Jul 02, 2009, 07:29AM

Celebrating Baltimore's Progressive Hip Hop

An interview with AK Slaughter and Height about tomorrow's third annual Baltimore All Rap Round Robin.

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Tomorrow the Load of Fun art space presents the third annual Baltimore All Rap Round Robin, where local progressive rap artists like AK Slaughter, Height, Food for Animals, and King Rhythm will be busting out their turntables and laying down the mad beats, or whatever it is the kids say. You may remember a couple of the acts from Dan Deacon's recent Wham City Round Robin tour late last year. I couldn't find much on the RRR, so I emailed Emily Slaughter (one half of AK Slaughter) to get the low-down. Dan Keech (Height) also offered up his opinions on the Baltimore rap scene. Of course I could have just let Mickey Free promote it:

SPLICE TODAY: How did the Baltimore All Rap Round Robin get started and how has it been received in years past?

AK SLAUGHTER: We have been part of the Baltimore All Rap Round Robin for three years; we first participated in July of 2007 when it was held at Current Gallery. The other key players (Height, Mickey Free, Jones, The Plural MC, PT Burnem and King Rhythm) may have had similar round robin style shows before, but I think the 2007 RRR was the first to be dubbed the "Baltimore All Rap Round Robin". It was a really successful event, a ton of people came out and it was a total blast. It was also one of the first times Aran and I performed a real show, which to me was kind of intimidating, but it went really well. The second year, we held the event at the Annex Theater and had a great turnout and a lot of fun. I think people really enjoy the round robin format, it's more engaging and interactive... the audience kind of becomes part of the performance as they have to shift from station to station to see the show.

ST: Can you talk about the Baltimore rap scene, and how it compares to better-known rap scenes in L.A. and NYC?

HEIGHT: There's been hip-hop in Baltimore since the days of the Z-3 MC's, but Baltimoreans don't seem to think of Baltimore as a hot spot for tight rap. Locally, there isn't a great demand for new music, and there is little national interest. I think most Baltimore MC's would agree that being a rapper here is an uphill battle.

Ten years ago, we weren't thought of as a music city at all. Right now, things like Baltimore Club and Beach House and Dan Deacon are getting the shine they deserve. Maybe a rap album from Baltimore will blow up and do the same thing for local hip-hop, maybe not. It remains to be seen.

ST: I've always felt that although Baltimore's music scene is generally very supportive—everyone knows everyone else, there's a lot of collaboration, bands help other bands organize concerts and festivals—there's a rift between the rappers and the rest of the scene.

AKS: I think I agree on some level. See the thing is—and I'm just speaking for AK Slaughter here—we perform mostly for our peers and most of our peers do not go to local hip-hop shows. I don't even go to local hip-hop shows, unless I know the performers personally. Aran and I tend to have an audience who generally has certain socio-economic background that is in line with ours. I think race is also an interesting factor in the scene... I'm not saying there is a racial divide or anything, but I'm sure there is definitely a noticeable difference in the racial make up of one of our shows at like the Zodiac and one of the events at Eden's Lounge or whatever. We've discussed breaking this habit, I guess you could call it, of performing where we usually do and for an audience of our friends and supporters. I think breaking out of that comfort zone would do us good and we have done it to a certain extent... being on tour forces you to. I'd just like to do it more.

HEIGHT: I wouldn't say there's a rift. On tour, we play in a lot of cities where rappers seem completely isolated from the rest of the music scene. Things are relatively intertwined here. I'm sure there are hip-hop heads in Baltimore who feel alienated from everything else that's going on, but the larger music scene here is fairly open-minded and inclusive.

ST: What's the goal of the RRR?

AKS: As with every show we do, I think the goal of the RRR is to give people a good time. We're entertainers, right? It's what we do. Also, because of the particular way round robins engage the audience, I see them as an excellent opportunity to showcase talent. It's like giving people of sample of what the performers have been working on and with the nine groups involved this year, we have a wide range of musical stylings to share.

ST: Who's involved this year? Who should we look out for?

AKS: This year the line up is as follows (in no particular order): Height, Mickey Free, Food for Animals, PT Burnem, Jones, The Plural MC, AK Slaughter, King Rhythm and Rapdragons. Food for Animals and Rapdragons are the most recent additions to the line-up, Rapdragons being the newest to the game. I hear they're really popping off with these party raps, so look out for them.

ST: Can you tell me a little about AK Slaughter. How you got started? Who your influences are?

AKS: Aran and I first started performing in 2006 and have been enthusiastically collaborating ever since. We went to school together and were looking to get our musical careers in motion, the decision to form the group and work together made that possible. I am mostly influenced by old-school hip-hop, especially story rhymes... I really dig that "talking" rap style. I also listen to a ton of country music, mostly the stuff that was made before 1980s country/rock genre hit the scene, specifically Tammy Wynette and Wanda Jackson. Aran listens to way more hip hop than I do and his specific influences differ from mine a bit. Also, most of what I write comes from the experiences I have. We have a song about working in an office for 40 hours a week and how much that sucks; I wrote it while working in an office for 40 hours a week, which really sucked.

  • AK Slaughter kick ass, I remember I saw them at the Current Canyon Fest in Bmore back in Oct. 07. Glad to see they're getting some recognition, considering their set was shockingly under-attended.

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