Phonies step aside.
Upstairs in an innocuous looking two-story house south Baltimore, is a small room, painted teal green and plastered with flyers and press clippings featuring producer and DJ Mighty Mark and spitfire rapper Tt The Artist. There’s a couple of laptops, a bunch of synths, and a tiny closet padded out with foam, illuminated by a single bulb. Mighty Mark calls this the headquarters of Zoo on Mars Entertainment and it’s in these cramped environs where Tt—that’s Tedra Wilson—lay down vocals for Diplo and Swick’s “Dat a Freak.” It’s also where she busted out arguably the best ode to cunnilingus, “Pussy Ate” (above).
“Right here, this is where we get it on and poppin, you feel me,” says Tt. “We got this special light, you can’t get this anywhere. Boom!”
Mighty Mark adds with a wry smile: “Million dollar budget.”
It’s a bit grimy, it’s 100% DIY—the set up is authentically Baltimore. A city that’s passed over by many touring bands, a city forever tied to The Wire, and more recently the set of gritty political drama House of Cards. It’s a city director John Waters has been flying the (freak) flag for for years, but in the past decade the metropolis has seen an artistic resurgence thanks to musicians like Dan Deacon and the Wham City crew back in the mid-2000s, thanks DJ K-Swift (who sadly passed away in ’08). Thanks to artists like Abdu Ali and DDm, The Space Is the Place Records, and hubs like The Crown and arts/film/music space Metro Gallery.
Hailing from Ft. Lauderdale—where she segued from marching band to rap battles in high school—Tt first moved to Baltimore for art school in 2002. Straight after graduation she hot-footed it to New York, but juggling three jobs, seven days a week hustling to pay bills meant that there was no time (or brain space) left for artistic endeavors. Since moving back from NY to Bmore in ’08 she’s come into her own.
“When I came in as a spectator I felt like I had to build real relationships with the community,” explains Tt, who currently splits her time between making music, organizing live art shows, and teaching video at Baltimore City Design School.
“She's more Baltimore than me,” nods Mighty Mark.
Noisey: You’re a big fan of 2 Live Crew and you guys totally share the smut factor in your music. It’s raunchy shit.
TT: Yeah, raunchy. As a female artist I'm all about exploring my voice, but also feeling sexual freedom. Men talk about their private parts all the time in their raps, so why is it taboo for a woman to embrace that as well? It’s funny because my one song—I say the P song…
Oh, you don’t say “Pussy Ate”?
A lot of people listen and think “Oh, it’s just a club record,” and it is, but at the same time it was really for me to feel free to say and not feel wrong for saying: “I just want my pussy ate.” When I was teaching video this year at the Baltimore City Design School, in the second week the kids found out about Ms. T, aka Tt The Artist, so they found out about that particular video. I got called into the Vice Principal’s office.
She was like, “I don’t really know how to deal with this.” I was like, “Well, I told the kids, I’m like Lil Wayne and Drake, who I am here is Ms. T, but outside I’m a rap artist, I do have another life. It would be no different than if I was a painter and I was doing nudes.” I had parents calling me so I had to put the video on a YouTube restriction. It was crazy. I’m glad I didn’t lose my job.
And, I’m sure those kids appreciate it.
Oh they, I’ve got a whole new wave of fans. They love it.
Wait, so what ages are you teaching?
I was teaching 6th and 7th grade.
Oh that is young. Here I was thinking like…
Middle schoolers. But you’d be surprised, man, the stuff they’re into. A lot of the new stuff that I’ve been listening to, they put me onto.
So when you graduated you went to New York and you came back to Baltimore. What was it like when you got back?
I moved with one of my best friends and we started a local art movement. We started hitting up the clubs doing live art and I started focusing more on getting into the studio and performing at all the ratchet spots in Baltimore, I was in the strip clubs performing, I was in the hood spots performing. There’s a spot called 5 Seasons, one of the legendary spots for rap music and I was all up in there, trying to hold my own as a female artist. That was around the time where I met my producer Mighty Mark and we started working together. That’s when the club stuff really started to come into full form.
And crowds here turn up. I went to The Crown a few months ago with the Kid Mero to interview Abdu Ali and DDm and it was pretty wild.
The Crown is one of the newer spots and it’s actually going very well because the owner has really opened his doors to the scene and to the promoters coming in with ideas. Right now the Crown is like a really hot spot if you’re trying to throw a dance party or if you’re trying to do something that has culture attached to it. It’s located in the Station North area, which is like the art district. There’s a lot of other spaces like the Metro Gallery, Wind Up Space, the Autobar, they’re all kinda in the same area. It’s a very exciting time for Baltimore because I feel like people are starting to collaborate more, artists are linking up, DJs are starting to put more music out, especially Baltimore club music.
Did you have a strong sense of what Baltimore club music was like before you got here?
No, the first time I ever heard club music I thought my radio was broken because I was in my college dorm and I just heard some “Buh Buh Buh” and I was like “What the hell is wrong with my radio, it’s a new radio!” Sure enough: “Oh this is 92Q, DJ K-Swift.” From there I started going to the Paradox, I was working at Club One as a go-go dancer. I would go there, work, get a couple dollars then go straight to the Paradox and dance until 6am.
And what about K-Swift? Can you talk a little bit about who she was in the Baltimore music scene?
Well, she definitely was the club queen. K-Swift created a window for the young cats coming up in the game, she created a platform for their music to be heard. She gave them radio and then she gave them the streets because she was putting her mixtapes out. I only met her one time when I bought one of her mixtapes and then shortly after that she passed away. She left a really strong legacy. To this day you can’t deny what she did for the club movement.
