PLAYING CINCY: Jay Hill, JayBee Lamahj & Ronin Halloway Collide on “Babs Forever”

Babs Forever

Ronin Halloway, JayBee Lamahj, and Patterns of Chaos alum Jay Hill teamed up on a high-energy single and video called “Babs Forever.” The three Cincinnati emcees spit bars at a fiery pace while maintaining their lyricism over the cascading SmokeFace-produced beat.

The video, directed by Bradley Thompson, matches the rappers’ energy with colorful lighting, quick cuts, and dizzying effects.

“Working with this lineup is definitely a dream-team scenario,” says Ronin. “Me and JayBee had been talking about getting a track with Jay Hill all the way since last year, so it’s super dope to have one with all of us out in the world.”

Babs Forever
“Babs Forever” cover art by Paul Kellam

“I think it’s a crazy song with three unique verses. Everybody snapped,” he continued. “I definitely hope to keep making songs with all three of us in the future. It’s an exciting moment – those guys inspire me a lot, and it’s crazy to think how much room we all have to grow from here.”

For Ronin, “Babs Forever” follows up his Smokeface-collaborated Pressure EP, which arrived earlier this year. The single comes in a series of musical output for JayBee, who previously released “Angels (Bron Bron),” featuring F.A.M.E. and Phonz, and appeared on Ronin’s The Icarus Trilogy. Jay Hill most recently hopped on Khari’s “Da Art Of Ignorance” remix and dropped his “40% Of Cops” freestyle. His group, Patterns of Chaos, released their debut EP, Freedom, last year.

“They’re two of the artists I admire most in the city and the collab itself was a long time coming,” Jay Hill says of the track, calling the collab “the first of many.”

“I love how none of us really discussed a topic for the song, yet all of us were able to tap into the same well of energy and deliver something this cathartic,” he said. “Shooting the video was a really fun time too, I couldn’t be happier about how it all went. We spent every moment between takes—sometimes during takes—joking around with each other and Bradley, and y’all see the result: three grown-ass kids making hard ass rap music.”

Check out Jay Hill, JayBee Lamahj, and Ronin Halloway’s new single and video, “Babs Forever,” below.

PLAYING CINCY: Ronin Halloway & SmokeFace Walk Us Through “Pressure”

Photo by Mandy Di Salvo

Cincinnati rapper Ronin Halloway and producer SmokeFace teamed up to release their collaborative album, Pressure. The six-track project has been four years in the making and with its release, the duo is able to reflect on how far they’ve come. Although they say the style of the record is vastly different to what they’re creating now, Pressure reveals a unique drama and depth, with Halloway spitting ferocious bars over SmokeFace’s meticulously crafted beats.

Here, AudioFemme catches up with the rapper-and-producer team as they tell us the story behind their one-of-a-kind project.

AF: How long in the making was Pressure?

SF: Four years exactly.

AF: Why did it take four years?

RH: So we started making it and it took us about—for the first version to be done—two years and we went through a long mixing process trying to get everything to sound right. This is when we were still dumb kids, and we didn’t have any proper representation or know how to properly promote it, so no one heard it, so we pulled it. We reworked it and trimmed the fat and made it a better album, and we’re going to finally let it out and give it its actual day in the sun.

AF: So it’s getting its second chance here and will get its justice this time.

SF: I definitely think so. It’s like half the length, which helps, and I already think that there’s more of a response to it than there was the first time. We did a video for the title track, which was good, and there’s a couple more visuals to follow. It’s exciting.

AF: Ronin, you’ve been putting out projects in the meantime, like your most recent EP, Icarus. How have those other projects influenced the direction of this album?

RH: I think it’s kind of cool because a lot of these songs were done and one of the main reasons we even went back to this was because we did this song called “Sirens.” We probably would’ve let [the album] just go away, but we loved that song a lot and really wanted to put it out with the project. I think it’s cool because the stuff that I’ve done recently is like way different. Him, too.

SF: Yeah, my stuff now doesn’t sound anything like this, but it’s still a great album.

AF: Does your new music sound different because your styles have evolved?

RH: Big time. Artistically, personally, I feel like I found my voice. Pressure is a lot of working out and finding out what that might be, experimenting with a lot more aggressive, industrial types of styles, which is not what I do. I think it was good though, but it’s not really my wheelhouse anymore.

AF: What were some big lyrical and compositional concepts that you were both inspired by?

RH: A lot of it is just really aggressive and crazy and some of it I didn’t even put the pen down, I just freestyled.

SF: At the time, I was really inspired and listening to a lot of El-P, specifically he has a song called “Up All Night.” I was listening to a lot of slow, dredge-y, synth-heavy, trap drums—big epic stuff. The song “Cartoons and Cereal” by Kendrick [Lamar] was probably one of my biggest influences. That song was always in the back of my mind when I was making this record. I’ve since fallen in love with sampling old records and really twisting sounds.

By Samuel Steezmore

AF: For somebody who’s about to listen to the album, what would you tell them so they can experience it in the way it’s intended?

RH: Buckle up! I think it does have a little bit of a story to it, a loose story. It starts off with this song called “Fading Blade,” which I recorded myself as a choir. It almost sounds like this Lion King-thing. And then “Pressure” sounds really, really dark, it does all the way through. I think it does end on an interesting note.

