By Thea Harvey-Brown
Last month, alt hip-hop duo Bond St. District wrapped up the night at Ottobar’s Friends Records Touring Showcase- to a crowd that didn’t want it to end. Paul Hutson, the producer, exudes a kind of laid-back, I-got-it-under-control confidence, whereas DDm is much more theatrical and expressive – old school MC shtick meets irresistible sass.
In A Church on Vulcan, the duo’s first full album, DDm’s lyrics offer a through-line to the Baltimore he grew up in. These nostalgia tracks, cut with plink and a beat made for dancing, capture daily life in a disenfranchised 21st century city. A Church On Vulcan is a Baltimore narrative that’s both tenuous and wistful – a much needed departure from the sensationalized reportage and media that has come to dominate.
WJHU got the chance to interview producer Paul Hutson and MC DDm right before their last show at Ottobar.
Baltimore attracts a lot of artists and creatives because they can pursue their goals without the crippling high cost of living, but they are still near the magnets of New York and DC. This unique position, as DDm explains, acts as a kind of bullshit filter.
“Baltimore city is very authentic. So a lot of times, when a Baltimore person goes to Los Angeles or New York, sometimes it’s culture shock for us, because we’re not accustomed to politics, or plastic behavior. A true Baltimorean, if we don’t like you, you know. If we love you, you know.”
Paul Hutson, who grew up in Montgomery County, at first seems like an unlikely match-up with DDm. “A Happy Accident,” the final song of their album, tells the story of how they first met and started making music.
“North and Charles, above all the applause / I was rockin’ in the Crown when you moseyed through the door / Playin’ paparazzi had the cameras goin’ on / I said homie this some shit that you ain’t never seen befo’ / So what’s up with them beats? / I heard you got that fire, put your number in my phone and I’mma hit you up this week.”
Their friendship unfolds in this album, and it becomes clear that they work so well together because of the shared goal to make music true to their stories. The beats -- futuristic, noisy, and looping -- add a layered dimension to the lyrics.
Hutson explains that he doesn’t always like to match form with content, and many of the tracks feel far too happy once you parse out the message.
“A perfect example in this new album: we were talking to someone after we just put it out, and they were talking about how ‘Don’t Panic’ was such a happy song, and uplifting, and all this stuff. In reality, if you actually listen to it, it’s one of the sadder songs. You get this sense of happiness with an underlying sense of terror,” Hutson said.
This contradiction lets many of the songs work as hit pieces and also agitprop.
Hutson went to Towson, so he’s gotten plenty of exposure to out-of-towners and how they tend to see and understand the city. DDm first made a name for himself in the battle rap scene, which, at the time, was much more isolated from Baltimore’s creative enclaves. Rappers didn’t used to perform at all in the Station North Corridor.
These two perspectives make Bond St. District much more adaptable to different audiences, so they can straddle the camps of college-types and city-dwellers. But creating that bridge requires effort from both sides.
“As far as the separation and the scene… Let’s take Hopkins for example. As rappers, especially the scene that I came from, we did not go to Hopkins. It’s not a very warm feeling. And the way that things are set up now, it’s like they’re creating their own city for ya’ll. So, a lot of times, if we don’t get asked, we don’t go,” DDm said.
The divide between Hopkins and Baltimore is long-standing.
“It goes back to a geographic issue, a racial issue, and a social issue. It’s also a class issue, because, if you’re going to Hopkins, unless you’re on a scholarship, you’re coming from a certain pedigree. All of that plays a part.”
By Thea Harvey Brown on April 15, 2017, 6:14 p.m.