It took six conversations with five different people from four different area codes—10 emails, 12 more phone calls—and about 30 miles of driving for me to catch up with the homie Tate Kobang, who is actually from around the corner from my crib. His music made the journey worth it—the East Baltimore rapper is nice. His lyrics are sharp, he's quick with an original presence. Like most other people, you probably know him because of his 2015 banger 'Bank Rolls,' a remake of the classic Tim Trees track 'Bank Roll' from back in 2000 that is currently gaining national attention.
The Trees version lit up the early 2000s. It didn't matter if you were at those elbow-room-only clubs on Belair Road such as Breeze and Jazzmatics or my bar Stadium Hideaway on the south side, or at a cookout, a house party, a baby shower—wherever you were, when 'Bank Roll' cranked, everybody lost it. You'd have to be from Baltimore to get it. Fellas held their homeboys up while women danced backward on them and everybody's Nikes got stepped on as the walls knocked and the clubs shook. We celebrated in an inexplicable way that only club music—Trees' rap track was produced by Baltimore club icon Rod Lee—can make one celebrate.
Trees made noise locally but never developed a mainstream presence. B. Rich came after, with his hit'Whoa Now,' which delivered that same feeling, but again didn't give Baltimore that permanent place in the mainstream hip-hop conversation. Both Trees and B. Rich worked with legendary Baltimore producer DukeyMan, one of the pioneers of the 410 sound, engineer for Tate Kobang, and the host of my first meeting with the rising MC.
I roll up to DukeyMan's lab about an hour early, hit him on the horn, and then meet him at the door. Everything in his studio is neat, coordinated, and placed perfectly—one of those spots where you're scared to touch anything because you know you'll get in trouble.
"It's great to see rappers from the city getting record deals now, bro," I tell him. "Tate with 300, Young Moose with Boosie."
DukeyMan agrees and then starts playing me some of Tate's unreleased tracks—tracks that may make it on to his next mixtape or untitled debut album. As our heads knock, I think, "It's crazy how much dude has already grown as an artist in under a year."
"Tate doesn't have just one sound," DukeyMan says. "He's a super talented entertainer who is industry ready. The best thing about Tate is his time management. That dude can lay five tracks in five hours, which is phenomenal. I love workin' with him."
A bell screams and DukeyMan buzzes Tate in from another room. He isn't wearing Air Jordans or Foamposites, I notice. What other rapper besides Tate Kobang wear Reeboks?
We got right to it. He talks about the influence gospel music has on his sound, past and current hardships, and being humble. Tate's a talker—thoughts on his childhood, his early love for music, being a father of five, and the way he is perceived pour out of him. It flows like one of his verses; DukeyMan should've been recording. A stranger would bet that this wasn't our first meeting. Our conversation mirrored a weekly therapy session that has been going on for years, though either one of us could play the patient or the doctor.
Tate Kobang, 23, born Joshua Goods, is an old head trapped in a young man's body. He has a wealth of knowledge on local hip-hop combined with knowledge of regional and national hip-hop, and the classics with other genres sprinkled on top. He credits his uncle, Baltimore rapper Killa Q, with spoon-feeding him the best '90s music from his infant to formative years.
"My uncle put me on with Lauryn Hill, Method Man's 'Tical,' Lost Boyz, pretty much all of the best artists," he says. "I knew so much about music, that I was actually writing for him by the time I got to middle school. I was a little guy and they'd sneak me into clubs where I'd watch him perform the songs I wrote!"
Tate's love for music and words only increased by the time he got to high school. A cocktail of inconsistency and instability bounced him around multiple schools in the Baltimore area. He found an unlikely home at a Central York High School in York, Pennsylvania, where he learned to read music and play the saxophone. He also "rapped every day during those years and was getting good," but never considered it as a career.
Tate didn't finish at the high school in York, but he brought his skills back to Baltimore as a teenage father and slipped into the troubled aspects of culture that traps many young black men.
"I wasn't grindin' like I could have been," Tate says. "I wasn't really takin anything serious, just getting women, ridin' around in cars and chillin. And then my mom died and everything changed."
Tate's mom believed in his talents and thought that he could make it big as an artist and he made a promise to his mom: "After my mom died, I took rap serious. I started making my best music, music that was so good, that my team and I knew labels had to start reaching out."
A rack of labels showed interest in Tate; Kevin Liles, Baltimore native and one of 300 Entertainment founders, won Tate over. Now Tate is working on his first studio album. The untitled project is set to be released next year. He has dreams of putting Baltimore on the map, creating opportunity for every person in the city who dreams of touching a mic: "Helping people come up is important to me, I want that to be a huge part of my career. I truly believe that everybody can eat."
As we wrapped up, we joked about "crabs in a barrel," that whole idea that Baltimore people pull each other down instead of being a plug or a resource for their fellow artists. I told Tate that a barrel isn't a crab's natural habitat, and maybe those crabs are just protecting their fellow crab-brothers from that steaming pot on the other side. We went half on a laugh, and agreed that either way, we are responsible for putting our people on.
"I'm not even close to rich, but I look out for everyone. I want to see everyone win! Especially from Baltimore," Tate says.
That's my biggest fear for Tate. That his heart might overpower or even prevent him from being successful. So many people who dedicated their lives to putting on never come up in the crabs-in-a-barrel conversation. They're the ones who only receive their just due after they passed or interest in them has faded. You give, give, give and rarely receive anything in return but some slight praise from people who are also in the race to suck you dry.
Prayerfully, Tate can avoid that because he definitely has the skills to be a great. I hope his opportunities out live the opportunists.