The first time walking into Ubahn is almost surreal. Most festivals are fenced-in bohemias, spoiled with over-the-top, appropriated fashion statements and seem disconnected from the world outside. Meanwhile, at Ubahn, you’re entering the depths of a bass slapping, underground collective of the Cincinnati community with a national act backdrop. Call it bias, call it whatever you want – Cincinnati put on. The stage just felt more alive and praised by the artists coming from the 513.
Once you actually get past the front “gate”, you’re greeted by a large mural being hand painted by Xylene. It was the Ubahn logo with a profile of some of the national acts, like Gucci and Big Sean. The group had been working on the mural for some time and were still finishing it well into the night.
Shout out to Hilliard for keeping a strong energy and positive vibe while over 20% of his set was performed to people standing behind his command center, outside the venue. At the end of the day, with big festivals like this, you have to expect slight delays. While people trickled in, it took a moment for the crowd to build at the Change Starts Here stage.
One of the first exhibits patrons walked past was the Able Projects “SkateAble” park. Able Projects, a group of local graphic designers, architects, visual artists (and skaters it seems like), erected a skate park that had quarter pipes, ramps and more all designed like construction equipment.
Solo-act JAYAL, formerly of the rap group Those Guys, was rushed to the stage with an Ubahn worker attaching a performer’s bracelet to his wrist as he’s taking place. His live set did not suffer as he finessed and broke backboards with his intense, yet proficient sound. JAYAL went on to perform an encore much to the crowds appreciation.
With the local stage being at the egress of the tunnel, about a half-mile stretch to the other side, concert-goers found the “Cincinnati Bell: Connect Cincinnati” national act stage. Chicago-based Malcolm London performed first, bringing with him a live drummer who subbed out the 808 snare and kick for an acoustic set. London’s performance was ripe with passion, most noticeably when he recited a poetic narrative about racial injustice which was preluded by a surreal black and white video of protests and police. His last song, following that speech, had some choice words for Donald Trump and the close minded alike.
Vendors at the venue included Matt Tomamichel’s Corporate (who rolled out a new jersey, long sleeve T and t-shirt), Cameron “Macho” Means’ Black Owned, The Native Brand, Cincy Shirts and more. The food trucks offered some heavy plates, Pollo, Queen City Gourmet Chicken & Waffles, Best Thing Smokin’ and so much more. Basically, tummies were kept full with some good grub. Almost too full. Pollo’s chicken gyro had me a little subdued for the rest of the night.
Next, while trekking back to the local stage, hip-hop duo M.O.O.N. had already started their set. The group, comprised of Swaff and Chill WiLL, provided a range of theatrics, all the while not sacrificing technique. Both had a stage presence and talent. Their best live track “Blinded” brought live CCM talent to play trumpet over the laid-back slowjam. The two rappers remained anchored in a chair, a shoutout the the king of the night, 2 Chainz.
Right in the middle of the tunnel is a smaller stage known as the “Piano Stage”. Local black activist group BLVCK SEEDS (Black Liberation via Creativity & Knowledge) put on a display that was embedded in the roots of hip-hop – spoken poetry, record spinning, breakdancing and straight-up live music. Their messages were along the lines of mediation of vices as well empowerment and community. PXVCE, Aziza Love, Jessi Jumanji, Siri Imani and more put on a enduring show of authenticity – both nights of the festival.
Niykee Heaton was next in the lineup for the “Cincinnati Bell: Cincinnati Connect” stage, who was then followed by a circuit of EDM DJ’s and performers. Chuck Diesel took his blend of trap, dubstep and hip-hop to the local stage, working a set to his large group of loyal fans. Steve Aoki’s set was outrageously visual, with high-frequency flashing lights, eclectic color use and thumping sound. Aoki himself was without a shirt and running around stage, kicking off new tracks and ultimately directing the audience through an auditory rollercoaster. After Aoki, was a collective known as New Thousand. With talent pulling together from Columbus and New Orleans, their live show consisted of violins, keys and synths, percussion and more. They blended together for an almost modern style jamband with hip-hop influence and trap undertones.
