Rapper rising in group power rankings

Joey Aich has designs on being the most famous person to emerge from Woodmere, a small suburb east of Cleveland. On his most recent full-length, If Money Grew on Trees, from 2018, Aich raps about having a statue of himself erected at the busy intersection of Chagrin Boulevard and Brainard Road, outside the CVS in his hometown.

Funny enough, his closest competition at the moment might be his own father, Benjamin Holbert, a former newscaster and the town’s current mayor.

“Growing up, it was super cool. ‘That’s my dad on the news. He’s a superstar,’” said Aich, who recently debuted a new single, “Zoom.” “We’d be in the Tops, which is Giant Eagle now, and people would be coming up to him like, ‘Hey, man. Are … are you that guy from the news?’”

A similarly friendly competition takes place in an ongoing chat thread between Aich, fellow musicians Sarob and Dom Deshawn, artist Hakim Callwood and filmmaker and artist Cam Granger, in which the five keep a running “power ranking,” debating which among them currently has the highest public profile. As of mid-January, Aich listed himself third behind top-ranked Callwood and runner-up Granger. (Sorry, Sarob.)

Though the five work across disciplines, they collaborate regularly. Aich recently joined Sarob and Deshawn in Carried by Six, a newborn local hip-hop collective that also features rapper Trek Manifest and producers Soop and Snow, and which releases its debut EP on Feb. 4. Aich also filmed the video for If Money Grew on Trees track “Sanity // Testimony” with Granger, while Callwood contributed album art for single “Jenga II.”

It was in large part this collaborative artistic community that compelled Aich to relocate to Columbus from Cleveland following a year he spent driving back and forth between the cities, living and working adjacent to Lake Erie and traveling to Columbus on weekends to record. “I went like 10,000 miles over on the car I was leasing, so that was an uncomfortable conversation [with the dealer] trying to get a new one,” he said, and laughed. “But up there I felt stagnant. All my friends were down here creating.”

Few would describe Aich using terms such as “stagnant.” The rapper practically radiates energy; during an early January listening party for the Carried By Six EP, he tried to hold back so as to not be the first person dancing to the tracks, failing miserably in the task. Indeed, his optimism is so pervasive that on “Lemonheads” he manages to find the positive in imminent planetary destruction, rapping, “Global warming got the birds chirping.”

As Aich has progressed, he’s also learned to embrace his own story, after briefly struggling with concerns that he didn’t have one to tell.

“Maybe it was less worrying that I didn’t have a story to tell, but more like, ‘Why does your story matter?’” said Aich, who grew up idolizing rappers like A Tribe Called Quest, J. Cole and the Pharcyde. “I remember telling people early on in high school, ‘I want to be a rapper.’ … And there were people shutting it down, like, ‘Man, you haven’t struggled. You’re from the suburbs. … What’s your story?’

“I started to doubt myself … but then as I started to write more, and write about what was going on in my life, it was like, ‘There’s other people that definitely feel like I feel, or have a type of story similar to mine.’ And, for those people, I feel like I owe it to them to talk about it. It was something where I realized, I have a story. I have a voice.”