Co-founder Josh Miller cites community, passion as key ingredients for success

With Columbus being trumpeted as one of the best cities for young professionals, you'd expect its summer festival attendees to fit a singular mold. But 2X2 Hip-Hop Festival has seen a diverse crowd since its first year in 2015, most memorably when an older woman showed up at the front entrance.

“She was like, ‘I rode the bus all the way here and spent all my money,'” said co-founder Josh Miller. The woman thought admission was free. Of course they let her inside anyway.

Part of 2X2's success is its fun-for-all-ages environment, and Miller has been especially moved watching kids “pick up a can of spray paint and … vibe out to a performance.”

By contrast, Miller didn't attend his first hip-hop concert until high school. Historically there weren't many opportunities to see hip-hop in the city, which was why he created 2X2 Fest. “Local festivals weren't really showing a whole lot of love for the hip-hop scene around here,” Miller said. “And now they're starting to book more. But there's still no other festival that's gonna compare to 2X2.”

That's because Miller has created a multifaceted festival with large-scale art and dance elements in addition to the local and national performers.

“We're not just giving you two people painting a mural a week beforehand,” he said. “We have over 20 graffiti writers painting live during the festival. When it comes to break dancing, it's not just a little showcase for 20 minutes. We have one of the largest battles happening in the Midwest.”

And Miller is striving to have a deeper impact on the community. For the past three years, the festival took place at Rice Paddy Motorcycles, near Weinland Park.

“[The neighborhood] has been going through some changes lately [with] redevelopment,” said Miller, who stressed the importance of keeping the festival affordable, and engaging Weinland Park residents. “Hopefully it was something they could be proud of. … We were really starting to make a home there.”

Due to Rice Paddy Motorcycles' closing, 2X2 is moving to the former Hillcrest Lanes in the Hilltop, with the fourth annual event taking place Saturday, July 28. The lineup — the festival's most prominent to date — includes local rapper Blueprint, Minnesota native Prof and Aceyalone from California.

“It's a big focus for us to really connect with the residents on the West Side,” Miller said.

That level of commitment to its mission has served 2X2 well. The fest has steadily increased its attendance from just under 1,000 in year one to approximately 2,000 last year.

“I think that could be why some festivals seem like they don't last,” Miller said. “The thing that kept us going and kept us focused was just having that passion for it. If you're not passionate about what you're doing … you better have some really, really great people hitting that stage and some really awesome food trucks.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article listed Josh Miller as the founder of 2x2. He's actually one of four co-founders. Alive regrets the error.