Interview: Catonsville rapper Height

Dan Keech sets off on a 51-day tour with fellow hip-hop artists

  • Rapper Height, aka Dan Keech, second from left, will start a tour this Friday with several local rappers, including Emily Slaughter (third from left), Mickey Freeland (right) and musician Travis Allen.
Rapper Height, aka Dan Keech, second from left, will start a… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
February 24, 2011|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

Unlike his first homemade recordings, the latest album from rapper Dan "Height" Keech wasn't conceived in middle-school classrooms. Or in a Catonsville basement with his high school group, the Wounds, as was his first proper album.

The new effort, "Bed of Seeds," came together two years ago in a cabin in Deep Creek Lake. He was with friends — usual collaborators Emily Slaughter and Michael Freeland — and he was without distractions.

"It was genuinely one of the best experiences of my life, like living in paradise" he said. "You wake up, you have ideas, and all your friends are there to start laying them down."

The comfortable setup was a first for Keech, 29, after 10 years as an unlikely white rapper from Baltimore County. And the album, finally released last year, is a successful rap-pop hybrid that's given him the platform for his second-longest tour, a 51-day trek that begins Friday at Golden West Cafe.

Keech doesn't cut your regular rapper's figure. He's a boxy white guy with limp, shoulder-length black hair and a cherubic face.

Though he grew up with an appreciation for West Coast rap — NWA, Ice Cube's "Death Certificate," the electro-rap of L.A. Dream Team — the genre wasn't a natural for him. For one, he never saw any rappers in Catonsville. He got into it thanks to underground punk.

Freeland's brother, Chris, was booking city bands like The Great Unraveling to perform in Catonsville. And though those groups drew small crowds, Keech said their commitment gave him the notion to go into a genre where there wasn't a clear path for success.

"Seeing adults do all this crazy stuff was an inspiration," he said. "It made us feel like we could do whatever we wanted."

He, Freeland and neighbors from the block began recording hip-hop "at a real Mickey Mouse level" with their group, the Wounds, and cut a full self-titled album, which they distributed themselves in 1999.

The next fall, Keech had a solo album. He attended Goucher College for a bit but didn't work out. He and Freeland, who released his own solo album last year as Mickey Free, continued to tour. After Freeland's stint at Purchase College in New York, they were joined on the road by Dan Deacon.

In all, he has released 13 albums. The latest might be his best, he said, and it will provide the bulk of the 30-minute show he'll perform on the road over the next two months.

"I'm really proud of it in a way that I'm not of the other albums," he said. He says he's found that the way it came together — surrounded by friends — is his preferred way to work.

He has released two albums under the Height with Friends name — "Bed of Seeds" and 2009's "Baltimore Highlands." The tour is also billed under the group name.

And this year, his new group with Freeland, called Shark Tank, released its debut album.

Though after 10 years in hip-hop, he still hasn't been featured on radio station 92Q, Keech said the collaborative approach has given him some peace of mind and he's stopped pursuing mainstream Baltimore hip-hop. The cool embrace from that scene is something he used to fret over.

"I kind of always knew we wouldn't fit in, but I wanted to because everyone wants acceptance," he said. "It's something I used to rack my brains over a little bit, because getting on the radio just seemed like the right thing to do."

But "it's become less of a concern," he said. Songs like "No Way to Win" and "Dreams Don't Come True" in "Bed of Seeds" say as much.

Like the punk bands he saw as a teen, he's not after big crowds anymore.

"I can't imagine how I would try to fit into the what's on the radio anymore and still evolve," he said. "I feel comfortable touring and growing our live set this way, the way that I want."

erik.maza@baltsun.com

twitter.com/midnightsunblog

If you go

Dan Keech performs tonight at Golden West Cafe, 1105 W. 36th St. Doors open at 10 p.m. Tickets, at $5, can be bought at the door or at sonar.thundertix.com.

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