Courtesy of Larry Moss
This is part of our weekly series titled “Columbus’ Own,” where we profile a local band every Thursday.
While some musicians seek to make their names known in a city, budding hip-hop artist Ron E Polo has set his goals a little higher.
“I’m just ready to show (Columbus) what I’m made of,” he said. “Time is ticking. Soon it’s gonna be Polo City, hopefully.”
During the past year-and-a-half, Ron E Polo, whose real name is Ronald Lee Shelton III, has been learning the ins and outs of the music industry. Since May 2011, he has released three mixtapes and played more than 35 shows, on top of earning his college degree from Bowling Green State University last spring.
Shelton most recently headlined a show at Skully’s Music-Diner Oct. 3, which he said was a great success.
“For a Wednesday night, I brought in over 300 people,” Shelton said. “(Skully’s) said I can come back, so it was a lot of fun and the turnout was real good.”
Though Shelton said his music borrows elements from multiple genres, including rap, hip-hop and pop, his lyrics usually stem from personal experience.
“I just tell my story because I feel like once people can follow your story in the music business, then they’re going to follow you for a while,” Shelton said. “If you’re telling somebody else’s story and then they meet you in person and you’re not living what you’re talking, people (are) gonna find you as a fake.”
Larry Moss, Shelton’s cameraman and marketing partner, said the variety of emotions in Shelton’s music can appeal to a wide audience.
“Ron has a unique music impression because he is very lyrical and could touch anyone’s soul with his words, (whether) it’s a sad song or an uplifting song,” Moss said.
It was during Shelton’s junior year at BGSU, where he earned a degree in liberal arts, that he decided to pursue music as a career. Shelton said he had been rapping all his life but was encouraged by one of his professors to keep making music professionally after Shelton recorded a rap song for a class project.
But balancing school and a music career was difficult and time-consuming, Shelton said.
“It’s a whole lot of work – no sleep, popping Adderall to stay up just because a whole lot of people want your time and there’s not enough time in the day,” Shelton said. “I was setting up shows, I was making sure my performance was right, while finishing CDs, while trying to graduate from school still. I just wanted to drop out at one point.”
Shelton said he was encouraged by his strong support team of family and friends to keep going. The desire to entertain, Shelton said, stems from his family’s roots.
“I come from a big entertainment family,” Shelton said. “My grandparents were in a gospel band. My mom was a model. My dad played sports. My aunt’s an actress. I’ve been around it for a while, so I just had to figure out my calling.”
Shelton said his fourth mixtape “Falcon Gone” looks promising for mid-November release.
Besides recording new music, Shelton said he has been playing live shows as often as possible. He headlined his first show in March at Shadow Lounge in Pittsburgh, and has played at venues in New York, Chicago as well as throughout Ohio.
Shelton said his most memorable performances to date have been his shows with hip-hop artist Machine Gun Kelly, whom he has opened for four times.
Opening for MGK’s energetic live shows, Shelton said, has inspired him as an artist.
“He’s kind of the reason why my show picked up,” Shelton said. “Just watching him perform – he puts his all into it. People just love that. So I respect him. He’s an inspiration.”
Elizabeth Renner, a second-year in biology who saw Shelton open for MGK at Clazel Theatre at BGSU last year, said she was impressed by Shelton’s stage presence.
“Usually you don’t listen to the openers or give them much credit, but he was engaging and energetic,” Renner said. “He didn’t just walk around the stage. I started following his music after that.”
The highlight of Shelton’s career, he said, was playing a show at BGSU’s Stroh Center, where he opened a sold-out show for MGK in August.
“It was ironic because I made a song on ‘Loyalty Over Royalty’ called ‘Show in the Stroh,’ (which) was basically me foreshadowing having a show in there,” Shelton said. “I said in the song, ‘My freakin’ goal is to have a show in the Stroh,'” and six months later, it happened.”
Shelton said one of his career goals is to win an Ohio Hip Hop Award. This year’s award ceremony, held in September in Columbus, disappointed Shelton because of the lack of representation by local musicians.
“I feel like Columbus should be in there, especially if they’re hosting it here every year,” Shelton said. “So next year I’m looking to take every award if I can. I want the Columbus music scene to take off.”
Winning an award for his music, Shelton said, would not only be a testament to his hard work, but to his family and friends’ support as well.
“I feel like if I can take my team to awards shows … and they call my name and we’re holding that award with my team on stage, I feel like that’s the beginning,” he said. “If I can get to the point where I can really just worry about my artistry and make sure my people and my team are good and we’re winning awards, then I feel like we made it.”