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Illogic brings poetic hip-hop to campus

Before Jahwar Glass started rapping, he wrote short stories and poems. His mother played rock and soul albums and taught him new words that he collected in his stanzas and paragraphs. At 9, he wrote his first rap.

"I haven't stopped since," said Glass, now known as Illogic, the Columbus-based hip-hop artist who has produced six studio albums and collaborated with many of rap's underground favorites like Aesop Rock, Vast Aire, Eyedea and fellow Columbus native Blueprint.

He started performing Christian rap in churches when he was about 12. Before he was old enough to legally go to clubs, Illogic performed at an open mic night called Groove Shack on every other Friday. He competed in freestyle battles and, in 1997, became the Columbus champion.

He found friends who had a recording studio, and in 2001 his cassette tape "Unforeseen Shadows" became the inaugural release from the independent record label, Weightless Recordings, headed by his friend and future collaborator, Blueprint.

"At that time, there were a lot of up-and-coming hip-hop artists coming out of Columbus," said Glass.

Although he noted that the hip-hop scene in Columbus is not as vibrant today as it was in the mid-90s and early 2000s, his most recent performance was at the 2X2 Festival in late July. The festival was the first annual Columbus hip-hop festival and nearly 1,000 people attended.

Even after traveling all over the country to play his music, he said he has never considered leaving his home city.

"The fact that people know of Columbus because of the things that we've done is something that can never be taken away from us and I take pride in that," he said.

Since the start of his career Illogic's lyrics have been known for their elevated vocabulary and exploration into the themes of meaning and purpose., cited him as one of the Top 10 Intellectual Rappers.

"I would consider myself more of a poet and a writer than a rapper," he said. "My poetry just happens to fit very well to beats."

He said he's always felt a little different. He didn't speak like his peers growing up. One day in middle school, his then-girlfriend told him he was, "illogical." He liked that, and the name stuck.

In college he enjoyed reading the theories of philosophers like Plato and Immanuel Kant or the rhetoric of activists like the Black Panthers. Reading those helped him find his own voice as a writer, he said.

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"I believe that everything I write is gifted to me," he said. "I'm a vessel and I've been given this gift to write and express myself because some other people can't express themselves."

Right now, he's working on multiple projects, writing and creating more music, but he does not have a clear plan for where he wants his music to go next.

"If people dig it, they dig it. If they don't, they don't," he said. "But I'm going to make sure I'm happy doing what I'm doing and satisfied with the result of it."

He said he admires new rappers Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, as well as artists from other genres such as experimental R&B artist FKA Twigs, Afro-Cuban synth jazz duo Ibeyi and the Norwegian indie-folk act Kings of Convenience.

"I try not to limit the music I listen to so I don't limit myself as an artist," he said.

Illogic is the first musician in the Department of Music and Performing Arts Series events for the new Late Night Miami initiative, a series of free events open to all students held every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night of the semester.