Rapper Nes Wordz learns to let go of the past to push for a brighter future for himself and his community.

“Paying Dues,” a soul-kissed number that falls near the close of Nes Wordz’ most recent EP, AnyDayNow, finds the MC taking stock, rapping, “I made a promise to myself/ That I would tighten up my belt.”

It’s a promise Nes has kept throughout his recording career, which has traced his steady evolution from a drug-slinging youngster to an educator and father of four, who, at the age of 30, has reached new creative peaks, headlining mainstage festivities at ComFest in 2016 and gearing up for the release of a long-in-the-works autobiographical LP documenting this rise.

“It’s definitely [the story of] a boy becoming a man, and I kind of mapped it out to be that way,” said Nes, born Sheron Colbert in Toledo. “I’ve got a lot of homies that are dead and gone or doing 50 years [in prison]. They’re never going to see the light of day or see their children grow up, and I shed tears for that kind of thing. I have to tell that story because that’s the reality going on in our streets.”

There’s an interesting duality at play in Nes’ music. While the rapper has lived the trap life — he brings up his drug-dealing past not as a point of pride but as a way of illustrating he has nothing to hide — he also grew up with a fundamental understanding of right and wrong, and even his earliest verses paint these youthful indiscretions as a means to a brighter future.

“I always knew better. If I was out there in those streets, I knew what it was going to bring. And if I was sitting in that classroom, I knew what it was going to deliver me,” Nes said. “What changed for me was not just knowing better, but doing better. I don't want to hold onto the things I held onto in my yesteryears. I want to let it all go and move on ... and live my life the best I can.”

Considering some of the obstacles Nes has been forced to overcome, it’s not surprising he has little desire to linger in the past. When the rapper was 12, his dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and in the years that followed, everything in his life, including his son, fell to the back burner as he confronted his decaying health.

“There was a time in my life where my father was so wrapped up in dealing with his condition that his job raising me became a secondary priority,” said Nes, who can no longer recall what his father looked like when he walked, a fact he said troubles him. “I understood that, but I was still a kid, so I didn't give a fuck what I understood. ‘I need you.’ It left a lot of resentment and anger in me for a long time.”

At the time, Nes internalized these emotions, adopting a life philosophy he described as “bad shit happens.” “I tried to help everybody else be cool … but I could go to shambles and it was OK with me,” he said.

Becoming a father eventually helped the rapper chase these dark clouds. “It made me think about being successful, more than anything,” he said. “What can I do to better [my children]? How can I teach them to be the best they can be?”

Now Nes has brought this forward-looking mindset into a new role as a media arts instructor at Columbus Arts & Technology Academy — a position he couldn’t have envisioned himself in even five years ago.

“My perception [of teachers] growing up was they were middle-aged white women and men who couldn’t relate to me,” he said, and laughed. “My students need to see someone like me, with tattoos and coming at them like, ‘What’s crackin’? What’s poppin’?’

“They need to hear from someone who comes from the trap, but also knows what it's like to be in the classroom and is willing to share those experiences. We all have to grow up sometime.”