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Baltimore Hip-Hop: An iTunes Playlist

August 23, 2007
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Mullyman | Image by Christopher Myers

One of the frustrating parts about writing about Baltimore music, especially when those words are broadcast all over the web, is that so much of it, often some of the best stuff, is only available in a scant few local stores, if that. Even now, while CD sales plummet and the online music marketplace continues to grow, only a rare handful of local labels have bothered to make their music available on the biggest digital retailer, Apple’s iTunes store. You might be able to cop your favorite local rapper’s mixtape all over Baltimore, but if that rapper is, say, Skarr Akbar or ShellBe R.A.W. or Huli Shallone, you won’t find a single song on iTunes. So we decided to see what MCs we could find music by in the store and put together a sampler that can be burned to fit on an 80-minute disc. Click here to preview the songs and buy the mix or individual tracks.

1. Mullyman “Oh Baltimore”
His 2005 debut, Mullymania, remains one of the biggest independent releases local rap has ever seen, so it’s not surprising to find it on iTunes. And there’s no better way to start off the mix than with one of Mully’s best, which samples Nina Simone’s cover of Randy Newman’s jaundiced ode to our city.

2. Ms. Stress “I Used To”
When we think of this Ms. Stress cut, we fondly recall the time she performed it at the 5 Seasons with Pork Chop as her hypeman, shouting out the chorus and making it even more frenzied and anthemic.

3. Third Kind featuring Ogun “Get Live”
Ogun is another star of Baltimore hip-hop who surprisingly has no records on iTunes, but we did sniff out his scene-stealing appearance on Third Kind’s 2006 album Disaster Relief.

4. DK “A Part of History”
When Diplomats-affiliated Harlem group Purple City gave a track from its 2005 debut over to Baltimore associate DK, it probably didn’t realize the track, with a beat by Bossman’s production team, One Up, would murder everything else on the album.

5. Wade Waters “Who But Me”
This Columbia-based duo’s 2006 album Dark Waters is full of lush, retro boom-bap and conscious lyrics, but we’re shallow and dig the song with the Jay-Z sample the most.

6. Labtekwon “Dr. Strangelove”
It’s appropriate that Labtekwon, one of the longest-running and most revered local MCs, has by far the most music on iTunes out of anyone here: 14 full-lengths from his solo catalog, plus albums from side projects like the Tao of Slick and CSD. Out of that ocean of material, we had to go with this Lynn Collins-sampling favorite from 2005′s Avant God.

7. Jade Fox “Just Wana Be”
One of the newest front-runners of Baltimore’s nascent femcee movement, Jade Fox has made one of the best local albums of the year so far with Ashes of Another Life, including this wistful, piano-driven track.

8. Comp “Get N2 It”
One of the more surprising finds we came across putting together this mix was 2004′s two-song Comp single released from the soundtrack for the Def Jam Vendetta video game–in which Comp was a playable character–and which also included the Layzie Bone collaboration “Get ‘Em.”

9. Young Leek “Jiggle It”
Things haven’t been looking good lately for Baltimore’s other Def Jam signing, Young Leek, at least based on Stay Gettin’s reaction when we asked about Leek’s deal last time we saw them at the Making the Right Moves Conference. Still, whatever happens to the young rapper’s career, everyone will remember how this song ruled the city in ’05.

10. Little Clayway featuring Cappadonna, DL, Cooli Hi, and Tim Trees “The Murda Collaboration”
Little Clayway‘s compilation The Takeover is full of tracks worth highlighting, but we had to go with this posse cut featuring the Wu-Tang Clan’s Cappadonna and several distinguished local MCs.

11. Bossman “You’re Wrong”
Yet another promising local rapper whose career went into a standstill as soon as he signed a major-label deal, Bossman finally got out of his Virgin contract recently, just a few months after our cover story made clear that such a move seemed like an inevitability. Still, this song, one of two singles the label released on iTunes during his tenure, makes clear that Bossman knows how to make great music even when it’s not particularly radio-friendly.

12. B. Rich “Somebody Snitched”
B. Rich’s major-label album, 2002′s 80 Dimes, is on iTunes, of course, but so is one of his independent releases, this year’s Hurry Up and Weight: The Wire Soundtrack. Many Baltimore artists have been eager to capitalize on the popularity of the HBO show, but B. Rich steps over the line into false advertising with the title of this disc, especially galling considering that Darkroom Productions did release an album full of music from the show this year. And even though we’d love to never hear another rap song about snitching ever again, we have to hand it to B. Rich for coming up with the million-dollar idea of the “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas” sample on this song.

13. D.O.G. featuring Jim Jones “I Get Doe”
D.O.G. signed to Universal Records last year, but his first peek at major-label exposure came a few months earlier, on the Def Jam soundtrack to the middling action flick Waist Deep. The collaboration with Diplomats capo Jim Jones, produced by Baltimore club vet Debonair Samir, is one of D.O.G.’s best tracks, although the early mixtape version, in which the hook samples Lil Wayne’s “Go D.J.,” is still preferable to this official mix in which someone has replaced the chorus with a bad Lil Wayne impression.

14. Jim Jones featuring Dr. Ben Chavis, Max B., NOE, and Rell “Concrete Jungle”
Once again the Diplomats prove themselves to be unexpected champions of Baltimore hip-hop, particularly thanks to Jim Jones, who signed NOE to his Byrd Gang label and featured him on this posse cut from last year’s hit album Hustler’s P.O.M.E.

15. Nik Stylz “Soldiers”
Mullyman’s sister and Major League Unlimited labelmate is also a rapper, and while her ambitious double album Believe in Me isn’t due out until later this year, iTunes has her debut, last year’s Love Me or Hate Me.

16. Minlus McCracken “Mission Accomplished”
In this standout from the duo’s recent album, Rock and a Hard Place, Minlus and McCracken self-deprecatingly stage a call-and-response hook in which the audience’s response to questions about how they sound and look is answered back with a matter-of-fact “like shit,” before the rappers shrug, “Damn, thanks for being honest, but it’s called a work in progress.”

17. Ab-Rock “With Ease”
Ab-Rock‘s The Mid-Midlife Crisis is one of our most anticipated local rap albums of the coming months, but in the meantime we’ll whet our appetites with this track from Undersound Music’s Breaking Ground Vol. 1.

18. Barnes featuring Highs-N-Pistol “Tattoo Tears”
Barnes‘s 2006 album The Last Shall Be First was full of 92Q staples, but “Tattoo Tears” might be the bleakest, most mournful local songs we’ve ever heard on the radio, as well as one of the best.

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