The Club Beat: The Year in Baltimore Club

2007 was an interesting time for club music. It didn't quite feel like a landmark year--nothing like ’06's MTV segment on the music or ’05's explosion of press surrounding Rod Lee's first nationally distributed album. And if there was any big trend in club music, it was the same as in almost every other area of music: distribution and everything else going digital, with many local labels setacting up their own MP3 stores, and more and more DJs trading in their vinyl for Serato slabs.

I sought out the advice of a few local DJs and producers for the hottest tracks of year but wasn't able to drum up much of a response. (In fact, the only list I got back as of press time was composed entirely of that producer's own tracks, proving that the scene remains as competitive as ever.) So, here are my top club tracks of 2007. Some of them are smashes that every DJ needs in his or her set, and some are just personal favorites:

1) K.W. Griff "Taking Over"
One of hip-hop's best beats of the year also laid the groundwork for one of club's best. DJ Khaled's "We Takin' Over," produced by Nate "Danja" Hills, is a masterwork of screeching synths and epic horns. And the uptempo track is already so close to club's speedy BPM rate that all K.W. Griff really had to do was marry the song's main riff to a breakbeat and occasionally throw in the ascending horn notes to build up momentum, and he ended up with a monster club track.

2) Blaqstarr "In the Air"
Blaqstarr ruled 2007 with his continued stranglehold on clubs and some national success with the Supastarr EP, and no one track can represent all the music he unleashed in the past year or so. But "In the Air" is easily my favorite of his second (or third?) wave of dance-floor staples, with his ethereal harmonies lending a strangely serene air to his always pummeling bass drum patterns.

3) Rod Lee "Enjoy Yourself"
From "Feel Me" to "Dance My Pain Away," Rod Lee has always had a way with a catchy hook, and his biggest 2007 anthem had him urging you to you enjoy yourself because, as he barks, "It could be worse," over a bubbling backing track reminiscent of Cajmere's "Percolator."

4) K-Spin "Why I'm Hot"
Most club producers go straight for the jugular when sampling a hip-hop hit, looping up the most obvious hook from the track. But K-Spin took the road less traveled, remixing the remix to "This Is Why I'm Hot" by Mims and chopping up Junior Reid's vocals from the dancehall-flavored version for a whole different vibe.

5) Say Wut "Futuristic"
One of the oddest phenomenons in club music this year was the continued reliance of local producers on chopped-up sound bites of Lil Jon's distinctive calls of "what' and "OK." The crunk producer's iconic shout was a perfect match for club music's hyper-energy when his tracks were saturating mainstream radio back around 2004, but his moment of commercial dominance has been over for a couple years. And yet, seemingly every other club track that comes out still features at least a little Lil Jon, to the point that his voice might get more play on Baltimore radio than anywhere else but Atlanta by now. Still, some of those tracks stabbed through the "okaaay" overkill and remained killer beats, including Say Wut's warped synths on "Futuristic" and another entry on this list, K.W. Griff's "Takin' Over."

6) Chuck Brown "Chuck Baby (Scottie B. Remix)"
Baltimore club and Washington's go-go have long existed as sort of mirror images of each other: two local forms of black music that remain perennially popular. And as close as they are geographically, they remain musically worlds apart, one full of fast, aggressive programmed beats and the other full of slow, funky live percussion. So there's been little club/go-go crossover in the past, aside from Jimmy Jones and Booman's remix of the Junk Yard Band's "Sardines." And that makes this song, an officially sanctioned remix of the Godfather of Go-Go's latest hit by one of the founders of club, something of an event with significance beyond the catchiness of the track.

7) Rod Lee "Change Positions"
The best sleazy club track of the year, featuring a breathless female voice describing some unlikely sexual positions ("I put one leg on the ceiling and the other one just across the closet door") over a loop of the "make me feel this way" part from Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack."

8) Jonny Blaze "Numbers"
Although he produced the song responsible for club's most-used breakbeat, Lyn Collins' "Think (About It)," the late great James Brown's voice doesn't get nearly enough mileage in club music. Here, Jonny Blaze makes up for it by giving the other JB a funky track to count off and letting him "one two three four" all over it.

9) DJ Twikks and Mic Marvelous "Tear It Up"
Club remixes of rock songs--or, worse, "Party Like a Rock Star"--tend to be a bit of a mess, weighed down by tempos and sonics that are incompatible with 130 bpm breakbeats. But here one of club music's most inventive duos takes a slice of nü-metal band Drowning Pool's 2001 hit "Bodies," cuts it in completely out of context, and the whispered chant of "let the bodies hit the floor" sounds like it was made for club.

10) Lil Jay "Ayyy"
Lil Jay, who debuted as a 14-year-old DJ on Rod Lee's Club Kingz label a few years ago, made a splash as a producer in 2007. But so far most of his tracks have been unimaginative remixes of Blaqstarr hits such as "In the Air" and "Hands Up Thumbs Down." Fortunately, more original tracks, like "Ayyy," which features a freaky little keyboard riff dancing around the title chant, show that the kid might have a few ideas of his own after all.

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