Baltimore Hip Hop

By Wendy Saulters
Special to the AFRO

“Are we on the Air?” asked the 80’s Baltimore Hip Hop Group, Level 4, in their hit song of the same title. If you were a teenager in Baltimore City during the 80’s, you should nostalgically remember the after-school scene—rushing home at 4 p.m. to tune into 1360 WEBB AM radio, the only station playing hip hop at the time.  Dorothy E. Brunson, as she was rebuilding the almost bankrupt WEBB AM radio station, opened the airwaves up to young hip hop artists in Baltimore City.  “What is this music you all are doing?” Glynizz Rose, also known as “Sweet Cookie” of The Unos, recalls Mrs. Brunson asking before eventually hearing her song on the air.

The AP Crew (Photo Courtesy: David C Williams aka Royal)

In the 80’s, hip hop and rap were in their infancy stages.  The hard bottom beats and lyrical stanzas were mostly heard in house parties, roller rinks and on mix tapes sold from trunks of cars.  Still the sound was addictive and the era epic.  Hip hop was an outlet for those who made the music and for those who listened to it.  Groups like the AP Crew, the Numarx, the We Rock Krew, and The Unos, used their talents to create rhythmic diaries of the lives of Baltimore’s teens in the 80’s.  Those teenagers, now in their 50’s, are re-taking the air waves to commemorate the hip hop groups that paved the way for today’s artists and put beats to a sentimental moment in time.

The We Rock Krew (Photo courtesy: Terry McCoy aka DJ Terry T)

“We love our city,” Dr. Tenyo Pearl said, as her eyes widened and her smile lifted her cheeks. She is describing her teen years, her favorite songs, where she was when she heard them, and how exciting it was to hear her classmates on the radio.  “I was in school with them and I was listening to them on the radio. That was inspiring.”  She goes on to explain how cool it was to have a radio station for “us,” the youth of Baltimore City, when there hadn’t been one. However, looking back that wasn’t the coolest thing about having her peers on the radio.  Listening to some of the song lyrics, you hear teens describing challenging situations that plagued Baltimore City in the 80’s. Sweet Cookie’s, 1987 hit, Chains on Me, gives a detailed account of societal stresses and injustices that made it difficult to feel free. The AP Crew’s song, Accept the Situation, encouraged the youth to “take the bull by the horns” and go after their dreams, and proclaimed, “the youth of today are tomorrow’s stars.”

The Unos (Photo retrieve online …it’s an actual album cover)

Well, today’s stars they are. Stars like Dr. Pearl, who, as a passion project, is looking to commemorate the 1980s groups that penned the stories and emotions of her teenage years. The Baltimore Hip Hop Historical Project (BHHHP) seeks to highlight the trailblazers of the 1980s by publicly recognizing the teenage rap groups who made the music; the DJs like Randy Dennis, Mack James, Lee Michaels, Jaye Russell, who promoted them; and of course Dorothy E. Brunson, who provided the platform and influenced other radio stations like 1400 AM WINN and V103 FM to also embrace these talented teens. “I’m happy about the Baltimore Hip Hop Historical Project’s mission. As young people we performed at Rhythm Skate, Platos Wheel, 4604, and many more. We performed with many local hip hop artists that became huge in the industry. We used our talents to help make a difference in the community by bringing harmony throughout the city,” said Rod Holloman, an original member of the Numarx.

The Numarx (Photo Courtesy: Darryl Mims aka DJ Junie Jam)

After Dr. Pearl received the Baltimore Corps – Elevation Award, she partnered with the Grassroots DesignFest of 2021 sponsored by T. Rowe Price, the Avenue Bakery, and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum to lay out a four-part plan of commemorations.  Part one started in May with the BHHHP Facebook page.  A call was sent out for pictures, memorabilia, personal memories and information from those who experienced this time period first hand.  The connection of like-minded individuals quickly grew. The archives were opened and members shared their photos, stories, and knowledge of this historic moment in Baltimore’s past.  Pioneers of the groups being recognized also posted pictures and memories from their archives.  “Kool Rod” Holloman of the Numarx, “D.J. Terry T” McCoy of the We Rock Krew, and Chris “Royal C” Williams of the AP Crew, are among some of the contributing artists who have shared rare backstage photos from their performances.  Dr. Donte L. Hickman, pastor of Southern Baptist Church recalled listening to WEBB. “The WEBB radio station was our introduction to the Hip Hop sound and platform. Being a child of the 80’s it gave us a generational voice and connectivity beyond our local borders and inspired our creative imaginations in rap, music, break dancing and the full tapestry of the arts. Universe, Terry T and Jeffrey G caused us to try developing our own groups and were the archetypes of so many local artists like Kenny K, Pork Chop and others of my generation.”

In its second stage the BHHHP is partnering with The Avenue Bakery on Pennsylvania Ave to create a mural depicting the photographic images of Baltimore’s earliest hip hop groups.  “I look around the city and I see murals of Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, and other legendary artists, but I don’t see any for the early hip hop pioneers that I remember, and I want to bridge that gap,” said Dr. Pearl. 

Phases three and four of the BHHHP venture include a temporary exhibit in the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, followed by dedicated murals throughout the city, highlighting these artists and their calls for social justice through their music.  “We were young, but we were engaged and we used our voices to express ourselves and make a difference in our community,” Dr. Pearl continues, “I don’t want those memories to fade with my generation, I want them to last forever.” Torri Mills, a child of Baltimore’s Hip Hop scene, remembers being engulfed in the music, “I can remember my mother yelling about me always listening to that–bippity bop music– no one was sure if hip hop would last, but I can say that I am proud of the brothers and sisters who were artists. The gift of music was empowering, inspirational and fun.”

To support the BHHHP and contribute memorabilia, join their Facebook group (Baltimore Hip Hop Historical Project) and contact their administrator.  

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