Because local radio is for the most part hopelessly out of touch, and internet music coverage is primarily a big frustrating P.R.-pleasing circle jerk, it is very hard to gauge what people are actually listening to beyond, you know, the massive songs crammed down our throats whether we like them or not (this was taken to an even more nefarious level last week, when iTunes forced its users to download a shitty U2 record that they must actively delete from their devices). This is why I'm a proponent of the car-windows test: Keep your ears open when you're walking around the city and listen closely to what regular-ass people blast from their car stereos (or their portable radios or their phones or out their apartment windows). You'll fucking learn something. Over the past two weeks, I've kept tabs on the non-radio songs I've heard the most and took note of a few headscratchers as well. A few trends: weird warbly emotive rap is alive and well; sometimes things that are buzzing on the internet actually are also relevant IRL; everybody loves '70s soul; and how BARACK OBAMA KILLED SOMETHING IN ME.
-The Delfonics, 'La-La (Means I Love You)': Heard floating out of an SUV two Sundays ago on 33rd Street near the Hopkins Barnes & Noble moments before a service dog that had gotten away somehow came running down the middle of the street, almost causing a car accident before a noble security guard dove, linebacker-style, and caught the dog, holy shit was it crazy. Obviously a great song that you've heard before (in "Jackie Brown" at least), but here's a new way to hear this one: Whenever I hear it, I think of an interview I read (that I can't find right now, of course, trust me it exists) with Delfonics producer and arranger Thom Bell who cited the melodramatic strings-and-horns maximalism of classic Hollywood adventure-movie scores as the biggest influence on his baroque soul.
-Lor Scoota, 'Bird Flu': Heard crackling out of the iPhone of somebody sitting on the stoop in that building next to The Crown, you know the one, and out of cars everywhere. Lor Scoota is one of local rap's big deals right now (a Vine of Scoota suggests he's being courted by the major labels), so you should give a shit about him for that reason alone. Because other people give a shit about him. And you should celebrate Scoota's unabashedly dead-eyed song anthem for its fecklessness: "We selling scramble, coke, and smack/ Keep them junkies coming back." A nice hard-facts antidote to that phoney baloney and just plain fake-ass "gritty" National Geographic "Drugs Inc." Baltimore special.
-Shy Glizzy, 'Awwsome': Heard bounding out of car windows constantly anywhere and everywhere all summer and occasionally on 92Q, especially during mix shows. Shy Glizzy is a D.C. rapper who takes the tick-tick-tick-skitter trap of the South and adds a speech impediment vocalization and ridiculous, hard-to-parse-at-first punchlines: "Got a lot of spots like a motherfuckin' cheetah." He's the best. Like I said in my first column, Glizzy is probably Baltimore's favorite rapper if the number of songs you hear from this guy coming out of car windows is any indication. Just don't tell any Baltimore rappers that.
-I Love Makonnen, 'Club Goin' Up On Tuesday': Heard softly humming out of a few college kids' rooms and apartments around University of Baltimore and MICA. I Love Makonnen is a stylish rapper from Atlanta who makes bedroom trap music. He is about to be a big deal because Drake jumped on a remix of this song which is about spending most days, especially weekends, dealing drugs, which means the only day of the week that I Love Makonnen can get to the club is on Tuesday. A catchy reminder that drug dealing is ultimately just another draining, working-class job that takes up too much of your time for not enough money.
-Geeshie Wiley, 'Last Kind Word Blues': Heard moaning out of a boombox in Wyman Park. I've finally gotten around to reading Amanda Petrusich's "Do Not Sell Any Price," a refreshingly reasonable and dorky-record-dude-free book about 78 collecting in which Geeshie places a significant role, so hearing her voice in a really random place like a dog park at night had me thinking I was just hearing things. But no, there it was, 'Last Kind Word Blues' playing on WTMD. I like to make fun of WTMD. I called it an "indie adult contemporary station" in this Wye Oak live review (I also said the guitar is dead, so maybe just ignore most things I say) and I despise the station's midbrow white-boy tastefulness, but hearing this one-of-a-kind 1930 song late night last week howling from the park was why whatever's left of curated radio's worth saving. Consider that what Geeshie does here ain't all that different from I Love Makonnen and Shy Glizzy or Young Moose (see below) really. In the context of the car windows test, 'Last Kind Word Blues' is a precedent for handmade street rap, which is the newest addition to the unsentimental continuum of singularly pained black pop that began with the blues.
-Young Moose, 'Dumb Dumb': Heard coming out the mouth of three little kids walking with their mom to church in Waverly and on 92Q over the past few weeks. Moose is well on his way to becoming this city's rap hero and even hedge-betting rap radio can't deny it any longer. A Baltimore Sun article on Young Moose was useful in getting answers to questions about Moose's arrest that I raised last month (surprise surprise, the arrest seems like a whole bunch of bullshit!) but authors Justin Fenton and Ian Duncan downplay Moose's music significantly. He comes off in the article as a clueless product of his environment, "simply rapping about what he knows." Moose is special because like all very good artists, he provides an insider-outsider look into his own life and environment. He isn't just spewing out diary entries here. Specifically, 'Dumb Dumb' (his worst if catchiest song) finds him anticipating the misreadings of his work found in this informative, frustrating article.
-Young Moose, 'How Would U Carry It': Heard stomping out of an Escalade idling in Druid Hill Park, and in plenty of other cars all around the city. Baltimore music will eat itself. Young Moose does a New Orleans stomp-rap in the mode of Lil Boosie, Webbie, etc. which riffs on the hook to Miss Tony's Bmore club classic 'Whatzup, Whatzup' ("Miss Tony said how you wanna carry it?"), itself derived from Baltimore street slang. And this isn't even the only Baltimore hip-hop song to riff on the Tony track; there's also undergrounder E Major's 'How You Wanna Carry It' from 2008 and probably a few others I'm not aware of or just plain forgetting.
-Priests, 'And Breeding': Heard in yours truly's headphones only, so this one is a cheat, but whatevz. More people should be listening to Priests. The closing track from the D.C. band's incredible "Bodies and Control and Money and Power" finds Katie Alice Greer, full of contempt and confusion, screaming "fucking and breeding and fucking and breeding," and then, "going there" as it were, declaring, "Barack Obama killed something in me," uttering a once-unspeakable truth according to us idealistic-for-a-sec millennials. All the while, pieces of surf punk and hardcore poke and prod her vocals, agitating her even more it would seem. Appropriate, given the president shitting the bed on Ferguson and this whole going-to-fucking-war-again thing.