Teop Gets A Little Help From His Friends: Teop, Comp, Mullyman, Skarr Akbar, Little Clayway, Huli Shallone, Heavy Gold, 1st Family, SL Danga, Al Great, Sonar, June 26
It only happens once or twice a year, but now and then it feels like the whole Baltimore hip-hop community converges together under one roof for a particular show, where damn near half of it is on the bill and much of the remainder is in the audience networking. Usually, the occasion is the annual Bmore Fresh Fest or a similarly ambitious festival, but most recently it was a release party for a lesser known MC. Teop may still be a relatively obscure artist, but he’s clearly well connected, having pulled together local vets such as Comp, Mullyman and Skarr Akbar together for his big show, all of whom showed deference and respect to the man of the hour, making no attempt to steal the show from the headliner even when they could have.
Before the show began, DJ Spontaneous was running through what’s now becoming an unavoidable cliche of hip-hop in the summer of 2008–various freestyles and remixes of Lil Wayne’s “A Milli,” including a few by locals such as Verb and Mullyman. And when the first performer, SL Danga of the group Yung Huslas, took the stage, he threw that beat right back on and flowed over it again. A few more smaller acts, including Al Great and 1st Family, played short sets before the first of the billed performers, Skarr Akbar, began. Akbar has a reputation for putting on a great live show and pulling in a big crowd, but he also has a tendency to lose his temper onstage, often grandstanding and attempting to upstage the headliner. He was on his best behavior on Thursday, however–even appearing happy for once–and when he played his current single “Would U” he gave a hint of why: he finally has a song that 92Q is playing on a daily basis, getting some of the exposure that the underground MC, who’d been shut out of local radio for years, so richly deserves.
Some of Baltimore’s more career-minded MCs have been splitting their time lately between home and the Southern hub of the urban music industry, Atlanta. And two of them, Little Clayway and Mullyman, planned trips back here that coincided with Teop’s show. Little Clayway was in town getting the word out about his next album A New Beginning, due out later this summer, and performed a set heavy on new stuff, including the Marvin Gaye-sampling slow jam “I’m Hot.” Teop had the good sense not to take his headliner status literally and hold out for a performance at the end of the night, instead hitting the stage right in the middle of the show while the size of the crowd was peaking and playing a short, genial set full of catchy tracks such as “2 Step It Out.”
Mullyman jumped onstage, briefly playing hypeman to Teop, but truly spazzed out when it was time for his own set soon after. Mully has always been a live -wire performer, but was like a man possessed tonight, particularly when his DJ Booman-produced Baltimore club hit “Party Walk” kicked in. Mullyman jumped off the stage and rapped the song while hopping across barstools, running to the photo studio area set up in the back of the club, rapping while his picture was snapped, dancing furiously in the middle of the audience while still rapping, and basically bringing the energy level to a new high.
As the night wound down, Huli Shallone and Heavy Gold both took the stage for short, energetic sets, both rapping shirtless. So it was left up to Comp to close out the night, and he was clearly up to the task. His set began with a pleasant surprise, as he took the stage to deliver his verse from Ghostface Killah’s “Run.” The guest spot was the first time many people had heard Comp’s rhymes, but it hasn’t been a part of his live repertoire for his many performances over the past few years, so it was a special treat to see him rush the stage to the song’s breakneck pace.
As the show ended with his popular underground hit “Whole Lat,” it was somewhat disturbing to realize that three of the songs that got the biggest responses of the night featured hooks built around gunshot sounds, which have inspired dance moves that mime either shooting or being shot: Skarr Akbar’s “Bang,” 1st Family tracks “Chop Chop,” and “Whole Lat.” At one point Mullyman used gunfire sound effects to segue from one song to the next, even jokingly ducking down and asking if someone was trying to get him off the stage. Baltimore rappers are nothing if not products of their environment, particularly when that environment has been averaging more than a murder a day as of late. But that realization was still a bit of a rude awakening at the end of a night that was otherwise a joyful celebration of a flourishing music community.
Photos: Mullyman, top; Skarr Akbar, bottom. By Al Shipley