Thanks to Singleton Newman, known around these parts as the Music Industry Maven, for hipping me to this event. The Sound Boutique, held on a rainy Saturday night at Ahead Of The Game on Garrison Boulevard, was a collection of hip hop artists gathered together to provide a mature approach to Baltimore's burgeoning hip hop scene. Hosted by WEAA-88.9 FM Strictly Hip Hop personality Florida, this showcase was another move in the direction that our blue collar city is taking to expand its musical horizons from a hip hop perspective.
The venue was not large, but that was not a hindrance to the music that took place within the walls of Ahead Of The Game, a barbershop and sports enthusiast spot at 4603 Garrison Boulevard in West Baltimore. The atmosphere was buzzing once I entered the venue, and M.E. was performing, hitting the crowd with a few prime joints, accompanied by a live drummer and guitarist. I noticed quite a few heads that frequent the Baltimore hip hop scene, like the aforementioned Singleton Newman, M.A.M. Records CEO and artist Jay McGraw, WEAA personalities Drop A Jewel and Florida, Street Smart Magazine, and many others. The vibe was positive, drinks were flowing, and the music painted a vivid picture for what was to come throughout the evening. Even though this early fall evening brought rain, the music on display inside the spot was a ray of sunshine. Once M.E. completed his first set for The Sound Boutique, M.A.M. Records artist Jhene Tha Realer grabbed the microphone, and commenced to hit the audience with her model looks and sharp flow. Jhene showcased versatility throughout her set, allowing the live instrumentation to guide her performance and shape her lyricism. The crowd was definitely in tune to the female lyricist for her 15-20 minute performance, as she hit the listeners with varied musical offerings. I've known about Jhene Tha Realer as a relative newcomer on the Baltimore hip hop scene, but this was my first time witnessing her live performance. She didn't disappoint. Repping her Zambian roots, while keeping true to her Harm City music, gave Jhene Tha Realer the opportunity to display just how far-reaching this thing we call hip hop can stretch. Couple that with the live instrumentation, and those in attendance witnessed a genre that can be deemed as limitless.
Strictly Hip Hop personality Florida kept the mood festive during a brief intermission from the evening's performances, allowing the live band to unveil a hip hop version of "Name That Tune". Yours truly even had the honor of naming the second selection that the band unleashed on the crowd, "Scenario Remix", featuring A Tribe Called Quest, Leaders Of The New School, and Kid Hood (rest in peace K.H.). Of course I had to flex my encyclopedic hip hop muscles during the evening! The intermission also allowed for those like-minded individuals in the growing crowd to network, connect, and spread positive vibes throughout. Next to hit the dimly lit stage area was the incomparable Comp, one of the most well-known and respected emcees in the region. Comp brought an elevated energy to the showcase, first hitting the adult hip hop crowd in attendance with a few bars as teasers, then tearing into joints that many in the venue were already hip to. His performance was enhanced by the spirited drummer, who provided the sonic foundation for Comp to hit ears with metaphors about the hip hop industry, the menacing streets of Bodymore Murdaland, and everyday living. Comp's reputation as an energetic performer was earned on this Saturday evening at The Sound Boutique, as he kept the crowd in the zone throughout. Dirt Platoon entered the side door for Ahead Of The Game, ready to hit the stage and show the anticipating crowd what a DP performance is all about. Accompanied by Spyda on the drums, Dirt Platoon brought the showcase to a fever pitch, launching into joints from mixtape releases and their Deeper Than Dirt album that has circulated on the underground level for the past year. These Brake Fast Records veterans commanded the stage with a bravado and confidence that only years of experience could yield. Raf The Almighty and Snook Da Crook are brethren in the struggle, both literally and figuratively, and that connection gives them an edge not witnessed in the majority of today's music. That was on full display at The Sound Boutique, as the 90's-influenced lyricists hit the aural senses with wordplay and storytelling skills that the hungry crowd could relate to and feel. M.E. then graced the stage again, bringing forth his versatility by performing a spoken word piece, before ripping through his final set. M.E. is another emcee who I've heard about, but never had the opportunity to witness from a live perspective. He is another up and coming artist that has potential to make noise in a scene that is growing by leaps and bounds in Baltimore. Using the live instrumentation to propel his lyricism over varied tracks by Kwame and Wu-Tang Clan, M.E. managed to bring the evening to a proper close. It was a fitting way to conclude the performance aspect of the evening. This didn't end the festivities however, as the majority of the crowd at Ahead Of The Game stayed to network, congratulate, and be merry with the free drinks. I talked with Spyda, M.E., and Dirt Platoon after the successful performances for the night. For close to 30-45 minutes after the showcase ended, I still had the opportunity to discuss the golden age of hip hop with Dirt Platoon. We shared our common views on dope emcees such as Pharoahe Monch, Prince Po, Nas, O.C., and countless others that raised the bars by raising their bars to elevated levels. Our discussion was the nightcap, showing that real, true hip hop is not dead, but alive and thriving, even in a blue-collar locale on the Patapsco River.
Special thanks goes out to M.A.M. Records, Street Smart Magazine, Florida, Drop A Jewel, Singleton Newman, and the other hip hop entities that were in the house for The Sound Boutique. This event is a must-have and must-see for the Baltimore hip hop scene, allowing promising artists the opportunity to spread their lyrical wings in a setting that is conducive for being outside the normal hip hop periphery. To all those in attendance, thanks for the positive vibes that were shared throughout the evening.