There’s a term DJs use when talking with each other that describes an experience all of them strive for but that isn’t always achieved. The term is “club banger,” or “club killer,” and while different DJ crews in different places around the world probably have their own variation on the wording, what the term describes is always the same: a song or record, often new but familiar, that is dropped at the right time during a set; a tune that taps into the immediate energy happening at a club or house party and then pushes it over the edge sending the dancefloor into a communal frenzy. It’s the perfect song at the right time, and if you’ve ever experienced it – on the floor or behind the decks – it’s a rapturous feeling.
Baltimore-based DJ, producer, and artist, Blaqstarr, produced his first “club banger,” when he was 16-years old, a local Baltimore Club track that he produced called “Tote It.” In fact, before he was even 20 years old, Blaqstarr (real name Charles Smith) had produced over half-a-dozen original tracks that were the biggest tunes in Bmore and whether they were broadcast in his own sets at some eastside house party or spun on the radio at a neighborhood block jam, seemingly every tune Blaqstarr would put out has been a straight “club banger.”
It’s that Midas touch of Blaqstarr’s that thrust him out of the typically provincial, claustrophobic world of B-more clubland and into the world at large. It’s why M.I.A. trusted a then relatively unknown Blaqstarr as a key collaborator for her wildly original second album (Kala) and its hit single, “Paper Planes.” And it’s why Blaqstarr found a home as part of Diplo’s Mad Decent family and got to take his music around the world. In just a short period of time, Blaqstarr’s seemingly effortless string of catchy, booming club tracks has made him one of the most anticipated and observed beat-makers in the world. And it is in that atmosphere that the 25-year old releases the Divine EP, his first release for Neet Records, M.I.A.’s label through Interscope.
“Baltimore is such a small world, but there’s so much love there for the music, that most people never need to leave,” says Blaqstarr. “Baltimore folks like music fast – that’s the sound of the city – and if you can make the beats fast and the floor shake, you can be a star right there for a long time. Never have to go nowhere else.”
Indeed, for the uninitiated, Baltimore Club music has been the soundtrack to life in the onetime thriving port city for over two decades: built on fast beats, booty shaking, raunchy lyrics in songs and suggestive call-and-response provocations from DJs armed with mics. It’s the ubiquitous soundtrack of an entire city of people blowing off steam from an otherwise struggling, frustrating environment. And it only exists in Baltimore – a little north in Philly, and they don’t get it; a little south in DC and they’d rather hear the punch of go-go music. Local Bmore DJs can make more money off the thousands of mix-CDs they sell at local mom-and-pop stores than they would if they had a hit single on national radio.
Since 2003, some of Blaqstarr’s songs that found audiences beyond Baltimore include, “Rider Girl,” “Hands Up Thumbs Down,” and “Shake It To The Ground,” featuring the Baltimore vocalist/MC (and fellow Interscope artist) Rye Rye who he discovered, and all released on his own Starr Productions label. The song has a catchy hook and an irresistible bounce, but what made “Shake It To The Ground” a fast-traveling hit outside city limits was the way Blaqstarr chopped up Rye Rye’s vocals into rapid-firing syllables that sounded like MPC-created samples; and how Blaqstarr stitched together the song’s rhythm track from what sounds like multiple layers of beats at different speeds, creating a mesmerizing syncopation to the whole tune. The song bears a sophistication to its production that draws people to it, even if they can’t point out exactly why.
That is what has helped propel Blaqstarr beyond the confines of Baltimore – a fierce desire to try out different ideas matched with a fearlessness and curiosity. One of Blaqstarr’s signature tunes is “Tote It,” in which instead of using standard drum sounds or a sampled break, the percussion of the fast-paced club banger was sampled gun-shots. It was something no one had thought of doing before, and perfectly symbolized that kind of sound of the city. “When I dropped that for the first time,” he says, “the party went wild.” Club Banger, indeed.
For the Divine EP – and the album he plans to record shortly thereafter – Blaqstarr is looking to explore more of his collaborative songwriting than simply his beat-making; that is, more of what he did in working with M.I.A. than the club bangers he’s mostly known for. He admits to being really fascinated with the art and form of the pop song, as well as with more experimental instrumental hip-hop and the palette those abstract compositions might offer. “But I’m still gonna do the club thing,” he says. “It’s universally correct. I can’t leave those out. It’s in my soul.”