This is music as martial law. Tons of stuttering trombones bleat out a shuffling time like "Taps" on cocaine. Snares back up against each other and pop-pop like automatic gun fire. Demanding bass reinforces the boom-clack-bounce-shuffle of the breaks and the militancy of the samples–repetitive staccato orders like "Watch out for the big girls!" and "Open it up! Give 'em some room!"
In the middle of this mayhem, behind a p-popping honey with inch-long green and white acrylics and a wifebeater-sporting man so buff he looks like an action figure, stands all 5' 4" of Baltimore's Club Queen K-Swift. Despite her size and her baby face, 26-year-old Khia Edgerton cuts an authoritative presence behind the turntables. Surrounded by scattered CDs and vinyl, she's full of studied, pouty-lipped cool, even as the sound system repeatedly gives out. The second it comes back on, she's back on the mic again, entertaining the crowd with such salvos as "Everybody who wants to get laid tonight scream!" and "Everyone who has $2 in your pocket throw your hands up!" That last command is clearly delivered tongue-in-cheek, as Edgerton is playing to a warehouse full of Baltimore indie rock kids, most of whom probably don't have more than $5 to their name.
On a normal Friday night, Edgerton would most likely be controlling the decks at urban nightspot Club Choices. Choices–with its roster of guests like Rod Lee, Redz, and DJ Technics–is the place to hear what's known as "Baltimore club" (or, if you live in Maryland, simply "club music"). Though it's been around since the early '90s, Bmore club is slowly becoming the next form of regional bass music–like Chicago's ghetto house, Detroit's ghetto tech, Washington D.C.'s go-go, and Houston's screw music–to leak outside its small urban confines and out to other audiences around the country. Formerly only accessible through underground mixtapes and Baltimore radio stations like 92Q, club records are starting to be carried at NY record store Turntable Lab and played by electronic DJs like Diplo. All of which leads us to how, on this hot Friday night, K-Swift ended up rocking a room full of kids in Weezer glasses and thrift store tees soaked with sweat.
"The most shocking thing about that party was that there was a whole other crowd that was into the music that I didn't even know about," says Edgerton, who's speaking to me on the phone while waiting to board a roller coaster at Six Flags. "It floored me and to this day I can't believe it."
Edgerton may be surprised that art school kids like her music as well as urban crowds, but she's never had any doubt about her talents. In between shouting at her friends and passing off the phone, she explains how she got into DJing at the age of 11. "I've always loved music," she says, her Maryland accent drawing out the "u" in music until it sounds like "mewwwwsic," rounded and syrupy. "My father was a DJ for years. He played oldies but goodies–what I call 25-and-older music like Earth Wind and Fire, The O'Jays, disco music like Masterdon Committee's 'Funkbox Party' and Strafe's 'Set It Off' As soon as he would leave for work I used to be like, whoosh...in the basement and messing with his stuff. Eventually something did accidentally get broken and that's how I got caught. I had a long conversation with him and told him that's what I really wanted to do. [My parents] got me my own stuff so I could tear it up."
Starting off with records like Kid 'N' Play's 2Hype and Run D.M.C.'s "Peter Piper"–and with female DJs like Cocoa Chanel and Salt 'N' Pepa's Spinderella as idols–Edgerton learned how to scratch. She eventually moved on to beat matching in 11th grade, when she started playing high school dances and fashion shows. Around the same time Baltimore club was starting to jump off and Edgerton got an influential internship at WERQ FM (92Q), Baltimore's biggest urban station. Her outgoing personality–and her unusual status as a young female in a male-dominated scene–meant it was only a short ride until she got the station's best slot: weeknights from 6-1 p.m. with co-host Squirrel Wyde.
"I've always been outgoing and I never had low self-esteem or none of that," she explains. "But the worst thing I've had to go through [DJing] is being a female and having the guys hate on [me] so bad. Guys don't really want to see a female grow and expand. There would be a lot of [guys saying] 'She's a girl. She's wack. She can't do it,' without even hearing me. But you just got to keep to your own because everybody hates on everybody. You always just got to stay focused and don't worry about what anybody else thinks about you."
Since being crowned Club Queen–a title she says she was basically given by the people of the city of Baltimore–Edgerton hasn't really had to deal with the haters. She's got a radio show, a management company, and is a record pool director at Unruly, a club music distributor. Her last mixtape, Vol. 6: The Return, just sold 4, copies in Baltimore alone, and she feels more comfortable than ever, whether on air or behind the mic at gigs. ("It took a lot of courage to do it at first but now I can't do a party without saying something to the crowd," she explains. "I feel as though you need to let people know that you're there. Ain't nobody going to promote you like you're going to promote yourself.")
More than that, she gets to have fun everyday, playing jams from the dirty (Doc Slice's "Asses Wigglen") to the melancholy--like the a capella of John Legend's R&B tear-jerker "Ordinary People" set over the Lyn Collins "Think" break or Rod Lee's uplifting-yet-depressing ghetto anthem "Dance My Pain Away" ("Bill collectors on me/Have to file bankruptcy/Need some help from somebody"). More than anything, K-Swift likes the harder stuff, like Blaq Star's "Get My Gun," whose refrain threatens "You keep on fuckin' around, I'm gonna go get my gun.""I've seen a lot of crazy fights," she laughs. "Especially when you play 'Get My Gun' or [the Bmore club remix of] Lil' Jon's 'Throw It Up.' That's when everything goes craaaazy."