The Native Tongues and Orange Soda co-founder rides for Upper Cup Coffee, Columbus hip-hop, Hanif Abdurraqib and more

Malcolm White (@eh_kees) was born and raised on the South Side and is on a mission to shift the culture in Columbus. Attending Capital University, White fell in love with the city in the early 2010s when he was first exposed to the art scene. Now he has dedicated his life to building community and platforms to help expose the gems the city has to offer.

For a period of time, White ran FPM (FlyPaper Magazine/Media), a network that highlighted Columbus underground culture. He also co-founded a monthly music and poetry series called Native Tongues (held the third Wednesday of every month at the Big Room Bar), which provides a platform for artists looking for a safe space to share their work. Earlier this year, White started ETCbyEhkees.com (currently in beta) to create a digital infrastructure that connects anybody invested in Columbus’ local culture with the creatives who are pushing it to new heights.

As a member of the collective Bern & Friends, White started a monthly 2000s hip-hop and R&B party series called Orange Soda, which introduced neo-nostalgia to Columbus, taking patrons back to the recent past. Orange Soda was founded in 2017 and has since thrown parties in Cleveland and Washington, D.C. On Saturday, Aug. 3rd, Orange Soda will become a day-long festival headlined by legendary hip-hop acts Mannie Fresh, DJ Clue, DJ Unk and 13 of the best local DJs (tickets available at orangesodafest.com).

Here are a few things White Loves.

Upper Cup Coffee

I grew up on Parsons and Livingston, so that part of town is my favorite off rip, but the original Upper Cup Downtown is by far my favorite place to get coffee. It’s like the mecca of Columbus — a hub where legends, young and old, from the city congregate regularly. Not only is it black-owned, the drinks are good, the aesthetic and art on the wall is fire and the ownership is amazing. 

The Columbus hip-hop scene

I hate when people say that Columbus hip-hop doesn’t have a sound or a scene. I feel like the people who say that just aren’t looking. We have artists from this generation and last that are making DIVERSE music that rivals the stuff coming out across the country. Some artists that I love in particular: TrigNO, Zac Fresh & NASAGOLD, Trek Manifest, Tobilla, Zyirra (even though she’s a singer), Jerreau, Vada, Greg Owens, Fabby Rotten, P Blackk, Bobby Biz ($$)… I could keep going. Hit me on Twitter and we can have a conversation about it.

Our spirit: You can do anything, but you gotta work for it

Columbus is a prove-it city. You can’t make claims here or just decide to do something without being challenged, scrutinized and tested. I love that because that means that to be really successful, you HAVE to bring your A-game or else whatever it is you're pushing is going to fail. People aren’t going to just come out and support you. You have to EARN it.

The merch

This is blasphemy to say when you love Columbus the way I do, but I’m sick of scarlet and grey and everything revolving around Ohio State. I am so glad that we, as a city, have developed brands that speak to the hustle and creativity that exists in this city. I think that signs of a strong culture are good music and good fashion, and they are intertwined. Most of the time I’m wearing Columbus clothing, and it’s not stuff that beats you over the head with Columbus puns or Buckeye references. Big salute to Starstrukt Custom Apparel, MOUF, Trapper, Knurd, Ill Reference, Preacher’s Ministry and Vessel Wear. There are many more.

Hanif Abdurraqib

Hanif, in a lot of ways, is the one who introduced me to hip-hop as an adult. He had a contest for his Twitter followers (before he had the blue checkmark) where, if you responded, he’d make you a custom mixtape. That was my first time hearing Johnny Cash, Otis Redding and also Jay-Z and Mya’s "Best of Me." Forever thankful for that. Seeing his ascension nationally as a writer, poet and public figure gives me great pride, and his unabashed love for Columbus (an admittedly complicated city) gave me permission to love the city, too. His first book, splicing poetry with tales of his growing up on the East Side, gave me the same sense of pride that I imagine kids from Compton had when they heard good kid, m.A.A.d City for the first time. Every time he does something major (like writing for the VMA’s!! or getting published in the NYT!!), it feels like a win for all the black boys who grew up in Columbus.