This past Thursday, I found myself wandering down a rainy, vacant Baltimore street trying to find an event I had long been interested in attending: the Bmore BeatClub, a monthly event which is organized by Brandon Lackey, the owner of Lineup Room Recording Studios.
There was a weird atmosphere for the first few minutes after my arrival at the Maryland Art Place. DJ Casey “MooseJaw” Frank was in the back, spinning records, while everyone awkwardly milled about. Every once in a while, someone would strut up to the stage and scribble their name on a notebook.
Finally, after “Bodak Yellow” was played, Baltimore artist Eze Jackson hopped on stage and used his impeccable MC skills to start the show. It worked like this: Jackson would call up two MCs and a producer at random. The producer would play two of their best beats, while the rappers would try to ride them live.
At first, the performances were kind of stiff. There weren’t enough people to feel lost in a crowd, but too many to have an intimate concert. Everyone just stood around nodding their heads. It took time for the people to loosen up. The show really opened up after some major performances.
The beat hit, he grabbed the mic and with no hesitation, started rapping smoothly off the dome. The energy in the room burst; suddenly everyone was jumping and screaming, egging the kid on as he rhymed “rice” with “nice.”
Another time, Eze asked someone named Mason to come up to the stage. There was a cry from the crowd. Clearly this Mason was a known presence, so I strained my head to see who this mysterious figure was, only to find a very young, bowl-cut-wearing kid with his laptop leaning behind the DJ booth.
He plugged in to the aux and played some of the hardest beats I heard that night. I could feel the sub-bass in my spine and the rappers picked to perform with him ripped some grimy freestyles. Finally, there were these two guys — both with dreads and heavily street-weared out — who jumped on the beat using this fun, poppy Lil-Uzi-Vert-type style.
While they were flowing, one of the guys bent over, mumbling something about his laces being untied. I thought this would be a “drop the mic” moment of embarrassment, but, unbelievably, the guy kept rapping while lacing his shoes. As the beat kept pounding, he chanted, “Rockstar lifestyle, so fuck laces/I’m a rockstar, fuck laces.”
After these randomly selected performances, there were more structured guest sets: a duet of LinoBeatz and DJ MooseJaw, as well as a solo act by Baltimore Boom Bap Society’s Wendel Patrick. DJ Fleg of the Lionz of Zion crew closed out the night, playing a mix of instrumentals and regular cuts.
The DJs played beats live as rappers would drop verses and then quickly pass the mic. The best of these performances would be awarded with an opening slot at a Baltimore Soundstage performance
You know that feeling when you start to lose awareness of yourself and just become at one with the environment? During the show, there were a few minutes where I started feeling like an extra in a movie about the birth of Baltimore hip-hop. Leaning against a pole, I lost myself in the magic happening onstage.
This was a show like nothing else. In no other environment can a member of the audience standing next to you suddenly hop on the stage and become the performer, before hopping back down and rejoining you.
While the BeatClub may feel like a magical place for interested rappers to perform, it’s more than that: It’s a marketing event. Jackson kept telling people to make sure that they found someone to link up with after the show.
After almost every freestyle, you would see numbers and daps exchanged stageside. It became clear to me that the BeatClub is a central event in the Baltimore hip-hop scene where collaborations and creativity are born.
Jackson explained how the club started in a tiny room in a record store in Parkville and became a marquis sponsored event with dozens of artists in the network. It was clear how significant of an event it had become. A couple hours into the show, Vernon Kelson, operations manager for Radio One stations in Baltimore showed up to support.
It was wildly impressive to see how through sheer power of will, the Baltimore artistic community created this important and beautiful thing. Lineup Room should be exceptionally proud of the work they’re doing.
Hip-hop has historically never been about big arenas, fireworks and long sets. Hip-hop is about the kid standing on the corner, rapping to a beat he’s making by stomping his feet. Hip-hop is that video of the man in the chair on the porch, freestyling while pounding his chest. Hip-hop is seeing 30 rappers jump on the stage and instantly create music.
The BeatClub is hip-hop to the core, and I highly recommend readers go and experience something that they might otherwise only see in movies.