In mid-April, during a digital interview with The Breakfast Club, Boosie Bad Azz was asked how he’d been coping with quarantine life. Without an inkling of self-awareness, the Louisiana rapper shared that he’d been spending a considerable amount of time at his local Wal-Mart because it was the last resort for any type of excitement and human interaction. When challenged on the decision to break quarantine, Boosie snapped back, “I’m outside like them Baltimore niggas!”
So much of the best online comedy from the past few months has been at the expense of someone or something that isn’t in on the joke: the overzealous clips from Pan-African personality Dr. Umar Johnson’s livestreams being repurposed as timeline reactions and memes, babies’ responses to new trying new foods, or the new quarantine brand of jokes that illustrate the anxiety that now comes with a simple sneeze. But, as Boosie had obviously noticed, moments of disobedience have gone viral too, and Baltimore Club producers have been repurposing them lately in a string of remixes. The result has been a back-and-forth conversation between digital communities and the artists that come from them, and it’s pumped fuel into a genre that many feel has passed its most innovative years.
The thread started in March, when social distancing orders began to be implemented across the country and news of college-aged people still swarming the beaches of Miami for spring break started to spread. In clips from news broadcasts, students brushed off the potential ramifications of gathering en masse while others shrugged at the possibility of catching the virus. That’s when a video of a group of young Baltimore men in Miami uploaded a video of themselves jokingly disregarding a newly-implemented curfew. “Bitch we is from Baltimore, we don’t care about no fuckin’ curfew,” Charles, the man holding the phone, bellowed proudly in the clip while a friend behind him offered some funny ad libs. It went viral in a matter of hours, with some cracking fun at the Baltimore accent and others using it to affirm the city’s reputation for moving to its own beat in spite of authority. By the next day, a number of local club producers took highlights from it to make danceable, 130BPM soundscapes for life in quarantine — or to rebel against it.
In producer Calvo Music’s version, which enlists Charles as a featured artist, breakbeats, sharp 808s, and a looping of “they all like it’s curfew” create a suspenseful build up to a track that has all the ingredients of a special club record. As the song gets progressively more chaotic, Calvo tosses in Lil Jon yeeeaaahhhs and nods to DJ Manny’s classic “Down The Hill” to back Charles and friend’s vocals from the video. Between the transferred laughs from the original material, calling back to local club standouts, and the affirmation of Baltimore’s unruly pride, it didn’t take long to spread regionally. Soon after its release, videos of kids dancing to the track with National Guard officers sent to enforce social distancing started to circulate. After that, a group of young men gathered outside of a corner store went viral for reciting the track’s looped vocals in unison, a capella. Shortly after that moment, Joe Exotic — the craziest character to binge watch during quarantine — had inspired club mixes as well.
But Calvo and other producers’ greatest accomplishment isn’t that these edits have been embraced as a tongue-in-cheek anthems — it’s that the tracks inadvertently gave birth to more just like them. Less than a day after Boosie’s Breakfast Club interview went viral in Baltimore’s corner of social media, club producers started to release edits of his callback to Charles’s Instagram video. A personal favorite is Thunderbird Juiceboxx’s which feels like club tracks of the late 90s.
Baltimore club’s resurgence or return to greatness isn’t likely to build off the back of a global pandemic. But what this string of edits does show is that there will always be a particular space that the genre can occupy. Even in recent rap that’s touched on our current reality (the most entertaining being Young Dolph’s “Sunshine”), you’re not made to engage with it in the same way. Club music, by nature, is made to cause movement and to help you shed the weight that everyday life places on your shoulders. Some of the best songs in the genre’s canon directly deal with the particulars of those challenges and these new tracks by the likes of Calvo and Thunderbird continue that legacy.
As we continue to figure out how to remain healthy, productive, and entertained while dealing with the effects of COVID-19, having music that reflects the times we’re living in (whether that be a critique, vulnerable deep dives within, or, in this case, making light of the situation), will be key. Art that acknowledges the reality that we’re collectively experiencing right now is crucial because it affirms and strengthens metaphysical connection when physical connection is at an unprecedented low. Thanks to moments like what is currently happening in club music, we can simultaneously experience humor and music as tools to heal or cope, even if that wasn’t its intended purpose.