This playing fast and loose with Baltimore club history must stop. The innovators, all of them working-class, most of them black, all from Baltimore, haven't really gotten their due or really received proper acknowledgement for their contributions to a style of music that has gone global. At best, they are a series of names shouted out before some hack producer posts his track or a cornball website highlights said track. You know, "Scottie B, KW Griff & DJ Booman, DJ Technics, Rod Lee, much respect to the OGs" and all of that shit.
The recent Baltimore club episode of Boiler Room included sets from Scottie B, Rod Lee, DJ Technics, and Debonair Samir alongside younger voices like James Nasty and Mighty Mark & TT The Artist (too bad the event didn't happen in Baltimore, but hey) which was encouraging, but it also introduced a new problem. It pretty much cut club music into two eras: old and new. This is a problem because guys like Scottie B, KW Griff, DJ Technics, and Rod Lee really represent three distinct creative moments during club's first eight or so years.
Let me explain. In 1991, Scottie B, along with DJ Equalizer, released what is arguably the first club song, 'I Got The Rhythm.' It's rough around the edges like club, but it also still feels like a gritty house track, in part because it was constructed to reflect the gritty house that Baltimore kids wanted to hear even as the rest of the world got pretty sick of that sound. 'I Got The Rhythm' is two or three years before Griff and Booman and three to four years before Technics and Rod Lee get going. What Griff and Booman did was shake the house elements out of club almost entirely, making it even gnarlier and harder, more sample-based. Soon after, there is the Technics and Rod Lee era, which reduced club to only its most spare, aggressive parts. See? Three different takes on hard-house for a tough city; each one begat the next one and the sound molted into something even more specifically "Bmore." They are as similar yet distinctive as say, Bmore, Philly, and Jersey club.
If this all seems like nerdy nitpicking, well, think about it the way you might think about '60s rock: We rarely consider the Beatles, who put out their first album in 1963, the same as Led Zeppelin, who put out their first album in 1969, and we generally even understand Jimi Hendrix, whose debut was released in 1967, as of a different rock 'n' roll moment. Sure, it's all part of "'60s rock" in some way or another, but they're part of three separate '60s rock sounds because a lot of shit changed in that short period. Club was the same way (it then suffered a period of stagnation until Blaqstarr and other teen-oriented producers appeared in the early 2000s).
One problem with club music's messy history is that the producers themselves aren't exactly reliable historians themselves. Last weekend, I saw DJ Booman and Jimmy Jones (together known as the Doo Dew Kidz) perform at Kahlon at the Crown. It was exhilarating, particularly the call-and-response, running commentary of Jones. That's a lost art in club music, really. Toward the end of the set, Jones reminded the crowd who "started" Baltimore club. Now, we know what Jones means: He ain't new to this shit and the slick 25-year-old laptop dinks need to fall back or at least bow down (and hell, DJ Booman is probably the best Baltimore club producer of all time). But it's not exactly true to suggest that the Doo Dew Kidz, who don't really begin releasing records until 1994 or so, are the guys who "started" the genre. It was at least three years old by that point.
Then again, if you go back to 1991, clubs origins aren't so clear there either, because its formation as am underground genre coincides with its biggest mainstream hit to this day: 2 Hyped Brothers and a Dog's 'Doo Doo Brown,' a quasi-club song from big-deal radio personality Frank Ski, who thought it wise to incorporate Baltimore's hard-house interest with hip-hop and Miami bass. And well, what do we make of two white guys, Scottie and Equalizer, being there for club's formation? The music is inarguably "black"—it's based on black forms of dance that came before it and it was played and sculpted in black clubs—but it is interesting and not often acknowledged that two white boys were there from the start.
If you look at the 'I Got The Rhythm' record's label, there's a funny quote at the bottom that says, "he ain't no white boy, he's my nigga," which seems like a way for the two to acknowledge their whiteness. It's a shame all of the cracker DJs and remixers who've swiped the sound wholesale haven't been as self-aware. The best way to understand Scottie and Equalizer's early contribution is to think of it as not unlike the story of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, which was mostly white guys, contributing key elements of the black soul sound.
How does this white dork who certainly wasn't in the clubs in the '90s figure all of this out? By collecting the records and doing some goddamned research and dicking around on websites like Discogs. Pretty simple. The labels on these dusty 12-inches are about the only thing that doesn't lie when it comes to club music history.
Consider this: if you flip the 'I Got the Rhythm' 12-inch over, the B-side is 'Angel X,' a song featuring a gay vocalist who delivers an outrageous monologue over some house music keyboard stabs: "To all you cum-catching motherfuckers, Angel X is in town/ And I ride yes, on a 15-inch hard dick/ Just to let you know, I live it, I eat it, I suck it, and yes I will fuck it./ Alright, here I am." Later on, Angel calls Miss Tony, "Miss phony Tony." Now this is 1991, one year before Tony's debut on record ('Tony's Bitch Track'), though Tony and Frank Ski were collaborating in clubs as early as 1989, so, what's the deal with this song and Angel X and Miss Tony? This apparently one-sided beef is not interesting to me at all, but the idea that so early on, there were two queer voices on wax, involved in club music, is significant.
You would think some of this, any of this really, would be part of the club conversation, but instead it has been reduced to "old" and "new" because it's easier and less messy and allows the people writing about this stuff, booking these shows, blogging about it, and supposedly "supporting" it, who haven't done their research and don't care to do their research, to fake their way through the genre's knotty, fast-moving first decade.
And finally, my favorite songs and albums from October:
- FMG Dez, 'Road To Riches Intro' (listen)
- G-Rock, 'I'm The One' (listen)
- Iceage, 'How Many' (listen)
- Nerftoss, 'Bottomless' (listen)
- RiFF RAFF & I Love Makonnen, 'Syrup In My Soda' (listen)