Rod Lee, 'Vol. 5: The Official' (Club Kingz/Morphius Urban)

6
Vol. 5: The Official
Critical Mass
Label: Club Kingz/Morphius Urban

by Jon Caramanica

Hip-hop is such a global juggernaut that it's easy to forget there are still regional black sounds, too. Detroit has its techno and, more recently, its ghetto tech. Chicago has catered to househeads and steppers for decades. Miami's bass music still thrives in obscurity, as did Atlanta's for many years before crunk; and Washington, D.C. go-go remains content not to cross the Maryland line.

Just across that border, Baltimore has "club" (or house, or breaks, depending on whom you ask), a refreshingly lewd, jubilant, and pneumatic style. DJ/producer Rod Lee is the biggest name of the sound's third, maybe fourth wave since its late-'80s inception, and he hews tightly to the party line on Vol. 5, the first B-more mix with national distribution (thanks, presumably, to the sound's sudden cachet with baile funk and grime-loving hipsters out for a new fix). Baltimore club is ass music, pure and simple, all whimsical samples and aerobics-worthy momentum. Some songs forego sex, but most don't hide their panting or their periodically troubling gender politics: "Nobody got me pussy-whipped," etc. (Sometimes art and life are too close: Lee, who produced or coproduced all the songs here, was convicted of second-degree assault of a woman.) Most of these tracks are stubbornly straightforward -- a few shouted chants over a drum machine stuck on repeat -- but the results, like the vindictive "You Keep Fuckin Around" and the hypnotic "Watch My Ass," can be glorious, even if Lee hasn't updated his palette of drum breaks since Rob Base's "It Takes Two."

As with most of the aforementioned regional black subcultures, this is a sound in constant dialogue with its bullying older brother: The minor-key piano from Lil Scrappy's "No Problem" pops up, accompanied by a chorus of woofs, on KW Griff's excellent "The Problem." But what sets B-more club apart is its willingness to engage everything else, too: Recent popular tracks sample the theme songs of SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer. Here we get Bernie Mac and "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" reinterpreted as a call to frantic lust. It's the tip of the iceberg for a scene that grinningly welcomes all comers, before gratuitously turning them out.

See Also: DJ Technics, Clean Clubmix 2.0 (Baltimore Club Tracks, 2005)

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