Debonair Samir's 'Samir's Theme' 10 years later

City Paper

Nothing but busy, rambunctious horns showcased loud and clear, Debonair Samir’s ‘Samir’s Theme’ is a timeless, energizing Baltimore club cut that serves as an introduction to club music for many around the world and remains a defining track for the genre’s dedicated fanbase since its release in 2005.

“I was just playing around with it and one of my childhood friends, Mike Mumbles, heard it and was like, ‘Give it to me right now!’ because he was DJing at [early 2000s Baltimore nightclub] The Tunnel at the time,” Samir recalls, 10 years later over coffee. “He went and played it and said ‘Everybody lost their minds. You really gotta put it out.’”

‘Samir’s Theme’ was featured on “Samir’s Theme EP,” released by Unruly Records. “A couple people overseas licensed it for me and Diplo tried to buy it from me for $500,” Samir claims. But he kept the track for himself and enjoyed the benefits of his accidental hit as it took him from Baltimore to Taiwan to London and everywhere in between.

Baltimore club music was known for its gritty production and repetitive, anthemic vocal samples. And most often, they served as high-energy urban dance-floor confessionals—glorifying partying and sex. But ‘Samir’s Theme’ abandoned all of the typical characteristics of Baltimore club music in favor of super-clean production and hyperactive horns, making it more palatable for dance floors around the world.

The track is now viewed as a predecessor to songs from hard-hitting EDM producers Swedish House Mafia and Dutch house hero Afrojack (‘Samir’s Theme’ received a vinyl rerelease in 2007 on Netherlands-based label, Digidance).

Samir characterizes the track’s creation as an accident: “I was a club music producer as a means of survival back then,” he admits. “People paid you up front for your club tracks. Bernie [Rabinowitz] of Music Liberated used to buy [Baltimore club] tracks for $500 each, so whenever I needed some money real quick, I would just make a couple club tracks and sell it to him.” Rabinowitz died in a car accident in early 2003, but DJ Technics’ record store, Clubtrax, offered a similar deal for purchasing club music from producers. “That’s when ‘Samir’s Theme’ came about because for about two weeks, I stayed in and made like, a hundred club music tracks,” Samir says.

Through the success of ‘Samir’s Theme,’ Samir met controversial figure Aaron LaCrate, often credited for helping to spread club music, but also criticized for interloping, appropriation, and crudely rebranding club music. “[Aaron] was the first person I dealt with that actually made me money,” Samir says. As it turns out, Samir met LaCrate through Baltimore club pioneer, Scottie B. “Scottie called me and said, ‘You wanna make money off this white boy? He thinks he can bring back Baltimore club music,’” he says. “They thought it was dead, but Aaron introduced it to a different crowd, so it started blowin’ up.”

Among the many reasons club music spread in the mid-2000s was because of LaCrate and the similarly controversial Diplo. It wasn’t that club music wasn’t on the radar of hip-hop and dance producers, it’s just that people like LaCrate made it acceptable for the industry to acknowledge the music. LaCrate and Samir remixed Madonna in 2008 and released “B-More Gutter Music Vol. Too,” and in 2009, New York producer Swizz Beatz, known for his own horn-heavy production, rapped over ‘Samir’s Theme’ on a track called ‘I’m Cool,’ something that’s hard to imagine without LaCrate’s heavy-handed boosterism. The same year, after nearly three years of delays, LaCrate and Samir released the proper album “B-More Club Crack,” a club-tinged party rap album whose controversial rebranding of club music as “club crack” and “gutter music” was the main reason locals paid attention to it.

Although he doesn’t work with LaCrate anymore, Samir is diplomatic about the situation: “I never got involved with the drama because it never affected my career. We were still traveling the world.”

In 2009 he started a project called Da Yo Boyz with Mike Mumbles and a young Murder Mark (now known as Mighty Mark) and it was Samir that introduced Mark to TT The Artist, birthing one of current club’s most fruitful collaborations.

More recently, Samir has decided to put himself back out there again as a producer. “I just need to release some material,” he says. “I never release anything.” And while Samir occasionally DJs around the city, like his happy-hour residency at Peju’s in Woodlawn or one-offs at Baltimore club showcases, producing is his true passion.

Samir is currently working on a series of party-starting EPs, aptly titled the Whatever series because of its lack of commitment to a particular style at this point. He plans to release three of them, the first arriving by the end of March, each EP boasting roughly five tracks each. The Whatever series aims to create hype for a full-length release titled “Samir’s Revenge,” which he plans to release by the end of this summer.

The first track released is ‘Drunk,’ a simple exploration of club music with the focus on tipsy horns that sound like they’ve seen the bottom of a bottle. Samir admits that he hasn’t heard much in the way of new Baltimore club music, but of the tracks he has heard, nothing has struck him as a future hit yet. He just opened a new studio off 22nd Street to assist young club producers.

“People here have an ego problem,” Samir says. “They’re scared of everything for some strange reason. [They] have their heads up, all about self, and they just live scared. They’re so used to people scheming, lying, and stealing. And they’re very scared of the unknown. But this world is huge and beautiful and spectacular and the unknown is wonderful.” 

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