Moments In Club
61 digressions about Baltimore Club music
"Which is better?—to lay open a new sense, to initiate a new organ for the human spirit, or to cultivate many types of perfection up to a point which leaves us still beyond the range of their transforming power?"
-Walter Pater, "The Renaissance" (1873)
Briefly: Baltimore club music was borne out of a dearth of the cheap strong stuff. Hip-house, a brief moment when house music and hip-hop merged, took hold in Baltimore for good and made a demand for quick (130 BPMs or more) music based around two popular breakbeats, the grimy soul of Lyn Collins’ ‘Think (About It)’ and the dumb-dumb disco of Gaz’s ‘Sing Sing.’ Merging it with the cheap breeziness of Miami bass and a number of brass-knuckles-tough tracks from Chicago and the U.K. resulted in Baltimore club music.
But please, try and call it “club music.” Baltimore club or Bmore club are useful when you’re talking about the genre in some grander scope (and it’s better for branding and, these days, for SEO) but most producers and DJs here call it “club music” and if you call it something different, you can see them understandably bristle a little bit. It’s a redundancy to stick Baltimore in front of it as far as they are concerned.
“Black lovers of life caught up in their own free native rhythm, threaded to a remote scarce-remembered past, celebrating the midnight hours in themselves, for themselves, of themselves...”
-Claude McKay, “Home To Harlem” (1928)
A month or so after the Baltimore Uprising, Vice’s dance music site Thump came to town to make a documentary about how club music responded to the uprising. The documentary that came out of it is a waste of time and I’ll repeat what I told someone involved in it when they asked me for some tips before parachuting in for a couple of days. The short answer: club didn’t respond to the uprising. The long answer: By virtue of existing in Baltimore, a deindustrialized, arguably apartheid-like city that is majority black, club music—which is deeply informed by the city’s street culture as well as its queer culture—is the party music of an oft-wounded city. That means it is always political and always responding. Overtly political club songs are rare mostly because club is the sound people look to so that they can allow how fucked up everything is to sit there implicit for a bit. Like, “We won’t address all that for the next six sweaty hours, okay?”
“When he plays the blue note/ And adds a new note/ You’ll think that he wrote a symphony.”
-Cab Calloway, ‘Black Rhythm’ (1931)
DJ Technics is not only a great club producer but a dots-connecting musicologist. His infamous club flip of the Marvelettes’ ‘Please, Mr. Postman,’ is one of the most popular and accessible club tracks of all time. And by sampling the terse 1961 song, a raw, dirtied slab of raucous, black pop, he frames club music as the grandchild of early rock n’ roll and rhythm & blues; on the same rebellious spectrum as Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard—a pre-Beatles wildness that rock n’ roll lost as it got conventionally masculine and hippie-dippie and self-serious. Club music looks back to when pop music was still allowed to sound like it was frayed around the edges.
“At the height of the music, the moaning and screaming came on in earnest. This is the ecstasy of the new music. At the point of wild agony or joy, the wild moans, screams, yells of life, in constant change.”
-LeRoi Jones, ‘Apple Cores #4’ (1966)
A white friend of mine recalls going to get his driver’s license at the Mondawmin Mall DMV in the late ‘90s. A young black dude outside tried to sell him some club tapes. The sales pitch after eyeing this white boy up: “Similar to techno/rave.”
“They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end. And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, ‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.’ And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”
-Audre Lorde, ‘The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action’ (1977)
At the Charles Village Pub, you can purchase a sandwich called the Baltimore Club. It’s $9.59, contains turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo and comes with potato chips. It’s not named after our city’s homespun subgenre (other sandwiches at CVP include the Charles Village Club, the Hopkins Club, the Morgan Club, and so on) but I often order it just because it’s called the Baltimore Club. What would the sandwich equivalent of Baltimore club music have on it? Some kind of inexplicable Guy Fieri-ian mish-mash of intense flavors and ingredients that somehow all work together despite the fact that by all logic and “good taste” shouldn’t work at all? Maybe it would just be a pair of fresh sneakers and a blunt stuffed between two pieces of toast?
“One of the most liberating aspects of club music is how it unabashedly cannibalizes pop music, taking what it wants from it to repurpose in its kinetic productions. There’s a pragmatic element to that practice—you want to play to what the people on your dance floor recognize—but its also a joyously defiant creativity, taking the so-called dominant culture and making it fit your nightlife rather than the other way around.”
