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Los, Starrz and more bring Baltimore hip-hop into 2013( Handout / January 11, 2013 )
Judging from the influx of new material in recent weeks, many Baltimore rappers didn't use the holiday season as time to relax. Instead, they've given us fresh lyrics to parse, new melodies to hum and more evidence of their continued growth. Here's a look at five recent and notable songs from local artists. The titles' links lead to streams of the songs, which contain explicit language.
Starrz, "Visions of Roman 1:29"
Starrz doesn't rap on tracks; he attacks them. Emerging as one of Baltimore's most promising rappers last year (thanks to September's "Best Mixtape Ever"), the 25-year-old rapper kept the momentum moving on Christmas Day, dropping a ferocious freebie produced by Jay Feddy. Using the New Testament as inspiration, Starrz puts detractors on notice by stacking internal rhymes and alliteration ("They boxed in on our block and we'll burn them up, no fireman"). His next project, "Live Forever, Die Dope," is one of the most anticipated Baltimore hip-hop releases of 2013.
Here's how it should be done: An underappreciated city's highest-profile rapper (Los) grabs the best artists from the tier below him and makes a proud posse cut called "Baltimore." Bad Boy's Los and his fellow Baltimore MCs -- including Smash, Starrz, Skarr Akbar, Travis Davon (formerly known as Bossman) and DBoi Da Dome -- all rap a dizzying array of quotable lines, but it's Caddy Da Don who shines most by getting the biggest laughs ("I'm reppin' Baltimore like I built it / I'm only one bar in, already killed it / Guess my haters still mad I wasn't guilty").
Jay Verze, "David Ruffin"
Things clicked on the 17-year-old MC's "21117" album from last year when Jay Verze used his crisp, double-time flow over languid, atmospheric beats. (See "Boring Nights & Hiphop.") Here, he wisely continues down a similar path on a peaceful, almost weightless Scrilla Beats instrumental. With boasts about a fruitful future, Verze seems eager to move on from his past. But he sounds best looking back ("I seen some younguns that I once knew / try to run the streets and got peeled back"). He has time for his lyrics to catch up to his confident flows, but until then, "David Ruffin" serves as an impressive next step.
Rickie Jacobs, "Westside"
The first single from Rickie Jacobs' "Songs for High School Kids" mixtape -- an odd title for a 26-year-old artist -- works because of its screwed hook and a menacing, dramatic beat courtesy of Keishh. It's an improvement over anything from Jacobs' most recent project, September's "Virgo Season EP," a messy collection of forgettable backdrops and lazy writing. He sounds more committed here, even if his intentions remain strictly carnal and hedonistic. If Jacobs chooses to stick to such vanilla and well-worn topics (and judging by the Billboard charts, it might be a smart business move to do so) then he must find more interesting ways to describe them. Using beats as monstrous as this one helps, too.
DBoi Da Dome, "Gottem Getem Gone"
Sometimes all it takes is an unshakable hook. Over pummeling drums that could have been programmed by Young Chop or Lex Luger, DBoi Da Dome -- laser-focused on hustling and the realities of the street -- sounds like Young Jeezy from his early (read: better) mixtape days. But it's the stuttering, instantly repeatable chorus (simply containing the song's title with an elongated "Yeah!" preceding it) that makes this cold-blooded track an adrenaline-pumping success. -- Wesley Case