Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club. Because No News is Bad News.

Smoke Screen/Various Artists/Drilla/AUG 

Asphyxiation (Smoked Out Entertainment)/Enter the Northcoast (CLO Records)/Enter the Drilla ( (

The Northeast Ohio hip-hop scene is as hazy and amorphous as the billowing cloud of marijuana smoke that is the lone common denominator among recent releases. Unlike most regions that have an identifiable sound, this area's rap underground is a wild pastiche of indie wordsmiths, mostly unconvincing thugs, and midwestern crunk.

Kent's Smoke Screen is a workmanlike MC with a confident, blunted flow. Unfortunately, he's a much better rapper than producer; his latest is undermined by shoddy, value-menu beats and a terrible mix. Still, this disc is a solid showcase for some promising MCs, including Uncle Dirty (who sounds like a distant cousin of Too Short), the hyperventilating Tai Kwan, and Caucasian cutup D. Lung, one of the fastest-rhyming white boys you're likely to hear.

Cleveland's CLO Records does a better job of showcasing its talent on Enter the Northcoast. Here, the production is a highlight, especially on Mr. Illdub's moody album opener "What City You Claim," with its gentle guitar and lulling synth, and Bino's "Who Want War," which starts as a chest-thumping a cappella workup before drifting into a vaguely Caribbean beat. Elsewhere, soul crooner Millian and the iron-lunged Lady T attest to the depth of CLO's roster.

Though he's not affiliated with a label yet, Cleveland's Drilla soon will be, if his self-released debut is any indication. The stonefaced MC sounds like Ohio's answer to rap's reigning mouth of the South, the metaphor-infatuated Ludacris. Like Luda, Drilla comes with loud, resonant rhymes that rumble like a fault line. "In my life I done hit more bumps than Braille books," he growls at one point over a sentimental hook. Look for his fortunes to improve any day now.

It may take a little more time for burly rhymer AUG to match Drilla, though he makes progress on his sophomore LP. A forceful, heavy-breathing MC, AUG rhymes over videogame snippets and babbling background vox. The beats occasionally have the chintzy sheen of a fake Rolex, though AUG has made clear headway in terms of production. "I'm never finished," he announces on "Feel No Shame." "I'm always getting stronger/Like Popeye eating spinach." Better help yourself to another serving, playa. -- Jason Bracelin

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Cleveland Scene works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Cleveland and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Cleveland's true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

September 23, 2020

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


Staff Pick Events

  • Open Turntable Tuesday @ The Winchester

    • Tuesdays