Funky Expedition = Exploring the creation and development of region-specific genres of music. Take a sonic trip with Randi!
It always stings a little bit when you are on top of something – whether it be a new artist, new designer, or new style – and then a year or two later, everybody’s on the jock of that artist, designer, or style. You just look like a major tool mentioning that you were into it “ages ago,” but then you are also a bit angry because your friends didn’t like it when you told them about it. Once it was on TV, they liked it. Sound familiar?
Besides the fact that you might just be a trendsetter, or a daring human being, (or a M.I.S.S. girl), it’s frustrating any which way you look at it. Such might be the case for fans of Baltimore Club AKA Bmore Club AKA Gutter music AKA the sound of Bodymore, Murderland (Baltimore, Maryland). It has only been gaining national attention in the past few years, but it has been around – in Baltimore – starting from as early as 1989 or 1990.
The sound of Gutter music is best described by a blend of hip-hop, house, and dance music. Some even call it hip-house. The songs are often dark, but contain an infectious, hyper energy that explodes with each short song. Unlike typical house songs, Bmore club songs alternately build and drop intensity as they play, with bridges and sections of fast-paced, loud crashes that mimic fluttering heartbeats. The songs are like the sprint of the music race: the cuts are specifically crafted by DJs for the club environment, based on a 8/4 beat structure, and include tempos as high as 130 beat per minute. Gutter has often been compared to go-go music, which has its origins in Washington, D.C., but gutter and go-go are very different in terms of how they sound. The main similarities among these two genres are that they both feature “call and response”-type interjections with heavy breakbeats (consisting of snares and bass drums), and each music genre is only popular within a particular region. Many of all of the songs contain a sample of either Gaz’s “Sing Sing” or Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It)” (check these songs out in the playlist). This fact that the genre stems from only two samples seems ridiculous, but Lyn Collins’ song is also the origin for a certain Rob Base song that has been used exhaustively in the hip-hop world already. In this context it is not so hard to believe. Although there are now new beats being created in the Gutter scene, the originals were variations of the above two songs. Many of the songs created in the movement include sped-up riffs of children’s songs, like the theme to “Spongebob Squarepants,” “Blues Clues,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Peanut Butter Jelly Time,” and a song from “South Park,” etc., while the other half of the songs deal with graphic sexual material.
So who created this music, and why? Baltimore club is rumored to have its beginnings in clubs like Club Fantasy, the Paradox, Hammer Jacks, O’dell’s, and Club Choices in the greater Baltimore area. The supposed “father” of the genre is DJ Scottie B, claims that the genre got its start when people started looping songs that they liked in 1990. One of the first known songs within the genre is Frank-Ski’s remix of Luke’s “Doo Doo Brown.” Other early DJs in the genre include Big Tony, DJ Spen, DJ Rod Lee, K.W. Griff, K-Swift (RIP), DJ Booman, and Blaqstarr. Audiences wanted to release energy at that time, and the only positive way to channel their energy was to “Dance the Pain Away” (the name of a track by Rod Lee, see playlist). The Bmore club scene spawned dances such as the “Spongebob,” “the Crazy legs,” and “the sidekick.” The songs contained funny or graphic material because, according to Scottie B, “The DJ was an extension of the crowd, and there was a lot of nonsense going on at these clubs, from fist fights to cheating, so the sound was made as a reflection of that.” (The Wire, 2006).
Although Gutter has a cult following, strangely enough, in the Newark, NJ area and in Boston, MA, the reason most others areas are just hearing about it now is because it never really moved out of the area until recently. Originator Scottie B claims that no one in New York wanted anything to do with the music at first, and that it was actually Philly DJs who started incorporating the music into their sets. The tipping point was when Hollertronix DJs Diplo and Low Budget started amalgamating the very danceable tracks into their “party mixes,” which already consisted of of crunk, 80’s, freestyle, and all other types of dance music. This was when I personally got wind of Gutter – I listened to Spank Rock, who reminded me of 2 Live Crew’s style, and then I started buying mixtapes featuring Amanda Blank and Spank Rock. The mixtapes of Catchdubs, Diplo, Aaron LaCrate (album B-More Club Crack is a gem), and Debonair Samir were among the newest albums at the time incorporating the Bmore sound.
So is this genre going to catch on? Is it another form of crunk that will hit hard and then fade away? It’s a must to mention crunk, because Lil’ Jon appeared in a lot of the early Bmore tracks. Nothing new to report in terms of his contributions, as the rapper was still asking a lot of “what” questions and “ok”-ing a lot of the replies on the tracks. Author Al Shipley explains that Baltimore Club never caught on before because it is, at its heart, an indie sound that does not please the mainstream masses. He says it has no “channel” (R&B, hip-hop, nor commercial radio), and although “hipsters” have been listening to it for a while (HEY! Who you calling a hipster??!!), if Bmore gets too popular, the indie crowd will be the first ones to claim the genre has lost its cool. Additionally, since most of the tracks contain samples of other songs, Bmore tracks are copyright nightmares and are very difficult to clear. This in turn means, they are very difficult to release as singles.
It’s questionable whether Bmore Club will EVER have lasting potential outside of the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) area – and there have already been a lot of attempts. Remember Young Leek and his song “Jiggle It”? That was in 2006 and had a Bmore beat. It’s doubtful Def Jam did anything else with that kid. A lot of these songs showed up on the soundtrack for HBO’s The Wire, but guess what? That took place in Bmore, so the release of the soundtrack doesn’t really prove anything about the reach of the music. The newest Bmore-style single is DJ Class’ “I’m the Ish” (see playlist), released this year, but Al Shipley insists that it is only accessible because Class used the oft-accepted AutoTune vocals (“You’re T-Pain-ing too much”!) and used a beat similar to the 808 that Kanye recently resurrected. A bunch of artists also hopped on remixes of the Class track. Rye Rye is from Bmore. Lil’ Wayne “Told Y’all” samples Blaqstarr’s “Tote It”, and Swizz Beatz recently used Debonair Samir’s “Samir’s Theme.” (Splice Magazine, 2009). Jermaine Dupri is backing the sound (but he also backed New Jack Swing on that So So Def remix album, which I can’t say sounds TOO different). I offer these examples to prove that Bmore may work this time. We are now in an era where someone like Jay-Z will remix an M.I.A. song or a Santigold song before the original singles are even off the Billboard charts, so anything is possible! As a genre, Bmore might have a chance with someone like Jay-Z sampling the beats!
Either which way…….my dancing booty prays Bmore is here to stay.
Check out our Baltimore Club Playlist below! For full-length tracks, please visit the M.I.S.S. Imeem page.
- M.I.S.S. Playlist: A Case of The Browns
- Journey Into Sound: Hi-NRG in the City
- Journey Into Sound: Rio Funk
- Journey Into Sound: Miami Bass
- We Got the Beat: Hudson Mohawke