The Emerging Stars of Cincinnati Rap

Marco Kane explores the rap scene of Ohio's third-biggest city and finds a handful of its most talented artists.
By    September 10, 2020

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Marco Kane knows his way around a barbed wire bat like Jon Moxley.

While regional rap scenes have seen a resurgence in recent years—think Detroit or the DMV—Ohio has yet to spawn its own distinct sound. You probably know about the legendary Bone Thugs, the perennially-annoying “savior of rap” Kid Cudi, the final evolution of “annoying white guy who swears he has bars” in MGK, and the once-promising SoundCloud star Trippie Redd, whose grating yelps about his ex-girlfriends quickly grew exhausting. You might have even known that North Carolina’s resident Billboard chart topper DaBaby was actually born in Cleveland, a city that’s recently had a couple artists go nationwide. But most of the state’s rap ends up barely touching regional success. In all honesty, people just aren’t really checking for rappers from Ohio. 

Even further down the list of irrelevance is Cincinnati, which is yet to have a single mainstream breakout artist. There’s been a few influential artists, like Hi-Tek, who produced a classic for Mos Def and Talib Kweli, and deep cut gems for G-Unit and the Game. But in general, it’s an incredibly strange phenomenon, considering Cincinnati was once briefly the center of the world for backpack rap. Scribble Jam, once the world’s largest hip-hop festival and emcee battle stage, was founded in and hosted in Cincinnati for 13 years.

Past Scribble Jam winners included known artists like Juice and Rhymefest. One of Juice’s final opponents in 1999 was an unsigned white kid from Detroit; some time after the battle, he got signed by Dr. Dre and became the best selling rapper of all time. Co-founded by Cincinnati-based artists Why? and Doseone, Anticon briefly emerged to become a force in the left-field underground but quickly relocated to the Bay and earned a second wave of success by working with non-rappers like Tobacco and Baths.

So after all these decades, Cincinnati still doesn’t have a mainstream artist. Don’t believe me? Check the Wikipedia page for “Rappers from Cincinnati” and you’ll see the most famous artist on the list of nine is Hi-Tek and, then, uh… Katt Williams? This isn’t a knock against Cincinnati; it’s the best city in the state just by being a perfectly mediocre American big city. It was famously described on one of NBC’s sitcoms as a “medium place.” It’s like half as good as NYC but with 10% of the traffic. Cincinnati’s rap scene has long lived in the shadow of Cleveland’s, but it’s finally moving on up.

Unfortunately, Cincinnati rap is difficult to sift through. Several artists don’t even upload music to their own pages, instead opting to drop all their videos on the YouTube channels of directors from the city like Shooter and Co. or Visuals by Al. Even Adrien Broner’s channel used to be a hotspot for Cincinnati rap. (Seriously, it’s right here.) If you actually take the time to explore, though, you’ll find that not many Cincinnati artists sound alike, as they all draw different influences from different cities across the map—but every new hit constantly redefines what the city’s sound is.


Birddo somehow always finds the pocket on every single beat he touches. His rapping style is a cousin of Polo G’s; he has a similar blend of sing-rapping that has both clever punchlines and melodies dropped straight from the heavens, but Birddo’s music is slightly more upbeat and cheery despite their similar voices and subject matter. 

His lyrics fill you in on his past, like sitting in the hospital room with his mom while he battled cancer or how he lost his arm at 13 years old—which he seems to have a good sense of humor about given that he rapped “I’m armed and armless, that n—a is armed and harmless” on “Broken Hearted” and once posted a tutorial video about how to roll a Backwood with one hand in response to comments saying he can’t roll.

A couple of his videos tell stories throughout; his most popular song “Okay” currently sits at 1.3M views on YouTube and has skits throughout the song featuring a man with an unfortunate haircut and a Champion sweater finding out Birddo is texting his girl. He declares that he’ll “fuck that motherfucker up ’til he look like my hairline, for real.” My personal favorite of his videos is “Trap School,” where Birddo is a professor inside the University of Cincinnati teaching a class of students (that is made up of other Cincinnati rappers) lessons like not getting high on your own supply and not telling anyone where you keep your cash. 

Birddo’s delivery shines on the hook of “Trap School,” where he questions why his “OG’s hating on a youngun like we was trapping before him” over a slick beat from frequent collaborator Nito Beats, before coming to the conclusion that “I guess that’s what these n——s do when all they paper gone.” You can almost hear him shrugging his shoulders on the mic.

Roadrunner TB

Let’s just get this out of the way: most of TB’s recent music sounds straight out of Detroit. It’s such an obvious parallel, especially in his beat selection, that when his latest tape Mind of the Blender was making waves on Twitter, people were calling him the Michigan city’s next star. Considering the run that rappers like Sada, Rio and Babyface Ray have been on recently, you could definitely pick a worse state to emulate—and with a boisterous flow and brags that would make Rick Ross jealous, it’s easy to see why TB’s a crowd favorite.

