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Michael Dante Wilson

Jan. 23, 1973-June 5, 2008

Courtesy Of Kenneth McDowell
R.I.P.: Michael Dante Wilson (right), pictured with his cousin, Antwan "Rabbit" Thompson.

By Al Shipley | Posted 6/25/2008

To fans and peers in Baltimore music, he was Mr. Wilson, a charismatic rapper with the long-running group JI-900 and the organizer of countless concerts and events. But to perhaps an even greater number of people, Michael Dante Wilson--who passed away June 5 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital at the age of 35 following several years of heart problems--was simply a warm and genuine human being.

How he carried himself, and how he was toward people, if he was your friend, he was your friend, in every sense of the word," says Kenneth McDowell, who'd known Wilson since junior high school. According to McDowell, even those closest to him were surprised by his passing, and hadn't known the extent or the cause of his health issues, which began with a minor heart attack in 2001. "It happened so fast, nobody expected it," McDowell adds. "We all expected him to be going in for a routine operation."

After graduating Baltimore City College in 1991, Wilson studied criminal justice at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and went onto work in social services, primarily at the Woodbourne Center in Baltimore. But Wilson also showed a passion for music and entrepreneurship, owning a record label and several other businesses throughout his brief lifetime.

"He said that the first time he had the heart attack he valued his life more," remembers rapper Sonny Brown, a close friend and frequent collaborator of Wilson's in recent years. "So from there, he opened a studio, he had a restaurant, he had a clothing store." Not all of Wilson's ventures were successful, including an eccentric concept for a short-lived restaurant that Brown recalls with a laugh. "He wanted it to be a carry-out," Brown says. "But he wanted to buy pink Cadillacs, and have people deliver food in these pink Cadillacs."

In 2002, Wilson opened the Star Status Studio on Howard Street, which quickly became a hub of a burgeoning hip-hop community, where he recorded with some of the city's best-known rappers, including Mullyman, Backland, and Little Clayway. JI-900, the group formed by Wilson and friend Omar Little in the late '90s, reached the peak of its success with the 2003 single "Change the Rules," which stayed in rotation on BET's late-night video program Uncut for 18 months. In 2003, he organized the Baltimore Fresh Fest at the Ottobar, which went on to become an annual event, and in 2005 he founded the weekly showcase Hip Hop 101 at the 5 Seasons nightclub.

Still, his impact reached far beyond his modest fame, to the point that he didn't always receive full recognition for his achievements, such as when City Paper honored Hip Hop 101 in its 2006 Best of Baltimore issue but failed to credit the event's founder. "He was involved in more on behalf of the B-more hip-hop scene than most people realize, because he played the back and just grinded," says Pete "P-Funk" Lynch, a DJ who knew Wilson. "People who enjoy the scene and don't even know him will miss his influence and not even realize why."

In Wilson's recent years, as his health waned, he took a break from music, rededicated himself to church, and, in 2007, wed his high-school sweetheart. "He got married last year, he quit rappin', he'd stopped doin' everything, and he just started livin' his life," Brown says. Wilson is survived by his wife, Tara, their daughter, Mikael, his mother and father, and a large extended family. His memorial services on June 10 followed a funeral procession that, fittingly, took the proud Baltimore native through much of the city he loved. "We rode through East Baltimore, all the hoods, we went past the courthouse, we went past the Preston Street probation office," Brown says. "We rode through Northwest Baltimore, then we went to Glen Burnie where he's resting. So it was kinda funny, that that man actually wanted to have his final ride through Baltimore City before they put him to rest."

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