Every few months, someone in Baltimore gets ambitious enough to put together a big, exciting bill full of local hip-hop's upper-echelon MCs--which, for lack of a better definition, we'll just say is anyone who had a
in last year's Big Music Issue. The annual B-More Fresh Fest is one of those events, and the lineup that Charm City Records and Star Status Entertainment put together for this past Monday's show might have been the best yet. Even artists not on the bill--Ogun, D.O.G., Midas, Twin Desert Eagles--were in the house as spectators, and it was exhilarating to arrive at 5 Seasons and see a long line to get in, with fancy searchlights shooting into the sky from the parking lot. We've seen enough sparsely attended Monday nights at
to know this isn't the norm, but it's tempting to dream that it someday could be. We missed what was reportedly a typically entertaining set by Comp; by the time we arrived, Huli Shallone and his crew were shouting themselves hoarse onstage over beats that should've been mixed way louder. Despite his radio spins and record sales rivaling those of any rapper in Baltimore, Shallone has often been on local hip-hop's periphery, rarely performing or doing press. The big buzz of the night was that Shallone had just signed a deal with Universal Records, though, and the crowd was hyped to see him in person (even if he eschewed his many singles familiar to 92Q listeners) as well as showcasing crew members like longtime Nature's Problem partner Ostro. This year's Fresh Fest was also loaded with subtext.
, at the Ottobar in 2005, it kicked off a prolonged beef between the two rappers, who dissed each other on record repeatedly. And although they never appeared onstage together or made mention of each other on Monday night, they performed almost in a row--with only a brief appearance by the ubiquitous
between their sets--and there was remarkably little tension in the room. Mully hasn't dropped a solo mixtape in about a year, so most of his set was spent promoting other members of his crew, like Black-Lo and the ferocious female rapper (and Mully's sister) Nik Stylz. But Bossman stuck to his hits, running through favorites like "A-Yo," "You're Wrong," and his new single "So Fresh." First impressions of the relatively unknown K.G. and the Hartford Road Boyz were hampered by some technical difficulties with their beat CD. They soldiered on and performed their entire set a cappella, shouting entire songs in unison with no musical accompaniment other than the faint hum of feedback in their microphones--which actually sounded like a bass line at some points. It was a valiant effort, but also pretty unpleasant, albeit in an almost surreal, avant-garde way. After that grueling affair, the next set by Barnes acted as a palate cleanser as he ran through a few tracks from his solid 2006 album
. The night ended on a high note as
took the stage. Skarr seemed especially pissed-off when he began his set, which says something considering that we've never seen him perform without looking at least a
angry. But that rage fuels his best songs, and he blazed through high-energy tracks like "Bang" and "Da Business" one after another, never losing momentum. And he saved the best for last, assembling Bossman, Barnes, SK, and Heavy Gold--D.O.G was onstage, too, but the mic never found its way to him--for an all-star live performance of the remix of Akbar's current hit "I'm So Fly." As recently as a year or two ago, a posse cut with that many A-list Baltimore rappers was practically unheard of, but such displays of unity are increasingly commonplace, and we couldn't be happier. In the weeks leading up to the Fresh Fest, host Sonny Brown had been floating the idea that Lil Wayne would be making a special guest appearance--despite the fact that his
was a week earlier--and while we didn't dare get our hopes up enough to be disappointed when he didn't materialize, another (semi)famous New Orleans rapper did close out the show. Chopper--aka Young City--rose to prominence on MTV's
Making the Band 2
, and since Diddy disbanded Da Band, he has been struggling to get his career going with aborted solo deals with Bad Boy and then Cash Money Records. But for all the Louisiana repping he did on TV, he actually has Baltimore roots, having lived here a few years ago and worked with local producers like Akira the Great and Debonair Samir. Mostly, though, he's been linked with Maryland lately due to a robbery charge from a few years back that's been playing itself out in a Baltimore County courtroom for the past few months. Throughout his set, Chopper repeatedly mentioned being born here, even referencing Baltimore club with a quick chorus of "Hey U Knuckleheads." But he's undoubtedly a Southern rapper, and stuck out like a sore thumb as the only artist on the bill to perform shirtless, tatted up, and wearing a shiny necklace and grill. By that point, the audience had begun emptying out of the building, and some of those who remained were laughing at and mocking Chopper's dancing. Baltimore rap fans got such an overdose of hometown pride that night that apparently they just didn't have much interest in checking for someone who's only a kinda-sorta local boy by circumstance.