-Bret McCabe in City Paper (2009)
Baltimore has been messing with memes before there was a word for them. Johnny Blaze’s club takes on the theme songs to “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Dora the Explorer”; Debonair Samir’s remix of “Southpark” song ‘Uncle Fucker’; DJ Excel’s ‘That’s What a Pimp Does,’ which set clips from anti-Obama preacher Pastor Manning (“Obama is a mack daddy”) to a Bmore bounce. More recently, in concert with Vine culture, there’s an endless amount of meme-brewed club songs: Matic808’s ‘Rosedale Explosion’ and DJ Dizzy’s ‘P.O.P. Hold It Down’ are the best recent examples. Perhaps the earliest meme club music track is 1993’s ‘Kill Barney’ from Sounds of Silence (another name for early club DJ/producer DJ Equalizer) which gave the theme song to “Barney & Friends” the club treatment and featured a little girl singing a violent parody of the kids show’s “I love you, you love me” lyrics. Last year, Matic808 parodied club’s meme-hopping when he made a song called ‘The Dress,’ based on that viral BuzzFeed post about a dress which some people saw as blue and black and others as white and gold. This being a purely visual meme, there was no audio to cut-up, so Matic just took a grinding robotic club track and chanted over it, “What color is that dress? What color is that motherfucking dress?”
Scottie B and DJ Equalizer’s shuffling hard house track ‘I Got The Rhythm’ from 1991 is debatably the first club record. At the bottom of the label it reads, “He’s no white boy, he’s my nigga,” a reference to both Scottie and Equalizer’s whiteness—a way of claiming “cred” and poking fun at the idea of cred. See also: 2 Whyte Kidz, the club project of DJ Kool Breez and DJ Big Red, two white club producers. White boys making, spinning, or just plain jacking club music these days could learn a thing or two from club’s self-aware honky pioneers.
This year, 2 Hyped Brothers & a Dog’s ‘Doo Doo Brown’ turns 25 years old. A project put together by Baltimore DJ Frank Ski, ‘Doo Doo Brown’ is arguably the most popular club song of all time and also one of the earliest. Ski’s song came after ‘I Got The Rhythm’ and was based on a looped sample from 2 Live Crew’s ‘C’mon Babe,’ which, not long before, DJ Equalizer had included on a white label record full of house-friendly loops ready for sampling. Ski added some drawling, declarative hip-house raps and a wad of rap and soul samples to the loop and with the power of Baltimore radio and his past Miami connections, he had a Baltimore club hit before Baltimore club was really a thing. Sometimes club music is called “doo dew” because of this song (the second “dew” spelled that way to account for the o-stretching Baltimore accent) and because of the Doo Dew Kidz, the club supergroup of KW Griff, DJ Booman, and Jimmy Jones.
Hold up though. Maybe the first club track is 1987’s ‘Git The Hole’ by Dem Niggas, an alias of Thommy Davis, a crude back-and-forth between a few smudged vocal samples (“get the hole!” and “yeah!”) and muddy drums. Davis is best known as one third of house production crew the Basement Boys, along with Jay Steinhour and Teddy Douglas, who would go onto have big house hits in the ‘90s like Crystal Waters’ ‘100% Pure Love’ and Ultra Naté’s ‘It’s Over Now.’ It’s some of the most sophisticated pop music ever made. In a way, club music had an anxiety of influence-style battle with the Basement Boys’ fluttery dance music, kicking against its sleekness, so it’s even stranger that a Basement Boy made this proto-club. Thommy Davis would leave the Basement Boys in 1993 at about the time the crew began heavily flirting with the mainstream. He continues making decidedly-not-ready-for-primetime house music and is president of the Collective Minds Festival, a free house fest that takes place every year in Druid Hill Park.
“Baltimore radio is a monopolized mass program-derived business that has nothing to do with what is relative in music. It’s aimed at demographical audience that is statistically schemed for the simplistic redundant overplay to play the most commercials. House would make it a wider genre that wouldn’t give the programmers the control that they need. What happens is that the underground is always on the cutting edge and then the commercial artists take the ideas and water them down to market them to their format. It’s nothing to hear an established artist do a song that is totally from the underground and make millions while the originator is still struggling. As an example, when me and the boys did Crystal Waters, we couldn’t get our hometown to play it, but after the nation made it a hit, then Baltimore added it. For me, [national interest in house music and club music] doesn’t change a thing. I would rather do what I like and be proud of it than to be concerned about the short sightedness of radio here.”
-Thommy Davis to me (2011)
Attitudinally, consider club a kind of baleful fusion of the wildest elements of some of Baltimore’s most iconic musicians, or the ones who passed through long enough for the city to claim them: the cathartic, slowly molting minimalism of Philip Glass; the puckish, laughing-to-keep-from-crying snark of Frank Zappa; the floppy, poppy, art-kid weirdness of David Byrne; the unabashed, gutpunching soul of Billie Holiday; the springy big band immediacy of Cab Calloway; the DGAF prettyboy swag of 2Pac.
“The past is reinvented and becomes the future. But the lineage is everything.”
