and Pica Huss at Stache's and Apollo's. Eventually, the Poets crossed paths with the Downtown battlers and formed a pipeline into the bars for groups like S.P.I.R.I.T. and Phazo's HQH Posse.

When the bars let out, there were still plenty of ciphers in the streets. One prominent crew was Funk Friends, a group featuring Phazo and The Intalec plus future MHz legends Copywrite and Camu Tao. The older guys taught teenage Copy and Camu the ropes.

That mentoring process spilled into the Groove Shack era, when the names that would go on to put Columbus on the map - MHz, Blueprint, Illogic, Rashad and more - got their first taste of a scene that had been flourishing for years.