Over the past month, the conversation surrounding "DIY" (do it yourself) has gotten a lot more interesting here in Baltimore. A few weeks ago, Dan Keech, better known as the rapper Height, penned an essay for Splice Today that detailed and mythologized his forays into "DIY rap" over the past few years. "A True DIY Rap Scene" gently opens up the term "DIY" to more than, well, people with guitars. Then, in last week's issue of City Paper, Brandon Weigel spoke to members of basement show noise rock lifers Dope Body and Roomrunner who provided a real-talk tutorial on how to be a band in 2014 (seriously, any kid who has been brainwashed by the idea that making it means getting blasted across the blogs and all that will learn something).
At one point, Andrew Laumann of Dope Body asserts that "there's no underground in Baltimore," to which Dope Body bassist John Jones answers, "There definitely is [an underground], but not in the rock community." It's a nice nod to the underground dance, electronic noise, and hip-hop scene thriving and often intermingling here. For years, the phrase "DIY" has been implicitly for punks only so it's nice to see it extended beyond that for sure.
Earlier this week, rapper Young Moose was freed on bail (he had been in jail since mid-August, in part because his off-the-cuff, cinema verite-like rap videos were being used as evidence against him), which means he can get back to making rap music. His upcoming mixtape "O.T.M. 3" will be released soon. "O.T.M." stands for "out the mud," a term Moose cribbed from Southern rappers that is shorthand for coming up from nothing or, well, doing it all yourself. O.T.M. and DIY essentially mean the same thing and it's only because of his location (East Baltimore) and his subgenre (punchy, brutal street rap) that he wouldn't conventionally be considered "DIY," because Moose is undoubtedly DIY: His songs 'Posted' and 'Dumb Dumb' began in his neighborhood and slowly spread through the city and onto the internet by word of mouth. Currently, he is signed to local big-deal label guy with connections, Tony Austin's Austin Music Group, which might make some of you suspicious of his DIY-ness, but Austin heard about Moose at about the same time I did: once 'Posted' was already a certifiable underground hit. He is helping Moose's career, he isn't making his career. That part was already done.
Plus, Moose brings with him a whole team or crew of beatmakers, videographers, and fellow rappers that we might tend to call a "collective" or something similarly high-falutin' if he were from somewhere hipper, safer, and whiter. There isn't much of a difference between Young Moose shouting "out the mud" and a bunch of kids with guitars talking "DIY," and conflating these terms reveals some long-held biases that come with the term. Namely, yes, punks who boldly opposed rock's mainstream values screamed it, but as the term has become branded, it has become exclusionary, and fuck that. I mean, are you telling me that, say, all the bop musicians in the '40s weren't DIY when they traveled across the country? Or that the very idea of "the chitlin' circuit" wasn't an inherently DIY-type proposition?
At Schwarz's Club Mnemonic event at The Crown in the middle of October, I watched G-Rock, a brusque street rapper, perform in front of maybe a dozen people at best. He knew to just keep the set short, but he gave it his all, and maintained a swaggering grin on his face all the way through a performance of his song, 'I'm The One,' which sounds like Cam'ron and Waka Flocka Flame birthed a trap baby. It is conceivable that Schwarz and I were the only people in the room that gave a shit. What's not in the DIY, get in the van and all of that, about G-Rock giving it his all to a crowd outside his supposed demographic?
The Crown is not exactly DIY of course, but does that even matter in this context? When musicians of color try to hold dance parties or rap shows in basements and DIY venues like BFF, they get busted by the cops (some praise should be given to New Baltimore and Llamadon Collective, who've been doing DIY rap for awhile now)? Rarely do differing DIY scenes talk to one another in the city. There are more genre-crossing, multitude bills here than in most cities, but too often we're still back to the idea of "siloing" that was discussed in our Fall Arts Guide. So it's encouraging when Height transports the term into the world of hip-hop and Dope Body acknowledge what's actually underground in the city right now, and a street dude like G-Rock spits bars at an art-weirdo bar.
There's room for nuance and debate. We are, in effect, all in this together because it's 2014, so we're all kind of doomed, especially people who want to make art for a living or even just a hobby. So keeping an open mind as to what defines DIY is integral in a siloed city like Baltimore and continues the spirit of the scene-building that got the term going in the first place.