-Philip Glass “Words Without Music” (2015)
Slept On Bmore Club Song #1:
DJ Precise’s ‘En Mochen’ off 1992’s “Precise and the Boys” EP wherein some really cheap synth beeps attempt something that sounds like a slowed-up version of the song from the circus as brumous percussion pumps (it sounds like house music playing from down the block). ‘En Mochen’ peaks with a chipmunk’d sample of Michael Jackson’s ‘Human Nature,’ a bit before Large Professor similarly, subtly slipped it into Nas’ ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell,’ mind you. A Michael Jackson sample also makes an appearance on the rap B-side of this record and suggests that maybe the only record Precise had on hand that day was Lyn Collins’ ‘Think’ single and a copy of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” He finessed so many sounds out of both of them for this EP.
“One time when I was playing, I saw this guy in a beehive kind of like strut and open up the dance floor and vogue down the middle of the dance floor. Here was this big guy, that was gay, that was in the middle of a hip-hop party, understand what I’m saying?”
-Frank Ski describing the first time he saw Miss Tony back in the late ‘80s to City Paper (2014)
What to even say about Miss Tony? Songs such as ‘Tony’s Bitch Track,’ ‘Get Ya Gunz Out’ and ‘Whatzup? Whatzup?’ remain club favorites. A radio personality as well as a club fixture, he was a character and then some—and a complex one. Openly gay (a little known Tony track is ‘Bitch Track II - Yes!,’ whose hook howls, “Yes I am gay, no I’m not afraid” and arrived just in time to respond to Bill Clinton’s Victorian “don’t ask, don’t tell”), he rattled off monologues that John Waters could’ve penned over club. From ‘Tony’s Bitch Track’: “You fellas with these sweaty balls. You think them girls want them sweaty balls in their mouth? You motherfuckers better wash them balls. Yes, ask me about balls. I’ve got a PhD in dickology, don’t try it.” Usually seen in drag, Tony became saved in 1998 and changed his name to Big Tony. He stopped dressing up after that though he remained a gay man. Tony died of kidney-related complications in 2002. We are still waiting for a whole generation to discover this queer icon. You can hear Tony’s best and a few late-in-life, gravel-voiced Big Tony tracks on a Diamond K-assisted compilation, “Big Tony: Master Of Ceremonies,” available on iTunes, Spotify, and all the rest.
“To my homeboys in Clinton Max doing their bid, raise hell to this real shit and feel this”
-2Pac, ‘Hail Mary’ (1996)
Tupac Shakur was a Baltimore resident for a bit and, I maintain, must’ve absorbed some of the same locally-brewed fabulousness as Miss Tony—just look at Pac’s gorgeous eyebrows!!!
Miss Tony’s influence over the city only seems to grow. Over the years, ‘Whatzup? Whatzup?’ and its hook, “How you wanna carry it,” have become common parlance and leaked into other Baltimore songs, including E Major’s ‘How You Wanna Carry It’ and Al Rogers Jr. and Drew Scott’s ‘Conversations.’ I’m particularly intrigued by Young Moose’s ‘How Would U Carry It,’ from his 2014 mixtape, “OTM2.” There, Moose turns Tony’s words into a dopeboy flex and even gets a little existential about street life: “If a nigga jack you, how would you carry it, boy?”
“The tape is the full dance mix of a local song that’s all over the Baltimore stations this winter; a rollicking seven minutes of audio dissonance with lyrics that amount to a listing of bad-ass drug corners and housing projects, followed by a shouted one-line chorus.
‘Here we go...Cherry Hill.’
‘Get ya guns out,’ shout the C.M.B. boys, delighted.
‘Get ya guns out.’
Tae lifts Tyreeka off his lap then jumps up to dance. The good part is coming up. ‘Mount...and Fayette,’ chants the rapper. ‘Get ya guns out.’ The boys shout and stomp and fill their corner of the room with high-fives. Mount and Fayette spoken like it was a place that mattered.”
- David Simon and Edward Burns, “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood” (1998)
Simon and Burns capture so much about Baltimore back then that some of the precise club music facts it misunderstands a bit are less important. Miss Tony shouts out those places because people lived there, not because they are drug corners (though they might sometimes be that, too) and Tony’s significance is such that when he, a hero of black Baltimore, mentioned Mount and Fayette and elsewhere, they did matter (also everywhere matters, duh). “Get your guns out” was also something of a corrective to violence, with Miss Tony and Frank Ski taking a gang chant they heard at Facade’s on Reisterstown Road and turning it into a new club dance. “You don’t need a real gun, just come to the club and shake your hands in the air like a gun,” Tony explains on the track.
Club music often restoratively responds to violence like this. Echoing the early days of hip-hop, where gangs battled it out with words and dancing, clubgoers will tell you that people squashed beef at the club (these days, dirt biking serves a similar function). And Tony here twisting a threat into a catch-all club song is the same as the current crop of producers, who often use gunshot sounds as percussion. It’s catharsis and therapy: A sound that’s heard all too often in Baltimore, always brings with it pain and death, becomes a command to get out there and dance harder and have more fun. A negative becomes a positive.