It’s not all Detroit imitations for TB. On “Miley,” he raps over a sample from Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA,” flipping the song’s chorus: “I done run my bands up, I did it off phones, roll a lot to smoke the pain away / I hit the dawg, it’s still a ten, I’m like yeah / Can I pay 150 for a gram? Hell yeah / Ready to dig my mans up, been gone for too long, everything’s gonna be okay.” If that wasn’t enough to get you to immediately click play, he starts off the second verse by rhyming “Miley Cyrus” with “coronavirus.”

TB and his friend Savy are from Evanston—the part of the city where King Records, the label that discovered artists like James Brown and Bootsy Collins, was founded. TB and Savy especially glow when collaborating, like on “Walking Dead,” where TB laughs about his scams and says he’s got loud and exotic, but it’s the same kind. On “33,” where he asks if you believe him when he says he made five bands off a zip, you genuinely have to take a moment and contemplate if that’s possible. When he says “You number two like it’s February / your daddy snitched, now you inside, it’s hereditary,” you might put your hand over your mouth in shock. Bottom line: TB can rap with the best of ‘em.

Gaida Noriega

Gucci Mane’s influence can even be felt in Ohio—just take a quick listen to Gaida Noriega, whose last tape started with a track called “Old Guwop Flow.” His hypnotic flow immediately pulls you in, and further listening reveals his nose-thumbing, belligerent sense of humor; on “Glacier Omerta,” he coolly compares his shooter to Peyton Manning before divulging “the XD my bestie, the glizzy my favorite.” In the recent video for “Carry On,” where a fake Instagram post announcing he’s got “coronavirus zaza” in stock pops up, you can’t help but laugh.

Gaida’s a top-tier flexer too. On “Credentials,” where he boasts “Audemar my daughter, got a brick on her wrist” or on “Glacier Mode” where he compares his wrist to Aquafina, then John Cena, because you can’t possibly see all the diamonds, it’s difficult not to be impressed. Gaida never lets you forget just what city he’s from either, with Cincinnati references scattered through every song—like when he mentions driving down Mitchell Avenue, the street that links neighborhoods Winton Place and North Avondale to the interstate. He’s also collaborating with other local rappers more than most, like “Frozen Slatt” with Skally or “THANKS 2 THE GLACIER” with Birddo, who shouted him out in a YouTube vlog for putting him on to the now infamous Runtz strain.


Mundo is one of those rappers who has a special ear for beat selection. He always finds some sort of airy, ethereal beat with hard-hitting drums that gets stuck in your head for days; a song of his from three years ago still constantly plays in my head, and his YouTube comments are filled with “Damn release the instrumental” and “WHO TF PRODUCED THIS?”—but the identity of his main producer is still a mystery. As time passed, he’s improved his sense of melody while building on the same aggressive delivery that earned him so many comparisons to Tay-K.

Basically, Mundo really just loves talking shit. The murky beat on “No Hook” sounds like one of those dreams where something isn’t quite right. Mundo narrates this nightmare, as he tells his enemies to “come and make a fucking difference,” calls out frauds wearing knockoff Gucci and mentions how his chopper will leave you missing teeth if you say the wrong thing. It’s not all pugnacity, though. Mundo’s at his best, though, when he backs up his boasts with quiet self-reflection.

On “Watching,” you can hear the paranoia in his voice—especially when he whispers the hook the second time—when he says he’s being watched no matter where he goes or what he does, and the pain of a past that leaves him wishing he could forget it all. “Wish I could not think of all of them times I did dirt, but it’s still on my conscience,” he laments.

Blood Brothaz

South Cumminsville, the neighborhood with the lowest median income in Cincinnati, is where rap group Blood Brothaz (currently made up of rappers Unit, Rated and Bags) hails from. The group grew up together in the neighborhood and started recording in a friend’s living room, and say their main goals are to put Cincinnati on and give back to where they grew up. Once they dropped “37 Nites Brazy”—a remix of Future’s “56 Nights,” released just a few months after that mixtape’s release—their music was being played all over the city. In the five years since, they now split their time between being fathers, touring the state and improving their community; the group says they’ve gone broke several times just from pouring all the money they make from their music back into improvement of the neighborhood.

Blood Brothaz have been around for several years, but somehow missed the critical and commercial resurgence of groups a few years back that was given to artists like Shoreline Mafia, EARTHGANG and SOB x RBE, and that’s a shame. The group has undeniable chemistry; no one member outshines the other, and each song has the sort of memorable punchlines that every group needs to succeed. Rated has said their biggest musical influences are Bankroll Fresh, Moneybagg Yo and Money Man, and Bags said that the group makes songs for everything on “some young Boosie shit,” adding “You just got robbed? We got a song for that. Your baby mama’s pregnant? We got a song for that. You just went broke 30 minutes ago? We got a song for that!”

With last year’s “Usain Bolt,” which features a memorable guest verse from Atlanta upstart NoCap, the group isn’t sitting back and letting the more famous artist outdo them. Unit compares his ability to quickly get money to a track star and asks if you’ve ever made $10,000 shooting craps on the chorus, while the verses feature Rated comparing his bankroll to the lottery and Bags saying the clerks all know his first name at Saks and declaring he’s gonna eat his girl out for saying his t-shirt smells like dirty money. The group is constantly firing on all cylinders and putting on for the city—just like they promised.

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