Music

The GOAT turns pro: Blaqstarr, his Divine EP and club music’s mainstreaming.

by Marcus K. Dowling

Earl “The Goat” Manigault never played an National Basketball Association game. This fact is one of the great shames in the eyes of true basketball historians. You know, the guys who live for the game, who just as soon would go to Madison Square Garden in the 80s to watch Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks, or who even moreso enjoyed going to Holcombe Rucker Park in Manhattan to watch Manigault. While his extra-curricular activities and freewheeling spirit cancelled his NBA aspirations, he shone in the legendary Rucker Summer League Basketball tournament, the pinnacle of underground, inventive and progressive basketball, alongside a plethora of other talents that the bright lights and big time passed by. It was there where Earl Manigault cemented his legacy. His “Goat” nickname is considered the impetus for calling artists the “Greatest of All Time,” and with his ability to dunk two basketballs at the same time and dominate the game with the type of spirited play now commonplace with the likes of Boston Celtic Kevin Garnett in the current NBA, set an uncompromising standard of excellence for generations to come.

“I’m inspired by nature…palm trees are inspiring, as well as the beach…I love absorbing from nature. A bird, a bee, to a dog, everything.” – Blaqstarr

In 2010, Baltimore native Charles Smith signed a deal with M.I.A’s NEET Recordings, a boutique label for the Sri Lankan pop artist that is distributed by Interscope Records. Much in the same vein as Manigault, Smith, as Blaqstarr and legendary producer of the dance friendly, thunderously percussive and bass heavy Baltimore club music left many indie dance fanatics wondering what it would happen if Blaqstarr ever jumped to the mainstream. Club music devotees are entirely similar to basketball purists in the sense that as much as they enjoy hearing classics like Jimmy Jones’ ubiquitous “Watch Out for the Big Girl” or DJ Class’ “I’m the Shit” in mainstream night spots, the music’s core is in skating rinks converted for the night into dance clubs, indie dance spaces, cookouts and neighborhood block parties. It’s music for the moment, complete with unique dance moves and a rabid local following that has trended toward the mainstream, but not crossed over.

“To dance is to love and to love is to dance. My EP will be a cosmic experience.” – Blaqstarr

On January 25th, N.E.E.T. Recordings/Interscope releases Blaqstarr’s The Divine EP. Six tracks long, it’s Baltimore club’s biggest moment and unlike Manigault, it’s going to provide the answer of what happens when “The Goat” turns pro. Blaqstarr is arguably the greatest Baltimore club producer of all time. In a group that includes urban legends like Debonair Samir, Scottie B, DJ Booman and KW Griff, the EP provides the reasoning as to his possible status at the top of the heap. Blaqstarr’s a singer. He’s not exactly Isaac Hayes, but that’s the closest comparison, a weary and knowing alto that leans toward baritone that imbues tracks like lead single “Rider Girl” with a hood sensibility that can speak to the hearts of the lovelorn worldwide. “Rider Girl” was already an underground smash. The track, with roots nearly a decade old, deal explicitly with Blaq’s devotion to and appreciation of the dedicated work and “riding for Bmore club” of local radio DJ Khia “K-Swift” Edgerton, whose 2008 passing was one of the darkest moments in Baltimore music history, and for all that she touched was a moment that in sadness has propelled them to their greatest creative heights in her memory.

In being on NEET Recordings, and having a history that ties into Mad Decent head honcho Diplo, being considered by many as M.I.A.’s personal producer and producing early Bmore club star and muse of “Shake it to the Ground” fame Rye Rye, Blaqstarr being an Earth bound but celestially motivated producer and artist can succeed in the mainstream where his slam dunking comparative Manigault failed. Creative freedom and a left of center sensibility defines them all. The Divine EP takes Baltimore club music in some unique directions. Elements of shoegaze rock, hip hop, neo soul and jazz all exist, making the EP a melange of Deepak Chopra meeting up with Sun Ra at a heavenly version of Baltimore’s Paradox in a club room with Blaqstarr serving as DJ, filled with booty jiggling cherubim. “I’ve been listening to a lot of Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae recently,” states the producer turned artist, and it shows on this recording. In smoothing out the hard edges of club music and making the sound palatable for both heavy sweating and easy, breezy listening on an open freeway of love, he’s taken club music mainstream in a most unique and opened a door to the mainstreaming of the sound like never before.

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Blaqstarr recalls the moment that he first let K-Swift hear “Ryda (now “Rider”) Girl.” After profusely thanking him for the track dedicated to her, he said that he told her to “wait for your ticket to the Grammys, I got you.” In a way, that’s the key to Blaqstarr’s success. He’s got not just Swift, but all of Baltimore. He’s taken every successful element of Baltimore club’s history, from crazy parties at Skateworks to nights at the Paradox, to sweaty hipsters going beserk at Unruly Records’ legendary My Crew Be Unruly parties, to the ecstasy of the most bliss filled moment of when a track reaches it’s iconic heights and is followed with a kick of bass that drives dancers into delirium. In expanding the sound worldwide, a producer and artist with Blaqstarr’s foresight and progressive style was needed. In final, Blaqstarr sums up being the mainstream torch bearer for Baltimore club music with the following: “My heart is the epitome of Baltimore. The heart is in the home, the home is in the heart. I am Baltimore.” The Goat goes pro. Does he dominate and set a new standard in the process? This EP, as well as the artist behind it, provides one of 2011’s most feel good stories that portends to have a pleasant ending.