Courtesy of Bryant Fox
This is part of our weekly series titled “Columbus’ Own,” where we profile a local band every Thursday.
From athlete to rapper, Cali Kid Dubz has moved from a small Ohio town to the big city of Columbus in hopes of one day achieving his “La Vida Buena” (The Good Life).
Cali Kid Dubz, whose real name is Tavian Williams, grew up in Piqua, Ohio, a place “where everyone knows everyone,” he said.
Throughout high school, Williams played on several sports teams, including basketball, football and track. It wasn’t until the summer before his junior year, in 2007, that he became interested in creating music.
“Me and a couple other players on the football team made a song just joking around,” Williams said. “We recorded it on a microphone that was used to play Rock Band. It was terrible, but it sparked my interest in music.”
Williams continued creating music on his own, and eventually opened for Machine Gun Kelly, a rapper from Shaker Heights, Ohio, at Skully’s Music-Diner in January 2011.
“That show was the point when I decided to take this music seriously,” Williams said. “It was after this that I started to create believers and fans.”
Two years ago, Williams met Brody Fox and Kiel Feeser, founders of local media and marketing group Dream Famous, when the duo was putting together a mixtape of Dayton-area artists.
With the help of Dream Famous, Williams released his first mixtape June 7, 2011, titled “Welcome 2 Cali.”
Dream Famous has been representing Cali Kid Dubz since its formation in November 2010.
Fox is Williams’s business manager, and Fox’s brother, Bryant Fox, a 2012 OSU alumnus, signed on as Williams’s marketing manager.
“Brody and Kyle really saw the potential and talent in him,” Bryant Fox said. “They thought if he had the right team to focus on his music he could really make an impact.”
Williams released his second mixtape, “La Vida Buena,” on Feb. 29. While Williams and his manager compared his sound to that of Wiz Khalifa, Travis Porter, Drake and Big Sean, the artist cites Cleveland rapper Kid Cudi as his main influence.
“Cudi was the first artist I ever heard that made me think, ‘Wow, I’d really love to make music,'” Williams said. “I believe an artist should be able to do just about anything with their music. I feel like I’m not completely there yet, but I am well on my way.”
Bryant Fox said the rapper’s existing ability to “mix it up” makes him stand out.
“One of my favorite things about his sound is its versatility,” Bryant Fox said. “He can go really hard on a song and then switch right to something more laid back. He can do a club-type of song and then a slower song more geared toward the ladies.”
Since the start of his music career two years ago, Williams has performed in major cities across Ohio, including Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. In 2011, the artist earned runner up for Best New Artist at the Ohio Hip Hop Awards, which recognizes the top hip-hop artists every Septemeber.
“At first I didn’t even know I was nominated, so the nomination itself felt great,” Williams said. “Getting as close as being runner-up for the award was great motivation, getting that far in just a few months of being an artist made me really think that the sky is the limit.”
While venues and fans in the Columbus area have recently welcomed Williams and his team, booking shows was not so easy in the beginning, Bryant Fox said.
“Initially, you know, we would do whatever shows we possibly could just to get him out there,” Bryant Fox said. “As his fan base grew, we started getting more invites and started getting more selective on accepting shows.”
Since drawing attention in Columbus, Williams has performed at many campus-area bars, such as Skully’s, The Mansion and Carabar.
Chris Carter, a third-year in civil engineering and Bryant Fox’s roommate, said Williams uses his house “as a rally point when he’s in town.”
“The kid is an explosion on stage,” Carter said. “He can easily command a crowd with his charisma and stage presence, get them stomping to the beat. In the hip-hop industry it takes two things to be recognized: talent and presence, and Cali’s got both.”
Williams is able to balance his stage energy with his true personality, Bryant Fox said.
“He’s very energetic on stage, but definitely has a very chill, laid-back persona when he’s off stage,” Bryant Fox said. “He’s pretty funny. He’s always dancing around and goofing off.”
After working with Williams for nearly a year-and-a-half, Bryant Fox said his relationship with the artist has grown to be “more than work, or even friends.”
“We’re family,” Bryant Fox said. “We work together and we play together. We’re one big team.”
Williams is working on releasing new music and building his fan base by performing as many shows as possible, he said.
“I’d like to get to the point in my career where I can be where the artists I look up to are,” Williams said. “I’d love to be touring the world and finally living my ‘La Vida Buena.'”