Height reaches for next level

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore rapper Height gets by with a little help from his friends.

A lot of help from a lot of friends, actually.

Height, the hip-hop pseudonym for Dan Keech, worked with nine producers for his new album, Baltimore Highlands. The 12-track album was released in 12-inch vinyl record form this week on Wham City Records, and the CD release party is tomorrow at the Zodiac on Charles Street.

But the collaboration doesn't end there. A dozen local and national indie musicians, including Video Hippos, Dan Deacon, Future Islands, Cex and Trey Told 'Em, remixed tracks from Baltimore Highlands. Starting this week, the record label is releasing them two at a time for free download on its Web site.

"It's us all staging an intervention for the rest of the world," said R.M. O'Brien, one of the record label's founders.

"People have to wake up and pay attention to this guy," he said. "It's going to be the kind of thing you're going to look back on in 10 years and still be interested in."

Keech said the recording and production process for Baltimore Highlands was kind of like a chain letter. The various producers wrote beats and submitted them to Keech, but it didn't end there. The whole group contributed to several tracks, offering feedback and suggesting samples via e-mail. This way, the album felt more cohesive, Keech said.

"It's not like I just got nine tracks from nine different places," Keech said. "We really sat down together."

When it comes to his music, Keech has a remarkable work ethic for an up-and-coming artist. He has toured four months a year for the past few years, playing mostly under-the-radar venues and DIY spaces, he said.

When Keech wasn't on the road, he was planning another tour or recuperating from an extended stretch.

"All I was ever thinking about was organizing a tour or being on tour," he said.

Keech drew inspiration for Baltimore Highlands after returning to Baltimore and taking the past year off from extended touring, he said.

"It's just about being in this city almost all the time for really the first time - as strange as that sounds," Keech said. "I feel like I'm getting to know every nook and cranny of the county and the city. I feel like I'm on tour in Baltimore - even though I'm not on tour at all."

Baltimore Highlands is the fourth full-length album for Keech. The 27-year-old, who grew up in Baltimore County and now lives in Hampden, also has three EPs. Whether rapping or in casual conversation, Keech speaks at a methodical, sometimes plodding, pace. He brings a straightforward and unpretentious approach to hip-hop, which is part of why O'Brien wanted to release Baltimore Highlands on the new Wham City Records. The album will be one of the label's first releases.

"As a lyricist, he's honest," O'Brien said. "He doesn't hide behind clever rhymes. It's not fronting or macho, but it's also not ironic."

The same goes for Height's persona, O'Brien said.

"There's no gimmick with Height - there's no flash," O'Brien said. "There's not some sort of high-concept hook. The music is consistently good."

if you go

The CD release party for Height With Friends is at 10 p.m. tomorrow at the Zodiac, 1726 N. Charles St. $5. Nuclear Power Pants and Gavin Riley will also perform. Admission is $5. Go to heightwithfriends.com.

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