More info on
These days a rapper stands a better chance of winning a national audience by fiercely repping for the sound that’s unique to his or her area code—just look at Atlanta crunk, Houston screw, and Bay area hyphy. For years there’s been a line separating Baltimore’s club music and hip-hop scenes. Local legends Booman, KW Griff, and Jimmy Jones, collectively known as the Doo Dew Kidz, are wielding the eraser, mixing up their hip-hop roots with the club music they made their names on. Booman thinks it might be what finally puts local hip-hop on the map.
Upon meeting Booman—a fudge-complexioned gentle giant with a beaming smile—you wouldn’t believe this mild-mannered cat was one of the men behind raw club classics like “Watch Out for the Big Girl,” “Out My Way Bitch,” and “Shout.” His music is an instant reminder of dancing till dawn in a packed-to-capacity Paradox, sweat tippling down the walls, while his partner KW Griff was on the wheels and Ms. Tony was on the mic. The hits that Booman—born Grant Burley III at some point in the 20th century; he declines to give his age—produced and co-produced have become part of the sound of Baltimore.
The East Baltimore native’s father and uncle were singers in a local soul group called the Mondells that was once courted by Motown. Music was a heavy presence in Burley’s household while growing up; he practiced mixing on his parents’ old 45s in his preteens. “Some of the first records I sampled was stuff I stole from my father’s stash, a bunch of Blue Note records and Bobbi Humphrey,” he says.
Word got out about Burley’s passion for DJing, and soon his friends were laying down freestyles in his basement. Booman began putting out tapes around 1987, using the most basic equipment. “See, I didn’t start with Technics 1200s,” he says. “I started with these old Pioneer turntables that ain’t even have a pitch, so I had to put pennies on them. I had this old Realistic radio mixer from Radio Shack that ran on batteries.” Even with the raggedy equipment, Burley’s talent for mixing gained favor in the streets.
“I started doing a lot of house parties in the area, northeast side and stuff like that,” he says. “Then I got to high school and I did all of my high school’s parties.” In 1993 Burley was taken in by Unruly Records, which released his early works, like “See the Hoes Do the Butterfly.” He began getting the nod from influential club producers.
Being a producer gave Burley an edge over hip-hop and club DJs who didn’t put in studio time. “The club records is what set [Doo Dew Kidz] apart,” he says. “We would go into the basement to make some stuff just for certain clubs or certain parties, and we would have one up on other DJ’s because we had exclusive tracks that nobody had.”
In 1995, Burley got his first on-air radio exposure—DJing Fridays on the former V103 during the same time slot as his partner KW Griff’s show on rival 92Q. “It was kind of crazy,” Burley laughs. By the late 1990s, Burley had become a fixture on the college party circuit.
And though Burley’s place in club history is assured, he’s never been just a traditional club DJ. In May 2006 during Strictly Hip-Hop’s 13th anniversary show on WEAA (88.9 FM), Burley was the last DJ to bless the wheels during the 24-hour broadcast. Surprisingly, Booman’s set was laced with golden-era hip-hop gems including Pete Rock and CL Smooth, KRS-One, and A Tribe Called Quest. “I can’t say I prefer [hip-hop or club] because they are both a big part of me,” Burley says. “It’s sort of like a balance. Plus, a lot of the club is influenced by hip-hop, so it all goes back to hip-hop either way.”
And this year Burley’s love for both hip-hop and club music has led to him working heavily with some of the city’s most talented and respected hip-hop MCs on club tracks; he assures them it’s not necessary to change themselves or their style. “I tell them when you rap on the club music you don’t have to be corny,” he jokes. “Do your regular rhymes. It’s just more party-orientated.”
The pumping banger “Watch Her Shake,” featuring B-more pioneer Labtekwon, is sure to make all the young bucks want to do the SpongeBob dance. The females up in the club can chant along while twerkin’ it to “Work That Thing,” which features super femcee duo Golden Seal. These tracks may have a fresh new sound, but they also contain classic club samples to catch the ears of the over-25 crowd who frequented the original Hammerjacks. Burley also is working with rising soul singer Raheem DeVaughn, and he has received word that hip-hop artist Mr. Cheeks is interested in dropping rhymes over his beats.
“We used to try to [put MCs on club tracks], but nobody wanted to,” he admits. “Back in the day people from Baltimore thought you either had to be hip-hop or you was club. It was a big division. Now people are starting to see that this is the sound of our city.
“Club is taking off like crazy,” he continues, beaming. “In two weeks I have to play in a few spots in New York. Once New York grabbed on to it I knew it was taking off, because they hated it back in the day. But now it’s crazy how they are embracing it in New York, Philly, and Jersey. Some guys came over from France to do a documentary on club music. They came here for like a week and interviewed us, went up in the ’hood, came to parties with cameras and stuff. I was like, ‘Y’all are crazy coming here like that.’”
Those Frenchmen aren’t the only out-of-town media interest that club music has received lately. Burley says MTV did some filming at last month’s Baltimore Believe campaign block party. “MTV was there filming for My Block, but all the questions was about club music,” he says, referring to the channel’s show that focuses on a different local hip-hop scene each episode. “They were asking MCs questions, but the questions were mostly about rapping on club music.”
But while club music is in the process of taking the world by storm, Burley is about to go on tour as a DJ, mentor, and guest judge for Making a Hit, a new reality show from Russell Simmons. The show travels the country searching for the best rapper, singer, DJ, and producer, following these amateurs in their quest to make a hit. “It’s kind of like an American Idol meets The Real World, and the group will have to make a hit songs, get it on the radio, and go through that whole process,” he says. The beginning stages of the show can be viewed on TheNext.tv, and the pilot is being pitched to MTV, HBO, and other networks.
The weekend following this interview Booman was on his way to Miami to do a set promoting Making a Hit at the South Beach club Plug. With so many club music classics in his DJ box, Booman could easily rest on his rep. But the big man behind a big Baltimore sound is just getting started.