City High Alumni Part of Local Rap Group

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Iowa City’s music scene is something that’s constantly changing, and has grown considerably in recent years, particularly in the rap and hip hop genre. Venues like the Blue Moose, the Mill, and Gabe’s have been host to many hip hop greats, like Aesop Rock, Killer Mike, and Dessa of the Doomtree collective. But Iowa City has also developed a host of local hip hop acts that are popular within the local music scene, and have played shows elsewhere as well.

One of these groups are the AWTHNTKTS, a local rap group that has opened for most of the big acts that come to Iowa City.

Among it’s members– including ION, Romulan, johndope, and DJ Johnny Sixx– both Sam “ION” Schlesinger and Erik “Romulan” Ovrom are City High graduates, and have been writing rhymes ever since their high school days.

“We kicked it at our buddy Mike’s house a lot, started listening to Aquemini, and Aesop Rock, and Ceschi Ramos,” said Romulan. “We got to see some cool DIY shows, around junior year, which is when ION started up his career.”

Through hangouts like this, Romulan and ION found themselves spending more time listening to this kind of music together, which continued throughout their high school experience. However, the group didn’t form until after both had graduated.

It was awesome and everyone really felt it, and that really kicked the door in for us.”

— Romulan

“Not long after high school, [Romulan] moved to Oakland,” said ION. “I started playing a couple shows, and met Johndope through this radio show that he was a part of. He started coming to shows more regularly, Rom moved back from California, and it just kind of formed that way.”

The group had formed before they played their first show together, but they had anticipated performing together for a long time before that. Of the musical genres, hip hop is a very performance-based form, and they definitely felt that within the group.

“We were all just really hungry to get into playing shows and putting out good material,” said Rom. “We’d just been writing music and recording it up until that point. And so, our first show was August 21st, 2012, and it was awesome and everyone really felt it, and that really kicked the door in for us.”

Since they’ve formed, the troop has enjoyed local success as both a group and as individuals. In addition to playing their own shows, the AWTHNTKTS and its individual members have opened for some of the larger acts that roll through Iowa City.

“I think it was two years ago when everything really picked up,” said Rom. “It was like, ‘Okay we got Danny Brown, Killer Mike, Black Milk, ASAP Ferg at the IMU.’ Just all these really big shows– the biggest shows in town. And now we’re thinking about trying to tour and play shows elsewhere; It’s just about thinking bigger and bigger.”

Even as they continue to grow as a group, everyone stops and reflects on their music every now and then. From their days of writing rhymes on their homework and listening to music together to their opening up for Danny Brown as part of Mission Creek 2015, their music has evolved significantly.

Every experience is always a learning curve, and it can always apply to your craft.”

— ION

“I feel like I was more cocky when I was in high school, even though I was a horrible rapper,” Romulan jokes. “Because you think you spit a couple good bars and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m amazing. Nobody’s that good,’ and then every year is such a steep learning curve. You’re like ‘Oh, last year I was horrible.’”

ION agrees, and says he’s learned about himself as an artist.

“Past experiences can always apply to your creativity,” he said. “Every experience is always a learning curve, and it can always apply to your craft.”

Recently, the pair was asked to write a song as part of the Iowa City project and “gift to the community” For Kids & By Kids: Songs from Iowa Rock City Vol. 1, where they collaborated with local musicians such as Pieta Brown, Awful Purdies, and Dave Moore to write songs for the kids of Iowa City. Their song “Keep Doin’ Ya Thing” clues back to their high school experience in some places, and talks about continuing to have confidence in yourself and your work.

“We wanted it super badly since all the way back then,” said Romulan. “We’ve never even thought about giving up.”

ION has put out a music video for his song “Love/Smokes,” and Romulan has recently released his first album, Sick Day.