While Cincinnati has had its’ share of notable hip-hop artists breakout over the years, it’s a shame that it never developed a clear scene the way you might have expected. For a place often jokingly referred to as “the southernmost city in the North, and the northernmost city in the South”, Cincinnati’s size, cultural richness, and musical history should have made it a hub for hip-hop of all kinds from the start. Today, there are some artists such as Turich Benjy, who are forging a new sound for the Queen City, but it isn’t yet apparent or particularly distinct from other subgenres in the way it will surely grow to be.
Cincinnati holds a special place in rap history as an early backpack Mecca, spawning the label Anticon and the collective cLOUDDead, which was far ahead of its time in it’s cloudy production and emotional, down to earth themes. On a more popular level though, it’s natural that Ohio would veer in a funkier, more soulful direction, with artists such as DJ Hi-Tek of Reflection Eternal fame coming on the heels of legends such as The Isley Brothers.
As far as what’s common in Cincinnati hip-hop today? It’s a pretty mixed bag. That cultural richness has lent itself to musical diversity, which equally hinders it for never manifesting an organized scene. Artists such as Roadrunner TB and Gaida Noriega have been putting out quality trap music for example, but it’s not fundamentally different in sound or theme from anything in Detroit, Atlanta, or other hotspots.
A small niche has been carved out over the past few years in Cincy though; openly inspired by the early plugg and rage sounds of artists such as Lucki and Thouxanbanfauni, Turich Benjy has reached new heights for the city. Benjy, often laced with entrancing, yet hard hitting production by Autumn Jivenchy, is at the forefront of such atmospheric trap that is so popular today (thanks to artists such as Kankan, Summrs, and even Playboi Carti’s Opium). In fact, Benjy was a bit early on the sound himself, releasing his debut Free.Wav in 2018, which features the minor hit of the same name.
Something special is taht Benjy doesn’t just slur on about depression and drugs the way his contemporaries might (not that that’s a bad thing); as he once wrote on Instagram, he “raps disco music from a spiritual place”. Despite this sound being a young man’s game, he brings an old soul that has respect for all sorts of fashion and high art (i.e. 2020’s Basquiat), and always keeps his music relatively upbeat and positive; it’s a perfect meeting of abeyance with upbeat, motivational raps.
Thankfully, Turich Benjy and Jivenchy aren’t alone in the Cincinnati cloud rap scene; anyone following hip-hop’s underground even a little bit is sure to be familiar with Pink Siifu by now, who, despite often repping Alabama and sporting an eclectic background, is also from Southwest Ohio. Siifu has a talent for making every project of his completely different, following subgenres that show off his broad influences – from warm neo-soul to industrial to traditional country raps.
It’s only fitting, then, that Siifu would link with a peer like Turich Benjy for their recent collab album It’s Too Quiet..’!!, and step into that same ambience bordering on rage music. Not only is the final product great, but it’s importantly placed more fans’ eyes on Benjy and put Cincinnati back on the map in mainstream hip-hop. Izaya Tiji of Slayworld is from only an hour north in Dayton, so it’s possible that something is brewing. A collab between them would be almost too obvious, in fact. The momentum and small clique all these artists have assembled will hopefully inspire even more artists in the area to solidify their sound and place in the rap game, because underdog scenes like this belong amongst the best and brightest.