Brown hands hit Djembe drums as three women fervidly dance in front of the stage. Their bodies parts — hips, arms, and feet — move in devotion as Baltimore musicians, poets, producers, DJs, emcees, visual artists and more pack into the vicinity. Chatter, laughter, music and love spill from every angle. It is a night of recognition and reunion — The Baltimore Crown Awards.
Baltimore Crown Awards 2013 Legend Award winners. (Courtesy photo)
Many may not notice the dozens of artists releasing innovative projects, touring nationwide, and receiving international acclaim, but that is the mission of the 10th Annual Baltimore Crown Awards scheduled for Dec.10 at the Impact Hub — to “connect the underground.” The event attracts more than 150 attendees each year.
“The underground is where the power is,” said Chin-Yer Wright, director of The Baltimore Scene, an organization that hosts the awards show. “It’s a celebration of the authenticity and freedom that comes with being independent. By ‘underground’, it’s a compliment. It’s rebellious.”
Since 2007, The Baltimore Crown Awards have given more than 200 awards to the city’s most promising artists and community workers, such as local rap group Team Kreamate who won Group of the Year and Best Underground Release in 2015.
Acquiring an award is a lengthy and deliberate process. Online voting happens several months before the event and requires in-depth reasoning for each vote casted. This year, 35 awards in 27 categories, including hip hop, artist management, poetry, graphic design, clothing lines and service, will be given out.
The Baltimore Crown Awards celebrates each level of what makes an artist from the studios, managers, videographers, and even supporters. The “Supporter of the Year” award is given to a person who consistently supports the live performance arts scene.
People are not just coming to witness the passing of awards and hear heartfelt acceptance speeches; The Baltimore Crown Awards offers a lively line-up of contemporary and legendary artists. The 2016 show, hosted by Ogun, a local artist and advocate, will feature performances from Hippie Control House Band, Why Lie Band, Bangledesh Project, youth and adult poetry slam teams, a Prince themed showcase, a cypher of women emcees and a live band.
The Baltimore Scene started in 2006 and hosts some of the city’s most popular competitions: “The Masters Multi Skill MC Battle,” “Word War,” “Rap God,” “You Should Be Famous Talent Competition,” and “Producer Beat Battles.” Since the organization’s inception, the events have given more than $15,000 in prize money to local artists.
“Competition is a quick way to show the youth that art can pay bills. Art can be a profession,” Wright told the AFRO. “It has provided a platform for artists’ growth. It has been a rite of passage for many,” Wright said.
Two highly revered awards at the event will be the “Derrick ‘OOH’ Jones Service Award” named after the Baltimore rapper and teacher who passed in 2014 and “The Baltimore Legend” award. Jones was the last to receive the service award in 2013 before it was renamed after him and each year the service award is presented by his family. The Baltimore Legend award honors community leaders and pioneers whose contributions shaped their field. Last year, Squirrel Wyde of local Baltimore radio station 92Q was inducted into the Baltimore Legend Hall of Fame joining a list of more than 30 inductees.
Over the years, The Baltimore Crown Awards had many homes. After packing local club Five Seasons from 2007-2014, the award show grew and had to move to Baltimore SoundStage in 2015. This year, the award show moved to Impact Hub Baltimore in Station North Arts and Entertainment District, adding to the creative hub that is forming on North Ave.
The award show doesn’t shy away from any type of art. It has featured Brazilian bands, belly dancers, and live body painters. Beyond the festive performances, the award show has been affectionately called “Baltimore’s family reunion” by locals.
“This is Baltimore. This beautiful, thriving art scene. A community of people that celebrate each other,” Wright said. “When people leave…I want it to revitalize the Baltimore scene. I want people to be inspired to create and produce for the next year.”