By Wesley Case, The Baltimore Sun
9:20 AM EDT, April 17, 2013
In July 2008, Angel Carpenter, better known as DJ AngelBaby, fulfilled her lifelong dream of earning an on-air position at 92Q, the city's hip-hop radio station. On one of her first days at the job, Carpenter spotted the source of her inspiration — Khia Edgerton, the beloved and ubiquitous queen of Baltimore Club music known as K-Swift.
"There's a window right there, where you could see her on-air," remembered Carpenter, now 28 and a lover of Club music her entire life. "I was so weird and so scared. I was looking into the little fishbowl glass like, 'I'm going to speak to her. I'm going to speak to her.'
"And I didn't speak to her that day."
Timidity took over, and Carpenter, who had been hired for the station's overnight Friday shift, would not see Swift again. Three weeks later, Edgerton died at 29 after suffering neck injuries from a swimming pool-related incident. Carpenter says it still hurts that she never told Edgerton how important she was to her, face to face.
"She put the idea in my head that a girl, a woman can be successful and just as bad and slick as the guys," Carpenter said. "I don't know. That's the only female [in radio] that I've seen from Baltimore that was actually successful. ... Her legacy set the blueprint."
Since 2010, Carpenter has taken what she's learned from the K-Swift blueprint, and forged her own path to Club prominence. Since the release of her first Club mixtape, January's "Get Pumped Vol. 1," DJ AngelBaby has become the new face and leader of the city's unique brand of kinetic, house-meets-hip-hop music. And she's using her rising local influence for charity work, including a motivational "Get Pumped High School Tour," which kicks off April 25 at Baltimore's Talent Development High School.
"She has the ability to make Club music cool again," said Baltimore Club producer Murder Mark, born Marquis Gasque. He watched Carpenter emerge in the Club scene during a time when no one else took the lead. He says Carpenter could be at the front of Club's future.
"I'm not working with her for me, but for Club music in general," Murder Mark said.
Growing up in Lafayette Courts, a public housing development just east of downtown, Carpenter looked beyond her family for sources of motivation. Her father wasn't around and her mother, now clean, once suffered from a cocaine addiction ("Baltimore junkie, you know?", she said).
So for Carpenter, women such as Edgerton and her Dunbar High School guidance counselor inspired her to prosper. At the latter's encouragement, Carpenter went on to Howard University, where she worked at the student radio station and interned at WorldSpace satellite radio. She worked her way up, first doing behind-the-scenes production at Washington hip-hop station WPGC and then landing her first on-air gig for Radio One's AM gospel station.
"I was on-air, just being Angel," she said. "I'd barely speak about the music. I'd talk about whatever I wanted to talk about and they grew to love me."
Perhaps more than anything else, it is Carpenter's innate ability to make strangers like her that has made her a local celebrity. It also explains how she ditched the weekend night shift to co-host 92Q's Rap Attack show (Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m. with partner AJ) and the graveyard shift from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Monday-Friday. She says the late hours fit her.
"I don't wake up early really well," she said. "I'm so not cute or pleasant in the morning."
That's hard to believe, as Carpenter — who resembles R&B singer Kelly Rowland — is a natural people person, with enough charisma and warmth to spare. She hugs hello and goodbye. And although she clutches a white iPhone for our entire interview, Carpenter engages with ease, even as her phone buzzes with constant messages.
While Carpenter praises Edgerton often during our hour-long talk, she's smart enough to deflect direct comparisons, which began to pile up after the release of "Get Pumped Vol. 1" on New Year's Day. She grew up listening to Edgerton's mixes and attending her DJ sets at the Paradox, so the power of K-Swift is not lost on Carpenter.
"People started comparing me to Swift, which was totally unfair to her legacy," she said. "This is my first mixtape. I'm nobody right now. .... I've got people saying, 'Oh, you're the Princess of Club music!' and I'm like, 'No, no, no.' I don't want that. I just want everybody to get back on [Club] and love it like I do."
While the two DJs never met, it's hard to ignore their similarities. Both are from the area and established their names on 92Q. As of now, DJ AngelBaby lacks K-Swift's clout and name-recognition, but she's regarded well in the Club scene. Perhaps most importantly to Carpenter, she and Swift are respected women in a male-dominated industry.
"Who knew a woman could be that successful and do what she did?" Carpenter, a Roland Park resident now, said. "She gave me that mindset like, 'Yeah, I could be that.' "
Gasque says any comparisons Carpenter receives to Edgerton are gender-based and unfair. He's quick to point out their different mixing styles: "K-Swift CDs fade in and backspins [before] it goes to the next track."
"Swift is Swift," he added.
And Carpenter is DJ AngelBaby, a rising star in the city who has become synonymous with her catch phrase "Oww Owww!" What started as something silly to say on-air has become a catchall greeting between her and listeners. (She says she gets it in the street, and when people call into the station.) It's another indication Baltimore is listening to Carpenter, who can't help but laugh at the "Oww Owww!" mini-phenomenon.
"That's something me and my homegirls would say when we were younger, like 'Oww Owww!, boy,' " she said. "It could be an adjective, a noun, anything. We would use that for cute boys at one point. .... I never thought that would be something."
One day, Carpenter hopes to say "Oww Owww!" regularly on TV. Last August, she co-hosted BET's "106 and Park" and came close to winning the gig for good.
"Hopefully you'll see this face on the tube soon," she said. "I don't know. I'm just keeping it in prayer."
Besides radio and TV aspirations, Carpenter wants to inspire young women. After college, she founded Urban Artemis, a nonprofit organization that aims to enlighten inner-city high school girls that there's a world "outside of their neighborhood."
"I feel like young girls in Baltimore are kind of like prey," she said. "If you can teach the prey how not to be prey, and actually be strong, fend for yourself and find out there's a world outside of where you live, that would be a great day."
As an extension of Urban Artemis, Carpenter plans to bring guest-speakers to her "Get Pumped High School" tour. She hopes the career-oriented speakers will motivate kids to not only get excited about the latest sneaker or dance, but also "education and success."
"Nobody's going to give it to you, so I want you to get pumped and stay pumped for what you need to get done in your life," she said.
She plans to take the tour to other schools, including Reginald F. Lewis, Western and Dunbar, before June. Students will have to recite a "Get Pumped" pledge that promises to make their mothers proud and not to "stop until the work is done." There will be follow-up workshops in the summer so speakers can continue to mentor students.
The tour will sidestep labels of corniness, Carpenter says, because students will be hooked by Club music — and its deliriously infectious blend of call-and-response shouts, 130 beats per minute and body-bending dance moves — first.
"[Club] is definitely for the youth and it's always been for the youth," she said. "It's been like that forever."
While Carpenter is currently focused on the "Get Pumped" motivational tour and the eventual "Vol. 2" sequel — along with her 92Q hosting duties and private events she DJs — she says she has ambitions to take the "AngelBaby brand" well-beyond Baltimore.
But she promised herself that she wouldn't leave her city "until the job was done." That "job" includes growing Urban Artemis, pushing her brand of Club and building recreation centers on both the east and west sides.
"When I die, I want my people here to know I cared about the city," she said.
But Carpenter says narrowing her focus solely on the city won't let her reach the levels she craves. Carpenter keeps pushing, on to the next task.
"You can't just be focused on Baltimore and expect to be successful," she said. "You'll be successful, but will anybody outside of here know who you are? No, so I'm working on letting the world know who I am."
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun