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Across the Universe

“Everyone’s got different paths,” says Karrio Ballard, aka Zero Star, regarding his latest and greatest creation Digital Letters, “but as far as I’m concerned I feel I’ve figured out how the universe works.” Those are bold words for certain, but they rightfully match Ballard’s even bolder new album, a record he’s been laboring with for [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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“Everyone’s got different paths,” says Karrio Ballard, aka Zero Star, regarding his latest and greatest creation Digital Letters, “but as far as I’m concerned I feel I’ve figured out how the universe works.”

Those are bold words for certain, but they rightfully match Ballard’s even bolder new album, a record he’s been laboring with for nearly two years. These days, hip-hop is much more than just a game; it’s simply not enough to just be an emcee or a beat maker according to Ballard. To elevate oneself as an artist, you have to do it all. Maybe that’s why Ballard speaks with the cache of a philosophy professor rather than just someone who has played an integral role in evolving the Columbus hip-hop scene.

Perseverance, practice, and especially patience factor into the nearly Zen awakening Zero Star experienced in the making of Digital Letters. Since 2007 he’s had the beats, courtesy of producer Latimore Platz, but when Platz devoted most of his time to med school, the collaboration was halted. In the meantime, Ballard released Maybe I’m Joking, Maybe I’m Not in 2011. It was a slightly traditional hip-hop record, jazzy and soulful, but nowhere close to the chaotic patterns on the tracks that lay dormant in his hard drive. Revisiting Platz’s sonic schisms after that album, Ballard remembers spending hours and hours in his room finding the perfect foil to this new horizon of instrumental hip-hop.

“I don’t know how to explain it but it felt like Neo (from the Matrix) realizing he was ‘The One,’” says Ballard of the epiphany that came with bringing all of Letters’ disparate elements together. “He was flying and kicking agents’ asses, he was unstoppable. That’s how I felt.”

“Once I started to learn to use my voice almost as its own instrument, I could create this whole soundscape that was really out there.”

The long gestation paid off, as the record, which Ballard hopes to release on cassette only this fall, is brimming with unorthodox hip-hop. Songs coalesce through fragments, with bits and pieces strung together in sonic streams of consciousness. Beats and lyrics whiz in and out of the foreground, slowed down and sped-up, before segueing into introspective samples of conversations about child support and snowblowers Ballard recorded with his grandfather. Highlights like “Red Grapes” will sound downright surreal to the average hip-hop listener, like circuits modulating from the motherboard of the spaceship from a ’70s sci-fi flick. Elsewhere, his love of old-school and new environs battle on “Wednesday (Saturday Night Live).” Above it all is Ballard’s cadence, which by itself is wholly unique in that it lazily hangs on the beat, sometimes a nanosecond behind it, making for a woozy experience. It’s quite a trip, and much like the process in its making, it’s as exhaustive as it is rewarding.

Ballard sees Digital Letters as a time capsule. It’s a mix of topical cultural references and dispatches to the future. Hopefully, when someone listens 50 years down the road they’ll have an accurate picture of what was happening in the mind of its artist circa 2014.
“It’s something I had to step out of my usual boundaries to make,” says Ballard. “Even my DJ was hesitant to get with it at first. But that’s what it’s all about, bringing in people from all walks of life, all different tastes and backgrounds.”

Beyond his status as one of Columbus’ prominent emcees, Ballard’s also guardian of city’s most thriving showcase, Buggin’ Out. Now in its third year, the bi-monthly party at Carabar is a rightful successor to past in-the-round hip-hop nights – from the Groove Shack ciphers, to Sundays at Bernie’s, and Blueprint’s So What Wednesdays – that have shaped Columbus’ equally competitive and collaborative community of like-minded heads.

As contrarian to the normal pace of a hip-hop artist, Ballard isn’t in the business of either high praise or cold beef towards his Columbus peers. Again, his talk of neutrality – finding himself instead of seeking what others have to offer – is more in line with Aristotle than it is with KRS-One.

“Action gets you so much further,” he says in reference to how the Columbus scene can evolve. “Create something first, that you put yourself into, and then the rest of it will come.”

For more information on Zero Star visit www.zerostarmusic.com.

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Music industry designates Blackout Tuesday as time of pause

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To honor the memory of George Floyd and fix the injustices surrounding his death, the music industry has designated Tuesday as a time of pause to collaborate on ways to better support the black community.

Businesses and organizations within the music industry have been asked to pause regular work to reflect on how they can better serve the black community, according to a report from Variety. In general, businesses and organizations across the board have been asked to use Tuesday as a way to focus on the effort.

The message that circulated around social media quickly on Monday stated that “Blackout Tuesday” is being used as “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” and “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The movement has been gaining momentum under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Major labels such as Capitol Music Group and Warner Music Group announced their alignment with the “Blackout Tuesday” cause. 

Companies have also announced practices such as pausing social media activity throughout the whole day.

Spotify and ViacomCBS have already announced an 8 minute and 46-second moment of silence for Tuesday. The time reflects how long the Minnesota police officer dug his knee into the kneck of Floyd.

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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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