The Cincinnati Kid: Cal Scruby creates rap that doesn’t take itself too seriously

BY EARL HORLYK || Courtesy of the Sioux City Journal 

Cincinnati is home to the Bengals, the Reds and that funky-looking chili Ohioans insist on pouring over spaghetti noodles.

The Buckeye State’s third most-populous city was also the longtime home of Cal Scruby, a rapper who will be hitting Saturday in the Park’s Abe Stage at 7:30 p.m. July 1.

Like many kids, Scruby said his musical tastes were largely influenced by his older brother. “My brother’s four years older than me,” the 34-year-old explained. “When I was really little, he was into pop groups like NSYNC.”

Eventually, the music favored by Scruby’s brother became edgier. Hip-hop artists like DMX and Jay-Z replaced boy bands for both of the Scruby brothers.
“I loved to write and hip-hop inspired me,” Scruby said. However, when he enrolled as a student at Ohio State University, Scruby became an industrial
engineering major instead of a writing or music major.

“I was good at math and industrial engineering seemed like a really tough major,” he said. “Writing came too easily for me. So, I didn’t want to pursue it. Industrial engineering was hard. That made it good, right?”

Well, not exactly.

It was as an Ohio State undergrad that Scruby began making music, honing a style that featured sharp freestyle skills while centering his songs around pop culture and collegiate life. “You write what you know,” he admitted. “I didn’t grow up on the mean streets as a kid. Instead, I watch a whole lot of TV. That was reflected in my music.”

After all, how many rap stars can say their repertoire included tongue-in-cheek tributes to “Donnie Darko,” “Captain America” or action movie auteur “Michael Bay”?

Life can get too depressing at times,” Scruby said. “You can’t take yourself too seriously.” That was a lesson he took to heart. “When it came time for me to consider grad school, I chose rap instead,” Scruby said. “It was the right decision for me to make.”

Now living in Southern California, he’s carved out a niche as a rapper who prefers self-deprecation over braggadocio. Indeed, some of Scruby’s music videos are as entertaining as any digital short you’d see on “Saturday Night Live.”

So it probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that he is also interested in writing for television. “I’m a huge fan of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ and I just finished binge-watching the final season of ‘Barry,’” Scruby said. “I’d love to write for a comedy series or a drama that has funny
elements in it.”

There is some precedence for this kind of career trajectory. For instance, Donald Glover parlayed a writing gig on “30 Rock” to an acting role on the long-running
sitcom “Community.” Wanting to stretch his wings, Glover created a rap alter ego named “Childish Gambino” before becoming the creator, writer and star of FX’s critically-acclaimed “Atlanta.”

“I also happen to be a fan of ‘Atlanta,’” Scruby pointed out. No matter where his career takes him next, Scruby said performing freestyling rap for a live audience will always be important. “You can’t trade that energy for anything in the world,” he said.

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