Back in 1988, Booda Monk was a “stalker”—one of many dancers on the floor engaged in a type of dance called stalking in which dancers followed each other from one side of the club to the other, adding unique moves along the way. Monk’s club was Centre and Highland’s locally famed Club Fantasy where he aimed to impress in hip-hop style with a high-top fade.
Nearly 30 years later, styles have changed—Monk’s now smartly dressed in a khaki-colored fedora with a light blue band, which matches the button-down he wears under a dark denim jacket with a vibrant graphic on the back, and jeans—but he still dances with a lightness of foot and the exuberant positivity of someone who lives for what he does: spreading hip-hop culture. Looking through black-rimmed glasses, he projects a warm, quiet energy as he reflects on Baltimore hip-hop, graffiti, and dance history and why he has after all these years, decided to leave Baltimore and spread his homegrown vision of hip-hop outside the city.
He was first introduced to Club Fantasy in high school. When school dances wrapped up, he’d head over there. The club drew dancers from out of state, and Monk learned house and club dances, locking, and beat-boxing. From there he traveled to clubs in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, where he became known as “Booda Monk.” The name originated because of a Buddha doll he carved and wore around his neck. Friends started calling him Booda, and Monk began also sporting a doll to wear around his neck—a troll doll with high hair—because of his high-top fade. “He was like my other character, he was like my other friend,” Monk says. “So every time I would do something, I would blame it on Ike.” The name also came from Monk’s own demeanor. After being picked on at a young age, which he says pushed him to get in fights, he learned to control his energy and find balance.
His love of dancing came about even earlier than high school though. “Before I could even walk, I was dancing,” Monk says. In the ’70s, he was the youngest of four boys in an apartment in Fairfax Gardens. “I would hold onto a chair, like a sofa, and I would just rock. I’d see [my brothers] dancing, having fun, and I’d want to participate.” He was mostly a quiet child who finally found himself when he started attending house parties: “I was kind of shy, but when the music was on, I’d just transform into another person.”
Hip-hop came along in the early ’70s in the Bronx, New York, and by the time it properly reached Baltimore in the early ’80s, dancers built on the moves they learned from movies such as “Beat Street,” “Wild Style,” and “Breakin,” and began battling. In his teens, Monk and his friends would walk to the dome at the Harbor and Security Square Mall. He would dance at Security Square as well as Mondawmin Mall. “I would get my earphones on and start breaking until the security guards pulled me out, and then I’d sneak in another door, and I would just dance again. They’d put me out again. And I would go outside, wait for the bus, dance at the bus stop, you know?”
Although he learned many styles, Monk gravitated toward popping because he could stay on his feet. “B-boying to me was so much harder. You know? Cause you had to be on the ground. And I wasn’t very acrobatic,” he says.
Starting with the closing of WEBB, a popular hip hop radio station in Baltimore that aired local talents in the mid-’80s, Monk says a lot of b-boy crews gradually lost interest in the scene and stopped dancing: “When they turned that radio station off, it seemed like hip-hop died in Baltimore. It seemed like people was not enthused about hip-hop. And we kept with it as long as we could, but a lot of us started falling off.”
Into the ’90s, hip-hop culture shifted further away from breaking. Monk remembers being one of the only dancers still popping and breaking at house parties. He believes as early as the late ’80s there was a movement to end hip-hop. People wanted to keep the races separated, he says. Because when you’re separated you’re powerless. “That was the plan, to kill hip-hop.” Musical content, Monk says, shifted to songs that “degrade women and push murder.” But as is often the case, younger people who weren’t old enough to dance when hip-hop started to watch Monk dance and wanted to learn. One of those dancers was Avery, who in ’96 started a crew called Deadly Venoms Crew (DVC) and reignited interest in the scene in Baltimore. Between ’96 and ’99, Monk watched DVC take hold and their dancing left him newly invigorated as well.
“They kinda put that energy back into me again, you know? Cause you gotta keep in mind that me doin’ all that by myself, like every day all day, for that many years—started becoming draining,” he says. Up until then, he had been spreading himself thin, dancing, doing graffiti, rapping, airbrushing. “That was my mission, to just keep it going. Keep the culture going. And that was my day and night. Aside from working, aside from going to school, my whole thing was to keep hip-hop alive,” he says.
“Now you have so many dancers, and it’s inspirational to see Baltimore go to this. From where I was at until now, I wish that a lot of these people that are young now could see where Baltimore was. Just to see how it’s grown from then to now,” he says. With dancers like Talbolt Johnson carrying the torch, Monk also feels like it’s time to move on to something bigger. He recently moved to Conyers, Georgia, and from there he plans to head overseas, first to Germany. Before going overseas, he plans to dance and focus on a few other hobbies, such as tattooing and koi pond building. Before he left Baltimore, he built a koi pond with his son.
Regardless of his new endeavors, he will always be first and foremost focused on hip-hop.
Just last week, he created a dedication piece to Scott MASK, “a legendary graff artist in Baltimore who passed last year,” Monk says. The piece done at Graffiti Alley was his last in the city before leaving. “No matter how old I get, I’mma always be in it,” he says. “Because to be honest, [hip-hop] saved my life. I could have been doing other things but, you know, I took on this. And I just wanna pass it down. Hoping that the next generation—younger generation—will take it and push it forward, like I did, you know?”