Let, Let Them In
For Baltimore Hip-Hop Crew Raw Dialect, Six is the Magic Number
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With six MCs--who hail from Baltimore, Gaithersburg, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Atlanta--the local hip-hop group Raw Dialect is as real as its name. Each MC presents a unique flow and personality and speaks what he feels. Danjah boasts the most rugged persona and voice, while Rainman is mild-mannered and has versatile ideologies. T-Rock injects constant jokes and humorous characters into his rhymes. Tone Rome is the businessman. (Sixth member Sweets was absent from the interview.) Though solo MCs rule the spotlight today, the men in Raw Dialect are out to prove that the hip-hop crew isn't extinct.
"Most cats don't give respect to old school," Rainman says. "We've got a song called 'Tools,' [in which] we talk about two turntables, a pen and a pad, a MC, and a funky DJ. But you don't hear cats calling their DJs' names anymore. Back in the day, all you heard was Cut Creator, Terminator X. You don't hear that no more. Those were the guys that made the hip-hop artists seen."
The man behind Raw Dialect's music is DJ 1200, one of the most outspoken and opinionated MCs in the group. He, Tone, and Rainman have been friends since their teens in Baltimore; DJ 1200 and Tone hooked up with Danjah, Sweets, and T-Rock while at Tuskegee University in Alabama in the early '90s. They met just as homeboys, but each had a love for hip-hop. The fellas migrated back to the Baltimore area in 1994, and the seed for Raw Dialect was planted.
"Us and other DJs would get together and do [mix] tapes called 'Just Bullshittin'," DJ 1200 says. "We'd freestyle over mixes. That's how we started off before we even had equipment. We knew that there was a thirst there."
That thirst led these distinctive MCs to form a unit. They cite hip-hop pioneers such as Whodini, EPMD, Native Tongue, Sugarhill Gang, and the Fat Boys as MCs they admire, but their influences don't end there.
"I started digging back [and] listening to the older stuff to get influenced from that," DJ 1200 says, who admits to listening to funk and even metal like Kiss during his younger days. "Those [older influences] were the building blocks. Hip-hop still needs to grow to the point where it doesn't sound like it's limited and lacking in any areas, [where] it's hitting you just like one of the old jams would."
Raw Dialect's recently self-released a refreshing self-titled four-track CD EP. In addition to "Tools," lead track "Mic Blessa" displays how Tone Rome skillfully dispenses conscious but not preachy lyrics. The catchy "Rah Rah," which incorporates the back-and-forth flow between Tone and Danjah, is a banger if you can tolerate the ringy loop during the chorus. The smooth "Soul Sista" pays homage to an admired female and has a D'Angelo-meets-Black Eyed Peas flava to it.
Live, however, is where Raw Dialect really impresses. Honing its skills on a variety of Baltimore/Washington-area stages--the group was joined recently by KRS-One during an open-mic set at the 9:30 Club--Raw Dialect delivers a pumped show, in large part because its members like to have fun.
"I like to go to a club and party, you know what I'm sayin'?" DJ 1200 says. "My favorite club is a club with no chairs and a bangin' DJ. That's my idea of some fun, and the same thing [applies] with a show."
It's unusual to see so many peeps onstage together who can actually rhyme. Hip-hop stages are often packed with a caravan of unnecessary hype men who have no intention of rhyming. Each of Raw Dialect's members heats the microphone, with energy and animated presence reminiscent of the Leaders of the New School, with call-and-response rhymes. And the MCs' personalities come out during their performances, too. Rainman gets personal, paying attention to the audience by periodically kneeling to address heads face-to-face. DJ 1200 and T-Rock, whose stage presence is similar to Busta Rhymes', get theatrical, sometimes acting out their lyrics with facial expressions and body language.
The group feels that the audience appreciates the intimacy. "They don't want to be left out of the show," Rainman says. "They want to feel like they are a part of the show, and that's how we do our shows. We try to incorporate the crowd."
Raw Dialect's shows are an effort to bring back a vibe the group feels is missing from hip-hop. "We take what we do seriously but we have fun with it," Rainman continues. "The hip-hop that I grew up with is what they're biting nowadays. [And] the rules of hip-hop have changed. [In the past] you couldn't say somebody else's verses, not even a little bit of it. But now every other rhyme is being started with somebody else's rhyme."
But the guys don't pay much attention to nonsense hip-hop. They know how mainstream hip-hop is done--and that that is what commercial radio prefers to play. But they know that positive hip-hop can make it.
"Mos Def is getting paid through the underground, just like these other cats out here like Eminem," Rainman says. "So you can make money without getting played on the radio."
The bottom line? Just make quality music, DJ 1200 says. "If you [are] going to be gangsta, make good music," he says. "If you [are] going to be political or religious, make good music. Whatever it is you choose to do, make good music. I like different stuff. I could listen to 50 [Cent] and be happy. Or I could listen to Kris [KRS-One] and be happy. I could listen to Talib [Kweli], Jay-Z, or Nas and be happy, because they are actually making good music."