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So, how many can you think of that are athletes, rappers, and lawyers? Well, now you know at least one. DeSales graduate and former Ohio State football player Chukwuemeka Nnamdi Onyejekw, aka Mekka Don, gave up a job at a top firm in New York City to pursue a career in hip-hop, one that has [...]
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So, how many can you think of that are athletes, rappers, and lawyers?

Well, now you know at least one.

DeSales graduate and former Ohio State football player Chukwuemeka Nnamdi Onyejekw, aka Mekka Don, gave up a job at a top firm in New York City to pursue a career in hip-hop, one that has now successfully intersected with other childhood passion, football.

His songs “Welcome to the O-H-I-O,” and “Juice” have been adopted by the Buckeye football team as anthems the past two seasons – but Mekka is no mascot. He has created his own unique hustle in the rap game, combining credible hip-hop (named as an MTVu Artist to Watch) with commercial licensing packages for several major sports entities, including OSU, ESPN, and the Big Ten Network.

Mekka, a second-generation Nigerian-America, has found a way to pay the bills with his skills, all while keeping a foot in the sports world.

“I think the other notches on my belt show that I am more than just an Ohio state guy – I’m a songwriter,” he said.

“It’s not just about the sports music, but this is a niche we’ve really started to carve out. There’s really reason to shy away from that.”

Mekka has operated his career out of NYC, but realized that while he claims Ohio all around the country, many in his home state hadn’t heard of him. Through his partnership with college football coverage, he’s been able to connect with thousands in the Buckeye state. Making inroads through ESPN has proved to him that a fan approach is preferable to an industry approach.

“What you realize is, fans are fans: it doesn’t matter if they’re young or old, white or black, if they’re sports fans or not…it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Fans drive the industry more than anything else. A lot of young guys early on, up-and-coming rappers, they believe the industry drives the industry, so they’re so concerned with the blogs, and record labels, and radio, and a lot of those things still matter, but at the end of the day, what matters most is fans.

“If you have fans that want too come see you, it doesn’t matter how you got ‘em.”

He’s created another anthem for the Buckeye team this year, and in addition to working with the Big Ten Network, has also produced a song for the Cleveland Browns. Sports-related hip-hop anthems aren’t new tricks, he said, but he feels his message keeps the songs relevant even off-the-field. “Juice,” for example, got a solid amount of regular radio play last year on Columbus’s Power107.5.

“I want it be sonically good enough where people can appreciate it, even if they’re not [sports] fans.”

What people can also appreciate is Mekka’s approach to hip-hop, which is still fueled by conflated tales of drugs, money, and power. For Mekka, the power lies in inverting stereotypes without being corny.

“I have a different perspective…not saying it’s better, necessarily, but I want people to see me symbolically…This guy is a lawyer who went to a top school, worked at a top firm, and now he’s in hip-hop? But he’s cool? He’s not in suspenders and looks like Steve Urkel – he’s got swag, and girls like him…symbolically, for young kids, that’s important.

“Substantively, it shows that there are other ways to be successful, other ways to be cool,” he said. “I want them to realize that smart is cool, smart is in. They’re not used to seeing someone like me in hip-hop.””

In addition to ESPN College Football Saturdays, see Mekka Don perform twice in Columbus this month: Sept. 18, opening for Juicy J at LC Pavilion; and Sept. 21 at Independents’ Day in Franklinton.

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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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