Newborn hip-hop collective includes producers Soop and Snow, along with rappers Joey Aich, Dom Deshawn, Sarob and Trek Manifest

On a chilly night in early January, on the ground floor of Vaughan Music Studios in Upper Arlington, a couple dozen people gathered for a listening party for the debut EP from Carried By Six — a newborn hip-hop collective that includes producers Soop and Snow, along with rappers Joey Aich, Dom Deshawn, Sarob and Trek Manifest.

The mood was familial, with the six artists cracking jokes — Aich's announcement that he initially proposed calling the group Joey Aich and the Pips was met with expected groans — and generally carrying on with an exuberance that belied the pallbearer-inspired name eventually selected for the project. In fact, the only thing funereal about the evening was a growing corpse-like stench that attendees quickly pinpointed to a spoiled veggie tray, which was quickly ushered from the room. (“We have… chips,” Soop deadpanned, editing his description of the shrinking spread.)

But even in this crowded setting, under a condensed timeline, the various big personalities making up Carried By Six started to reveal themselves. By the second song, the exuberant Aich was the first person dancing, something he later said he hoped to avoid, and which ultimately proved impossible. Snow, no fan of the spotlight, remained seated off to the side, responding to any questions with a bowed head and a few deflective words. Sarob, meanwhile, instinctually cut Instagram-able poses as cameras snapped, which quickly earned playful jabs from his cohorts. “It's a reflex, I'll say that,” Sarob offered half-heartedly in his own defense, which carried over into a group interview weeks later. “I didn't pose!” he said to laughter. “I'm just a pretty man.”

Back in the studio, Soop, born Demetrius Howard, remained largely silent at the center of the maelstrom, head bobbing to the beats that boomed through the studio's sound system, occasionally breaking into a knowing grin, as if he'd just been gifted with a secret.

In early February, with the six artists seated in the Alive offices for an interview, Soop's quiet force again exhibited itself. When he spoke, the others tended to tamp down, which made sense considering it was the producer and rapper's gravitational pull that initially brought this particular collective together following a November 2018 private listening party for his most recent album, Stating the Obvious.

“A lot of times in the hip-hop community, you have people say, ‘We need to link,' or, ‘We need to build, fam.' It's almost a greeting at this point, but I knew these brothers were serious when they said it,” said Soop, who will join the group when Carried By Six makes its live debut at Ace of Cups on Thursday, Feb. 28. “It was initially supposed to be a vibe session, creating with no set agenda. It was, ‘Let's just get into a room together and see what happens.'… It was as simple as that.”

With a group this size, things generally don't happen quickly. When Alive texted Soop to set up a photo shoot, it took the collective 45 minutes to respond with a day and time, and then another 22 hours to land on a location. But somehow the music arrived in a flourish, with two songs completed the first November night in the studio, and another five hashed out in a pair of subsequent recording sessions.

As expected, the collaboration created a healthy competition between the four rappers, none of whom wanted to be outdone by the other. “I'd hear what Dom was recording and be like, ‘Man, I've gotta go back and rewrite these four bars,'” Aich said. The EP, in turn, draws out the best in each, highlighting Trek Manifest's Olympic swimmer-worthy breath control and intricate, syllable-heavy flow (“When he gets going he sounds like a jazz drummer, like a bunch of high hats,” Sarob said), Dom Deshawn's vivid lyrical imagery and Everyman storytelling, Aich's infectious energy and razor-sharp enunciation and Sarob's “glue guy” versatility, which displays itself as he bounces between the melodic vocal hook on “It's Only Right” and double-time rapping on the tag-team track “Drive By.” “I was in the studio when he was doing that, like, ‘What? Who taught you that shot? Where did you get that from?'” Aich said, and laughed.

While each individual personality shines through on the recording, there's still a common thread running through the project, which is anchored by the rich, soulful production. Most of the bedrock tracks were produced by Snow back around 2009 (the producer credits the likes of J Dilla and Little Brother's 9th Wonder as primary sources of inspiration), and were then finessed by Soop, who focused on detail work and added his own musical flourishes, like playing up a drum break in “The Knots” that now hits like an adrenaline needle to the heart.

Coming into the project, none of the six had any real expectation beyond making music with friends and collaborating on something that could, potentially, push the Columbus scene forward in some way. And little about that has changed in the months that have passed since primary recording sessions took place. Indeed, while the musicians said it's almost certain they'll join forces again, there's not an urgency to do so, with each also nurturing a thriving individual solo career. (Even Soop, long focused on his production work, sounded prepared to again step behind the microphone.)

“This was less about us being like, ‘Oh, we're going to come together and join forces!'” Sarob said. “I think it was more about our hunger to create a moment. … It was about having something to help move the chains a little, and maybe, hopefully, be a catalyst for something more here in the city.”