Roll down the car window at any red light in Baltimore around 9 o’clock on a Friday night and you’re almost guaranteed to hear KW Griff’s 92Q radio club mix bumpin’ from the car next to you. Since about 1996, Griff – the acclaimed Unruly Records producer and 92Q DJ – has spun a spry soundtrack of Baltimore club music every Friday night. Griff’s long-running radio show has proven to be a driving force in the proliferation of club music, crafting a rolling history of the genre’s evolution. But on Jan. 27, 2017, Griff played his last Friday night set on 92Q, ending his twenty-plus year reign as the 9 o’clock club king.
“The Q needed a change – some new faces, some new voices,” Griff admits. “Plus, my wife and daughter wanted that time so we can do family stuff.”
So, in a mutually beneficial fashion, Griff passed the mic to fellow 92Q cohort, DJ Amazin, offering a fresh face to Friday night’s radio listeners in exchange for more family time with his wife and nine-year-old daughter.
“Ever since she was born, she’s known me to be running out every Friday night,” Griff laughs. “So now, she's finally got her daddy back.”
Griff’s legacy on 92Q started off as a one-time favor for DJ Spen, an on-air personality for the station, back around 1996. Konan, still a renowned voice for 92Q, wanted to air a club mix at 9 o’clock on a Friday night and asked Spen if he knew anybody who could make him a mixtape. Spen had recently become friends with Griff and knew he was the best DJ for the job.
Around this time, Griff had already embarked on what was to become a prolific production career in Baltimore club music. In the mid-90s, he teamed up with DJ Booman and Jimmy Jones--together known as the Doo Dew Kidz--to produce energetic club anthems like ‘Pick Em Up’ and ‘Watch Out For The Big Girl.’ Already a well-known presence in the bustling club scene, Griff was an intuitive addition to local radio.
“Spen asked me if I could make a 120-minute cassette tape of club music,” Griff explains. “[I had to] keep it clean and [he] let me know where to [separate] it out for the breaks and let the instrumentals play so Konan could talk.”
At the time, 92Q didn’t have any DJ equipment and all of their radio mixes were pre-recorded, so Griff had to make his club mix at home and drop it off to Spen at the radio station. Konan would play the mix on Friday night at 9 o’clock and credit Griff for the music.
He did this for awhile, despite not being an actual paid employee at the station – basically just doing it for the love of the music. Griff eventually landed a regular slot on the mid-day mix from 10am - 2pm and playing the 9 o’clock club mix as needed. But when DJ Reggie Reg and K-Swift took over the popular 6 p.m.-10 p.m. slot in the early 2000s, they lured him back into the night and asked him to spin the club mix from 9 p.m.-11 p.m. on a weekly basis again.
A few time adjustments occurred over the years in order to accommodate the station’s live broadcasts from various nightclubs, but ultimately, the 8 p.m.-10 p.m. slot became Griff’s. Originally, the entire two hours was dedicated to club music until one of the program directors at 92Q thought it was too early for all that club music. So, he started playing mainstream hip-hop and R&B from 92Q’s regular rotation from 8 p.m. – 9 p.m., followed by an hour of club music. With that, the infamous 9 o’clock club hour was rejuvenated under his guidance.
Over the past twenty years, Griff has curated several different radio programs, like The Aftermath from 1 a.m. – 3 a.m. on Saturday nights on 92Q where he would play underground hip-hop in the early 2000s and his Saturday night residency from 7 p.m. – 11 p.m. on 95.9 Magic where he still plays everything from old school hip-hop to reggae to house music.
But it was his 9 o’clock club mix on Friday nights that became essential listening in the Baltimore community for decades. Club music loyalists and eager producers tuned in week after week to hear the latest interpretations of the genre played alongside nostalgic classics from their favorite artists – a vibrant mix of new and old.
His Friday night mix also placed him within intimate view of the genre’s evolution over the past twenty years. Back in the mid-90s when Griff started producing club music, technology for producers was limited to cassette tapes or reel-to-reels, records, and a finicky ASR-10 with limited sampling memory. Due to these technology barriers, many club tracks from that era were more sample-based, heavily reliant on the signature ‘Think’ or ‘Sing Sing’ breaks, and never mastered for sonic clarity.
But with the advent of new production technology, Griff has seen an explosion of innovation in club music over the years.
“Creativity is right at your fingertips now,” he says. “With [today’s] programming and production software, it makes it so much easier and your ideas are unlimited.”
Producers can now use state-of-the-art software to create their own sounds, lay down original vocals, and arrange complex sequences – taking club music from the past to the future with the click of a mouse.
Griff embraced this new production technology as well when he collaborated with the famously charismatic 92Q DJ, Porkchop, on their 2012 club smash, ‘Bring In The Katz.’ Characterized by a boisterous scat sample from Kevin Aviance’s ‘Din Da Da’ and a classic ‘Think’ break loop, ‘Bring In The Katz’ launched Baltimore club music from the 90s right into the future and inspired a myriad of international remixes. And Porkchop’s rousing hook--"HEY GRIFF! BRING IN THE KATZ!"--damn near made Griff a household name in club music to a whole new generation.
Flaunting technological advancements, eclectic international variants, and a worldwide audience, club music has come a long way since its genesis in Baltimore. And throughout his twenty years of showcasing the genre on 92Q, Griff’s love for club music has never wavered.
“People can listen to you and tell that you’re into it,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to give off that type of feeling so people know that I’m not just going through the motions. I really love what I’m doing, so I’m glad people gravitated [towards] that and pulled me in close.”
Griff credits the success of his weekly club music showcase to the talent and tenacity of club producers and the steadfast support of Baltimore. Every week, club producers from around the world would send him their latest tracks with hopes of hearing them played on the radio. As a celebrated pioneer of Baltimore club music, Griff’s stamp of approval means everything to a burgeoning club producer.
“It wouldn’t have been anything if I didn’t have the music for it,” he admits. “All these club producers – like Rod Lee, Booman, DJ Juwan, Murder Mark, DJ Dizzy, [and so on] – their music is what helped keep my [show] a success and it kept everybody tuning in because they wanted to hear what was new. It wasn’t just because of the fact that I was there.”
But as humble as he is about his prominent influence in club music culture, Griff is considered a highly respected champion of the genre in Baltimore and beyond. He innovated and fortified the city’s homegrown soundtrack through timeless productions of his own, became an approachable mentor for young club producers, and continued to celebrate the genre long past its prime through his weekly Friday night club showcase.
Not bad a bad legacy for a full-time accountant who DJs and produces music on the weekends as a hobby.
“I think I’ve had a long enough run,” Griff says. “When you love music and you’re surrounded by great people, that time just goes by. You do it every week and you don’t even think anything of it. Next thing you know, twenty-one years gone by.”