I like underground hip-hop, and nothing is more underground than a concert in a basement. Although the basement is the Maryland Art Place and the concert wasn’t really a concert per se, just let the hyperbole work. This was Bmore BeatClub’s Four-Year Anniversary, a celebration of an event that brings Baltimore’s hip-hop scene out of the underground and into the mosaic stage light.
BeatClub is built around producers; some are featured artists but many are novices looking to connect with other musicians. While producers play beats, rappers are called on stage two at a time. Without any prior arrangements between the musicians, the performances are entirely organic.
Producer SocialxN3rd, a mainstay in the BeatClub lineup, wrote in an email that there’s a naturalness to the collaboration and creation.
“I love bouncing ideas around with others. We’re all unique in this world and dope shit can happen at any time.
“Also,” he added, “seeing how much people love my music is one of the greatest, [most] indescribable feelings I’ve ever felt in my life.”
The set-up of the event creates unlikely pairings. Because there is no monolithic sound, artists range from backpack rappers to veteran old-school acts to trap and drill. As such, the audience is treated to mixes of genres and styles, which often produce something great.
“We try to get all the crowds in there; your Station North crowd, your more traditional hip-hop crowd, and the more street stuff,” said BeatClub founder Brandon Lackey, the owner of the Lineup Room recording studio.
Adds SocialxN3rd: “The best thing about BeatClub is how the vibe is always great whatever plays. We go from boom bap, to trap, to something smooth, etc. MCs think on the spot to go with how spontaneous the vibe changes.”
Lackey, one of several engineers at Lineup Room, started BeatClub in 2014 as what he called a “show-and-tell for producers.” In this early iteration, Lackey had not actually planned on featuring rappers.
“Emcees were coming more and more to meet producers and listen to beats and stuff, and we couldn’t stop them from breaking out into a cypher,” Lackey said. He didn’t see much of a point in trying to stop them either, since the spontaneity of the event produced interesting collaborations.
Those early events were held at Shockwave Records, a now-closed record store on Harford Road in Parkville. After a short time, the event moved from the county into the city.
It was at the new host venue, Terra Cafe on E. 25th Street, that Eze Jackson—frontman for Soul Cannon, journalist and Baltimore hip-hop mainstay—first got involved in hosting. After a year or more at Terra Cafe, BeatClub moved again to the Maryland Art Place on W. Saratoga Street. The event now alternates between the art gallery and the Windup Space in Station North.
With the growth of its profile over time, the organizers have managed to arrange sponsorships and commercial relationships, including co-signs by Red Bull and Jack Daniels.
Lackey said BeatClub is not about turning a profit, but about celebrating a local music scene in its many forms, and any commercial associations or ticket prices serve only to keep the event alive.
The connections artists make at BeatClub can be both creative and mentoring, Lackey said. The event is a place for firsts—especially first performances—where young artists can interact with one another and with scene veterans. Those relationships, and more generally the opportunity to network, are essential.
Rapper Ea$￥ Pr0phyt credits BeatClub with a large part of his success in the Baltimore scene.
“When I got out of the Marines, I stayed in Jacksonville, NC until 2013 when I came back to Baltimore,” the rapper wrote in an email. “I was rapping the whole time; I even opened for big names, etc. but I didn’t start popping in my own city until Bmore BeatClub.”
Another rapper, IconThaGod, took on something of a mentor role at the four-year anniversary. Paired with a younger rapper, Icon coached his counterpart on his delivery and flow.
“I definitely try to encourage and keep the guys on stage rapping; I want them to be great,” Icon wrote in an email. “There are a few veterans from BeatClub; I’m probably the youngest, but we all should be passing on any knowledge we have to the guys coming up.”
Part of BeatClub’s evolution was the establishment of the BeatMarket, which Lackey called a flea market for beats. Producers have tables set up with computers and headphones, making the venue like a tasting room for hip-hop.
SocialxN3rd said that much like BeatClub, BeatMarket is a valuable networking opportunity.
“BeatMarket is a really dope event. We as artists can benefit immensely from collaborating with local talent,” the producer wrote. “Other states have very tight-knit communities when it comes to up and coming artists and I feel we can do the same, or even better.”
Bmore BeatClub is also looking to hit the road. Lackey said this wouldn’t mean transplanting the event into new cities as much as it would be spreading Baltimore’s hip-hop scene to more places.
The growth of BeatClub coincides with with an ongoing emergence of the Baltimore hip-hop scene on a national level. Lackey argues that while Baltimore may never be a hub, the city might offer something special that the music industry will seek out. He likened it to a famous recording studio in Alabama whose house band recorded hits with Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and the Staple Singers.
“I don’t think it’s ever going to be like Atlanta, where it’s like a gigantic industry,” he said, “but I think it could be like a Muscle Shoals for rap.”
The next Bmore BeatMarket is Saturday, Jan. 26, at Maryland Art Place at noon.
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