COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just before 9 a.m. on Monday, the Ohio State football program’s official Twitter account dispatched a message that likely went unseen by most followers.
With Chance the Rapper set to perform at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night, the Buckeyes wanted to let hip-hop’s hottest superstar know he was more than welcome to stop by the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
@chancetherapper You are welcome to come stop by our facilities while you are in town this week! Buckeye gear is waiting 👊
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) May 15, 2017
Because of the way the Ohio State account formatted the tweet, you would have had to follow the Buckeyes and Chance for the post to appear in your timeline. Ohio State, however, knew that its intended audience for the tweet likely already did both.
Chance — real name Chancelor Bennett — has yet to reply to the Buckeyes’ tweet, but whether the three-time Grammy winner appears at the Woody on Tuesday is somewhat irrelevant.
As Ohio State has increased its social-media presence in recent years, the Buckeyes’ recruiting pitch has become more transparent. And as the Monday post showed, a significant portion of Ohio State’s strategy has focused on its association to hip-hop culture.
“Our guys are just so creative,” Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith said at the Big Ten meetings on Monday. “We’ve got a group of young guys, they sit in a room and think this stuff up. We’re going to have Chance the Rapper coming [to Columbus] and they’re on social media trying to get Chance to come to the Woody Hayes [Athletic Center], have him walk through Woody Hayes and have pictures that [say], ‘Chance the Rapper was in the Woody Hayes.’ ”
It’s no coincidence that on Tuesday, Ohio State assistant linebackers coach Ryan Crow posted a graphic illustrating Columbus’ upcoming summer concert schedule.
📌Just a few of the concerts in Columbus this summer 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/LdZUI2IWgK
— Ryan Crow (@Coach_Crow) May 16, 2017
A former Buckeyes walk-on defensive back turned rapper, Mekka Don has had a firsthand look at the benefits of Ohio State’s hip-hop evolution.
“Hip-hop is one of the most powerful tools in the young community. And now it’s not just the inner city, but it has transcended and infiltrated all demographics,” Mekka Don told Land of 10. “To reach young kids nowadays, hip-hop or hip-hop influenced messaging are often the best ways.
“Recruits want to go to a ‘lit’ school, as well as a successful football school that’ll help them get to the league,” he continued. “I think [recruits] viewing the staff and their future teammates as ‘cool’ definitely helps and definitely rubs off.”
For the last two years, no program in college football has been as “lit”as the Buckeyes.
While Urban Meyer’s recruiting results often have spoken for themselves, the promotion of Zach Smith to recruiting coordinator in 2015 brought a certain youthfulness to Ohio State’s approach. Then 31, Smith was by far the youngest of any Buckeyes staff member and, unsurprisingly, also the most active on social media.
On his account, @CoachZachSmith, the Ohio State receivers coach often would reference hip-hop artists, lyrics and occurrences. When asked in 2015 which side he was taking in the infamous Drake vs. Meek Mill beef, he declined comment, fearful he might offend a potential prospect with his answer.
It was clear Smith was well aware of the feud, which tells you all you need to know about how his rapport with recruits is different from most.
“Relevant things that are culturally applicable to kids is important,” Smith said in 2015. “You don’t have to like what they like, but you should be knowledgeable of what they like. So I like to keep in touch with that culture because it’s relevant.”
Smith’s strategy hasn’t stopped there. In 2014, he coined a new nickname for his position group — Zone 6 — which since has caught on with current Buckeyes and prospects. And although it doesn’t explicitly have anything to do with a specific hip-hop artist or song, Mekka Don cited it as an example of Ohio State’s use of the culture.
“I see high school receivers wanting to be a part of Zone 6,” he said. “It’s like their own clique — very unique. That’s not hip-hop, per se, but it has hip-hop branding elements to it.”
“Everybody wants their own song,” the rapper says.
On social media, the Buckeyes’ hip-hop centric approach has been obvious. In 2015, Ohio State’s Instagram account posted a Buckeyes-themed Photoshop of a Drake and Future mixtape cover — a tactic it recycled last December with J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only.
Now no recruit is going to choose a school based on its perceived appreciation of hip-hop. Ohio State’s propensity for putting players in the pros matters far more than the Buckeyes’ musical preferences.
But when you’re recruiting as competitively as Ohio State is, every piece of the puzzle matters.
Who knows if Chance the Rapper actually will show up at the Woody on Tuesday. But if he does, you — and every Buckeyes recruiting target — will know about it.