Spurred by HBO's The Wire and the city's unique strain of club music, Baltimore has become a subject of cultural curiosity lately. Ensuring that the city's long-overlooked hip-hop scene wasn't left out of the equation, Juan Donovan Bell and Jamal Roberts of Darkroom Productions recruited the cream of the local rap crop for Hamsterdam, a 2005 release that was equal parts mixtape, local pride booster, and showcase for the duo's moody production style. Named for the drug strip depicted in The Wire, Hamsterdam surpassed all expectations, landing the previously obscure producers a gig making music for the TV series (and a front-page article in the New York Times Arts section). With Hamsterdam 2: From the Stash to the Strip and its companion DVD, Harm City Exposed, hitting streets in time for '07, this could be the year Avon Barksdale's hometown takes over the rap game. Here's a look at Baltimore's top MCs, as featured on Hamsterdam 2.
Diablo is the series' breakout star thanks to "Jail Flick," a Bmore club-paced anthem about sending pictures home from jail ("A topic everyone in the hood can relate to," notes Bell). Diablo's turns on Hamsterdam, like "Jumping Like Rope" (in which he cites George W. Bush's stolen elections as justification for selling dope) and "Beautiful Bitches in Bad Neighborhoods," are equally energetic. Bell and Roberts are currently meeting with labels interested in signing Diablo and Darkroom Productions to a joint artist/production deal.
Incarcerated for murder between the ages of 15 and 26, Tyree Colion was on the streets for less than two years before a parole violation sent him back to prison–but not before dropping two double-disc mixtapes (The Problem and The Solution) and a triple-disc (the 60-track Hustle Hard Blvd.). In that brief period, Colion created a street buzz previously unheard of in Baltimore, Bell says. "It was like 2-Pac, the way he made such an impact so quickly." Hamsterdam 2's "Projects" and "Blocka Blocka," recorded days before his sentencing, are sure to be Harm City's next anthems.
Having rhymed alongside Clipse, Freeway, and Memphis Bleek, and on Clinton Sparks and Kay Slay mixtapes, Mullyman was one of a handful of local MCs with a national profile predating Hamsterdam. The Bodymore soldier recently followed up his slept-on 2005 debut LP, Mullymania (Major League Unlimited), with a new street album, Still H.I.M. "Get Ready" (off Hamsterdam 2) and Still H.I.M.'s "The Life, the Hood, the Streetz" both appear in season four of The Wire.
Named for the Yoruba spirit of iron and energy, Ogun is a member of the long running Real on Purpose (ROP) crew. A social worker by day, his contribution to Hamsterdam 2–the succinctly titled "Baltimore"–addresses his hood's impending gentrification ("They move the blacks to the county on some reconstruction/Say everywhere we go all we bring is destruction"). "When we got the idea to do Hamsterdam, he was the first person I called," says Bell. "He didn't know Darkroom but he was feeling the vision–this Baltimore thing is deeper than music for him."