The Club Beat: The Year in Baltimore Club
2008 was a memorable and important year in the history of Baltimore club music, but not entirely in a good way. The shocking death of club’s most popular DJ, Khia “K-Swift” Edgerton, cast a dark shadow over the second half of the year, and it feels like things still haven’t returned to normal yet, if they ever will. But as we reluctantly enter the post-K-Swift era, promising new developments–such as the opening of Rod Lee’s Club Kingz record store in August and the national distribution deal Unruly Records signed with Koch–make it a little easier to be optimistic about the future. And the records are still spinning, producers are still cuing up “Think” drums, and, most importantly, the kids are still dancing. So, as I did last year, I’ll run down my top 10 Baltimore club tracks of the year.
1) DJ Class, “I’m the Ish” 2008 was the year that every rapper and R&B singer in the world got an AutoTune plug-in and started aping T-Pain, and Baltimore club producers were not immune to the trend. Say Wut’s “Keep Rockin’” and DJ Excel’s “Pop That Kitty” were among the first club tracks to use it, and DJ Booman’s club remix of “Lookin’ Boy” by Hot Stylz cleverly ran the vocals from the original through AutoTune. But the first truly major instance of the sound in Baltimore club came just in the past couple months, with the monstrous comeback single by local veteran DJ Class. Class has always had a commanding voice on classics such as “Back That Ass Up” and “Next to You,” but he’s never turned out a melody as persistently catchy as “I’m the Ish” before. And the song has already quickly spread outside Baltimore, grabbing the attention of Jermaine Dupri and Trey Songz, who jumped on a remix of the song last week.
2) King Tutt, “Let’s Go” King Tutt blew my mind with some of the tracks he played during an interview in 2007, and it was a relief to get an officially released copy of those tracks months later on his recent EP, The Evolution. This ear-bending highlight features skronky synths that stretch out into such unusual frequencies that you almost don’t notice when the drums drop out for the big breakdown.
3) Say Wut, “Wut’s What” One Baltimore club trend that appeared to be on its way out in 2008 was the proliferation of screaming Lil Jon samples that had dominated the genre for years. Even Say Wut, one of the biggest practitioners of the habit, seemed to back off of Lil Jon in 2008, although on his album Crank It! he had to get it out of his system by cramming as many “what!” shouts into a track as humanly possible.
4) J-Roc, “Skyy’s The Limit” Lil Wayne has killed many beats in the past few years, but there was perhaps none that he transformed more than “Mr. Jones,” which went from sounding corny as a Mike Jones single to becoming an absolute monster as a Weezy mixtape track. And it’s clearly Wayne’s version, “Sky’s The Limit,” that J-Roc had in mind when he put a club twist on the beat’s spiraling strings and sinister bells. Say Wut used the same sample on a track titled “Get ‘Em” this year, but regardless of who got to the idea first, J-Roc chopped it better. The up-and-coming producer recently named another song “Rookie of the Year,” and considering how many great tracks he’s put out in 2008, I’m inclined to agree that he deserves that title.
5) Wale feating DJ Scottie B, “The Bmore Club Slam” Washington, D.C. rapper Wale racked up a hell of a buzz last year, landing on the cover of XXL and getting year-end list plaudits everywhere for his creative and funny underground release The Seinfeld Mixtape. And one of the disc’s highlights featured the MC hooking up with a Baltimore club legend and dancing around a fast breakbeat with a playful flow, while pleading with 92Q for some airplay.
6) 410 Pharaohs featuring David Banner, “Pull Shorty (Remix)” As it happens, Wale wasn’t even the biggest out-of-town MC to jump on a Baltimore club track in ’08. Just as DJ Booman, Jimmy Jones, and Labtekwon were prepping the release of their club/rap fusion masterpiece 410 Funk a few months ago, they dropped a remix of a cut from the album featuring David Banner. Impressively, the Mississippi rapper managed to keep up with the beat and show Baltimore love by namedropping local clubs such as Choices and Paradox.
7) K.W. Griff, “Don’t Stop the Music (Remix)” One of the biggest moves Baltimore radio station 92Q has made in exposing club music in the last couple years has been to start playing tracks outside of the designated 9 p.m. club mix time slot. Smashes like “I’m the Ish” have begun getting daytime airplay but, more significantly, the station has taken to playing club mixes of current singles by national artists instead of the official major-label versions. First, DJ B-Eazy’s mix of 50 Cent’s “Ayo Technology” supplanted the original on the station’s playlist in 2007, and this year K.W. Griff’s Rihanna remix racked up crazy spins.
8) DJ Excel featuring Emmy, “All Nite Long” The DJ Excel song that earned the most web hits and awards this year was the funny novelty track “That’s What A Pimp Does.” But I thought the producer’s best recent work showed up on his Friday Nite Bounce album, particularly the strangely mellow, hypnotic “All Nite Long.”
9) DJ Booman “Slick Flair” The silliest elements of pop culture have always been a fertile vein for Baltimore club samples, and no one picked a funnier or more inspired source this year than DJ Booman, who set pro wrestler Ric Flair’s trademark “woo!” to a breakbeat on this track from his Return To The Real EP.
10) Rod Lee “The Club Banger” Rod Lee has been dominating Baltimore club for so long that when he starts a track on his last album Club Armageddon by declaring “listen up, I’m ’bout to change the game again, watch how I switch it up,” you take his word for it. And even though much of “The Club Banger” consists of Lee taking it to the old school and quoting older hits like “Understand,” the track features some wild tempo changes that really could change up the groove of club music if other producers follow suit.