Back In Business
After two decades in Baltimore, Chief Rocker Busy Bee starts to make himself at home on local stages
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David "Chief Rocker Busy Bee" Parker was riding high in 1989. He had already made history as one of hip-hop's first solo MCs since arriving on the nascent scene in 1977, had been immortalized playing himself in the seminal 1982 documentary Wild Style, and was performing on the Nitro Tour, headlined by LL Cool J. But on a tour stop in Baltimore, the Bronx native started to get the idea to relocate. "Some of my friends from New York was down here, they was workin', they was runnin' around town, and we had a day or two to hang out," he says, recalling how quickly he found himself feeling at home, and how he impressed he was by the dramatically lower cost of living. "Where they say they livin' at now with the apartments and houses was structured, the money that they was payin' to live there was crazy!"
By the time Parker left town, he'd already secured a cheap place to live in Baltimore and returned as soon as the tour was over. In the '90s, as his show business career slowed down, he spent some time indulging in less legal activities to make a living. But Busy Bee never lost the bug for performing, and as hip-hop grew into a billion-dollar business, a performing circuit for "old school" artists from his era became a cottage industry unto itself, and he began travelling the world.
Sitting in the North Avenue building from which he now operates Busy Bee Enterprises and rents out space to local businesses, Parker credits his busy tour schedule for the fact that few in Baltimore have had any idea how long the veteran rapper's been residing in the city. "I might be here for a weekend and then have to get on the plane," he says, his deep trademark voice creaking with laughter. "The airport saw me more than the city of Baltimore."
In recent years, Parker's spent much of his time abroad touring with fellow legends such as KRS-One and even Kool Moe Dee, the rapper who infamously challenged Busy Bee at a show in 1981 that's since been called the birth of the rap battle. "Me and Kool Moe Dee, we had a lot of fun," he says. "Everybody thought, when they say 'beef,' that Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee were the first battle rappers. OK, yes, it was a battle to the end. But at the same time it wasn't that I had any animosity against him."
Even though he's grown his hair out to long dreadlocks, which are now speckled with gray hairs, the middle-aged Parker looks much the same as he did as a slick teenager in Wild Style, and he credits that to the low profile he kept while in Baltimore. "You won't see me every weekend at somebody's club," he says. "I don't do that, that's why I still look so pretty."
Still, every now and again, he'd appear at a local venue, check out the local talent, and get up onstage to voice his approval, like he did one night last year at a show at Suite. "I'm gonna pop up whether you know it or not at certain times," he says. "And when I get there I'ma tell you, 'That wasn't no hip-hop, why did you make me come over here,' or 'That was nice, man, I liked that. Keep doin' that.'"
In recent months, however, Parker has made himself more of a presence in Baltimore with a series of concerts at Sonar, bringing some of the rap legends he calls friends into town to perform their classics, and with the Busy Bee Foundation, a charity aimed at causes such as after-school activities for local children and raising money to fight breast cancer. Most of the foundation's big plans, like a celebrity basketball game fundraiser this summer, are still in the works, but the shows at Sonar have been going strong the last few months. Rakim headlined a show in March, and Parker's frequent tourmate KRS-One is coming to the club May 9.
One of Parker's associates is Pete "DJ P-Funk" Lynch, a Baltimore native and longtime veteran of local hip-hop, whose deep crates of classic records impressed the rap pioneer. "I heard him just one time somewhere and I said 'That's the DJ I need to do what I need if I need him to, because I know what I want, and he's doin' it,'" Parker recalls. So when he was home from tour long enough to put together a concert series, he knew exactly who to call.
"With him living in B-more, in the back of my head, I anticipated we'd eventually be working together in some capacity," Lynch says. "It's a personal honor to be associated with him. The all-inclusive 'respect the artform'-type atmosphere that Busy wants at our shows confirms for me that events I've produced prior were birthed from the same type of love for the culture that he has."
In the course of an hour's conversation, Parker's sidekick rings with messages from such hip-hop luminaries as Special Ed and B-Real of Cypress Hill, and the list he rattles off of artists he plans on bringing to Sonar in the coming months sounds almost too good to be true. But even without ever reaching the heights of superstardom that later hip-hop artists achieved, Chief Rocker Busy Bee is a name that's always rung bells in hip-hop and always will.
As he continues to make his presence known in his adopted home, Parker has made more and more connections with Baltimore's underground hip-hop community, going to local recording hub Deep Flow Studios and linking up with up-and-coming rappers such as Mullyman. Still, there are ways in which Busy Bee admits he's still a New Yorker at heart: "I'm a Yankees fan, I am gonna tell you that."