“I love Baltimore. This city has made me the man that I am. Like an old friend, I’ve seen it at its best and its most challenged. From Ms. Rainey’s second grade class at Rosemont Elementary School to the mixes of K-Swift & Miss Tony on 92Q, to the nights at Afram, Shake N Bake and the Inner Harbor, I was raised in the joy and charm of this city.”
-DeRay Mckesson ‘I Am Running for Mayor of Baltimore’ (2016)
Slept-On Club Song #2
‘Lick Yo Clit,’ off 1997 “Theo EP,” wherein Theo, a high-pitched, chaotic crooner (imagine, say, you and your friends drunkenly sucking in helium and trying to sing like 1992-era Mariah Carey and you’re close) scream-sings, “I would like to lick your clit, if you suck my dick, I’m gonna lick your clit,” elongating the “i” sound in “clit” like he’s Minnie Riperton on ‘Loving You.’
Club music is still, for the most part, a straight boys’ club, and what black feminist Tricia Rose said of hip-hop (it’s “basically a locker room with a beat”) certainly applies to club, though it’s still more inviting than most hip-hop. There is TT The Artist’s 2013 song ‘Pussy Ate’ (“Don’t want no car, don’t want no cash, don’t want no date/ I just want my pussy ate”). And there are plenty of equal opportunity “fuck me” tracks such as DJ Snoopy and Lil Momma’s ‘Clits and Dicks’ (“Where da bitches who suck the dick?/ Where da niggas who lick the clits?”) and KW Griff and DJ Booman’s ‘Git Ya Freak On’ (“ladies shake your tits...fellas grab your dicks”). And then there’s K-Life’s ‘I Get Too Much Pussy’ which asks, “Who’s that girl with that good pussy?” and then the vocalist meekly chirps, “your pussy taste so good.” Briefly it seems, this lip-smacking sexual harasser on wax gets deferential.
“The blues gives an epic sense of the erotic to American music and tears the cotton candy shroud from the boudoir, speaking of the elegant and the raw, the ennobling and the debilitating—all pushed down the listener’s consciousness with often bittersweet and sardonic images.”
-Stanley Crouch in his Introduction to “Love in Vain: A Vision of Robert Johnson” (1983)
DJ Reggie Reg, who died earlier this year at the age of 50, is known for his 9 p.m. club mixes on 92Q back in the day. His 2000 mix CD, “The 9 O’clock Mix” is, along with Rod Lee’s “Vol. 5: The Official” one of the more ubiquitous club CDs around. One of its most exciting choices is the inclusion of Stardust’s ‘Music Sounds Better Than You,’ a honeyed, French neo-disco track from 1998 put together by the one-off trio of Thomas Bangalter (of Daft Punk), Alan Braxe, and vocalist Benjamin Diamond. It’s a continuation of the club-not-club that got the genre going.Those tracks from back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that for one reason or another felt like club music: Cajmere’s ‘Percolator,’ Kicks Like a Mule’s ‘The Bouncer,’ The Prodigy’s ‘Charly,’ Blapps Posse’s ‘Don’t Hold Back,’ and Stereo MCs ‘On 33,’ just to name a few.
Slept On Bmore Club Song #3
‘Pop Club’ off Krazy B’s 2000 EP of the same name wherein a slightly crazed or I guess, um, “krazed” instrumental free of the obvious rap sample or club classic refix that dominated the club music style by the start of the aughts is replaced with a nervous, occasionally effect-filled fidget of an instrumental, with some Salsoul Orchestra swoop and the French House fizzle of Thomas Bangalter’s ‘Club Soda.’
Blaqstarr is club music’s John Coltrane and Lee “Scratch” Perry. Tracks like ‘Get My Gun,’ ‘Hands Up, Thumbs Down,’ ‘Ryda Girl,’ and ‘Feel It In The Air’ bent the structural rules of club, adding more instruments (including some butt-rock guitar from time to time) and introducing more singing (in an androgynous, alien-like whine), all the while making tracks leaner, faster. In other ways, Blaqstarr seemed to move club back to its pre-club era, when any kind of music could become “club” as long as it got people moving. There’s a clip on YouTube of Blaqstarr back in 2009 at a Los Angeles nightclub called Control, throwing out flurries of “hey” and “what” samples to the crowd and scratching feverishly. When the energy seems too much, he doesn’t drop a known dancefloor-filling club track but the Smashing Pumpkins space-rocker, ‘Zero.’ It works. Blaqstarr changed club music, got M.I.A. to meander, flirted with the mainstream music industry but ultimately told them “nah,” and has raced through side hustles that have included an alkalized water business, cold-pressed juice, and an adult coloring book. We’re still figuring out Blaqstarr.
“1. To have inexhaustible freshness in my music. I’m stale right now.
2. Immunity from sickness or ill health.
3. Three times the sexual power I have now. And something else too: more natural love for people. You can add that on to the other.”
