B-more breaks out

City's aggressive club sound eludes easy labels

March 29, 2009|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

It is the most unrelenting, the most frenetic, the most unapologetically explicit hip-hop sub-genre the country has produced in the past two decades.

The attacking beats of B-more club music have remained a mostly provincial sensation in that time. Over the years, nightspots, including some seedy joints, in Baltimore and throughout the mid-Atlantic region have served as incubators for the turgid mix of concussive kick drums, fire alarmlike synths and profane chants.

Only in the last few years has B-more club music generated some national buzz. But, still, the sound hasn't achieved a major breakthrough, not in the way the Atlanta-grown crunk sound did.

Just when it seemed B-more club was about to reach prominence in the region and beyond, its "queen," popular 92Q personality Khia "K-Swift" Edgerton, died in a swimming pool accident. But in the eight months since her death, two DJs, Highlandtown native Aaron LaCrate and West Baltimore-bred Daniel "DJ Class" Woodis, have been carrying the torch, so to speak.

Both have recently signed major-label deals and will receive worldwide distribution of their new compilations. Earlier this month, LaCrate and his production partner Debonair Samir released B-More Club Crack, their debut for Koch Records, the largest independent label in the United States.

DJ Class inked a deal with Universal Republic, one of the most powerful labels in the world. His debut for the company, Alameda & Coldspring, is set for a late-summer or early fall release. The album's first single, "I'm the Ish," has already become a big hit in clubs and on national urban-pop stations. This month, Woodis played two coveted spots at the influential South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Tex.

Now that current mainstream urban music has become something of an aural wasteland, the time seems ripe for a different, more aggressive approach.

Enter B-more club music.

"If you notice, a lot of records on the charts right now are becoming 120 beats faster," says the Atlanta-based Woodis, calling from a promotional stop in California. "People are hurting for something that makes you feel good. B-more club music has a lot of energy."

And a lot of style elements that don't always gel neatly. B-more club, which borrows from British-imported break beats, Chicago house, Miami bass and hip-hop, has been hard to market. It's also a sample-based music. And because its creators have generally ignored copyright laws, the best of B-more club has remained, well, in the clubs.

Despite the spiraling climate of the music industry, the major-label support of Woodis and LaCrate still may finally help break the music out of the underground scene.

"Is it rap, is it dance, is it R&B?" Woodis asks. "[Labels] don't know whether to market it pop or urban. We have an advantage. We can make the sound anything we want to. It's our time now."

LaCrate, 33, could easily be mistaken for a teenager with his roomy jeans, backpack and neon-yellow skull cap. The compact, fresh-faced producer and DJ recently performed at a Woodlawn roller rink, slapping fives and passing out mix CDs of new music from his 12-year-old Milkcrate enterprise, which includes a label and an athletic clothes line.

Teenagers fill the floor, skating backward, spinning around and occasionally crashing into the orange, lime and raspberry-colored walls. Every face in the place is black, save for one.

"I don't think I'd enjoy myself if I'm not the only white guy in the place," he says, laughing. "I've based my life around music and hip-hop. I go where the music is, always have."

Cuts from B-More Club Crack blare through Skateworld's muddy sound system. LaCrate seems pleased with the strong response from kids on skates and along the walls.

A few days after the album's release, and with just grass-roots promotion like the appearance at Skateworld, B-More Club Crack made its debut at No. 77 on iTunes' Top 100 hip-hop albums chart. Though the CD leans in more of a rap direction, the music still glints with elements of B-more club.

In a way, the album is an ideal follow-up to LaCrate's 2005 release, B-More Gutter Music. That compilation featured such buzz-worthy acts as Philadelphia alt-rappers Amanda Blank and Spank Rock and spawned a sizable club hit with "Blow."

"I embrace music and like to see people dance," LaCrate says. "But I like that B-more club is so grimy. It's raw. It's the last, true in-your-face music out there on the hip-hop scene."

LaCrate and Woodis started DJing in Baltimore about the same time in the late '80s. Back then, Baltimore had several clubs (Club Fantasy, Club Choices and the Paradox) where the B-more sound took shape.

"I couldn't get into any of the clubs, so I was DJing parties," LaCrate says. "I was just this 10-year-old little white guy wanting to be a DJ."

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