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Urban Hang Suite

February 8, 2008

You’ll be forgiven if you thought that the 13th Floor and the Owl Bar were the only places to grab a beer in the Belvedere Hotel. We, too, were unaware of a third nightspot in the Mount Vernon institution until recently, when local hip-hop label For the People Entertainment invited us to Suite, a cozy little club a couple floors below the hotel’s lobby, for an interview. The relatively new venue has just started hosting live music on a weekly basis in the last few months with a Wednesday night R&B showcase and Thursdays’ hip hop-focused Indie Night, which we checked out this past week–once again at the invitation of For the People artists Billo and Yuk. The nicely furnished room was a little swankier than the average club, but didn’t feel too stuffy for people to network and enjoy themselves. We wouldn’t mind if it became a new go-to venue for local hip-hop.

Another artist recently profiled in City Paper, Heavy Gold, was also on the bill. And in running into him early in the night, we learned the disappointing news that his deal with Epic, which was only announced in September, has already gone up in smoke. But Heavy Gold’s set, in which he shouted himself hoarse performing unforgivingly bleak material such as “Murder and the Dope” and “Drug Dealer,” was a reminder of why the label probably wouldn’t have known how to market him anyway.

Throughout the night, a hostess spoke to the crowd from the stage, kept the show moving, and made an earnest attempt at getting artists to say a bit about themselves before their performances. But few really got into the exercise, and Billo hilariously tossed off the idea by announcing, “My name is Billo, I’m a Leo, and I love unicorns.” Billo spent his set previewing new material from his forthcoming third mixtape, while closing with one familiar favorite, the catchy “Stand Up Guy” from 2006′s Daily Grind Vol. 2. Later, his labelmate Yuk energetically performed tracks from his new Music Is My Life EP, including the catchy, T-Pain-sampling “Hey Lil Mama (What the Business Is?),” at one point taking advantage of his wireless mic and running through the room to perform a verse or two standing on top of the bar. In most clubs, a stunt like that would probably make a mess or cause some staffers to freak out, but in Suite’s relaxed atmosphere, no one batted an eye. Also performing was Dirt Platoon–a trio that has recently been on tour, a rarity for Baltimore hip-hop artists–promoting new mixtapes by group members Mr. Marcus and the duo 80′z Boyz.

Suite was also full of familiar local figures this evening, from Ogun to EJ to Stay Gettin’ Productions, but the shock of the night was an appearance by one of the orginators of hip-hop itself, Busy Bee Starski. In the history books as one of New York’s first solo MCs in the genre’s early days, Busy Bee has been living in Baltimore the last few years, and was in town between recent tours with KRS-One. When asked to come up onstage and speak for a couple minutes, he spit a quick freestyle and gave some encouraging words to the locals, acknowledging that while some of the performers hadn’t even been born when he was laying the groundwork in the late ’70s, what’s going on in Baltimore is still absolutely hip-hop.

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