-John Coltrane’s answer when Pannonica de Koenigswarter asked what his three wishes would be
Debonair Samir’s ‘Samir’s Theme,’ from 2005, is a mammoth track made up of just a few sounds: mostly a wavering, wobbling horn, and then some synths, snares, kicks, and claps that just kind of circle each other over and over. Eventually those splatty ‘Sing Sing’ drums sneak through and then it gets kind of hippity-hoppity, but all you need, like most club songs, happens in the first minute and after that it just gets exploratory because it’s got some time to kill and space to jump around and act out. It is a worldwide underground hit, an easily accessible wild-out song that does what bro-ish EDM and dubstep does with about a quarter of the tools those hot mess songs employed five years earlier. Netherlands label Digidance reissued ‘Samir’s Theme’ in 2007, rapper/producer Swizz Beatz bleated over it in 2009. More recently, Dutch housers Firebeatz released a song also titled ‘Samir’s Theme’ that is basically Samir’s song with a few alterations—all of them for the worse, mind you.
The best review of ‘Samir’s Theme’ came from a friend of mine, a house DJ in his forties from North Carolina only loosely familiar with club music, in a hot and sweaty garage in Raleigh with an Olde English 40 and a half in his belly. We were trading off access to his turntable, playing house, disco, and electro classics, the tracks getting bigger, louder, and busier. Finally, it seemed appropriate to play ‘Samir’s Theme’ for him and pretty much once its horns got honking, all raw party music power, he immediately exclaimed “DAAAMNNNNN, WE NEED SOME BLOWWWWW RIGHT NOW.”
Back in 2005, musician Jason Urick organized a few club shows at the Floristree, including a seminal K-Swift show for an almost entirely white audience. That this took so long to happen in retrospect seems absurd and now sweaty white hipsters and punks going wild to club seems commonplace, but it wasn’t so back then. White kids were already hearing the stuff on the radio, cranking it at parties, and occasionally venturing into record stores looking for club music, but the idea of reaching out to the people responsible for the stuff took longer. A few years before that, Eric Hatch, now director of programming for the Maryland Film Festival, could be found occasionally playing club records at the Talking Head. Just playing them through, by the way. Like, no mixing them or anything. Also significant was Cullen Stalin’s prescient Taxlo parties and his role as something of a go-between for then club-dabbling undergrounders (and imminent superstars) such as Diplo and M.I.A. and Baltimore club producers proper. It’s a strange piece of club music history that sometimes seems lost but it planted the seeds that grew into the now diverse and black-organized underground club scene that swirls around the Crown spearheaded by people like Abdu Ali, Balti Gurls, Llamadon, and others.
“But there arose in our pathway a shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men. And the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow.”
-Edgar Allen Poe, “The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym” (1838)
Out of Baltimore club came Philly club (sometimes “party music”) and Jersey club (until recently, “Brick City club” thanks to DJ Tameil of Brick City Bandits, but now just Jersey club), regional variations of club music. While the sounds are quite similar—both rely on the same ‘Think’ and ‘Sing Sing’ breaks—there are some differences. Philly club tends to be even faster and more A.D.D., with hints of gabber and trap, while Jersey Club is also faster though more melodic and smooth with a penchant for the limp wit of the mash-up. “Corny and hot at the same damn time,” is how Tim Dolla described Jersey club to SPIN’s Puja Patel, who, before moving fully into journalism, was a club music promoter and was responsible for the Paradox-hosted My Crew Be Unruly and My Crew Be Unruly 2 parties which brought plenty of Philly and NJ DJs to Baltimore in a big way.
“You know when people get mad, though? When you brand something that’s already something and brand it something else. Tameil’s branded it through his name—he’s bigger than Brick City. [Philly] started calling it ‘party music’ because New York’s first, Philly’s second, Baltimore’s third, and you can’t go up the chain. Philly’s not gonna call anything Baltimore something.”
-Scottie B to City Paper (2009)
Partlow: We gotta make sure he from New York first, right? Gotta ask.
Snoop: Ask what? “You from New York?”
Partlow: No, ask a Baltimore question, something a New York nigga won’t know.
Snoop: What’s a Baltimore question, yo? I don’t know.
Partlow: Like, maybe something about club music. They don’t know nothing about that shit up in New York. Ask him, like, who Young Leek be.
-"The Wire" episode ‘Corner Boys’ (Season four, episode 45)
DJ Class’ 2009 auto-tune club semi-hit ‘I’m The Ish’ moved closer to major hit status thanks to a remix featuring Lil Jon (it would make it into the 20s on Billboard’s 2009 Rhythmic Songs and Hot Rap charts). This was a big deal. It was also of note because Lil Jon’s voice had been sampled on club tracks for years and well, here he finally was screaming on a club track himself. ‘I’m The Ish’ never quite took off, but it helped resurrect Lil Jon’s career. He would return to pop by screaming on hard-hitting EDM songs that were in part, Bmore club-derived: LMFAO’s ‘Shots’ and DJ Snake’s ‘Turn Down For What.’ Baltimore club music is one of the secret ingredients of American EDM.
