It's been a bittersweet year for Sean Caesar and Unruly Records, the definitive Baltimore club label that he founded with DJ Scottie B in the early '90s. This summer, they signed a long-awaited distribution deal with the country's largest independent label, Koch Records. But, almost simultaneously, the Unruly family also lost a vital member of its family, Khia "DJ K-Swift" Edgerton. In fact, as Caesar revealed in a recent phone interview, the final contract came over from Koch in July, on the very same day as K-Swift's fatal accident. "It was sad that it happened that same day," he says. "It was unreal."
Fortunately, Caesar says, Koch was understanding and patient with Unruly as it worked through the aftermath of the tragedy. "They never wavered, they never stopped, they were very respectful of the time that we needed to get through that, and never pushed anything" he says. "They were very very good about the whole situation, and we're very appreciative." As a result, the two labels recently emerged with the announcement of their first joint release, K-Swift's Greatest Hits, which will land in stores across the country Dec. 23.
The collection, as it turns out, was something that K-Swift herself had planned shortly before her death. Unruly had released the 14th volume of her popular mix-CD series, Jump Off, in March, and was gearing up for a three-part retrospective. So over the summer, K-Swift recorded a DJ mix of the best of Jump Off volumes 1 through 5, spanning tracks primarily from 2004 and 2005. "It was the last mix that she actually did," Caesar says. "We were planning to release it right around when she passed. When she passed, we just pulled it back."
So after taking some time to get the Koch deal in order, recover from the loss of K-Swift, and figure out how best to preserve her legacy, Unruly decided to package that mix as her Greatest Hits. Additionally, Unruly made some posthumous additions to complete the album, which is now hosted by critically acclaimed British artist M.I.A., a longtime fan of Baltimore club music, and features appearances by K-Swift's 92Q co-host Squirrel Wyde and local rapper Rye Rye.
As far as Unruly's plans following the K-Swift release, Baltimore club ground-breaker DJ Class, the first producer ever to release a record on the label, recently made his comeback with the local club smash "I'm The Ish," and is prepping the album Alameda and Coldspring for a Koch release in 2009. One of the roadblocks that had always limited Baltimore club music's potential for mass exposure was the ubiquity of unlicensed samples. But as more and more Baltimore producers turn to house and electro-influenced synths and original hooks like "I'm The Ish," Caesar is confident that Unruly can minimize the number of samples to clear in their Koch releases. "The music has kinda pushed itself forward a little bit," he says. "So we're cognizant of the samples, but there's nowhere near what it once was, ever before."
For all his work behind the scenes at Unruly, Caesar, who's been making Baltimore club music since 1988's "Yo Yo Where the Hos At," has been surprisingly quiet as a producer in recent years. But that's changed recently with the formation of the Chavy Boys, a supergroup comprised of himself, Scottie B. and up-and-coming producer King Tutt. "We have some remixes that are comin' out on some major labels, Universal is startin' to tap us," Caesar says. "But the whole group was more of a DJ crew." And when each member of the trio recently released free DJ mixes online, Caesar branched out to focus on one of his lesser-known musical passions, drum 'n' bass.
Even as it moves forward, however, the loss of K-Swift hangs over Unruly Records. Caesar says that while there may be further memorial projects from the label such as a DVD, and that Sleepin Giant Media provided Caesar with footage of K-Swift's funeral procession, he's wary of rushing anything out simply to take advantage of the demand for all things K-Swift. "It's always hard to maneuver, though, because I'm always very very proud to present Swift to the world now, and I don't wanna overdo it," he explains, noting how difficult it is to make decisions for someone who isn't around to make them herself. "I almost shed a tear today because I just wish she could see what was goin' on. I know she can see it, but I wish she was here to experience it."