In summer 2008, Khia Edgerton was amplifying Baltimore’s sound, and the world was starting to listen.
Better known as K-Swift, the Randallstown native and party-starting DJ was the undisputed champion of Baltimore Club, the frenetic brand of house-meets-hip-hop dance music. Just 29, she hosted her own show on 92Q, appeared on MTV and performed alongside international DJ Diplo at Artscape.
The beloved “Club Queen” seemed poised to push the city’s homegrown artform from all-day cookouts and late-night parties to the world’s stage.
But a decade ago this weekend, it all changed. Hours after that triumphant set at Artscape, Edgerton hosted a pool party. Guests saw her dive in — but never swim out. She had suffered fatal neck injuries.
Thousands attended her funeral. Many anguished over a hometown hero’s abrupt death. Colleagues and loved ones agree that the city — and its signature sound — have never been the same.
“She was going to be the one that represented us with something that was so much of our fabric that it couldn’t be denied. [Club] was honestly bigger than Old Bay,” said Scott Rice, better known as Scottie B., co-founder of Baltimore’s Unruly Records. “They entrusted her with that, and people in Baltimore don’t trust nothing.”
Before K-Swift, it was Khia
In the backyard of her best friend’s Windsor Mill home, Juanita Edgerton, 70, organizes pieces of K-Swift memorabilia like faded news clippings and her first microphone — a makeshift shrine to her daughter’s success.
Young Khia was determined to find success in the record industry, Juanita Edgerton said. So much so, that she convinced her mother, an educator who stressed the importance of college, that it was her calling.
“With Khia, you had no choice,” she said. “She had that kind of eye that would look at you and make you believe.”
Born on Oct. 19, 1978, Khia Edgerton was the first-born child of Juanita and Joseph Edgerton, an affectionate, happy girl, who grew up on the O’Jays and other R&B acts. Later, she graduated to her favorite act, Salt-N-Pepa, obsessing over their female DJ, Spinderella, said her younger sister, Erika Jones, 35.
On the hunt for DJ equipment, Edgerton would drag her father to pawnshops, he said. When she was 15, they went to buy her first turntables. Soon he thought he heard Edgerton ruining his record collection.
“She was down there learning to scratch,” Joseph Edgerton said. “She was like a sponge when it came to music.”
Then came the parties she’d DJ in the basement, where the kids would dance in the dark to Club, the sample-driven music that originated in the city during the late ’80s.
Even as Edgerton launched her career as DJ K-Swift, booking DJ gigs at the after-hours club the Twilight Zone in Arbutus, she was still Khia, her family said — a natural prankster who always cared for others first.
Jones recalled before one Easter service, Edgerton tricked her into shaving off an eyebrow (saying the razor had no blade). Visitors were subject to her jokes, too.
“My mother had a friend to the house, and she was jokingly acting as if his head was a turntable. He didn’t know she was behind him,” Jones said. “She was acting like she was mixing on his forehead.”
Her sister was also responsible for a lot of Jones’ firsts: The tattoo she got as their mother slept in another room, her first car, her own telephone line.
“I’ll never forget, one Christmas, she literally gave me a bag of money,” Jones said with a laugh.
Edgerton was relentless at honing her DJ skills and promoting herself. She didn’t have to wait long for a chance at local stardom.
Jimmy Trujillo, who owned the Twilight Zone, became a mentor, helping her land an internship at 92Q before her 18th birthday. After becoming a producer, she earned a shot as an on-air host.
At first, she was rough.
“I definitely heard nerves in her voice. It wasn’t as fluid. It was a little awkward,” Trujillo said. “I was honestly worried it wouldn’t work out.”
But Edgerton’s determination to improve — including countless hours practicing her mixing and transitions, her sister said — soon led to a more natural-sounding host, Trujillo said. She was on her way to becoming DJ K-Swift, one of local radio’s most recognizable personalities ever.
Edgerton became a staple of Club’s nightlife scene, drawing crowds ready to dance into the early morning at venues like the Paradox and the Tunnel, but it was her presence on 92Q — most notably hosting the evening show “Off the Hook Radio” with Mike “Squirrel Wyde” Squirrel, 45 — that made her a Baltimore celebrity.