The night concluded with 2 Chainz, formerly known as Tity Boi, stuntin’ in a wheelchair that dawned golden hundred-spoke rims and pink framework. After suffering a broken leg in early August, 2 Chainz was told by a nurse that he wouldn’t be able to carry on the rest of his tour. To which his response was a blunt “Bitch, you crazy!”. Though restrained to a chair, his stage presence and interaction seemed genuinely candid. With him he had a group of “Trapground” dancers and Nurse Cupid pushing him around on stage (even that was somehow well choreographed). Periodically, a vocal group would supplement his songs with perfectly belted harmonies that made the live performance all that much more “live”. All in all, the proficient Trapsmen made the show definitely something to remember.
Day two of Ubahn started at around 6:05PM. People filed into DJ Bergs blasting “Hotline Bling” – a year or so late, but always welcomed.
After Bergs was Strykur, an independent artist from Cincinnati, who put on some grimey bangers. No holds barred. A particular nasty, creeping yet content-heavy track that melded together with a unique chorus was “DoSiDo” off of his latest mixtape “Peace of Mind”. The local “Change Starts Here” stage was packed tonight, so instead of trading off with the national act “Cincinnati Bell: Cincinnati Connects” stage, another local act put the crowd on blast. With tunes, of course
DJ J. Dough was partnered up with area rapper and producer MamaNamedMeEvan. I’d be remiss to not mention the massive-ass, redshirted gorilla named Rossi Harambe they had on stage with them (dude in a suit). Anybody who heard Evan’s and J. Dough’s “2020 Tesla” would be familiar with the idea that they “crashed a Maserati” on stage – in the best, metaphorical fashion they could. The gorilla even got into the mix, dancing better than most people in the crowd.
By now, it’s 7:30PM and Monty C. Benjamin is walking up the steps of the local stage. Benjamin kept in line with the energy of previous locals and took it even higher. Dappered out in a fresh suit, he threaded himself through the motions as well as any third-year veteran of Ubahn would. The show was lifted when the Khimera co-owner and founder pulled up labelmates 222 and ProFound to perform their Khimera Freestyle. To close things out, Monty played a track from his upcoming album that featured Tony Kuchma (Live drummer for Lightwash and previously of Goldshoes) on the drumset.
The first act of the national stage, DJ Clockwork, was a thoroughly good and connected performance. The Cincinnati-native channeled his clout here, evident by the immediate pull he had on the entire venue. He gelled with the crowd through a dose of humility – instead of asking for everyone with money to put their hands in the air, he called upon the broke ones. That simple, humanizing line was refreshing in a world draped in riches.
Next was Johnny “Audley” Glover riding the ethereal chops of Sylmar. The two shared the stage in a harmonious stride, both Audley and Sylmar’s vocalist Brian McCullough working together with great chemistry. The rest of Sylmar weaved through genre after genre – groove, funk, hip-hop, post-rock and more.
At the other end of the tunnel was national act Lecrae. From all accounts of concert goers, the rapper put on a tight show that didn’t disappoint. Rapper C The Gray put on a show you’d expect from someone who has been on the bill of Tech N9ne or Krayzie Bone – super quick spitting. A real flex on tongue twisting for Cincinnati.
Next national act was Gucci Mane, the Trap God himself. His nonstep set featured the likes of “Lemonade”, “Freaky Gurl” – which had all the women in the audience.. Ahem.. dancing – “First Day Out Tha Feds” and much more. He jumped around his discography, not just limiting it to his most recent releases. Overall, Gucci let Cincinnati know that his onstage game is taken as seriously as his prolific album and mixtape game – it’s business, folks. He makes sure to deliver a quality product.
The final act on the local stage was Speed, formerly known as Buggs Tha Rocka, with a live band and a show that took back to the vibe of his days with Gold Shoes. While the crowd was torn between the lapse between Gucci and Big Sean, Speed still grabbed the attention of many. He also had Niykee Heaton and Talib Kweli watching him from the crowd.
To conclude the 2017 session of Ubahn was Big Sean. With a history in Cincinnati amongst artists like Speed, fans, even store owners (Matt Tomamichel of Corporate has been in contact with Sean for nine years now). To see his talent come full circle, playing to a massive tunnel chock-full of fans is a narrative within itself. Sean’s performance brought the night to a close, riding atop his irregular flows and unique sound including his mainstream bangers and features that had everyone reciting every word.