“My shit has to be stellar, especially because it’s me,” DDm declares over lunch at a Mount Vernon café on a wet Sunday in mid-January, the Ravens vs. Patriots playoff game buzzing in the background. “I have to create cinema with this one.” He isn’t simply gassing me up about his latest project, a rap/club concept album called Winter and the Tinman’s Heart. He’s acknowledging that as Baltimore’s “gay rapper,” there’s just way more stacked up against him.
Cynics in the city have framed his coming out as a gimmick, which is, of course, total bullshit. He’s been a well-established and respected MC in Baltimore since the mid-2000s, first as Midas, a vicious, hilarious battle rapper, and, until recently, as Dappa!!! Dan Midas, a member of Mania Music Group. But he’s patient with rappers who now keep their distance. “Post-coming out, rappers respect me, but they’ll never say it, and I understand why,” he says matter-of-factly.
DDm’s decision to publicly announce his homosexuality on the cover of Baltimore’s Gay Life newspaper last July was brought on by a simple “Who gives a fuck?” expressed by close friends, as well as a nagging desire to make a difference: “When I was still in high school, I used to think, maybe I’ll be that guy that pops the top off,” he says, “but I wasn’t out yet.” The story of DDm, gay MC, though, begins at a Red Maple rap battle in March 2010—more than a year before his coming out.
That night, he went up against A-Class, one of the city’s most respected and relentless battle rappers. In the first round, DDm, whose sexual orientation was speculated upon by many in the Baltimore rap world, hurled this at A-Class: “When I come hard, you know that it’s over, I got Vaseline motherfucker, bend over.”
“I knew he was gonna try to call me a faggie,” DDm recalls, unimpressed, “so I was gonna try to take the power out of that.” A-Class took the bait, calling him a “faggot” as soon as it was his turn to respond. In the next round, DDm rhymed an arch love letter to A-Class. After that, the usually whip-smart rapper’s comebacks just weren’t hitting like they should. A-Class lost the battle.
Via e-mail, A-Class has kind words to say about DDm (“he is a beast”) and added, “If I knew he was gay, I would have not called him a faggot,” while stressing that “in a battle, nothing is sacred.” “Faggot” is unfortunately part of battle-rap vocab, and DDm did make his fair share of “shrimp fried rice” jokes about the Korean MC. “There is no humility in hip-hop,” DDm observes, “so that’s just how it is.” He seems more entertained by the predictability of the gay slur than offended.
Within days of the battle, though, the wildly popular, ruthlessly trashy video web site World Star Hip-Hop posted footage of A-Class vs. Midas with the title “Oh Em Gee. New Age? 1st Gay Battle Rapper Makes MC Think About A Career Change!” A Baltimore hip-hop talking point went viral.
If DDm wanted to use his homosexuality as a “gimmick”—which, by the way, he is totally allowed to do—or even as the impetus for the major statement he pondered since high school, then would’ve been the time. But it didn’t feel right. “Living off a hype like that—it’s sensationalized,” he explains. “I would’ve gotten swallowed up if I went after that.” His bold decision not to seize the moment is an instructive tale of resisting the urge for 15 minutes of internet fame.
DDm’s music seemed to change after the battle though. His solo songs on Mania’s debut album Welcome to the Audience were angry—in sharp contrast to the playful weirdness of his 2008 EP Live From the Arcade. And he released a series of aggressive video freestyles, including one for the Lox’s “Money, Power, Respect,” in which he’s shown dead-eyed, hiding in his apartment, endlessly puffing cigarettes. At some point in 2010, he parted ways with Mania Music Group. When and how isn’t clear, and he’s coy about the details.
“Velvet Limousine” and “Legendary,” two Baltimore club/hip-hop hybrids, arrived in early 2011. Both were credited to his new alias, DDm. At the end of July, one week after the Gay Life cover, he put out TV Killed the Radio Star. It isn’t necessarily a “coming out” record—homosexuality is never explicitly mentioned—but it feels significantly more alive and unrestricted than his recent work. He raps over the theme song to the TV show Martin, chants like a club vocalist, and impersonates a room full of snotty kindergartners. It’s ridiculous and loads of fun.
On TV Killed the Radio Star’s closer “Last on Ur Dial,” DDm raps, “Trying to be a better man/ But for me to grow mama, you’ve got to understand/ That I have got to confront who I truly am.” Those few wizened lines foreshadowed Winter and the Tinman’s Heart, his concept EP about “underdogs, outsiders” and the gay experience, released for free on Valentine’s Day.
The single, “Piece of My Heart,” begins with a flurry of news clips, announcing the murder of John Lennon and the deaths of Freddie Mercury and Liberace from AIDS-related complications. Two songs produced by Adam Schwarz inject ragged, club-music-tinged, party-my-pain-away joy into the album. “Click, Pow,” featuring Rye Rye, and “Fake Girls,” a nod to drag-queen club legend Miss Tony, parody knock-off-rocking fashionistas, and explicitly tie club music to the gay, underground Ball culture. “High School” addresses bullying and eerily sympathizes with school shooters. Imagine, if you can, a rap record ready for an expressive, theatrical production by the Cockettes that nevertheless knocks good and proper.
“These are stories that need to be told,” DDm announces toward the end of our meal, “and someone’s gotta tell those stories.” We watch the Ravens lose to the Patriots. He sighs dejectedly, then immediately goes into a hilarious, Pentecostal rant about how the Ravens party too much and that’s why they lost. I thank him for his time, but also because I think what he’s doing is important. “I’m not brave, bitch, I ain’t Martin Luther King,” he tells me with a smile. “I’m just going up there and performing.”