Around 7 p.m. on a recent Wednesday night, 92Q DJ host Johnny “Porkchop” Doswell begins his nightly tradition.
He enters the “Khia Edgerton a.k.a. K-Swift Memorial Mic Booth.” He passes by a large poster of Edgerton, then checks the levels and warms up his turntables, making a scribbling sound by rapidly spinning its bright pink vinyl records.
“Can we do it for my girl one time? Why not?!”
For the next several minutes, he plays nothing but Baltimore Club as a tribute to Edgerton — his mentor, his sister, an angel, he says.
At 92Q, Edgerton and current DJs like Doswell, Squirrel and Vernon Kelson, the station’s operation manager, were a family, complete with inside jokes, banter and tight bonds.
Kelson, 35, who met Edgerton through her sister Jones, said that Edgerton insisted that he live with her rent-free when he had no place else to go. Doswell, too, lived with Edgerton for some time. Both have tattoos of her name.
“She would give her clothes off her back to anybody. She had a heart of gold,” Kelson said — and a sense of humor.
Doswell laughed recalling how he and Edgerton would take dance breaks in the hallway to discuss their days, or how he and Kelson would tease Edgerton — calling her “Large Marge” before she lost weight, a feat that resulted from a new diet involving B-12 shots, BBQ pork rinds and pungent soups. With a laugh, Kelson recalls her response: “You bitch!”
But there was a private side to Edgerton. She kept her romantic life to herself — the result of a family dynamic where members didn’t “expose our personal feelings,” her father said. He said he knew men she dated, while Trujillo said he met a girlfriend of Edgerton’s after her death. Doswell said Edgerton never publicly addressed her sexuality, so he declined to discuss it.
Still, most around the city knew her simply as K-Swift, supplier of the hottest Club hits on 92Q. When radio didn’t suffice, fans bought her “Jumpoff” mixtapes — compilations that showcased local producers such as KW Griff and Say Wut — at city stores, where she regularly outsold artists like Jay-Z, said Shawn Caesar, 46, Unruly Records co-founder.
National artists and outlets took notice. In 2006, MTV chose Edgerton to host the “You Hear It First” segment, which called Club “hip-hop’s next revolution.”
“Club music is the next big thing, and Baltimore is bringing it to the whole world,” Edgerton said.
Her determination wasn’t limited to music. With diet and exercise, along with the Extreme Weight Loss Centers program in Windsor Mill, the 5-foot-7Edgerton lost 175 pounds. The transformation was so drastic, People magazine did a full-page feature that showed Edgerton at 340 pounds and down to 165.
While friends say she was partially motivated to lose weight because her star was rising, they agree that Edgerton wasn’t interested in pushing newfound sex appeal.
TT the Artist, a Baltimore musician and filmmaker, said Edgerton was an inspiration because she built a movement based on her ability, not her looks.
“That was something to admire and strive for,” TT the Artist, born Tedra Wilson, 33, said. “She really got the respect through her talent and craft.”
There were detractors. Rice said Edgerton received flak, likely from envy, from other DJs — some of it because she was a woman.
“They was hating on her — that she was at least as good as them, if not better,” said Rice, 50.
Her promise and talent were arguably most evident during the weekend of Artscape, Baltimore’s annual arts festival, in 2008.
Edgerton performed alongside Diplo, the DJ and producer, who had recently produced M.I.A.’s hit single “Paper Planes.” A fan of Club, Diplo and Edgerton had talked informally about going on tour together, according to Caesar. (Diplo, per his publicist, was not available for comment.)
It all seemed to be going in such a positive direction, Rice said, that it almost didn’t seem real.
The plan was to launch head-first into work that Monday. Then it all came to a screeching halt.
‘This city was very numb’
On July 21, Edgerton dived into a shallow above-ground pool at a party at her Northeast Baltimore house, police said at the time. When she didn’t resurface, friends pulled her out and called 911. Family and friends rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital in the early hours of Monday morning. There she was pronounced dead from neck injuries.
“I just remember standing there [at the hospital] like ... this ain't really what it is,” Rice said. “There's 7 billion people in the world and this is the one person that it happens to after all that. No.”
Friends and family still have trouble coming to terms with the nature of her death. Her mother said Edgerton began swimming at a young age and was once a lifeguard. Doswell and Kelson said they have suspicions about her death, but declined to give additional details.