Slept-On Club Song #4
Say Wut’s ‘Streets of Baltimore’ from 2010. Early on credited as Nigga Say What or just NSW, he eventually settled on the name Say Wut and crafted a bouncing-of-the-walls style of club dominated by horns and jet-propelled BPMs. ‘Horn Theme,’ which took DJ Class’ ‘Tear Da Club Up’ and made it eerily celestial is a favorite (it was cleverly used at the end of Rod Lee’s “Vol. 5: The Official,” a triumphant closer). And then there’s the tangled ‘Streets of Baltimore,’ which sounds as if it tied the shoelaces of the theme song to ‘70s cop show ‘Streets of San Francisco’ together and then booted it down the stairs, letting it tripping all over itself for four minutes.
Teens kept Baltimore club music alive throughout the fractious, embattled 2000s. Following the dissolution of the major clubs in the late ‘90s, which coincided with club’s first generation getting older, the ascent of hip-hop, and stricter nightclub and after hours rules in Baltimore, club became essentially a teenaged activity. And slowly but surely, the teens reignited club and made it something quite different—Blaqstarr’s busier, full of fluttering “hey” and “what” samples style, ideal for dancing competitions was on the vanguard. Even when it seemed as though the whole world was discovering club, a lot of the club they were discovering was old. Stuff for the “over 30 crowd,” fresh-faced, producers, dancers, and DJs would scoff. Out of Blaqstarr’s influence came producers like Murder Mark (now Mighty Mark), DJ Pierre, and DJ Juwan, whose wiry skeletal club soundtracked kiddie parties at the Paradox and smaller club shows in rec halls and community centers and thanks to KW Griff’s open ears and open mind, snuck onto the radio.
“Well, with social media, email, etc. these days, the internet is the best way to connect with people. In the case of DJ Juwan and many others, these individuals contacted me via email. A few of them are actually in their early teens—devoted producers who love and respect the art of Club Music and are extremely passionate about their work. I definitely applaud them for being such an asset to the movement of Club Music and continuing the legacy.”
-KW Griff to me (2014)
November 22, 2011 was an interesting day for club music. It marked the release of Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and Nicki Minaj’s debut album, “Pink Friday,” both of which have a little bit of club music in them. Kanye West’s ‘All Of The Lights,’ with its waves of taffy horns seems heavily indebted to DJ Class’ ‘Tear The Club Up’ and towards the end of the album, as Gil Scot-Heron asks, “Who’ll survive in America?” West allows the ‘Think’ break to shuffle under the track in a distinctly Baltimore-fashion (sped-up a little, looped, not chopped much at all). This is not a stretch: two years earlier, West was on a remix of DJ Class’ ‘I’m The Ish,’ murmuring, “My crew be Unruly,” and a Scottie B remix of West’s ‘I Wonder’ appeared on a semi-official Kanye West mixtape. On Nicki Minaj’s “Pink Friday,” there’s ‘Check It Out,’ a will.i.am-produced song that samples the Buggles’ ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ and reconfigures it using club music style, ‘Think’ break and all. At the time, there were rumors in Baltimore that ‘Check It Out’ was ghost-produced by a Baltimore club beatmaker whose name won’t be revealed here because, well, rumors.
Club music never quite recovered from the death of K-Swift, who died on July 21, 2008, in a swimming pool accident. A figure who bridged club’s establishment figures with its buggy youth scene, Swift was particularly significant because she wasn’t so territorial about club. She embraced young producers and at Artscape, which was held the weekend she died, she told the crowd that Diplo was the future of club music—a cosign that bugged quite a few people, though few will admit that these days. Another unpopular though occasionally murmured opinion: Had Swift not died, it’s possible that 92Q, Baltimore’s hip-hop and R&B station—which DJs and producers claim has always disliked club music—would play even less club than it plays now. Swift’s death made it hard to push club out for good. DJ AngelBaby, an heir to Swift in so many ways, introduces a brief daily K-Swift memorial mix wherein we get a good ten or less minutes of club every day. AngelBaby has also continued Swift’s non-territorial ethos through a series of mixtapes titled “Get Pumped” which often include tracks from producers from Philly, New Jersey, and the internet.
“I get bored quick. Most of the tracks on [‘Get Pumped’] are maybe 30 seconds and then they start blending into something else. Some DJs may think that’s not enough time, but I want you to sweat all the way through. I don’t like any parts lacking energy. Only the pumped-est—if that’s a word—parts of the songs.”
