New York-based Baltimorean Aaron LaCrate and local producer Debonair Samir originally teamed up to create this rough-edged 14-track compilation in 2006. It's a follow up, of sorts, to 2005's LaCrate and Hollertronix comp B-More Gutter Music and 2008's LaCrate and Samir produced B-More Gutter Music Vol. Too, both of which were inspired by the frenetic pace and sometimes outlandish attitudes of Baltimore club music. Samir eases off the BPM throttle for Club Crack, slowing the beat to a more hip-hop friendly 80 BPMs or so. It's an inviting setting for some familiar local MCs to ply their trade. Local veterans D.O.G., Tim Trees, Mullyman, and B.Rich each make an appearance here--even though Mully's "The Real Is Back" and Trees' "F.I.R.E." are familiar to local ears by now--along with battle-rap freestyler Verb from Dirty Hartz, local up-and-coming femcee Mz Streamz, and a few obligatory guests (Vegas' UG'Z, Washington's King Slixta). It's a string of trunk-rattling bangers from stem to stern, with chest punching and hip moving beats, rough hewn subject matter, and as dance-floor-ready as any radio-ready hip-hop mix. And that may be the album's lone flaw.
"Gutter music" and "club crack" are, presumably, LaCrate putting his own brand twist on some aspects of his hometown's native sound. All it gravitates toward, though, is its outlaw patina. A woman named Janeeba introduces the album and identifies Baltimore club crack as the "home of the chicken box, home of the half and half, home of the dirt bike, n***as hitting in a hole, n***as fighting dogs in the park," and the MCs don't stray too far away from that attitude. Verb goes straight for the gully party jugular in "Post Up," bragging that he's got a full tank of gas and is "trying to find me some ass and shake something," before running down his evening's plan: posting up at Hammerjacks, the 'Dox, Club Mate, and hitting Club Choices about 2 a.m. As booty window shopping odes goes, it's a spry number, cruising along a simple backing beat and a siren strafing the background. It's fun to hear the local signposts in the mix, but the generic boasts of the lyrics--$500 jeans, rings, and the usual nonsense about "real thick thighs, her ass jiggles like Jell-o/ it don't matter though, I'm trying to get a fatter ho"--make the track a bit mundane. Elsewhere, female MC Keesh--who spits with a fierce menace--continues the hard streets talk in "Name Ya Hood," boasting "in the hearts of the hood you find the blue lights flashing/ we got the pre-paid and keep on stashing/ Baltimore believe its vicious on them streets/ n***as don't give a fuck because every ni***a trying to eat."
Now, a very large swath of Baltimore's music--from its street punk to its hip-hop and club--is heavily indebted to its working-class neighborhoods' social highs and lows. But at this point in the evolution of Baltimore's young black music, isolating it only to this narrow spectrum feels so one-dimensional. Whether or not you grew up here or have only started to pay attention in the past 10 years, what makes local dance music and hip-hop so vital is how diverse it is. Baltimore club and hip-hop, yes, do thrive in some rough neighborhoods and clubs and the music reflects that, but the music is also witty, funny, insurgent, sexy, and very often introspectively ecstatic--reactions against the cliché stories of the so-called hood. 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.
That being said, the mainstream commercial appeal of Club Crack is undeniable, especially in the form of Mz Streamz. Her "Tear It Up" is an music-blog meme waiting to erupt. Samir lays down a minimally pulsating backdrop over which she delivers a lively splash of dance moves and shout-outs that could be as virally popular as 2007's "Shake It to the Ground." The standout track, though, is B. Rich's woozy "Trigger Play," a discombobulating haze of patchwork beats and what might well be a Burroughs cut-up of a Guns & Ammo article and lived-through-this defense of gun control that could only come from a city that posts alarming murder rates.