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“I’ma save somebody, while I save myself.”

This is the guiding mantra of TrigNO, one of the founders of the Rawest 4mation–one of Columbus’ dopest hip hop collectives. By asserting that principle, he is vowing to dig deep inside himself to find and create music that tells his story. It is a form of therapy that consequentially delivers a meaty product out to the world that serves as therapy for the listeners as well. It is a personal resolution, but the mantra carries over to all of the members of the Rawest 4mation, resulting in a group of young artists who take their tremendous talents, embrace their vulnerabilities and go on to make some of the best music in Columbus.

The Rawest 4mation is headed by rappers TrigNO and TwanRap The Mummy, and consists of vocalists D Mili, L. Mont, and Miir as well as lyricist Dirty Quan Geno. I sat down with both Trig and Twan to learn how the group formed and what they stand for.

Rawest 4mation Co-Founders TwanRap The Mummy and TrigNO. Shot by Annie Noelker

The Underrated Days

Trig and Twan first linked up in 2009 when they were a part of a rap squad called “Underrated.” Back then, they went by the monikers Trigger Trap and Lil Twan, but they don’t like to go back to those days. Trig’s cousin went to Beechcroft, which is where Twan was enrolled. Hanging out after school, the two would build a friendship. At the time, Twan was the only person in their crew that had a car and they would bond over car trips to schools and their kick-it spot: “The Circle.”

While Trig had always been a rapper – he recalls his first time putting rhymes together was over 50 Cent’s “Wanksta,” in a cypher with his friends – Twan never really looked at rapping as a promising future. A product of East Cleveland, who’d relocated to Columbus in his teenage years, Twan had a jaded perspective on what you needed to do be successful.

“Rapping wasn’t way out where I’m from,” Twan reflected. “Basketball, drugs, or owning your own business. That’s the only way that I thought you could do it.” He then went on to emphasize the fact that he was indeed NICE on the court.

It was in the middle of a clowning session, where Twan was having some fun over a Gucci beat, that Trig looked over at him with reverence and pointing out that he could really flow well.

“It was 2009,” Trig said. “And I remember that Twan was rapping over some Gucci, and he was the first person ever to rap in the cadence that’s been popularized by Ace Hood. I don’t even remember what he said but it was fire. I told him, ‘Aye you can really spit!’”

Coming from Trig, Twan took the words seriously, because Trig had gained respect for his wordplay abilities over the years. He’d started rapping when he was younger and had fallen so in love with the pen that he said he’d ignore homework just so he could write instead. His early work consisted mainly of remixing existing songs. The first one that he made was a remix of Nelly’s “Air Forces” that he named “Converses,” where he reimagined himself as the protagonist of the song sporting converses instead. We’ll never hear “Converses” because in his words, “It’s trash.” However, despite the quality of his early catalog, Trig learned early on how to make music.

“When I listen to songs,” Trig explains. “I try to understand the harmonies and melodies by singing the background vocals. That’s really helped me as I progressed and started making my own stuff.”

His journey as an artist has been interesting, to say the least. He recalled the story of his first time performing on stage. Unprofessionally, he went on stage and read his raps off of a piece of paper. The second time was an embarrassment. He had gotten a slot at one of Searius Add’s shows at the Wild Goose Creative. He completely choked, forgetting the words to his songs and was forced to apologize to the crowd, “I don’t know what to tell y’all. I’m sorry.”

It is experiences like these that would serve as a motif for the Rawest 4mation as a whole. Trig recalled feeling salty and transforming that feeling into motivation to get right back at it. This resilience manifests itself in the individual stories of each member of the collective and is even visible with the start of the group. Things went left with some of the members of Underrated Crew and the squad fell to in-fighting. Instead of folding in 2010, Twan ended up getting his own recording equipment. He and Trig left Underrated and started the Rawest 4mation.