-DJ AngelBaby to City Paper (2013)
The past decade or so has led to a lot of meta-dance music—stuff that doesn’t seem to be so much for the club as about the club (the house-through-warehouse-walls warmness of Jamie xx’s “In Colour” is the best example; Matthew Herbert’s “One Club,” the most oblique). It’s all an extension of the “hypnagogic pop” David Keenan diagnosed in 2009 in British music magazine Wire—songs that seemed to dissolve the formal aspects of a given genre in an attempt to recreate what it feels like to hear music via subjective memory and mood. Club music has no time for such nonsense for the most part, though if you want something that sounds like what it feels to leave a club after dancing all night, listen to James Nasty’s 2011 mix, “The Truth About James Nasty,” a 30-minute, cassette-tape-like mix of mostly his own productions. It ends with ‘I Got Sunshine,’ a balmy club take on The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’ that captures the weary joy of wandering out of an after hours spot at 6 a.m. or so, limbs tired, still stupidly happy but maybe a little melancholy because the night’s over.
That baby-talk babbling you often hear in club songs comes from George Kranz’s 1983 German b-boy dance hit, ‘Din Daa Daa’ (official title: ‘Trommeltanz’ which translates to “drum dance”), in which the Berlin percussionist smacks a bunch of electronic drums and shouts onomatopoeia nonsense for nearly four minutes. Or it comes from the 1997 cover by New York queer hero Kevin Aviance. There’s an elastic lope to ‘Din Daa Daa’ that fits nicely with the more rubbery end of club music—especially when a DJ set needs a respite from the harder hitting stuff—so it finds its way into club music frequently (Kool Breez’s ‘Din Dew Doo’ most famously). Most recently, KW Griff and Porkchop even smuggled it into ‘Bring In Da Katz.’ Once Porkchop announces, “Bring in the cats,” splintered, staccato pieces of Kevin Aviance’s Bib Fortuna from “Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi” impression blast through the song.
Why did it take so long to crack the code on rapping over club music? In one sense, it was because the clubs didn’t need the rapping part, so it often came from a semi-cynical perspective: only if it had rhymes ricocheting against the beat could it become a hit song and “crossover” and all the rest. There are earnest examples of club music with rapping though. The premier example remains Labtekwon’s collaboration with DJ Booman and Jimmy Jones, 410 Pharaohs, wherein you can hear Lab catching up to club’s quick rhythms, sometimes outrunning them, and often kicking back and nibbling on club’s jagged breakbitten edges. It helps that they’ve got Jimmy Jones crafting the hooks and that Booman is a heck of a hip-hop producer as well (my favorite rap track produced by Booman: .45 and Trauma’s ‘You Ain’t Doin’ It Right’ where the theme to “The Pink Panther” struts-along as shiny, Ma$e-like boom-bap). Then there’s Booman’s breezy beat for ‘Party Walk’ by Mullyman and Nik Stylz, which rattles with claps and horns and builds to a sing-along of “The Wire” theme song that’s way better than any of the show’s proper theme songs. Also the Doo Dew Kidz and Mullyman’s ‘Step Aside.’ And while Tate Kobang’s ‘Bank Rolls,’ is not club music, it was produced by Rod Lee (it dates back to 2000, originally ‘Bank Roll’ by Tim Trees) and mentions K-Swift. Does that count?
“My friends and I attended lusty preteen parties every week. Baltimore club music ripped out of blown speakers while we grinded up against the prettiest-roundest-fastest girls from our neighborhood. New sneakers got stepped on all night, but we didn’t care.”
- D. Watkins “The Beast Side” (2015)
Following the decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the murder of Michael Brown in November of 2014, club maximalist Schwarz, who is originally from St. Louis, released a track titled ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.’ It borrows its hook from Blaqstarr’s ‘Hands Up, Thumbs Down’ and mashes it up with audio of protestors yelling, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Here, club’s gun shot sounds take on an even more ominous light in this context—rather than an antidotal one—and the de rigueur siren sounds comes from the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) used in Ferguson to disseminate instructions and disorient protestors (LRAD also causes long-term hearing damage).
You cannot stop the development that is taking over Baltimore. You can protest it (and you should) but it seems as though our representatives worship the neoliberal myth too much for even that to do much good. You could (though you should not) blow up one of those new same-y looking buildings being constructed but, well, whatever out-of-town construction crew that got the gig would just collect insurance and start rebuilding. What does this have to do with club music? Development is, in part, why the Paradox is going away (it is also why Club Fantasy went away). You know that weird like, almost German Bierhaus-looking building next to Jerry Carryout on North Avenue? It used to be Odell’s, another legendary dance club. Down the street is Club Choices, also closed. Club Hippo is now a CVS. Where can you dance your pain away when they demolish and then gentrify all the places for dancing?
“Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Intensifying noise also makes signal stronger and more intense. So, investments in challenges (like dissonance, trangression, and noise) are also investments in your own resilience.”
