One of the downsides of music festivals is that typically you can't have it all: If two of your favorite acts are booked at the same time, difficult choices have to be made.
That won't be a problem at Ubahn Fest, scheduled Friday and Saturday in a transit tunnel beneath Second Street downtown. By staggering the sets on two stages located at either end of the tunnel, Ubahn organizers have made sure that the hip-hop and EDM fans who come to the underground venue will be able to see every performer.
"They're almost like battle stages, where they face each other and one is dark while the other is going," said founder Sean Herron of Self Diploma.
That also means there's an opportunity to not only see such national (and international) names as Nas, Machine Gun Kelly, Atmosphere, Desiigner and Girl Talk but also some lesser-known/underground acts you may not know yet, such as Lantana, Malcolm London, Jon Bellion and Ghost Gun Summer.
If you're planning to attend, here are eight acts you should definitely check out.
Friday, Oct. 21
Nas (12:30 a.m.): The legendary Brooklyn emcee celebrated the 20th anniversary of his game-changing 1994 debut, “Illmatic,” in 2014 with a reissue and a tour in support of what is widely considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. While fans have been waiting for the follow-up to his 2012 effort “Life is Good” (which is reportedly done), he has stayed busy appearing on tracks by DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber and Bliss N Eso and contributing a verse about police brutality on Robin Thicke's new single "Deep." He's also serving as one of the executive producers of the acclaimed Netflix hip-hop drama “The Get Down.”
If you've never seen Nas before, or only at big festivals, this is a once-in-a-never chance to get upclose and personal with one of the true legends of the game.
Machine Gun Kelly (11 p.m.): Shaker Heights, Cleveland's MGK is one of Ohio's most high-profile reps at the moment, recently moving from his high-intensity rhymes on albums such as last year's “General Admission” to a burgeoning career as an actor in shows like “Roadies” and the indie drama “The Land.” Turning down the volume on his typically amped sound, the lanky, heavily inked rhymer released the slow-grind single "Young Man" with Chief Keef in July.
Mod Sun (9:30 p.m.): Minnesota's rising Mod Sun (Movement on Dreams Stand Under None) started out playing drums and touring with rock bands before turning his attention to writing bouncy rap tunes across six mixtapes and three EPs. With collaborators including G-Eazy, MGK, Nipsey Hussle and Schoolboy Q, his most recent track -- August's bouncy Dej Loaf collaboration "We Do This S—t" -- has earned Mod the biggest audience yet, debuting on Zane Lowe's Beats 1 radio show in July.
Space Invadaz (7:15 p.m.): The resume speaks for itself: shows with comedian Dave Chappelle, production from Cincinnati's own Hi-Tek and verses from Tek's Black Star compatriot rapper Talib Kweli. Queen City duo Buggs Tha Rocka and Donte The Gr8 released their latest album, “Contact,” earlier this summer, and its hard-hitting, funk-infused rhymes serve notice that they are not to be trifled with. With a range that stretches from old school Eric B. and Rakim head-bobbing to bouncing G Funk and jazz-sampling Native Tongues grooves, this duo has a little bit for everyone.
Saturday, Oct. 22
Atmosphere (12:30 a.m.): For the past 20 years Minneapolis DJ/producer Ant and rapper Slug have pushed the boundaries of rap across a mind-bending collection of eight albums and 10 EPs with a mix of offbeat samples, killer beats and Slug's introspective storytelling. Their latest, this year's “Fishing Blues,” is another tight collection of deep thoughts and deeper grooves featuring guest spots from DOOM, Aesop Rock and Kool Keith.
Girl Talk (11 p.m.): For anyone who has ever looked at a piece of modern art and thought, "I could do that," well, you can't. Just ask Girl Talk mastermind Gregg Gillis. His meticulously layered party anthems, built on songs you know and some you might not realize are in the mix, make it sound easy. The master of sample-based mash-ups creates some of the densest musical collages you will ever hear.
His latest EP, 2014's “Broken Ankles,” is a collaboration with Philadelphia rapper Freeway. It represents yet another twist in Girl Talk's musical evolution, tucking his signature recognizable samples into more somber tracks with original beats and Freeway's rough-hewn flow. But don't worry, his live show is still guaranteed to make you move.
Jon Bellion (9:45 p.m.): You might think you don't know this New York native singer/rapper, but you actually do. In addition to releasing four mixtapes, Bellion sang the hook on Zedd's 2015 EDM hit "Beautiful Now," as well as wrote the chorus to the huge 2013 Eminem/Rihanna Grammy-winning hit "The Monster." Over the past year he has collaborated with B.o.B. and released his debut album, “The Human Condition,” an emotional tour of heartbreak featuring smooth pop vocals, laid-back rapping and hip-swaying beats.
Desiigner (9 p.m.): There's no way you don't know "Panda,” this year's inescapable barebones trap hit by 19-year-old Brooklyn native Desiigner. It was such an earworm that Kanye West sampled it on his “The Life of Pablo” album while it was still hot on the radio. Desiigner quickly signed to 'Ye's GOOD Music imprint and already has followed up with the burgeoning viral hit "Timmy Turner," which we've been told is a favorite in the Bengals locker room.
7 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Cincinnati Metro Transit Center, 220 Central Ave., Downtown
Tickets: $89 for two-day passes, $49 single-day, $150 for VIP. Available at Ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000.
- Friday, Oct. 21: Nas, Machine Gun Kelly, Mod Sun, Prof, Space Invadaz, Lantana, Malcolm London, Ill Poetic, Jayal & Perez, Trademark Aaron
- Saturday, Oct. 22: Atmosphere, Girl Talk, Jon Bellion, Murs, Desiigner, Mr. Dibbs, The Animal Crackers, Ghost Gun Summer, Yates Bruh, Audley & Ronin, Sarob & Mike Dow