Rawest 4mation Co-Founder TrigNO. Shot by Annie Noelker

In His Rawest 4m – It All Goes Back To Brett Favre

“I’m not a Brett Favre worshiper by any means,” Trig starts out, laughing. “But one of my guys, he came out with this religion. It’s called Favreism.” I thought he was joking at first, but even amidst the laughter, he insisted that he was not. “Like I said, I don’t worship Favre, but the symbolism of 4 is really strong.”

Good. Food. Love. All four letters long and almost universally positive. Even in a more abstract sense, the concept of the 4th quarter being clutch time and the superhero nature of the Packers’ Number 4 and his ironman mythology carried the symbolism through.

“I asked him if he minded if we borrowed some elements of Favreism and then we embraced the number 4,” Trig explained. “I’m salty cause I use it everywhere now, even when it’s not all the way appropriate. You can’t be filling out contracts using numbers. That’s bad business, ha.”

The Roster

From Trigger Trap to TrigNO, A lot of people say something but don’t be saying nothing.

At the onset of the Rawest 4mation, TrigNO was the most visible member of the group. TwanRap had his son and moved back to Cleveland for a couple of years so it was up to Trig to keep the movement alive. One of the earliest moments of seeing the name in use was in 2014 on the “In his Rawest 4m” Mixtape, where Trig got busy on industry beats, akin to a “No Ceilings.” The project currently isn’t available for streaming online, citing mixing-quality concerns.

Trig is well respected as one of the best rappers in the city and anybody who has ever heard him spit a verse knows that he’s extremely talented with the wordplay. What they may not know is that he is making the music out of a sense of therapy. “I hope that music is able to help somebody else get through their problems and their issues, because it’s helping me get through mine. I’m facing my fears to help somebody else out.”

Trig likens himself to a superhero. “When you see a superhero, you think of a perfect person because they’re able to do these amazing things,” he explained. Trig takes his analogy a level deeper by admitting that he doesn’t know how to swim. However, if he saw somebody in a pool drowning, he’d jump in to save them. “Look, we going to get out cause I ain’t about to drown!” he exclaimed. “We just going to figure it out together.”

I pressed him on what the metaphor of drowning means in real life, to him and he told me that his music deals with the consequences of things. He admits that he is from the hood and was raised around drugs and Crips. He’s seen terrible things happen all around him his whole life and is first-hand witness to what happens when you don’t think about the consequences beforehand.

“You can avoid all of that,” he explains. “If I just tell you what it leads to. I can’t just tell you do this or don’t do that. I gotta go into details about it.” And so he paints vivid pictures in his music with the hopes that his songs will save somebody from the lifestyle.

“When you sing in your songs, ‘Just sip lean, just turn up,’ you have to realize that that can kill somebody. People really listen to songs and be going out trying to live that life. I’ll never forget the story of a little girl who watched Spongebob all day every day and she went in jumped in the water because she was trying to be like him. And she died.”

Faith plays a big role in the way that Trig makes music. He doesn’t claim to be the perfect Christian, but he knows that there are answers that he needs but doesn’t have. So he prays for clarity, and then it becomes clear to him. It is his spirituality that anchors him and gives him the strength to make the music that he needs to.

“You know, A lot of people say things in music but don’t really be saying nothing. I am intentional with my words. I think about the kids when I make my music. That’s why I don’t cuss.”

“I’m real though. I still say ‘nigga’ though.”

Rawest 4mation Co-Founder TwanRap The Mummy. Shot by Annie Noelker

It’s The Mummy

Coupled with “In His Rawest 4m,” Trig put out a couple solo projects. But it was only in 2017, with the resurrection of TwanRap The Mummy, that the Rawest 4mation started to take shape. After a short hiatus at the beginning of the 2010s, Twan reintroduced himself to Columbus on the FlyPaper exclusive “Cold Blooded.” Twan recalls how initially, people didn’t really even want him on it.

“Nobody knew I could rap,” Twan said as Trig laughed. “‘Cold Blooded’ dropped and people were hitting me up, like I didn’t even know you could get down like that. Then I dropped ‘4 Walls’ and I ain’t want to even put that out. Trig made me. That caught people’s attention and then I put out ‘Break the Bank,’ and well I’m back.”

