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The Club Beat With Dukeyman

April 17, 2008
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Last week, a piece of vinyl titled Baltimore Club Classics Vol. 1 showed up on Chicago-based music distributor Crosstalk‘s web site, featuring six club killers from the back catalog of esteemed local producer Ron “Dukeyman” Hall. The record is the first in a planned series of official club music reissues on the label, approved by the original artists. And, if you’ll pardon me taking some credit, the seeds were planted a few months ago, when I received an e-mail from Crosstalk’s Phillip Hertz.

The demand for Baltimore club music vinyl has long exceeded the supply, with most of the local stores that once stocked 12-inches shuttering and many club DJs going digital, while the international audience for the music has only grown. After I wrote a blog post that Crosstalk was looking for club vinyl, the responses came pouring in and, as a result, numerous club music veterans–including DJ Technics, Rod Lee, and Diamond K–should be issuing releases through Crosstalk in the coming months, making long out-of-print classic tracks available on vinyl again, in some cases for the first time in a decade. This week, I sat down with Dukeyman in his basement studio in Cedonia to talk about his first installment in the series, more forthcoming volumes, and his feelings on the past and present of B-more club.

Hall, 35, has always been one of the few club veterans who doesn’t hold his tongue when it comes to asserting that the state of the genre isn’t what it used to be. A couple years ago, when I first interviewed him for the 2006 Big Music Issue, he was even so bold as to state that “club music is dead, done.” Dukeyman admits, however, that his perspective may be the result of a generation gap, having been less involved in the scene in recent years. “Me makin’ [tracks] is not the problem,” he says. “I’m not just gonna sit here makin’ ‘em, and try to chase down these DJs that are gonna play my song. I’m from the old school; there’s a whole bunch of new cats.”

Never bound to club music, the multi-instrumentalist has made everything from house music to gospel. And as the producer behind one of Baltimore hip-hop’s biggest national hits, B. Rich’s “Whoa Now,” Dukeyman continues to work with local rappers like Ray Victory as well as R&B singers like Kia Calloway.

Baltimore Club Classics Vol. 1 is culled largely from the ’90s and early ’00s, a time when Hall says local producers were a much more tightly knit, collaborative group. “We all was cool,” he says. “So if Rod Lee said, ‘Yo, make me a couple tracks, put ‘em on my album,’ cool. I slipped him a joint. So me and Technics did an album. We swap out tracks, everybody just helpin’ each other get money, just puttin’ their little two cents in. Not sayin’ they couldn’t sit there and make their own whole album, but everybody makes tracks differently.”

In fact, the A-side on Vol. 1, the Michael Jackson-sampling “Doo Dew Rock,” has previously been widely credited to DJ Technics, since it was a track Dukeyman originally contributed to a Technics record.

Hall already has another EP done for the Baltimore Club Classics series, although he doesn’t know if it will be the second volume in the series, with volumes by some of his friends and peers also in the pipeline. His next set will feature “Rock Wilder” and some of Dukeyman’s collaborations with Theo, the vocalist best known for his appearance on the club classic “Shorty You Phat.” Hall has no immediate plans to release new club tracks at the moment, although he still records some when the mood strikes him, including two recent creations currently featured on his MySpace page: “Go Dumb Club Track,” featuring a bouncy sample from E-40′s “Tell Me When To Go,” and “Silly Club Track.”

Hall’s latest hobby is graphic design, and he’s taken up a side gig making fliers and CD covers for DJ friends–which means that you might pick up a DJ Kenny K club mix with cover art by Dukeyman, but no tracks by the producer. Still, with the new opportunities opened for distribution of his classics by the contract with Crosstalk, Hall hints that he might be persuaded to press up some of his new tracks eventually as well. “If I got an avenue to use ‘em,” he says, “I’m'a use ‘em.”

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