Rye Rye Is the Baltimore Club Kid Who Had to Grow Up Fast

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By Kate Kilpatrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 2, 2009

On a hot summer afternoon, Ryeisha "Rye Rye" Berrain -- wearing turquoise-and-black leggings, gold hoop earrings, fake lashes -- walks up Fayette Avenue in her East Baltimore neighborhood, holding a bag of Cheetos and a blue drink. She passes the store where kids buy candy and sodas; the public housing units where her sister Elisa, 12, hangs out; the steps where the guys used to chill at night -- until they got shot up.

She describes the neat red-brick homes and manicured lawns as looking "more civic" than when she was coming up, sneaking into clubs, holding dance parties in her basement, getting chased by cops after curfew.

"Before I started touring, I really used to hang on the corner all night until 3 in the morning," Rye Rye, now 18, says.

That was before the shy, around-the-way dancer from the projects became an underground dance darling and the protege of Grammy-winning indie-rap artist M.I.A. Now Rye Rye is on a path to become Baltimore's ambassador of club music -- a frantic blend of hip-hop and house, with nods to D.C.'s go-go music.

"Bang," the first single from her forthcoming debut album (via M.I.A.'s N.E.E.T. label under Interscope Records), began ricocheting around the blogosphere in March. And mainstream hip-hop outlets -- which have long ignored or dismissed Baltimore club music -- have started noticing Rye Rye.

"She's definitely on our radar, and we're just waiting for the right moment to break her into our audience," says Rob Markman, music editor at XXL, a hip-hop magazine. "If anyone can do it, Rye Rye can."

If all goes well, fame could be just around the corner for Rye Rye. But when you live in a neighborhood where 13-year-old girls push their babies in strollers and .45-caliber bullets punctuate sultry summer nights, sometimes life gets in the way of success. Rye Rye has found that out the hard way. The girl who once wanted nothing more than to sneak into clubs and dance has had to grow up faster than she wished and take on much more than she ever imagined she could.

* * *

Two years ago, Baltimore-based DJ Blaqstarr, 23, who's known Rye Rye since they recorded "Shake It to the Ground" when she was 15, called her to the studio; someone wanted to meet her.

It was M.I.A., the Sri Lankan British musician and tastemaker recently named by Time as one of the most influential people in the world. M.I.A was accompanied by then-boyfriend Diplo, a Philly-based DJ.

"People from Baltimore, we heard about typical hip-hop artists but not the people on the more creative side," says Rye Rye, who initially thought it was "creepy" that M.I.A. sought her out. But she listened to M.I.A.'s music and was intrigued by what she heard.

"I can do my Baltimore club dance to that track," thought Rye Rye, who's been dancing since she was 8 years old. "It made me instantly like her because I'm a dancer."


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