Much like Trig, rapping is extremely therapeutic for Twan. He details how singers are allowed to emote about depression and anxieties, but rappers don’t have the permission to talk about things like that. Twan shares stories about coming to age in East Cleveland and being actively involved with street life up there.

“I’m scared to go into details about my background,” Twan says, pensively. “It brings back memories of my old life that I hate.” Running the streets in Northeastern Ohio did things to Twan’s emotional and mental health. For perspective’s sake, Twan has been in Columbus for over ten years, but he recalls how the reason he moved here in the first place was because his mom told his dad she’d kill him if he continued to live with her. “And she meant it. I was out of control.”

“My son and my music keep me from going back to that life,” Twan said. “I stay positive while talking about the dark side of me.”

The new life that music has afforded Twan is what inspired the name TwanRap the Mummy. He recalls putting together a bar: Twan will wrap you like The Mummy. Mummy symbolism resonates with Twan on several different levels. In ancient times, mummies had their hearts and brains removed, but the rest of their bodies were preserved because the Egyptians believed that the dead could come back alive.

In ways, Twan believes he’s come back alive. Not only is he back on the scene after leaving for a while, but as a man, he has a new lease on life now that his past has been buried and he’s walked away from the streets. You hear the story of not only his death but also his resurrection all throughout his music, as he bears his soul and raps openly about depression, suicide, alcoholism and more.

“I wanted to kill myself,” Twan admits. “But suicide is selfish. So I made music instead.”

The Other Parts of the 4mation

The rest of the Rawest 4mation was constructed largely by TrigNO. Lamont and Trig had been friends for a while. They danced and crumped together. “Lamont had this crazy soulful voice but it was really his pen that sold me.”

When speaking of D Mili, Trig said, “He can do literally whatever he wants with his voice.” He felt that if he didn’t sign him, then somebody else would and that it was only right to ask him to be apart of the team.

Dirty Quan Geno had been cool with Trig and Twan for years and was one of the original members of Underrated. “He can rap better that most cats that I know,” Trig said of him glowingly. It was only after DQG reached a new level of inspiration that he started taking rap more seriously and now his work ethic matches his skillset.

Miir is another vocalist in the collective and the only woman as of now. She connected with Trig at a Pipeline show, (the Pipeline is an underground circuit ran by Sam Rothstein that connects Columbus hip-hop scene with the scenes of other cities in the Midwest). Trig heard her singing on an Instagram story video and was immediately interested in her abilities. Then Miir released “Fiyah” and it blew him away.

TrigNO’s project is dropping November 13, 2017. TwanRap will be out later this year. Dirty Quan Geno is releasing at the end of November. Miir could drop any day now. Lamont and D Mili are slated to drop sometime early in 2018.

“We have shows coming too,” Trig said. “Our shows are gonna be the best shows. We don’t rap over our songs, no disrespect to anybody who does. It’s all live vocals over original production. We going to give the people what they need.”

Columbus is Home

The last thing that I asked Trig and Twan is what it’s like to make music in Columbus.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Trig said emphatically. The two then go into detail about how there is a lot of facades and phoniness in the “big industry cities,” and that Columbus has always had an authentic vibe to it. “I ain’t like Columbus at first. The dance community was very depressing,” Trig said.

“I’ve had somebody tat my lyrics on them,” Twan said. “The power of the tongue is amazing and I get to see the impact right in my backyard.”

They want to be apart of building infrastructure here in the capital rather then feeling like they have to escape out of it. “It’s hard for me to even write when I’m in Cali,” said Trig. “I’ve seen so much realness here in Columbus. I remember being out West and I saw two crumpers have a dance off to settle a dispute instead of fighting. I thought to myself, ‘If I was at home, somebody would have been shot.’ Let’s bring that peaceful energy back here to Columbus while appreciating the beauty that’s here.”

“I’ve been out there, shook hands with Isaiah Rashaad and DJ Dahi and SZA and all them,” Trig said. “Columbus is home. I already done it. You ain’t gotta leave. Let’s build here.”

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