Baltimore rappers Here's a question with no right answer: Why hasn't a Baltimore rapper broken through the city confines?
There have been glimmers of hope. Caddy Da Don caught a quick flame last year with "Grindin' On Me," but his momentum slowed. Mullyman once had a video in MTV Jams' rotation, but couldn't repeat it. Los, signed to Diddy's Bad Boy Records, is probably our current best hope for a star, and there's no sign when his major-label debut will hit shelves.
But the truth is, there's something more interesting going on here. A scene is emerging, and it's not chasing a quick payday or a fleeting fad. Artists are developing distinctive voices and perspectives in real time, through visually arresting videos, passionate live performances and, of course, the music itself. Many hip-hop artists in the city are carving out their own lanes, and in the process, cultivating a community with a unique take on one of the world's most influential art forms.
We couldn't include them all here, so consider this a small but notable sampling of the city's most promising rappers. Those waiting impatiently for Baltimore's own version of Wale should call off the search, and instead check out these five rising artists. Ultimately, it won't matter if they make it to top of the Billboard charts or not. They have made -- and will likely continue to make -- great music, and that's what matters most. (Al Great, Dunson, Kane Mayfield and Jay Verze photographed by Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun Scarlett photographed by Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun)
Here's a big look for a local artist: Current b cover star Dunson said he had a lot of collaborations in the pipeline, and the first one, along with a stylized video, dropped today.
R&B singer Chrisette Michele (an underrated talent perhaps best known for her breathy hook on Rick Ross' "Aston Martin Music") debuted "Can the Cool Be Loved?" today, a collaboration that includes neo-soul singer Bilal and the Columbia native Dunson. The song is from Michele's "Audrey Hepburn: An Audiovisual Presentation" project, scheduled to be released online Dec. 8.
Dunson, happily playing off the Sammy Davis Jr. imagery in the video, spits an unadorned guest verse that sits comfortably in his wheelhouse (the "Would you take Billie Holiday to Holiday Inn?" line caught my attention). It's an appropriately sensitive verse that ends with Dunson ad-libbing, "You know what's cool? Love is cool."
Read more about Dunson and the other four Baltimore MCs on b's cover here. Watch the black-and-white clip (way) below.
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Wesley Case is a features reporter for the Baltimore Sun and b. Since October 2008, he's covered Baltimore's burgeoning music and arts scene, including b cover stories on Dan Deacon, Beach House and Rome Cee. Between March and August 2011, he launched and wrote a pop music blog for b called Louder Now. He now handles the Midnight Sun nightlife blog.