Queen City Flow: Overcast Hip Hop Festival

Cincinnati’s Overcast Hip Hop Festival Remixes Programming for Online Audience

For the past two years, Cincinnati-based Grasshopper Juice Records has drawn hundreds of hip hop fans to Queen City stages with its Overcast Hip Hop Festival.

This year, however, things will be a bit different.

“Nothing beats seeing a performer live and in person,” Graval Baehr, co-host of the YouTube Donuts N’ Akahol program, admits. “(But) streaming is the new norm.”

Baehr and his fellow Donuts N’ Akahol host Branden Tatum will be kicking off each night of the Overcast festival, “and checking back every couple hours to interact with fans and recap some of the great performances,” he says, promising exclusive interviews and complementary content along the way.

Before pandemic-related precautions silenced much of the live entertainment industry, Juan Cosby — Grasshopper Juice honcho and Overcast organizer/performer — had already made a name for himself booking festival lineups that attracted more eager fans each year. But now, the Coronavirus pandemic and its related social distancing guidelines have contributed to an even stronger collection of Overcast artists. “This is the most talented, well-rounded lineup we’ll probably ever have,” he says, noting that it wouldn’t have been possible without the festival’s new streaming component.

Some of the artists appearing in this year’s livestream include 2018 Overcast rap battle champion Eyenine, Ceschi, AP Counterfeit, kidDEAD, Audley, E-Turn, Chris Conde, Bla’sze, Spoken Nerd, MC Homeless, Progeny, Mo Niklz, Paulie Think, and OneWerd.

“While Cincinnati might not be the most popular city for hip hop,” Baehr says, “we do hold our own weight. There are so many sub-genres here, it would be hard to not find something you’d like … it baffles me that some of these artists aren’t known on a national level yet.”

But not all of the artists appearing have been raised in Cincinnati. “Other communities appreciate that we bring their up-and-coming artists to a city with such rich hip-hop history,” Cosby says of the festival’s base in the Queen City.

A big chunk of that history belongs to Scribble Jam’s legacy; for 14 years, it was considered America’s largest grassroots hip hop festival. Cosby’s happy to see Overcast continue that tradition. “It seems that (Overcast) is perceived as a mini-Scribble Jam (now),” says Cosby, humbled by the comparison. “That was the golden era.”

Just like Scribble Jam, Overcast is known for hosting epic rap battles, which – thanks to its coordination with CincyMusic – will continue this year as well.

“Different, but interesting,” is how Cosby predicts the battles will go this year. Participating artists will have 24 hours to submit a diss track of their opponent. “Very different,” Juan stresses, “from a (traditional) freestyle ‘off the dome’ battle.” When it’s all said and done, this year’s rap battle will last over a week.

CincyMusic, a website devoted to supporting and celebrating artists throughout the greater Cincinnati area, is in charge of coordinating this year’s streaming component.

“We had done a few livestreams in the past,” editor-in-chief Courtney Phenicie points out, “so the pivot was somewhat natural. (CincyMusic web developer) Nathan Bolender has been instrumental in working out all of the kinks and making sure everything goes smoothly.”

The festival also has a benefit component, with proceeds being donated to The Innocence Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to bring awareness to and reform the criminal justice system.

“There are too many times in the justice system that people accused of a crime have inadequate defense, falsely confess, or never had access to a post-conviction DNA test,” Phenicie points out. Cosby adds, “there’s no denying the systemic racism issues our country is facing … unjust murder (and) unjust arrests. An unfathomable amount of innocent people are falsely imprisoned and they deserve justice and freedom.”

Cosby is curious how some of this year’s adaptive measures might stick around, or be reflected in future fests.

“We may become a full-on ‘internet rapper’ festival,” he suggests, “and permanently move it to livestream. There’s always positive and negative takeaways from these new ideas.” He points out that notes are always taken, “to look back on, when diving into the early organizational stages of future events.”

Keeping the tradition alive so that future fests are even possible is key.

“Each year, (Overcast organizers) have gone over and beyond to highlight the best hip hop out there,” Phenicie says. “I think it’s important that we keep up the tradition, especially in these weird times. I love that about our music community — everyone is always willing to pitch in and help out.”

“I’m just really excited to enjoy two nights of live music again,” Baehr says, reflecting the feelings of countless other strung-out music fans eager for their live music fix. “It’s been a rough year for everyone, and I’m glad that this annual festival is still finding a way to provide entertainment,” he says.

“We’re vastly overlooked as a city for music, and I want to do anything to draw more eyes to what is happening here,” Baehr says. “Hosting an event via livestream is new for us, but we’re ready to knock it out of the park.”

The third annual Overcast Hip Hop Festival takes place on Friday, September 25, and Saturday, September 26, from 4-11pm EST. For more information about the festival, please visit overcastfest.com. Learn more about Innocence Project at https://www.innocenceproject.org.