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Hands Up! How Baltimore Weathers the Storm

We went to Baltimore to find out how local DJs and producers are responding to Freddie Gray's death by creating political anthems for our time.
September 9, 2015, 3:25pm

Baltimore club is the city's native genre of party music. It lives on the streets, in nightclubs, and everywhere locals converge to dance. You'll hear Baltimore club's chopped-up vocals, classic "Think" break, and knocking kick drums pulsing through the city, including blighted, economically depressed neighborhoods like Sandtown, where Freddie Gray was arrested before his death in police custody.

Baltimore club has always been implicitly political by nature of it springing from local conditions—and being about transcending those conditions with tracks like the Rod Lee classic "Dance My Pain Away." But in the wake of Gray's death, those politics became explicit, as local producers, DJs, and MCs created songs that soundtracked the protests—and the city's healing. Some even sampled the sounds of protests and police sound canons, resulting in tracks like Schwarz's "Hands Up Don't Shoot."

In Hands Up! How Baltimore Weathers The Storm, we linked up with key musicians like Blaqstarr, Abdu Ali, TT the Artist, and Schwarz to talk about the messages behind their music. As TT the Artist put it: "Baltimore club music is so much bigger than just the sound. It's so heavily rooted in the soundscape of the city. It's about the violence, it's about the drugs, but it's also about getting through, creating hope, and coping with pain."

Photos by Michael James Murray