We get a number of boastful e-mails from local hip-hop labels, and trust us when we say they're not all newsworthy. But pretty much anytime Juan Donovan, who along with Jamal Roberts makes up Darkroom Productions, sends out an e-mail blast, he's got something genuinely exciting to tell us. Every few weeks there's another major-label rapper they're collaborating with, or another show on MTV that they're composing original music for. And this morning came a whole slew of information from Donovan, including the release date for Darkroom's first nationally distributed album, among other things.
In January, Donovan first announced that Darkroom Productions had signed a deal to release Hamsterdam – The Album with distribution from independent hip-hop giant Koch. However, Darkroom's deal is actually with Young American Recordings, a New York-based label with a roster that otherwise largely includes indie-rock bands and is distributed by Koch. That means Hamsterdam presumably won't get the big promotional push afforded higher-profile Koch artists such as DJ Khaled and Jim Jones, who have scored big radio hits outside the major-label system in the past two years to help solidify Koch as a hip-hop powerhouse. But Darkroom's 50/50 joint venture with Young American means that Donovan and Roberts reap a larger share of the profits from the album than they likely would have otherwise.
After an initial tentative April release date, this week May 27 was announced as the official street date for Hamsterdam – The Album, which, like Darkroom's previous underground releases, features a wide variety of Baltimore's best MCs rapping over the duo's production. Donovan promises several singles and videos from the project will start making the rounds in March, including "Money Talk" by Ogun, "Beautiful Bitches in Bad Neighborhoods" by Diablo, "Spine" by Bigg Patch, and "The Eyes Tell It All" by TestMe. Young American's web site also notes that the album features a bonus disc, a DVD documentary titled "Tapping The Wire." Donovan also notes that Darkroom is featured in the current issue of Vibe magazine, adding to its national press coverage--which has included Rolling Stone, Ozone, Scratch, The Fader, and XLR8R.
The upcoming album is actually the fourth release to feature music from Darkroom branded with the name "Hamsterdam," taken from the fictional legal drug zone depicted in the third season of HBO's The Wire. Its 2005 mixtape Hamsterdam: The Best of Baltimore, Vol. 1 first established the pair on the local scene, and also caught the wind of The Wire staff members. But instead of pursuing legal action for their unauthorized use of a phrase originated on the show, The Wire's producers enlisted the production team to give the show's score more local hip-hop flavor for its fourth and fifth seasons. Another locally released mixtape, Hamsterdam Vol. 2 – Stash 2 da Strip, followed in 2007. Despite being similar in title and theme, however, Hamsterdam – The Album, contains mostly brand-new material, with minimal repeats from previous releases (although "Spine" was also featured on Stash 2 da Strip). And in early 2008, much of Darkroom's work for the show was featured in the official soundtrack The Wire: "And All The Pieces Matter", as well as its companion piece, Beyond Hamsterdam: Baltimore Tracks From The Wire.
Although released by Nonesuch, a subsidiary of Warner Bros., both The Wire soundtracks have suffered from sluggish initial sales, with the Sun's Sam Sessa reporting in January that "And All The Pieces Matter" and Beyond Hamsterdam selling only two thousand copies of the former and four hundred copies of the latter in their first two weeks on shelves. However, Donovan also announced today that the first official video from the soundtrack discs, for the Darkroom-produced "When You See Us" by the Get 'Em Mamis featuring L. Cash, is slated to premiere on both MTV Jams and BET's 106 and Park in March.