When I first moved to Baltimore I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get into the hip-hop scene; it seemed over-saturated and undernourished, disconnected and inaccessible. The scene felt like it lacked community and support, what Baltimore seemed to need was an an identity. While my outlook was that of an outsider, it couldn’t have been more ignorant or jaded by my perspective deeply forged by other cities, having grown up so close to Philly and not too far from NYC.
To an outsider, Baltimore’s hip-hop reputation has been one clouded by its lack of record deals and mainstream success. And while that perception is just that—clouded—it has nonetheless created a stigma in the scene and with it, I came to quickly realize, misunderstanding.
“There’s something very complete about this scene, even though its still moving, maybe still finding an identity. Or at least that’s what it seems like from the inside,” Dan Samuels says, drummer for Baltimore’s JPope and Funk Friday.
In Baltimore, where hip-hop artists are a dime a sample, if you start to pay attention you can find the actual gems in this community—those in it for the soul and life the genre has to offer, not that platinum record. It’s within these deeply connected pockets of inspirational collaboration that you find some of the most talented people who are driving Baltimore’s hip-hop scene past the ever-present stigma; showing everyone in this city that music here is thriving, all we need to do is support it.
Samuels, the organizer of this Sunday’s hip-hop show, Deciduous Haze at the Windup Space hopes to remind everyone as the Fall fog sets in that “there’s something good going on, some kind of light to look forward to.” With a stacked line-up including the mesmerizing Meche Korrect (DC), the beautifully-old school Sidewalk Chalk (Chicago), the dirty J Pope and Funk Friday (Baltimore), and the full crew of Baltimore favorites Soul Cannon, Deciduous Haze aims to keep this city from hibernating.
Not only is this show set to impress, it’s a reminder that this city is capable of some pretty badass performances that often go undetected. “I think Baltimore hip-hop is definitely successful and growing more and more successful,” says Soul Cannon’s killer emcee, Eze Jackson. “I feel like success is when you can look at artists who have fans in and outside of Baltimore. More and more artists are starting to venture out while still building the home front. I grew up in a time where if you wanted to go to an event that was truly hip-hop you had to go to DC, Philly or New York. There were maybe one or two places that consistently hosted hip-hop shows in Baltimore. That’s not the case anymore. On any given Friday, Saturday or any other night of the week you can find hip-hop happening in Baltimore. That’s success to me and I see it getting much better.”
As this scene is constantly building and challenging its boundaries, it isn’t without it’s setbacks. In the wake of OOH’s (Brown F.I.S.H.) passing earlier this year, a void was created that kicked the rest of the scene into gear.
“[OOH] was the king of his city. He wrote a lot of great songs about Baltimore, about a lot of personal experiences. Some of those things he got serious radio play for and in my opinion could’ve gone national, international – but he was about his city and his hometown. It wasn’t about blowing up first, it was about fixing what was here and then bringing it to other places,” Samuels remembers. “There’s definitely ways to continue to be self-sustainable and serve your community the way OOH was doing it before he passed away, and the way people are carrying the torch for him now.”
This unity, this community that Baltimore has to offer goes much deeper than OOH’s example, many artists in the scene are trying to connect the incredible facets this city has to offer in order to strengthen and expand its reach.
“I want to bridge as many gaps as possible. I’m such a fan that I can’t stand when one group is not familiar with another within our small/big city,” Eze says. “Hip-hop as a whole is only going to continue to thrive if we keep stepping up the live shows. Giving people a dope experience is essential. I’ll always keep trying to push the envelope creatively with my own music as well.”
Breaching Baltimore borders with the touring Sidewalk Chalk and Meche Korrect, Deciduous Haze is one of those shows that is stepping up Baltimore’s performance-game. This is partly due to awesome planning, but mostly due to the connections the scene already has.
“I don’t think [the hip-hop scene] is totally removed from everything else because you see Soul Cannon having done shows with AK Slaughter and the folks that AK Slaughter’s involved with,” Samuels explains. “The hip-hop scene doesn’t exist independently. It’s part of the whole renaissance this city is having.”
And this Baltimore Renaissance is kicking ass. Even as parents J Pope (of J Pope and Funk Friday) and Eze still find a way to keep creating. “I love being a father. It’s really important to me so I am always worried about dropping the ball on both parenting and music,” Eze explains. “My mother was a poet so I’ve seen it done before. I’d love to be one of these artists who just turn it off and say, ‘I’m a parent now. Time to quit the band.’ I just can’t though. It’s really who I am. If I stopped and say, started working for the Post Office, I’d definitely go postal and nobody would get their mail that day. Nobody wants to not get their mail.”
Eze’s mentality is what drives this scene to continue to create bigger and better things, where hip-hop is a part of each performer’s being; where music is created to express something beautiful and real, and the endgame isn’t selling a million records (although if that happened we wouldn’t be complaining). There is always something new creeping up through the cracks, as the ebb and flow of the scene moves. And while outsider me couldn’t see it at first, it’s clear Baltimore hip-hop doesn’t lack an identity—it’s practically overflowing with identity amid the colossal community its created.
“There’s a balance between your own survival and the survival of the community,” Samuels says, noting that the hip-hop here has always been greater than the sum of its parts—a family in its own right. “And having faith that people will support you when you’re also in need.”
Check out Deciduous Haze this Sunday at Windup Space and all the awesome it has to offer.