Under a dramatic black light inside The Windup Space in Station North, MCs are called onto the small stage, two at a time. The packed crowd hoots and hollers as these novice and veteran rappers are given the task of rhyming over beats they’ve never heard before. However daunting, each rapper approaches the mic like a jazz artist, taking turns freestyling and testing new bars as if trading fours. “This is what it’s about!” shouts host Eze Jackson from the stage. “It’s about building the culture.”
This is the latest installment of the Bmore BeatClub, a hip-hop open-mic series, now in its third year. The event is a platform for emerging artists who want to step up their game, as well as for producers who are scoping out new talent and people like its founder, Brandon Lackey, who want to help the Baltimore hip-hop community grow.
“BeatClub is really a family,” says co-producer and EDM DJ Marat Buberman. “Everyone here is supportive. . . . We know what it’s like to be struggling artists.”
With the help of dedicated staff and friends, Lackey, a producer himself, and his Lineup Room Recording Studio have been producing BeatClub since it was a free, BYOB event at the now-defunct Shockwave Records store in Parkville. What began as a way for young producers to show off their beats has evolved into an open-mic with MCs rapping over tracks and drawing hordes of hip-hop fans from Baltimore and beyond.
BeatClub has grown out of its former venues, including, most recently, the basement of the Maryland Art Place—a setting Lackey describes as Cheers meets 8 Mile—and into a bimonthly series at the larger Windup Space that also includes an epic all-night dance party. “I wanted to kill it or grow it,” says Lackey. “I didn’t want it to get stale.”
The most important thing to understand is that BeatClub is not a battle. The stage acts as an even playing field, with national legends like Bobbito and Psycho Les standing alongside fresh-faced up-and-comers, some of whom have gone on to bigger things, like creating collaborative EPs, opening for big-name acts at Baltimore Soundstage, and performing at Artscape.
Those incentives create the hungry edge that keeps artists coming back. As Lackey puts it, “That’s the competition.”