All Rap Round Robin showcases 12 of the city's underground acts
In its fifth year, the event presents the artists in its own streamlined way
Height, from second left, and Emily Slaughter, Mickey Freeland and musician Travis Allen, left. (Kenneth Lam)
Now entering its fifth year, the gathering of the city's on-the-fringe hip-hop acts will converge Friday night on Floristree. The event will showcase Baltimore's underground rap scene, which appears to be growing, given this year's expansion from nine acts to 12.
The Round Robin, which was formed by longtime friends and rappers Dan "Height" Keech, Mickey Freeland and Bob Jones, is unusual because it lacks a headliner. Instead, the dozen acts will set up side by side and take turns performing songs. The execution is quick and to the point, giving the audience a buffet of Baltimore rap's less-traditional side.
Kane Mayfield, the 28-year-old Mania Music Group rapper and Round Robin first-timer, says it's the structure that excites him most.
"Anyone I describe it to, their eyes light up," Mayfield says. "I think if you give us one song at a time, and all [we] have to do is blow that song out of the water, it takes some pressure off, to be honest. It's like a 100-yard dash, not 400 yards with the hurdles."
Here's a quick rundown of who's who on this year's bill:
AK Slaughter: Goucher alums Aran Keating and Emily Slaughter released the "Pleasure of Doing Business" in February, a seven-song lament against mundane office jobs with tongue firmly in cheek. It's their third release in four years, and like their past efforts, the free EP puts their trademark sarcasm squarely on top of infectious, dance-floor backdrops.
OOH of Brown F.I.S.H. w/ seeWEED: Derrick "OOH" Jones first made a name in Baltimore's rap scene with his reggae-influenced rap group Brown F.I.S.H. Now, the former Gilmor Elementary teacher is doing solo shows in support of his new EP, "The Big 7," with the help of the backing band seeWEED.
Disturbed Individuals: Windsor Hills rappers Johnny Occmo and Hy provide some new blood for the Round Robin. Hy, who was a member of Food for Animals, teams up with Occmo for no-nonsense hip-hop that recalls Wu-Tang Clan's raw, fron-the-streets lyricism.
Height with Friends: Keech, the long-haired driving force behind the Round Robin, has never been afraid to recruit local rappers and producers for his projects, hence the "with Friends." Constantly on the road, in America and most recently Europe, Height has honed his live show with material from his well-received records, 2009's "Baltimore Highlands" and last year's "Bed of Seeds."
Jones: Judging by his first full-length, "Jones Jones Jones," this Baltimore County rapper/producer's beats recall the more skittering side of Animal Collective. Combine the trippy backdrops with Jones' deadpan delivery and the result is rap under a trance.
King Rhythm: Randallstown's Franklin Yaker infuses drum 'n' bass and techno into his left-field brand of hip-hop. There's no gangsta-posturing here, as Yaker's lyrics often focus on issues like poverty and big business.
Mania Music Group: MMG, a stable of some of the area's best producers and rappers, will make their Round Robin debut. The three MCs — Ron G., Mayfield and latest addition Eze Jackson of Soul Cannon — are no strangers to rocking a crowd, so expect a set with energy and style.
Mickey Free: With one spin of his last album, a 2010 effort with a title that can't be printed here, it's clear Free's weapon of choice is his explicit humor. Whether he's asking, "Can we smash?" to Slaughter or worried about the rent, Free, who years ago rapped under the name Bow N' Arrow, often keeps it light and obscene.
PT Burnem: Burnem might possess the strongest voice you'll hear Friday. His deep delivery bulldozes the beats on his last album, 2009's "Paper Cranes." His cadences land like heavy punches, giving a listener no choice but to pay attention.
RapDragons: On "Natural Born Chillers," the duo of Nick Often and Greg Ward rap over loops from chillwave mainstays Toro Y Moi, Panda Bear and more. It's a gimmick, but the former Charles Theatre employees somehow create a winning combination of self-aware humor and smooth rhymes.
Soul Cannon: Jackson, who recently signed with Mania Music Group as a solo artist, anchors this hip-hop hybrid act. With nods to jazz, soul and electronic music, Soul Cannon has built a reputation as one of the city's strongest live acts.
The Plural MC: A Round Robin participant since its inaugural year, the Plural MC is a 28-year-old dreadlocked enigma. He's currently putting the finishing touches on his latest project, "Rap Spaceship." Despite the mystery, his mission statement is clear on the track "Birds in High School": "If you see me looking stressed, give me something to rhyme to."
If you go
The Baltimore Round Robin is at 9 p.m. Friday at Floristree, 405 W. Franklin St. Go to heightwithfriends.com.