Rod Lee, Putting B-More On the Map
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Baltimore's indigenous club music could be the next dance-floor madness to bubble up from the underground. Baltimore Club, or B-More -- an up-tempo hybrid of hip-hop and house with kickdrums, chants, handclaps and bizarre synth effects set to accelerated tempos -- has pushed blood pressure limits in the 410 area code over the past 15 years. With the release this year of Rod Lee's "Vol. 5: the Official," the first B-More CD with national distribution, the genre now has a public face and the potential for a pop music takeover.
Like Washington's go-go, Baltimore Club exists as a regional sound relatively unknown outside the mid-Atlantic. The music blends the repetitive boom of house or techno with hip-hop's aggressive posturing and full-frontal frankness (one of the most popular B-More singles is DJ Booman's "Watch Out for the Big Girl"). What B-More lacks in subtlety it overpowers with shouted hooks, uncleared samples and chest-rattling bass patterns that induce dance-floor euphoria. Baltimore Club allows hip-hop heads to get their rave on.
With the rise of file-sharing and audio blogs, the sound is leaking outside the nightspots in a way that Brazilian "baile funk" and Puerto Rican reggaeton have enjoyed. B-More is receiving international attention thanks to tastemaker blogs such as Government Names and Catchdubs. Hollertronix DJ Lowbudget recently cut a promotional B-More single based on sound clips from the HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Spankrock just released a B-More record for Money Studies, the label division of popular dance-music site Turntablelab.com.
For Rod Lee, it's good timing. Lee is the original don of Baltimore Club. From his Monument Street studio he has released coveted 12-inch singles and four mix CDs independently. A new agreement between Lee's Club Kingz label and Baltimore's Morphius distribution company ensures that Lee's latest record will be available in major record stores or to anyone with an Internet connection and/or decent credit.
Organized in a mix format, Lee's songs do the nasty with one another, blowing up the standard grimy B-More sound to Imax proportions. He uses blasting caps as beats, cutting in sampled gunfire on "Safe." "Ain't none of y'all safe . . . from the bass!" he yells before shots ring out in time with a pounding kickdrum. Lil Jon's sampled voice instigates tear-the-club-up fervor on "What They Gone Do" and "Break It Down." A linguistics lesson by Bernie Mac is given the B-More treatment on "Bernie Mac Theme."
But with all the chest pounding and potty mouth, there is a vein of social commentary. Whether inspiring regional pride on "Your Hood" or promoting escapism on "Dance My Pain Away," Lee showcases B-More's major appeal: It makes you forget about your problems and drop it like it's hot.
Lee gets assists from local Baltimore celebrities Blaq Star, Lady Margetta, K.W. Grif, DJ Technics and 14-year-old protege DJ Lil' Jay. With Lee's album out and buzz spreading via DSL lines, the bandwagon for B-More club music is reaching capacity. Madonna, the line starts back there.