Catch the rapper at 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival on Saturday, July 27

Co City’s solo debut, Coming to Grips, which he expects to release late summer, opens in darkness, with the rapper holding his grandmother’s hand as she lays on her deathbed. The production, courtesy of friend and longtime collaborator Rashad Thomas, matches the weighty feel, building on a claustrophobic soul sample and heavy, thundering brass.

“At that moment, I felt like giving up. Outside of my wife and daughter, my grandmother was the anchor for me,” said Co City, who performs at the 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival in the Hilltop on Saturday, July 27, backed by DJ J. Rawls. “And so I started the album talking about that experience, and then I walk people how I felt when my aunt passed away. I was going through a lot of downs.”

As the record progresses, however, the weather begins to break, dark clouds dissipating as the rapper rediscovers his faith, takes pride in his daughter’s graduation and generally regains his footing following years spent lost in the wilderness — years the MC started to document on Attack of the Drum, a 2018 EP from Co City’s long-running rap group 3rd Power, which includes fellow members Rashad, Blaksmif and Co City’s brother, P.A. Flex.

On that release, Co City recounted his father’s death from melanoma cancer, giving up his son for adoption and his struggles with substance abuse, often rapping in a distressed cadence, as though even his vocals were having a hard time holding things together.

“I’m a real private type of guy, but the music … is therapy for me. A lot of people can sit down with a counselor and talk, but, to me, when the lights are off, there’s a beat, Rashad’s at the board and I’m telling what I need to tell, there’s nothing better than that,” said Co City, who intends to continue his exploration of his past throughout the year, even releasing a project with Flex dubbed Burlington Brothers that delves into the duo’s North Side upbringing. “I’m in a great place, but I wanted to take people back to when times weren’t always good for me. I feel like I can help people. If they hear I can get through it, then they can, as well.”

Co City discovered his lyrical talents in college (he attended Ohio Wesleyan University on a music scholarship), mimicking the flows of MCs like the Notorious B.I.G. and Nas, often rapping while looking in the mirror, cognizant that even appearance was an important aspect of performance. He’d also record his freestyles with a tape machine and then spend hours breaking down verse construction, working hard to make the music sound effortless.

While there were earlier successes, Co City said he felt as though he was finally coming into his own when he recorded his verse on the 3rd Power song “The Last Mile.”

“You hear about musicians being in the pocket, and on that song I felt like I was there. That was my take-off moment,” he said. “When I went into the booth I knew exactly what I wanted to say without writing it down. Rashad put the beat on and it was go time. I knew at that moment I could change music in Ohio.”

The rapper hasn’t slowed since, recording tracks with 3rd Power, readying the Rashad-produced Coming to Grips, working alongside Flex in Burlington Brothers, collaborating with producer J. Rawls on a pair of tracks, “Go” and “Glorious,” and even hatching a TBD project with Krate Digga.

“When you find love and light, and move out of that dark place, it’s freedom,” Co City said. “It’s easier to write now. Maybe it used to take me an hour to write a verse, and now it takes 20 minutes, or eight minutes, or I might just say, ‘Turn the beat on; I need to talk.’ You feel more free when you come out of a dark place. … I sat on that title (Coming to Grips) for 10 years, but I feel like I finally did come to grips. I needed to package all those emotions together and put it out. Now I’m good. Now I can move on.”