[Editor's Note 2/6/20: After a sneak peek at the Parkway Theatre in Baltimore last summer, the film will be making its official world premiere at SXSW in late March 2020.]
Baltimore Club queen TT The Artist has released the trailer for her much-anticipated documentary, Dark City: Beneath the Beat. The film tells the story of Baltimore through its hometown music genre, locally known as Bmore Club, and features some of the city's notable movers-and-shakers, like DDm, Eze Jackson, Rufus Roundtree, and the TSU Dance Crew to name a few. We talked with TT about her initiation to club music, the film’s importance, and her dreams of giving it a big-bang Baltimore premiere.
You moved to Baltimore from Florida to attend MICA in 2002. What was your first introduction to Baltimore Club music? I was a freshman in college, driving in my car listening to 92Q, and they were playing this repetitive, choppy, loopy music. I thought the radio wasn’t working at first. It really sounded like it was skipping. But not long after, once I started going out and meeting people in Baltimore, I came to find out it was Baltimore Club music.
How would you describe the genre to someone who’s never heard it? In order to really understand it, you just have to experience it. The first time I saw dancers in the club dancing to Baltimore Club music, I had never seen anything like it before in my entire life. It never gets old. I’ve been here for like 12 years and every time I go see dancers get together, whether it’s at Graffiti Alley or the McCulloh Homes, it’s so alive.
-Photo by Rose Diferdinando
What made you decide you wanted to make this music yourself? I’d been rapping since I was in high school. Down in Florida, they play a lot of dance music, and when I got to Baltimore, the club genre reminded me so much of Miami bass. It was very familiar and became this natural transition, experiencing this music and thinking about how it made me feel. It all started with a collaboration I did with Mighty Mark in 2009. He was working with a crew called the Yo Boys and a producer by the name of [Debonair] Samir. I got invited to record on a project they were doing with Aaron LaCrate and did a song called “Let Me Show ’Em,” which was the first time I ever rapped on a Baltimore Club beat. After that, me and Mark continued to work together. He is one of the main, most instrumental people behind TT The Artist’s Baltimore Club records.
What was it about the Bmore Club community that made you want to be a part of it? For me, it was like when hip-hop was first coming around—it was really raw and from the streets and a very creative way for people to express themselves. Rapping. Breakdancing. Graffiti. Baltimore Club culture is so exciting and expressive. It affects people differently. I love to make people happy and create a vibe at my shows, and whenever I play a Baltimore Club track, it’s just an instant response from my audience. The energy gets lifted in this whole new way. That’s what made me want to push this music forward.
Did the club scene welcome you as an outsider? Some people were open and welcoming while others might have been a little skeptical about my intentions because I wasn’t born and raised in Baltimore. It’s such a close-knit community of real people. The culture is not something that’s up for exploitation for your own self-interest. You have to partake in the community and be a part of it and support it. I really worked hard to get to know people, and as I developed as an artist, I reached out to a lot of the dancers to have them be part of my projects. This thing will only grow if we all continue to work together. If it wasn’t for this community supporting me, I don’t know where I would be.
TT on set with dancers.
Dark City crew: Astrid Curet, Rose Diferdinando, Ian Andrews, and TT. Photo by Rose.
That being said, you’ll be moving to L.A. later this year. I’ve been in Baltimore for about 12 years and I feel like I’ve reached a ceiling here. Part of me felt a little guilt about leaving, having built so much, but at a certain point, you have to go where the business is. I don’t see me going to L.A. as leaving Baltimore, but as me building a bridge to what I’ve created here. Hopefully I can bring some of those resources back to the city. The film is a project I’ve really wanted to do for a long time—since I was in college. I had a lot of failures and false starts. I wouldn’t say it’s a farewell project; it’s kind of the beginning of something. I want the world to see what’s happening in Baltimore.
Baltimore Club has a rich history in this city, but Dark City: Beneath the Beat is really focusing on the current generation. This film is really not going to be what people expect. When a lot of people think of the word “documentary,” they’re expecting a traditional, linear narrative. This film is the opposite of that. There’s no timeline. It’s a vignette of this musical sound, and the musical soundscape of Baltimore. There will be an all-original soundtrack featuring local artists and producers. That’s special because a lot of the Baltimore artists in the past were not able to sell or make money off of their music because it was so heavily sampled. We want to put out good records with universal appeal so that the city’s musical landscape can be taken more seriously on the world stage. We’re really highlighting the talent that has been working really hard here but that has been underrepresented. I couldn’t do this by myself; it’s the community that are making this thing happen.
DDm and dancers in formation during a shoot in the Inner Harbor.
On another shoot: a dancer strikes a pose in Oak Lawn Cemetery.
The trailer for the film drops today but when will we get to see the full feature? We’re planning for a release in spring 2019. We’re still filming and applying to more grants to see it through post-production, then we’re going to push it through the festival circuit. The film isn’t even out yet and I’ve already felt the love coming from all areas across the city and country. We just want to make sure we do it real big for Baltimore once it’s all done. I want a crazy premiere, Hollywood-style, with the cameras and red carpet, hopefully at the Parkway Theatre. That would be a beautiful night for Baltimore.