The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Headliners | Ahzia

Ahzia is one of four artists featured in the second season of Headliners, a concert video series by The Daily Iowan.
Emily Nyberg
Ahzia Hester performs during The Daily Iowan Headliners in The Daily Iowan newsroom in the Adler Journalism building on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Four groups will be featured in the series’ second season.

Ahzia is an Iowa-based rapper with an impressive record. Debuting in 2018 with an EP entitled “READY.SET.GO,” Ahzia has opened for GZA, Cautious Clay, and Swae Lee. The artist has traveled around the country sharing his witty lyrics with adoring crowds but has a soft spot for the music scene around Davenport and Iowa City where he got his start.

Ahzia is one of four artists featured in the second season of Headliners, a concert video series by The Daily Iowan.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Iowan: How did you get into performing?

Ahzia: Accidentally. I grew up in Davenport and I went to North [Davenport High School] and I was always a super big art fan — a big enthusiast. I was a big illustrator growing up and because of a speech teacher who saw something in me and wouldn’t take no for an answer, I got forced into theater. That then led me to join show choir and then in choir class a group of guys and I, by the end of the year, started doing little rap battles in the back. That resulted in a video being recorded of me rap-battling another kid and people were like, “Yo, this is kind of hard, you should drop a mixtape.” Something in me was like, “You know what? Maybe I will.” And then I just started rapping, and now I’m a bit addicted to it.

How do you write your songs?

I have a notes app for spontaneous ideas and a notebook with a word bank. When I like little phrases or when humorous lines come to me, I just put them in notes. I mostly just have words that I like and find ways to weave them together once I get the instrumentals. There’s already an established mood within the production, so once I have that, I make sure the words marry the instrumentation.

What is the biggest highlight of your career so far?

In 2023 I did a slew of shows that I couldn’t even have predicted. I wound up getting to rap an open for Mavi, who’s a cool rapper, he’s associated with Earl Sweatshirt, who is a big influence and inspiration to me — it was surreal to meet him. I got to open for Cautious Clay, GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, and then for Swae Lee. So, all that was ridiculous. When I say it a lot out loud it really hits me that I did all that.

What has your experience in the Iowa City music scene been like?

I can say pretty confidently that I would not be in the position I’m in had I not moved up here. One of the big strengths of Iowa City is that downtown is so condensed. It keeps people very close together. It’s less of a hassle to encourage someone to come to a thing. Since moving here, we’ve really hit the Gabe’s scene hard; [Gabe’s] is like a second home to me.

RELATED: Q&A | Pop and R&B artist Alyx Rush

What do you hope people get out of your performances?

We’re in this big streaming era, and that has its place, but looking at metrics and stuff doesn’t do anything for me. There’s something indescribable about a live show and having people in a room sharing an energy; that’s when it becomes real to me. I’m a fan of music first and foremost before I’ve ever thought of being a rapper. I was always a literature buff. I love words and rap is like rhythm words, you know. I just want to prove to people that you can find really dope local stuff because people can be cynical and don’t think I live here. They’re like, “Oh, you must be a traveling act.” I want to dispel the belief that people don’t make heat here.

What do you have planned for future performances?

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling — LA, New York. That just expanded my worldview and allowed me to feel embraced by a new audience. I feel like I’ve built up a solid support system in Iowa City, so to go to completely new terrain is a part of it. I would love to tour; I would be happy to be someone’s opener and get more people in the know. Next year will be 10 years of making music and I still love it. I haven’t written my best verse yet, and that’s what keeps me coming back.

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About the Contributors
Charlie Hickman
Charlie Hickman, Arts Reporter
Charlie Hickman is a sophomore at the University of Iowa. He is majoring in English on the Pre-Law track with minors in Political Science and Cinema.
Emily Nyberg
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.