Local music: Cal Scruby

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From the September 20, 2012 edition

Watching rappers court audiences in the YouTube era is a bit like spying on drunks as they take turns hitting on the one attractive woman at the bar. For Columbus emcees, releasing an Ohio State rally track is the equivalent of moseying up to a lovely lady and nodding suggestively at your groin.

Yet a Buckeye battle cry can be executed with finesse, and when it works, it really works. Consider “The Nation,” the scarlet-and-grey-tinted video that put Cal Scruby on the map.

Scruby, a fresh-faced 23-year-old blond who doesn’t look a day past 18, has been rapping since his high school days in Cincinnati suburb Lebanon. The pastime continued as an Ohio State undergrad, but only in private.

“Sophomore year, my buddies would encourage me to rap to other people,” Scruby said.

He didn’t step on stage until his fourth year, performing twice at Black Market Tattoos & Piercing last winter in support of debut mixtape “Best Foot Forward.”

Some house party gigs followed, but things ramped up significantly when “The Nation” dropped in March. In a bullish rumble reminiscent of T.I., Scruby name-checked everybody from Braxton Miller to Raising Cane’s and made sure to mention his favorite rappers, too.

Weeks later, he performed with one of them when the Ohio Union Activities Board recruited Scruby to open for J. Cole. From there, it’s been one high-profile gig after another. Scruby opened for King Chip (formerly Chip tha Ripper) and Machine Gun Kelly, and next week he’ll perform at #FEST in Athens alongside Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J.

All that attention makes this the perfect time for another mixtape. Out Wednesday, “Boy Genius” finds Scruby experimenting in search of progression. He excels on the chopped-and-screwed “Double Time,” while the Big Sean punch-line rap of “Dream On” falls flat (sample lyric: “I don’t have to leave the country to study a broad”). All in all, it’s a positive step for a rapper still finding his feet.

“The main thing is just growth as an artist,” Scruby said. “I’m starting to create music that I enjoy listening to.”