Baltimore rap concern Height With Friends have been digging deep for a trilogy of records, each of which is a send up of a particular time and place in the annals of American hip-hop. The project is culminating in the release of Versus the Continental MC’s, featuring old school beats and flows that pay homage to the New York rap scene circa 1983. Height considers it “a magical time and place for hip-hop,” when “making a rap single started to be less about replicating a live show, and more of an art form of its own.”
What’s the scene/era that Versus the Continential MC’s is sending up?
The idea is NYC in 1983, which I see as a magical time and place for hip-hop. Making a rap single started to be less about replicating a live show, and more of an art form of its own. There was a wide array of approaches to making a rap song.
Some standout tunes are “On The Radio” by Crash Crew, “Beat Bop” by Rammellzee and K-Rob, “Hip-Hop Be Bop” by Man Parrish and “Looking For The Perfect Beat” by Afrika Bambataa and Soul Sonic Force.
Does “Star Dust Roller Rink ’83” have a specific inspiration?
I based this track off a live tape of The Fearless Four performing in Harlem. They perform their singles, then they change gears and start rhyming over breaks. They tell the crowd they had to end their set like this, just to prove that they’re not just “lemmings.” It’s interesting to think there was an overlap between the park jam era and the studio single era. MC’s who had hit songs on the charts would still be going into some tiny club and rapping over the Mardi Gras break to prove that they’re the real deal.
What’s it like doing this tribute trilogy? Did you have to censor yourself to come off authentic?
Doing this trilogy has saved my life, in a way. Outside of just being a fun recording project, going onstage and playing a character who loves to rock the crowd has made me a guy who loves to rock the crowd. Over the years, I think I had begun to resent the crowd without realizing it, due to years of dealing with rejection. It felt freeing to go onstage without some of the emotional baggage I had gotten used to carrying.
I didn’t have to censor myself, because it would never even cross my mind to hear the Daisy Lady break and lay down a 2014-style Height song on it.The goal was to picture myself as being back then, and think what would I do if I was there? Sometimes there were misfires that ended up sounding too modern, but I would just scrap them.
What was it like for Eze Jackson and Emily Slaughter and any other MCs on the record to do this. How did you all get on the same page?
On the first album, I had seven or eight people help out with the raps. I think some people might have been weirded out by the idea of not writing their own rhymes. Maybe they felt like they were puppets in my weird fantasy world.
Eze and Emily really took to the project and stuck with it. They were extremely patient with me, and didn’t mind putting in hard work for my vision. I think they understood that’s it’s more like taking part in a play, and they felt comfortable doing something of that nature. They both have some acting and some directing in their background, so it wasn’t a big stretch for them.
What’s happening at the release show?
The idea with the Baltimore release show is to perform the set in three parts, representing the three parts of the trilogy. It will be our first time doing the whole trilogy in one set, and it will also be our last time performing this piece in Bmore. That night will also be the release party for Eze Jackson’s album L.I.V.E.N.O.W., as well as the tour kick-off show for a Height / Eze Jackson tour.
What are you doing now that the trilogy is done?
Now that this trilogy is done, I want to challenge myself to do something that isn’t conceptual at all. I want to make something that’s basically pop, where you don’t have to know music history or my history to like it. It’s definitely been limiting to try and promote music where the audience is required to know about some obscure thing from 30-35 years ago. With this trilogy I got my rocks off in such a complete way that I now want to see what’s up with the other end of the spectrum.
Height With Friends & Eze Jackson Double Album Release Party
with DDM, Mickey Free, and Secret Weapon Dave
Friday, Sept. 5, 2014 — 8 p.m.
at the Metro Gallery, 1700 N. Charles St.
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