Scottie B: Baltimore Club 101

 Photo: Keem Griffey

Photo: Keem Griffey

If you’ve listened to any Baltimore Club music, then chances are you’ve come across something that Scottie B has touched. A DJ, producer and label owner within the genre, Scottie has been a part of club culture since its infancy in the late 80’s and was one of the first to bridge the gap between outsiders wanting to gain insight and locals who wanted to keep it for themselves. His label, Unruly Records—which he co-owns with DJ Shawn Caesar—has released music from K-Swift, Miss Tony, Rod Lee, among others, and he still keeps a tight grip on what younger artists in the city are doing with club music. Recently, I got to kick it with Scottie at his crib to watch the NBA playoffs and to get a full lecture on how club music started from house parties to being sought after by Diplo and M.I.A to fading out in the city it was spawned. Here’s our convo:

True Laurels: What drew people into club music when you started out?

Scottie B: It was a hybrid of a lot of different music. House was big everywhere in the late ‘80’s. Even the hip-hop spots.

Was there always a concerted effort into making Baltimore club music an original sound?

SB: We weren’t trying to make a separate sound but we were trying to make music that would fit into the parties that we were playing. We had an idea of what worked but we weren’t thinking outside of the box. It was really small-minded. We thought on weekly terms. Like what we could play at our next gig.

What were clubs like before Baltimore Club started to pop off?

SB: Even before club was poppin’, in a hip-hop club they would play all house music. It was no Baltimore Club but it was fast music the whole night. Hip-hop faded out in clubs here in like 1990. A little later, me and Shawn Caesar started going to New York and they were playing hip-hop in the clubs—something we had been stopped doing. It was back and forth with new and old. Around the time “Scenario” was out and black college kids were into Native Tongues. We looked at each other and said, “We gotta do this.” People were going crazy.

With no internet, was it difficult for you to get new records broken?

SB: I was on the top list for club DJ’s and mixtape DJ’s and producers. I always had access because I would make something hot. I was selling a shit load of mixtapes. This was when the customer was more into being a part of something. That’s why it took off. People looked at club music as theirs. A lot of the music was shouting out neighborhoods and if you mentioned someone in a song, it was a good chance that your listener knew who that person was. There was a lot of ground support.

Describe the atmosphere of the clubs back then when Baltimore Club was at its height.

SB: Back then, the black clubs that played club music were 16 and up. Hammerjacks, Godfrey’s, O’Zone. The music was fresh and people came out specifically for that music. That’s what sparked the clubs having nights for younger people. Older people would party with younger people because the scene was so vibrant. You had 23-25 year-olds partying with younger kids in spots without alcohol because it was that hot. It was about dancing all night. You planned on sweating. That time is gone. The scene drives itself now and back then the music drove it.

When did you notice other cities starting to take note of the club scene and music?

SB: You would always get dudes coming into the record store from DC or somewhere nearby to grab a specific record but around ‘94 we started hearing they were bootlegging our shit in Philly. So we went up there and it was true. That was really hurting us in such a small market. We started getting cool with the record stores to find out who was doing it.

Do you think that Baltimore’s pride in local music has gone down with club music’s presence diminishing?

SB: It’s different for kids now because back then it was Miss Tony grabbing the mic shouting out people’s hoods over house music. Then he changed it to something a bit harder that was an actual song. It was able to be ingested. There was always a conflict between rappers in the city versus people within the club culture. Back then, the club music dude was also the DJ so rap dudes would say, “they’re not playing my shit because it’s not club.” But it was honestly because nobody was asking for it. I think that’s the same case with local music now. People aren’t asking for it.

Why do you think so?

SB: A lot of young kids are making music because they’re trying to get on the radio and trying to blow up instead of wanting to make good music. You can feel that.

People like Rod Lee, Blaqstarr, Miss Tony and K-Swift were all Identifiable club figures when I was growing up and I don’t see that anymore. Why don’t they exist?

SB: People don’t realize that in the early ‘90’s 16 year-olds and 30 year-olds were listening to the same club music. When K Swift and Blaqstarr took off, club music had become a younger music. Most people over 21 (except maybe hipsters) didn’t wanna hear it. Maybe not because of them individually but it was the sound. It became a big dance contest music. It got smaller when K Swift came around. When it was big with her, it was big with kids.

Does the lack of mentorship from your generation play a role as well?

SB: That’s what it’s always gonna be. At the same time, the younger crowd ain’t gonna understand an older dude flipping “Follow Me”. That’s not slick to them. The main reason club was so impressive is that it took old house music that people recognized and it flipped the track. But if you have no connection to the root, it’s not gonna stick for you. It’s not really a knock from either side. It’s like when they bring Jordans back out with all these crazy colorways. An older dude is most likely not gonna wear them because it doesn’t suit him. They’re made for now. It’s the same with the music.

How do you feel about Diplo’s involvement in club culture?

SB: It’s funny. At first, people were like “Oh, they really like our shit”. Then when he started to make it and get credit, it changed to, “They didn’t even give us…” Give you what? You were alright with them getting it at first but you get mad when natural progression happens? If people start liking something, they’ll start emulating it. Just like Baltimore Club emulated something that came before it. We took some other shit and we flipped it. People like to start the history when it benefits them. It’s not linear. It goes in a circle. It’s no year to when it’ll change. Music is like a kaleidoscope. It’s the same shit inside of there and you can spin it a million times and get a million outcomes but the elements in there never change.

Follow Scottie B on Twitter- @scottieBmore