Part 4 of our “Obscure Hip-Hop Genres” series explores the breakbeat, rave-influenced sounds from the Mid-Atlantic: Baltimore Club.

Since its emergence in the South Bronx in the early ’70s, hip-hop has been a cultural phenomenon with variety at its core. Characterized by four distinct elements or “pillars” – emceeing (oral), turntablism (aural), breakdancing (physical) and graffiti (visual) – the genre has long offered many avenues for creativity and expression, with fashion serving as an unseen fifth.

Like almost no other form of music, hip-hop is colored by the attitudes, aspirations and experiences of its environment. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that it has found itself twisted into a multitude of styles, subgenres and regionally specific varieties by those eager to create something they can call their own. Following our examination of Horrorcore, Chopped and Screwed and Crunk, we explore the bass-trembling, rave-influenced sounds of Baltimore Club.

Baltimore club was hip-hop’s response to the booming popularity of rave music culture during the late ’80s and early ’90s, or as it had occurred in the genre’s namesake, Baltimore, Maryland. Played at an average tempo of 130 bpm and based on an 8/4 beat structure, the turbulent sound glazed looped vocal samples over punchy breakbeats and staccato house music, packaging everything together under a guise that was wholeheartedly hip-hop.

As hip-hop continued to dominate urban street culture throughout America during the late ’80s, dance music was slowly starting to creep its way into many inner-city club scenes, including that of Baltimore, whose thriving nightlife spawned a new breed of DJs who would redefine the city’s club culture. Though the house music echoing out of Detroit and Chicago dominated Baltimore’s clubs, a foreign import hailing from the UK – breakbeat hardcore – would inspire a new sound in the city’s dance music culture. First experimented with in record shops by local DJs such as Scottie B, Shawn Caesar and DJ Equalizer, the style blended hip-hop’s aggressive attitude (often demonstrated via sampled shouting hooks) with chest-rattling bass patterns and repetitive techno grooves, providing just enough street influence and thumping energy to attract Baltimore’s inner-city youth.

Solidifying the Baltimore club sound were the tracks “Doo Doo Brown” (2 Live Crew’s Frank Ski) and “I Got the Rhythm” (Scottie B & DJ Equalizer) – both released in 1991 – which were two of the genre’s first singles to receive radio play and had a significant role in distributing Baltimore club beyond the mid-Atlantic. The Baltimore club label Unruly Records – founded by Shawn Caesar and Scottie B in 1994 – further facilitated the sound’s popularity, running the scene up until the late ’90s. The music would continue to make impressions throughout the ’90s across America’s eastern and southern regions; developing a cult following in the North Jersey club scene, seeping through the radio waves of Boston and Virginia and even tapping into DJ sets of New York City.

Once the ’90s ended, Baltimore club continued to dip in and out of the underground. Baltimore disc jockey Rod Lee, whom the Washington Post described as the “the original don of Baltimore Club,” released the first nationally distributed Baltimore club CD with 2005’s Vol. 5: the Official, which included the track “Dance My Pain Away,” featured on the widely popular HBO series The Wire. By 2009, the genre was supported by EDM heavyweights Diplo and Aaron LaCrate, who started releasing Baltimore club music on their respective Mad Decent and Milkcrate labels. Though its sweat has since cooled off, the genre is still able to maintain a pulse thanks to the recent popularity of its New Jersey cousin, Jersey club, and the prevalence of music sharing platforms such as Soundcloud and Youtube, where a surplus of Baltimore club remixes emerge on a regular basis.

Tear up the dance floor with our Ultimate Highsnobiety Baltimore Club Playlist below.

Words by Nico Amarca
Fashion Editor, North America