It’s important for you to do music, to also edit your videos, to be very involved in the artwork. You’re kind of like an all in one powerhouse.
One stop shop. Yeah, I think that’s one thing I really pride myself on is having a direction, being a creative director, having a vision. I think as an artist coming into a game that’s really oversaturated—how do you stand out? Do you wear something crazy? Say something ratchet? For me it’s do something creative. As an indie artist you only have a shoestring budget so I always go back to grade school like when you got an art project and you had to be creative.
I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, some days my mom couldn’t buy me art supplies, so I’d have to go around my house and find things to create. That’s what it’s like with music: how can I use the resources that are around me, the people around me who are creative, how can we work together? For me, video isn’t about marketing a song—it’s like a painting, that’s my form of art.
And that video that you shot recently, you said you just put an open call out to anyone who wants experience to expand their portfolio. Do you find the Baltimore music scene has an inclusive, DIY aesthetic where people are just pulling together?
Right now the streets are alive. Baltimore is small but it’s rich with so much culture. It’s funny because it’s in pockets, you might not see it when you first come. Me living in Baltimore for ten years or so really made me a part of the community and one of the things I do pride myself on also as an artist is connecting with community. A lot of artists are very selfish and it’s all about me, me, me. You don’t have to have a big pocket of money to give back to your community now, so I’m not only just doing music, but I’m out in the streets creating platforms for other artists to come up as well. I’m trying to show them this is where I started: I came from Florida, I did not know one DJ, one producer.
I came from not knowing anyone to now having anybody locally at my fingertips, if I want to have that conversation about anything with my music or art I can do that. I just try to show people that’s coming up that you have to keep going. Age is nothing but a number, time is everything. Just keep going, don’t let people distract you from your overall goal with your life. You gotta have a purpose, you gotta focus. Once you become self aware it’s a total different ballgame because you know where you’re going.
I love doing events, working in the community, art projects, working with the youth, it all helps me become a well rounded person which trickles into my music, gives me something to talk about.
It feels like Diplo kind of sniffs around Baltimore a bit, right?
Oh yeah, a lot of people are though. We’ve got people like Kanye, Pharrell, Swizz Beatz, Diddy, MIA, Beyoncé, a lot of these people know about that club sound. A lot of the records that we hear, you can hear some of that tone underneath.
So what’s the deal with the Bmore club dances—the Spongebob, Crazy Legs?
You got a few dances. Spongebob is one of the older ones, but the dance community is very entwined with the music. The dance culture is huge, every year they have a King of Baltimore competition, it’s a real underground thing. It’s an amazing art form because it’s purely from the streets.
Let’s bring Mighty Mark in here. We just conjured him!
Mighty Mark: You say Mighty Mark three times and I’ll fly through the air. This where the magic happens.
What do you think is special about the Baltimore music community?
MM: The Baltimore music community is special because a lot of the music is made from the heart. It’s not made from the place of “I want to be an all-star DJ.” You got people that make club tracks every day, and they make good club tracks, not even worried about press. It’s just music comes from the core, it’s really unfiltered. Baltimore club music is a raw form of a dance music that you can still play in the club. Somebody play an EDM set, the next you hear some Baltimore club music and—bam—it’s fresh.
TT: The Baltimore club community is real, it’s not phony. If they don’t fuck with you, they don’t fuck with you. I feel like in different cities I’ve been to there is this kind of shade, this fine line of, as you climb up the ladder a little bit you have to schmooze and you’re in rooms with people being shady to you. But if you don’t like our music or like what we do, that’s fine, it’s not going to stop us. In Baltimore, it’s about being real. I feel like I definitely had to pay some dues. I think a lot of people are happy for me and Mighty Mark and what we’re doing, and now people are starting to reach out even more because we see a bigger picture. It’s cool to be in the studio but we gotta be out there more. We are starting to do more shows, I was just on the West Coast, LA, San Francisco, going down south, New York definitely, it’s really just about planting seeds in these other regions.
When you guys met were you going by Murder Mark?
MM: Yes, when we met I was going by Murder Mark, bang bang shoot em up. At the beginning of the year I had a change of heart and I changed my name to Mighty Mark.
TT: The thing about Mighty Mark is at the end of the day we wanted to create a brand that was universal—so Mighty Mark is here to save the world with Baltimore club music and Murder Mark just might reemerge as the nemesis. For every good, there’s some bad, so we think Murder Mark might be the dark, hard scary club tracks and Mighty Mark is versatile, more experimental.
What happens in the Baltimore clubs that doesn’t happen in other parts of the country?
TT: I think that one thing that really happens is the dancing. We can’t find that just anywhere. More people are starting to take the Baltimore club style and appropriate it, but if we really want to see that 130 beats per minute street hardcore crazy legging, Spongebobbing, side-kickin, heel-toein, you can only see that here in Baltimore. I always tell people it’s something you have to see for yourself. It is literally like watching a circus show. I’ve seen dancers fly, literally, in the club. I guess I’m exaggerating but it gets pretty crazy.
MM: That dark, gritty, sweaty, grimy, you have to come to a club and experience it because it’s not just about DJs: it’s about the crowd and you’re only going to get that at a packed, Baltimore city, Baltimore club music event.
Inside Tt and Might Mark's vocal booth.
Kim is an Editor at Noisey and the host of Made in America. She cannot do the Spongebob although she did try - @theKTB.
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