A toxicology report revealed a “small amount of alcohol” and no drugs in her body. Initially investigated by police as suspicious, Edgerton’s death was declared an accident with no indications of foul play in early 2009, according to police.
Many say the days before and after Edgerton’s death are a blur.
“I blacked it out of my mind,” Kelson said. “Even to this day on her anniversary … it’s hard.”
The day of her funeral, major roads, including parts of Interstate 695, were shut down, Doswell said.
A procession with her casket carried by a horse-drawn carriage filled the streets, with waving and clapping fans paying their respects, Caesar recalled. The auditorium at Morgan State University attracted thousands of fans to her funeral. Some people couldn’t get in, Doswell said.
“This city was very numb for at least a good month,” Doswell said.
To Club fans, her loss felt that it had an effect on the music scene in an instant, said Errigh LaBoo, 30, the founder of dance and youth management network Bmore Than Dance. Club music, typically heard around the clock on 92Q, dwindled. Though Club continued to have some major moments — the peak arguably coming in early 2009 when Kanye West did a remix of Baltimore Club artist DJ Class’ hit, “I’m the [Expletive]” — the scene had lost its guiding light.
City youth — a segment of fans some DJs ignored but Edgerton embraced by performing at school dances — was also hit hard. Suddenly, there was no leader in music for the youth, and no bridge between old and new school Club listeners, LaBoo said. There were fewer teen parties, which kept kids off the streets, said Terry Wedington, 27, a choreographer and founder of TSU Dance Crew.
I swear the city ain’t the same since we lost Swift / She’ll live forever, to the city she was God’s gift.
Tate Kobang on 2015’s “Bank Rolls (Remix)"
Club without the Queen
“I swear the city ain’t the same since we lost Swift / She’ll live forever, to the city she was God’s gift,” raps Tate Kobang on 2015’s “Bank Rolls (Remix),” one of the biggest hits to come from Baltimore in recent years.
Years later, even as the city embraces rap more than Club, Swift’s presence looms large.
But the love of Club is still there, and residents are still propelling the sound and culture forward. Many credit artists like producer Mighty Mark, Thunderbird Juicebox, TT the Artist and members of the enduring dance community like LaBoo and Wedington.
Wedington, who travels the country hosting Baltimore Club dance workshops and classes, said the dance scene took off after her death, with dance competitions like King of Baltimore, which was hosted by Bmore than Dance’s LaBoo.
“I think the dancing picked up because we didn't want it to go away because it was something that raised us,” Wedington said.
Ironically, Edgerton never danced, according to her mother. But she felt a responsibility to get Baltimoreans moving on the dance floor, and to offer a sweaty respite from life’s burdens.
“She said, ‘Mom, these people have so many problems, I just want them to be happy,’” Juanita Edgerton said.
Those same people are still finding ways to honor K-Swift. On Saturday night, DJ Class will have a moment of silence during his Artscape set to remember her, according to a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. Other DJs who were close to Edgerton have been invited, she said.
TT the Artist said her recently founded Club Queen Records is a nod to Swift. Her goal is to exclusively release works by female artists, while teaching them the ins and outs of being independent artists — the sort of education Edgerton gave others.
Despite these efforts, Club fans still can’t help but wonder, when it comes to K-Swift: What if?
Music writer Al Shipley said Edgerton was positioned to be for Baltimore what DJ Khaled is for Miami — “that non-rapper, non-producer who was part of the musical identity of a city,” on the cusp of mainstream recognition, he said.
“She was really becoming that,” Shipley said. “That’s really the tragedy of it — the timing, too.”
People have theories as to how Club could regain its momentum.
Doswell puts the onus on local DJs, emphasizing the need for a great Club song to stand out in an era where rap dominates the cultural conversation and charts.
“It's up to us to play it. If everybody play it, then people will start listening to it again,” Doswell said.
For a Club comeback, others believe it needs the right leader, but “there will never ever be a Club Queen,” Kelson said.
In the meantime, Porkchop continues to keep her voice alive, using samples and mixes from Edgerton’s sets over energetic beats during his nightly tributes.
“C-C-Club music … wildin’ out, real crazy!”
And just like every other night Doswell uses his signature sign-off for his late-night segment, making sure no one forgets her: