Columbus, Ohio rapper Zero Star has been steady on his hustle for the last five years, going back to “Forever’s Never Really That Long.” He has consistently, albeit quietly, kept churning out good music, waiting for a larger national presence. Even though forever may not be that long, it certainly does seem to be TAKINGthat long. To his credit he’s not giving up, and in fact he set up his ownBandcamp page to help distribute and sell his music, though most of it is available on Amazon too, such as his latest offering “Don’t Look Now.”

“I have money I ain’t never been the type to flash
I like my cash in stacks in a hiking bag
I’m lightning fast; rookies lookin light in ass
But just think if one rhyme could rewrite yo’ past
If life, is a TV show, isn’t death The Sopranos?
A dark blank screen and you can’t change the channel
I’m tryin to get to Carnegie, Hall play piano
Me fam-o will disappear you instantly, blammo
Soldiers in Iraq livin real life as Rambo
Two handguns plus unlimited ammo, huh
Here’s a guy that read Dante’s books with Phonte’s hooks
The package is Beyonce’s looks – flawless”

It’s a bold statement but it’s not unwarranted. Star has a tendency to shine, having perfected a rhyme style where he interweaves a stop and start flow with both punchlines and intelligent points. Even his hooks tend to be different from the average, which is exemplified by the above track “6 Minutes Zero Star You’re On,” where instead of repeating the same lines he changes up the flow each time, putting the emphasis on different words and making you rethink what you’ve just heard. When he brags “Even when I go to sleep, I’m always thinking of rhymes” it doesn’t really seem like bragging at all – just the honest truth. His vocal tone is a little bit Rhymefest and yes, a little bit Phonte as well, but the skills are entirely his own Columbus homegrown. He’s not afraid to be a little bit weird too – it’s not every rapper who would drop a lead single and accompanying video with a title like “72′ Dolphins” hoping to get a buzz. Just let him clear his throat first:

“They say, what you don’t know might kill you
But what you don’t know might thrill youuuuu, heh
You goin undefeated and wanna lose one
I’m goin undefeated, I wanna lose none
You goin undefeated, or did you lose some?
What’s goin undefeated when you can lose tons?
They say God is all around you when the devil is close
Can’t put time on eternity, the bezel is broke
Malevolent folks’ll want you on they level the most
Can’t choose, then you gonna have to settle for both
Walk the tightrope, go to school, revel in dope
I wanna take a vacation – maybe peddle a boat
Seen a lot of bass so much, my treble it broke
And you’re hallucinatin and I think – the devil just spoke”

Star never simplifies or dumbs down what he’s doing, often intentionally going for double meanings, so that each time you listen to one of his songs you can hear or interpret something different from the verbiage. That’s both rare and to be commended, but sadly it may also be the reason he goes over the heads of some listeners and finds a hard time getting commercial exposure – not everybody gets the same road to success that Talib Kweli did. Nevertheless the production of J Maggz is definitely going to put Star a step closer to that spotlight. The funky soul samples of “#1 With a Bullet” are eerily reminiscent of Wu-Tang Clan’s “Uzi (Pinky Ring)” but with a whole new flip to it, and I have to laugh when Star nonchalantly says “hear a lot of rappers and I don’t believe a word of it.” There’s a more sinister edge to “No Gloves” though, like a blaxploitation meets MMA one-two combo of combat. “Listen Up” goes the opposite direction – a melody so soothing you could put it on loop and drift off to sleep to it.

Though it’s only eight tracks long, Zero Star’s “Don’t Look Now” packs a powerful punch for it’s diminutive size. Having been firmly established in the Midwest underground in general and the strong Columbus hip-hop scene in particular, it feels like it’s just a matter of time before more people catch on to what he’s working with – but even critics like me forget to mention his name when making lists of dope emcees. This time I’m going to try not to forget, and thanks to the bumping beats and refreshing rhyme skills on “Don’t Look Now,” it will be pretty damn hard to draw a blank.