Bond St. District's new album, "A Church on Vulcan" ends at the beginning, telling the story of how rapper DDm and producer Paul Hutson met—what's referred to here as 'A Happy Accident': "So what's up with them beats?/ I heard you got that fire/ Put your number in my phone and I'mma hit you up this week"
The rest of the story goes a little something like this: DDm heads to Hutson's place in Fells Point, where J. Dilla is blasting out the windows, and he heads upstairs and they both get high: "You played the beat to 'Matinee'/ I wrote that joint in half a day"— 'Matinee' turned out to be the closing track on their first EP, 2014's "Everybody's So Sleepy."
"Now we doin' shows/ A haircut and some confidence will get you all the hoes/ They love it when you dress up in your fancy suits and clothes/ 'Cause now you not the loser like they thought you was s'posed/ to be/ You know I don't let nobody get too close to me/ But when you family that's the way it's s'posed to be."
Talk about a heartwarming expression of camaraderie.
By this point in "A Church On Vulcan," the duo's first full-length, listeners have already invested a half hour of their time, so why offer introductions as the finale?
The song's placement, DDm explains, adds a bit of a human element, answering the question, "Who the hell are they?"
"Because people always ask us that question: 'How did you meet?'" says DDm as the three of us convene around the kitchen island of the apartment he and Hutson share in Old Goucher. "Now you have a record for that."
"Obviously, it's because he's white and from Montgomery County and I'm black and from West Baltimore," he continues. "It's like, 'Oh my God! We've never seen this before, even though we watch Comedy Central.'"
"How could these people ever be friends?" Hutson quips, offering what sounds like the tagline to the lame CBS sitcom adaptation of their collaboration.
"That's kind of like breaking the fourth wall, because a lot of these records sound like someone from CNN or Fox News or something wrote them," DDm says.
Interestingly enough, the 10 tracks that precede 'A Happy Accident' are not unlike reportage, offering a nostalgia-tinged perspective on the Baltimore DDm came up in and a wary eye toward the fraught city we have now, with some ruminations on religion and the grim national climate mixed in.
It's a dense record that ups the ante for Bond St. District in every sense: Hutson's production is more varied and layered, giving a more colorful sonic landscape, and DDm's lines are more incisive, the sound of a writer reflecting on his past and the world at large.
In his own words, DDm says he's from "the real Baltimore city where Oprah had the short cut with the jheri curl next to Richard Scher," and the Kinderman and Captain Chesapeake on afternoon TV. There were still rec centers and afterschool programs. It's an image that runs counter to the popular national media narrative that Baltimore has forever been a completely fucked place.
There were still racial divisions and issues with the police, he recalls, but it was all framed differently, less omnipresent. And the Inner Harbor, back when "it was something to see," served as a gathering place for all races and classes. "I've never, in my memory, and I was made in the '80s, seen this city so racially intense," he says. "This is new for me here. Race always existed, but not like this."
In the age of Buzzfeed listicles and thinkpieces, nostalgia is commodified and resold daily, its use a cynical cash grab. That's not so here. These remembrances of what Baltimore was offer hope for what could be again: "I hold onto those memories because this city traditionally is a city of people who are good people, they're working class, and they do wanna do good, and they want to have nice lives," DDm says. "And the funny thing is these people are not trying to be superstars—Baltimore's a very blue collar town. They just want to be able to feed their children, pay their bills, and live, and go out on the weekend maybe and have a good time."
He goes on: "Those memories keep me together and they keep me rooting for the city."
The first observation leads Hutson to recall the times he's volunteering with Believe In Music, where he helps kids learn how to make their own beats. As someone who grew up in the suburbs and then went to school at Towson University, he sees a lot of online chatter from non-city dwellers writing off Baltimore residents with dismissive comments such as "Why don't people just get jobs?" or "Why don't kids' parents parent them better?"
"Seeing some of the kids over there," he says, "how genuinely pumped they were to be there and learn about this stuff, learn about production, they want something so bad."
The reality in post-uprising Baltimore is, of course, a bit more complicated and tense, and that comes through in both the words and beats. On the record there's references to oppressive conditions in East and West Baltimore, the violence, the lack of a way out, but the most common threat is the Baltimore Police Department. And the beats, filled with out-there, futuristic sounds, density, and repetition, embody a kind of claustrophobic feeling and the sense that nothing will ever change.
"I think in this album, at least me personally, the music, I hear a lot of that: coming to terms with how the world really is and not how I'd like it to be," Hutson says. "And dealing with, What do you do next? Do you just accept the fact that, Oh, this is how it is? Or do you get up and do something about it? And that can be applied to anything—political, personal, whatever."
DDm says the uprising and some of the police shootings that made national news since then have given him a new awareness about dealing with the police, an interaction he'd rather forgo altogether.
"What scares me is you see the footage on TV, with the shootings and things like that, and even when the person is compliant in some of these cases, and they're not doing absolutely anything—they didn't run, they put their hands up, they got the ID, they're licensed to carry, and they still get killed," he says. "So no matter how fabulous or flamboyant I am, I'm a big black man."
"And sometimes at night," he continues, "I don't even like going out by myself, and not because I'm scared I'm gonna get shot or somebody's gonna rob me. I mean, that's a reality, too. But I just don't want it to be that one night where I get stopped and I wasn't doing anything, and because somebody's feeling some kind of way or I didn't move fast enough or I move too fast, and now DDm's on the news and shit."
As for their happy accident, Bond St. District is poised to take these stories beyond Baltimore. The duo is in talks with a management team, which saw them open up for Miike Snow at Rams Head Live, and now has PR representation. They're playing shows in San Francisco and New York and getting offers in D.C. and elsewhere.
The last words of 'A Happy Accident,' after Bond St. District's origin story, are DDm in an interview saying "I want to be huge."
They both realize that will take some time. They're ready to put in the work.
"You will fight until the day you die if you want something and it means something to you," DDm says. "Life is a fight, life is fighting. And I think that's what this record taught me personally, is that the fighting never stops, so either you can throw in the towel or you can choose your battles."