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Q&A: MC Chinchilla

Jefferson Jackson Steele

By Bret McCabe | Posted 2/18/2009

MC Chinchilla has lived in Baltimore for about 25 years, starting off in East Baltimore before moving to the Whitelock area, where he met Labtekwon. (Chinchilla's parents used to go watch Lab's father, the late Doc "Soul" Stirrer, perform in area clubs.) He and Lab first met in the 1980s, and they've had their group CSD together for years.

Chinchilla: In the '80s, we used to break dance around Druid Hill, and I had a little break-dance group, and they used to have DJs in the park on Sundays. There used to be these DJs, Sugar Bear and Vicious V, and they used to come on a cheese bus—you know, the yellow school buses. They would come out on the cheese bus and have a DJ turntable hooked up and running from the bus and stuff and be DJing hip-hop up there. They'd pull up by the pavilions over there near the basketball courts. And they a couple of guys would get up there and rock the mic.

And I wanted to be a part of that scene, so I would venture out and find out the opportunities for an artist to get exposed and stuff. There were a couple of stores in Baltimore at the time—Inner City Records on Howard and Lexington streets, and Music Liberated in Mondawmin—where the DJs used to spin instrumentals and we used to stand outside the stores and rap and stuff like that.

At that time, I had my crew, the Kids in the Closet, and we used to sample off of tapes. Our first little act we had was kind of like a talent event, where it was hip-hop, R&B, and dancing. We lost in the event to some R&B group, and that's where I found out the Kids in the Closet was a term we weren't familiar with, [laughs], so we broke up and formed a group called the Pen Pals. And with the Pen Pals we started going around to different open-mic type nights. There was this place called Wall Street [on Maryland Avenue near Lafayette] that did a more spoken-word kind of thing, and we started going there. There was Wall Street, and we had MC battles all around the city. Crazy John's, we used to battle at old Crazy John's on Baltimore Street between Howard and Eutaw. We used to have battles down there. And a lot of mainstream artists came through Baltimore, we just didn't have as much exposure back then that there is now. We didn't have any managers, we didn't have any labels. And we went to so many labels and artists trying to find out how to become part of the mainstream. And nobody had any real directions to point us to.

So in '92 we started releasing our own records. Put out "Pins and Needles" by the Pen Pals in '94, on a 12-inch. So everybody kind of like respected us artists for trying to do our own thing and start a label. So me and my crew started to go to clubs where the rock bands performed, like the Bank. I started up a Monday/Tuesday type of venue for hip-hop thing, just because it was a different night from other things going on. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, people like to go out and see the ladies or have a drink, so Monday was a good look. This was about '91 all the way up to 1993, we had it at the Bank. It was real cool—we had an open mic and the party and we never had any fights or any type of violence of any kind going on.

We moved from the Bank to Club Indigo, and that's back there on Greene Street behind Lexington Market. We was at Club Indigo for about a year or so. And after we left Indigo we had Latin Palace up there on Broadway. We started a place on Central Avenue called Factory 302. That was in '96. We had the Powerhouse, that was back there on Greene Street, we did stuff with those guys—PHP, Powerhouse Posse. And we did shows all through Baltimore—the old Club Midnight, Sonar, old Hammerjack's, the list goes on and on.

And there were a lot of groups and people doing things back then. And probably half of the artists who are being talked about as far as the media in Baltimore haven't even heard half of these guys’ music. I was thinking maybe I need to be up on XM satellite radio with a Baltimore underground show or something. You know, “This is MC Chinchilla on the XM dial.”

City Paper: What do you think was driving that energy at the time? Chinchilla: Even before hip-hop, Baltimore had a scene for live music—not just the rock bands. You have the jazz and the funk artists. Hip-hop is just another generation coming out that wants to be exposed to live music. You can go 35 minutes down 95 to D.C. and see the go-go bands, and go-go's been big in D.C. for years, decades. But the same kind of struggles that their artists had as far as go-go, they get more love more places than they have in Baltimore. They get more love. Their love their live stuff rather than hear a DJ throw something together and dance to it. So, we wanted to bring that live vibe back to Baltimore. The MCing, the break dancing, the vibe, everything. A lot of kids—we wouldn't get into a whole lot of trouble during that time doing this. You take that away, what are people going to do as far as enjoyment or some type of outlet for expression?

But then a lot of the people that I was doing the scene with, they got married, they had children. But for me, music has always been a passion, and to keep going my role has had to expand from just being an MC. I still have my own independent label, I manage, I produce, I do a lot of editing and casting for videos. And I've been to some of the events of the past five years or so and times done changed. There seem to be people who are somewhat more violent. There's definitely a loss in females, as far as I can tell, who come for participation and just to come and enjoy what's going on.

City Paper: What do you think happened?

Chinchilla: I think a lot of people coming up now, the young guys getting the Def Jam deals or getting on 106 and Park, they got a lot of people setting them up who don't follow through, you know what I'm saying? So what type of example are they giving other people who are looking for a way up? It goes back around, and instead of Baltimore hip-hop wondering who is going to be the "savior," but there's people around right now who can show people how to do this. Why try to go after Def Jam when you can try to get your own Def Jam off the ground? Support your local artists, you know, show they how to take a couple of dollars they make and put it back into what you're doing. That's just a little thing, but it makes a difference. Back when I got a little bit of money, I wanted to live like I was a rap star. I wanted to be known. So I got the gold chain and beepers was real popular back then. And my buddy said, "Aw, man, you out there spending the money already? You're supposed to be investing back into the label and everything."

But we kept our drive in Baltimore because we wanted to be part of the mainstream—not for ourselves, but to bring the mainstream to Baltimore and have out music be heard. That's what out agenda was. But that came later. In the 1980s, it was mostly about dancing, in the clubs or out in the streets. It wasn't until the early 1990s when we started to get organized and wanted to perform in the clubs and do out own thing—but that's what made people so versatile back then. We had the dance music and the club type stuff, uptempo, jazz, house, you had to be well-rounded. You had to adapt, as far as being an MC. It's not just how hard you try to make yourself appear to be in the public or trying to live like you see these guys on TV. Hip-hop does not revolve around that. And, for the most part, people are getting tired of hearing that violent mentality. It's not really real.

You know, I went to 5 seasons a couple of months ago just to check out the scene. And you feel the vibe, they got the DJ set up and some dancers, but it would have been a little bit better if there were a little more people out. You have one artist who brings 20, 30 people to come see him perform, and after he's gone, everybody leaves. And then there's, like, five people left, and they're the other artists who are supposed to perform, too. That's no fun. Where's the love? Where's the people who appreciate local, independent urban music? I see a lot of people at the poetry events, but not as many at the hip-hop shows. Where is the support for Baltimore hip-hop?

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