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Rapper Kane Mayfield on new music, J Dilla tribute

He is one of the city's most promising rappers, but Kane Mayfield has yet to release a solo debut — because the 29-year-old and his label, Baltimore's Mania Music Group, "believe in quality control."

Mayfield says he submits six to 10 recordings to Mania each month, but most of it is never heard by the public.

"Everything I write ain't good," he said bluntly. Maintaining high standards makes it easier for Mayfield to draw fans, he said. One song deemed worthy of hearing is "Hello," the first single from his solo project due out later this year.

Free of glitz and dance floor-synthesizers, "Hello" recalls the boom-bap rap that thrived on drums, a commanding voice and little else. On Saturday, Mayfield will join other Baltimore artists (including Sean Toure, UllNevaNo and more) at the Ottobar to pay tribute to one of rap's most respected producers, the late J Dilla. in a recent interview, he talked about "Hello" and the importance of Dilla.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I'm putting the finishing touches on my personal project with Mania Music Group. And I've got another project with [veteran underground rap producers] Da Beatminerz. I grew up listening to their music, so to be down there in the basement and see all the [Rawkus Records] plaques and history ... I didn't know what to say at first. I have three projects, but I can't talk about the third one, even though I'm dying to.

How did "Hello" come together?

I wasn't supposed to have that beat. It got sent to me as, "Hey, just listen to this." I was just outside of Tampa, and I stared at a palm tree. As soon as I heard [the sample] "Ya ready?" I was good to go. I was in a car and I wrote the whole record right there. ... I wish there was a better story, but unfortunately, I just wrote it. I had just left the dentist so I was high on Percocet.

That's the [straightforward] direction I'm going in nowadays. I don't like using a "rapper voice." I like using my natural voice. ... I'm exploring the depth of my voice. When you rap, you have to be dope and make sense and be relevant and all of that, but at the end of the day, your voice is just another instrument. It's the same as a snare or a flute or a saxophone. If all I'm doing is playing in one key, then it's a waste.

For a rap fan unfamiliar with J Dilla, can you explain what made him so unusual as an artist?

It's literally some of the best hip-hop you'll ever hear in your life. I don't care what kind of rap you like. You like gangsta rap? He made it. You like strip-club rap? He did that too. And he was responsible for some of the better [A Tribe Called Quest] tracks.

As a rapper, dude was nice. As a producer, he was mind-boggling. I sat this weekend and listened to the samples [Dilla used]. Dilla would take an obscure snippet of a horn being played off-key, and [he'd] take that and make a beat. Aside from the technical aspect, the music is undeniable. If you don't like J Dilla's music, you don't like rap music. I can go that far. I don't know another way to say it.

Do you have a favorite Dilla track?

I really like "Take Notice." There's also "Reminisce," the Bilal joint. That one means a lot to me. [Slum Village's] "Fall in Love." I like "Ruff Draft" — that whole project. I was taught a lot about music from producers, so there are some songs that I think the song is cool but a producer has shown me how the sample was flipped, so the song is amazing to me because of the flip. It's like staring at the inside of a Swiss watch. It's like, "How did you make that?"

An outsider might think Baltimore is an odd spot for a J Dilla tribute. Why do you think it makes a good pairing?

I think you'll find a lot of similarities between Baltimore and Detroit [Dilla's hometown]. But really, the music is universal. As I was going through some of his records, I thought to myself, "This should be required listening." I don't care if you've never heard of [Dilla], you should go to the show. The answer itself is in the question — you should find out why we're doing this. Come find out how these records are so strong, that you can get together a bunch of different artists to perform them. It's because it's a tribute to the music and how strong the music is. ... This is some of the best music there is in rap.

Are there any goals you hope to achieve this year?

This year should take me overseas. [That goal] is looking pretty promising. Australia looks like a viable possibility. I was supposed to go to Japan, but I couldn't so I want to make up for that. Really, my goal is to leave the United States with my music, and it's looking like it could happen.

If you go

Kane Mayfield performs Saturday at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St., for the "Forever Shining" J Dilla tribute and fundraiser. Guilty Simpson, JSOUL, Sean Toure and others will also perform. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. $10. Call 410-662-0069 or go to