It definitely changes in the middle of the album, it goes into the “Be Okay” beat, [which is] up-tempo and manic. The track after that is probably the closest to a ’90s rap sound, and then the next track is completely left-field. And then we have “Sirens.” I would definitely categorize it as almost alternative hip-hop, like Danny Brown, JPEGMAFIA, Death Grips.

AF: What kind of story does it tell?

SF: One of my favorite things about the album is the backstory. You can kind of hear it in the album – it’s a coming-of-age story starting off as kind of young crazy boys. We’re kind of going through it and growing up and experiencing consequences for decisions and then, coming out on the other side, hopefully having learned something. Especially with the pair of songs “Be Okay” and “Hangover.”

AF: Are you working on any individual projects right now?

SF: I just put out a tape with some beats on SoundCloud and Bandcamp. I just want to keep doing that for a little bit, make something and put it out. I don’t want to sit around and wait around.

RH: I have a couple things I’m working on. The next project is going to be called Excalibur and I’m working with Devin Burgess on part of it. It’s going to be three parts and one of them is produced by XVII, so that’s almost done. I’ve been recording that at Timeless. So XVII and then Devin Burgess are working on a set of songs for it and then the last one will be with [SmokeFace]. It’s going to be like three EPs.

AF: But for now, just excited that Pressure is finally out?

RH: Yes!

SF: I’m so glad—it’s finally out of our hands!

PLAYING CINCY: Ronin Halloway Soars for the Sun with Icarus EP

Photo by Bradley Thompson

For the past year, Ronin Halloway has been hard at work on The Icarus Trilogy. Released a few weeks ago, the EP is a musical collaboration with JayBee Lamahj, with a visual component directed by Bradley Thompson. Icarus takes listeners through a journey of growth, power, and spirituality, all while giving Ronin and Jay a chance to flex their rapping skills as well as their creativity. Here, Ronin talks about how addiction and sobriety played a part in the themes of this project and how they’ve impacted his upcoming album, Pressure, due in June.

AF: When you were first planning The Icarus Trilogy were you planning it to be an EP or an album?

RH: I think we both always thought it’d be shorter. Especially toward the summertime when we realized we have this song and that song, and maybe one or two more.

AF: And you have an album coming out, too?

RH: The album is my solo album, entirely produced by SmokeFace, and that’s coming out in June. It’s actually four years old. It’s taken a lot. It’s only six songs long, now, but in the same way we did Icarus, it’s gonna be a very visual album. Lots of fantasy stuff. I’m a very David Bowie-inspired artist, I love theatrical stuff, and even making stories that people might not get yet.

AF: What made you name your EP The Icarus Trilogy?

RH: There’s definitely the mythology thing and the title track is called “Icarus.” It kind of teases at the stories I’m going to tell. Of course, the story of Icarus is he made wings from wax and he wanted to touch the sun and his wings melted. The chorus of that song is “Don’t’ fly too high you might end up burning” and really what’s interesting, too, is a common message throughout my music has been my journey with addiction and what that’s been in my life, what self-medication means. Especially now – I’ve started a journey of sobriety – I can look back through a different lens. “Icarus” touches a little bit on getting older, the uses of substances and trying to cope with the world around you. Then “Elijah,” the second song, is a song about being powerful—that was like the flex track—just rapping as aggressively as we both could. And then “Paul” is probably both our favorite song. It’s a very spiritual song, just kind of summing things up like, “Okay, we’re gonna move forward and grab life by the horns.”

AF: Will some of those same themes be expanded or explored in your upcoming solo album?

RH: Pressure – that’s the title of the album – is really dark. It’s very dark, almost industrial sounding, so I think people will get the Danny Brown influence, Run the Jewels influence, maybe even a little Death Grips. What’s gonna be cool and kind of important will be to try to portray it within the context of everything. The videos kind of inform and give you some of the themes I’m talking about. It’s gonna be cool. Moving forward from that I’ll be starting to explore still the intensity of stuff, but also my more whimsical side. It’s definitely a dark record. It’s definitely very vice-driven. But I think people will see, especially with the visuals, [I’m] not speaking on drinking to glorify it, [I’m] reflecting, and not necessarily in a sense of regret but just realizing the gravity of it. SmokeFace and myself decided to step into sobriety together. In the days we started working together it was a ton of partying, so it’s very interesting to now be in a space where we’re looking back on that in a different lens.

AF: For sure, and since the album comes from different times in your life, it’ll have different levels. What’s coming up after that?

RH: So my song “Fruit Fly!” was produced by my good friend Seventeen. We are working on something that’s gonna be like 2020 stuff, but like his sound—he’s like Metro [Boomin] beats, like Southside even. So I’m really excited to work on my melodic side, to work on my catchiness, while still being me and having room to lyrically chop it up.

AF: Who are some of your inspirations?

RH: Kendrick is huge obviously. But I always tell people my favorite emcee is Jay Electronica. He’s my favorite. When Jay raps he doesn’t do a lot of adlibs, his voice is so deep, he’s like a wizard [laughs].

AF: How did you get started rapping?

RH: I grew up as a musician, playing piano. I kind of stumbled into this, meeting people who were really good at freestyling. Then I wanted to get good at it, but it was still kind of a hobby. And then I started writing and it just snowballed, and now it’s my life.

Catch Ronin Halloway’s next performance at the Live on Short Vine Music Festival Saturday, April 6th.