Courtesy of Man Bites Dogs Records
More than 15 years after underground hip-hop group The Megahertz, or MHz, got its start rapping in a record store basement near Ohio State’s campus, it is finally releasing its debut album.
But things have changed for MHz over the years, most notably the loss of Camu Tao, who passed away in 2008 after losing a battle with lung cancer. His death prompted the four remaining members of MHz, which include producer RJD2 and rappers Copywrite, Tage Future and Jakki Da Motamouth, to rename the group in Tao’s honor.
MHz Legacy released its debut, self-titled album Tuesday.
“The album is a current version of what people had known Megahertz to be,” said Tage Future, whose real name is Elliot McDaniel. “It’s a more polished version of the first time we ever did something together.”
The group did not release an official album together until now because each member had been pursuing solo careers.
“Everyone got caught up doing their solo thing,” said Copywrite, whose real name is Peter Nelson. “We took for granted the fact that we’re in a group and, not to toot our own horn, but we’re kind of decent at what we do. It got put on the back burner but now we’ve got the solo stuff out of the way.”
Nelson said MHz got its start playing in the area around OSU’s campus, most notably at the Groove Shack, a record store in the Short North which closed in 1997.
“We always rapped anywhere and everywhere,” Nelson said, adding Columbus’ music scene, especially its underground hip-hop movement, has changed drastically over the years.
“There wasn’t even a music scene when we first discovered the hip-hop scene in ’94, ’95,” Nelson said. “We saw the Groove Shack on public access channel 21. It was this record store that had open mic nights and all these rappers started coming out of the woodwork. We’ve seen the scene grow to being worldwide.”
Marty Jones, who co-founded Groove Shack in 1993 with Mike Curry, said he thinks the record store relied on MHz as much as MHz relied on it.
“I don’t think one could have made it without the other, meaning I don’t think Groove Shack could’ve made it without the kids at the time because Copywrite and Tage and all those guys came into the store and created authenticity,” Jones said. “But maybe those guys might not have had a career without the Groove Shack, so it’s kind of like one helped the other.”
When the Groove Shack was first founded, Jones said hip-hop was not the “giant force” in Columbus that it is today, but when he and Curry started recording the open mic nights and airing them on the public access channel, a wealth of talent was unearthed.
“There was this tremendous talent of local kids just trying to make a living,” Jones said. “The beauty of those times is there was nothing to win, no prize. Someone lost and someone won that night in a battle. And that’s what these kids were working for, and that was bigger and more important than anything else.”
Since those days, Nelson said the group’s music has improved with time.
“It’s more polished now,” Nelson said. “You do something longer and you get better at it, and we can apply that to our music and to our experience. When we were 17, we couldn’t sing that hook because our voice would crack. Everything we’ve done from the first rap we’ve written has been training for this album.”
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the group’s dynamic. Though the members have sometimes gone months without seeing each other, McDaniel said it’s always easy when they get back to working with each other.
“It hasn’t changed that much actually,” McDaniel said of the group’s dynamic. “(Nelson) and I work the closest together … and as far as the passion for both of us, that hasn’t faltered at all since we were teenagers. We’ve still got the same level of passion, if not more. I live in Atlanta, but despite us not living in the same city, the music isn’t affected.”
Nelson said the new album took about six months to complete, but the group had a deadline in mind the whole time it was making it.
“We wanted it to come out this year because I dropped two albums this year and (McDaniel) has one solo album dropping this year, so we had to rush the clock to beat the deadline,” Nelson said. “We’re always perfectionists so there’s always things you can tweak and make better.”
“Deadlines are important with cats like us who want to go back and do extra tweaks,” McDaniel said. “It kind of gives us some boundaries and parameters that we have to play within.”
McDaniel said MHz Legacy is hoping to play promotional, live shows for the album within the next couple months, but no shows are booked yet.
“I just want to share this project with everybody and allow it to settle in,” McDaniel said.
Nelson and McDaniel are also slated to be featured in the documentary “Groove Shack,” a film made by Jones chronicling the origins of the record store and its contribution to underground hip-hop.
Nelson said making the documentary reminded the group that it owes much of its success to Columbus’ underground hip-hop fans.
“I never thought I’d be a platinum rapper, so I’m happy with how everything is,” Nelson said. “If you’d asked us 10 years ago, we wouldn’t know where we’d be or what we would sound like, so we want to thank all of Columbus because they’ve supported us for a long time.”