-Robin James, “Resilience & Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, and Neoliberalism” (2015)
Slept On Bmore Club Song #5
Rip Knoxx, ‘Freedom and Liberty (Remix).’ The USA Freedom Kids, a jingoistic, tween-to-teen girl group performed their song ‘Freedom and Liberty’ at a Donald Trump rally earlier this year. Set to the tune of a World War I song, ‘Over There’ and featuring lines like, “Cowardice/ Are you serious?/ Apologies for freedom/ I can’t handle this,” it appears to, like Trump himself, render camp useless—or so it seemed. But then Baltimore club producer Rip Knoxx cut the track up into a noisy, glitching, electro slur and made it even more absurd by just regurgitating its lyrics and making it all feel, well, a bit more off. “I feel as though [Trump is] a narcissistic talking turkey. ^_^,” Rip Knoxx wrote to me via email.
I’m sitting here writing this less than 24 hours after a shooting at Pulse, a LGBTQ club in Orlando, left 49 dead, 50-plus injured while politicians reach new heights of cognitive dissonance to twist this into anti-”terrorism” talking points and nothing more, and all I can think of is Miss Tony’s ‘Bitch Track II - Yes!’ from 1993 wherein Tony shouts, “YES I AM GAY NO I’M NOT AFRAID, YES I AM GAY, NO I’M NOT AFRAID” a whole bunch of times.
“The shooter from Orlando used to beat his wife until she left him. Figures ... He can condemn people he considers not a ‘real man,’ but he beats women. His bitch ass couldn’t even go in there and fight nobody.…He would have got his ass whipped by anybody he chose to fight in that club. Fuck him and fuck ISIS…He’s a bitch. And it was good to see righteous Muslims condemn the real bitch, cuz he is a disgrace to his religion and to humanity. We all need to support the LGBT community more than ever. They deserve to have always been supported, and they have always supported everybody else. Everybody reading this has family members in the LGBT community. They could have been in the club that night.”
-Scottie B via Facebook on June 13, 2016
It’s the year 2075. Emperor Trump, or what’s left of him—just a brain, penis, and toupee in a fishbowl being carted around by a gold-plated Segway-like robot (most of his body was destroyed when he accidentally blew himself up at a ceremonial fart-lighting-for-fracking event)—has heard about an insurgent group hiding out in what is left of Port Covington. As the Velvet Underground were to Vaclav Havel and the Velvet Revolution, Baltimore Club is to these gender-fucked freedom fighters from the future. They pass around a time capsule of club music, featuring a 50-song summation of the sound. It includes:
-2 Hyped Brothers and a Dog, ‘Doo Doo Brown’
-2 Whyte Kidz, ‘Beat Da Pussy ’
-410 Pharaohs, ‘Fresh’
-Abdu Ali, ‘I Exist’
-Big Ria, ‘The Answer (Am I Bomb?)’
-Blaqstarr, ‘Get My Gun’
-Blaqstarr, ‘Ryda Girl’
-Blunted Dummies, ‘Yo Yo Where The Hoes At’
-Chavy Boyz of London, ‘London Wild’
-DDm, ‘Fake Girls’
-Debonair Samir, ‘Samir’s Theme’
-Dem Niggas, ‘Git The Hole’
-Diamond K, ‘Hey You Knuckleheads’
-Diamond K, ‘Put Ya Leg Up’
-DJ Boobie, ‘You Know How We Do It’
-DJ Class, ‘I’m The Ish’
-DJ Class, ‘Tear The Club Up’
-DJ Excel, ‘That’s What A Pimp Does’
-DJ Juwan, ‘Clap Go’
-DJ Patrick, ‘Blunt Theme’
-DJ Pierre, ‘Uhh Break’
-DJ Snoopy feat. Lil Mama, ‘Clits & Dicks’
-DJ Technics, ‘Everything In Its Right Place (Remix)’
-DJ Technics, ‘Mr. Postman’
-James Nasty, ‘I Got Sunshine’
-Jimmy Jones, ‘Watch Out For The Big Girl’
-Johnny Blaze, ‘Spongebob Square Pants’
-K-Life & DJ Booman, ‘Puff Alotta Weed’
-Kenny B, ‘Get The Fuck Out’
-King Tutt, ‘Justin’
-KW Griff feat. Porkchop, ‘Bring In Da Katz’
-KW Griff and DJ Booman, ‘Pick Em Up’
-Matic, ‘Hustle Hard (Remix)’
-Mighty Mark feat. Mike-Mike, Young H.I.D., DJ K-Spin, ‘Cherry Hill and Down Ya Block’
-Miss Tony, ‘Tony’s Bitch Track’
-Miss Tony, ‘Whatzup, Whatzup’
-Mullyman feat. Nik Stylz, ‘Party Walk’
-Rod Lee, ‘Dance My Pain Away’
-Rod Lee, ‘Rump’
-Rye Rye, ‘Shake It To The Ground’
-Say Wut, ‘Horn Theme’
-Scottie B, ‘Niggaz Fightin’
-Scottie B, ‘Paper Planes (Remix)’
-Scottie B and DJ Equalizer, ‘I Got The Rhythm’
-Tapp, ‘Shake datass’
-The Sounds Of Silence, ‘Moments in Club’
-Theo, ‘Shawty You Phat’
-TT The Artist, ‘Pussy Ate’