Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Nightlife

February 23, 2009

Everybody Do the Spongebob

Baltimore DJ Scottie B. tells Gelf how he helped to create the Baltimore club scene.

Jake Rake

No less a Baltimorean than The Wire's Chris Partlow, a brutal enforcer for precocious drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield, once claimed that familiarity with Baltimore Club music is obligatory for any true city resident. While acquaintance with the repertoire of Young Leek may not be the life-or-death scenario it becomes when Chris and his partner Snoop roll up on an interloping New York mofucka, it is perhaps only a matter of time before Leek's "Shake It & Jiggle It" and other Baltimore Club hits find their way into the mainstream.

If Baltimore Club stands alone as an indigenous genre of music, DJ Scottie B could be considered its Chuck Berry. A native of West Baltimore's Park Heights neighborhood, Scottie has been merging hip-hop, house, and club beats with the filthiest of vocal samples since the early '80s at clubs across Bmore and beyond. This month he'll take his act on a tour across Western Europe. "They like it, because to them it's dance music, and a lot of stuff that they hear doesn't have cussing in it," the 40-year-old DJ says of his European audience. It's only natural that Europeans respond positively to the thumping beats of Club music, as Scottie concedes: "It doesn't take them very far from what they like."

Photo of Scottie B. by Unruly Records.
"The Baltimore club scene was already 15-20 years in when The Wire hit, so it’s kind of the other way around."

Photo of Scottie B. by Unruly Records.

The Baltimore (Bmore) Club sound aptly reflects its name and, to a large extent, the culture that spawned it. The beats come loud and fast, accompanied by rumbling bass and synth loops and often-humorous vocal samples. Rod Lee's "Ding-A-Ling", for example, samples the eponymous refrain of Chuck Berry's innuendo-laced rock 'n' roll standard, and so many Baltimore Club DJs have incorporated dialogue and sound effects from SpongeBob SquarePants that the show now lends its name to a dance. The routine—which resembles a country square dance held inside a rave tent—has become so popular in Baltimore that video of a girl doing the "Spongebob" has garnered over a million hits on YouTube. It is also not uncommon for songs to feature audio samples of straight-up sex. In general, the music contains the kind of rough aesthetic one would expect to hear blasting from a nightspot in a city that routinely finds itself ranked amongst the most violent in the country.

How to turn Spongebob into a verb

While Baltimore Club music shares many of the qualities common to other varieties of dance and club music, it is part of a larger culture centered around a city that has found itself with an increasingly large and mainstream audience. In the 1990s, the city's gritty portrayal as the setting for the films of Barry Levinson and Homicide: Life on the Street, combined with rising rates of crime and STDs and the perennially embarrassing performance of the Orioles, painted a bleak national image of the town that was once the second-most populous city in America (in the mid-1800s, yes, but still). The early 2000s were not much kinder to Charm City, with The Wire presenting it as a neglected urban hellhole in which violence, apathy and corruption pervaded every aspect of the city's infrastructure.

However, as a consequence of The Wire's unanimous acclaim, renewed national interest has descended upon the city. (Similar to how we suddenly started hearing this and that about Kazakhstan in the months leading up to Borat, such attention inevitably accompanies the effort to present a place or thing as extreme or dysfunctional). Articles and documentaries about real-life Baltimore flooded the national consciousness, and for perhaps the first time since the Ravens' Super Bowl victory in 2001, people were paying attention. And not just to homicide counts. Baltimore has seen its profile elevated to bizarre new heights, even serving as the backdrop to the current romantic-comedy He's Just Not That Into You, in which Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, and a group of similarly attractive white yuppies maintain their frivolous existences in expensive waterfront high rises and prattle on and on about their inane sex lives.

Despite the city's newfound exposure over the past several years, Scottie—who in addition to DJing, is also co-founder of the Unruly Records music label—believes that club music's rise in popularity stems largely from the music itself. When asked about the effects of The Wire, and whether he felt that exposure from national media had a positive impact on the landscape, Scottie was dubious, explaining: "The Baltimore club scene was already 15-20 years in when The Wire hit, so it's kind of the other way around. I think that Baltimore Club made people open their eyes to more stuff in Baltimore."

Chicken or egg notwithstanding, Scottie B.'s scene seems to be gaining momentum. Internet radio giant Last.fm features a Baltimore Club channel, and Spin Magazine paid tribute to the untimely death of local legend DJ K-Swift, Baltimore's "Club Queen," this past July. As Scottie's fandom evolves, so does the composition of his audience: It was only in 2006 that he played for his first white crowd, he observed in an interview with The Wire music magazine. He'll be seeing a lot more of that this summer, as he heads off to shows in Brussels, Zurich, and Paris.

DJ Scottie B in action

Jake Rake

Jake Rake, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, lives in Brooklyn. He blogs at JakeRake.com.







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Article by Jake Rake

Jake Rake, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, lives in Brooklyn. He blogs at JakeRake.com.

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