Words + Photos by Antonio.
“I remember I was talking to this lady,” Blaqstarr recalls, “and she was like ‘hey young man, you’re very handsome.’ I said thank you miss, I appreciate that, but don’t call me anything, called me everything.”
When I first met Blaqstarr, I couldn’t believe I was meeting one of my favorite artists ever. At just 29-years-old, the legendary DJ, producer, singer, and songwriter’s catalog runs deep: from Baltimore club anthems such as “Hands Up, Thumbs Down” and “Ryda Girl,” to Rye Rye’s hit “Shake It to the Ground,” and serving as a prominent collaborator on M.I.A.’s Kala album.
Blaqstarr broke just as many conventions for club music as he created. Fierce, but ethereal, chants in songs such as “Tote It” and “Slide to the Left” are really instructions to enter a rhythmic catharsis. The final products are often deceivingly complex. The instantly recognizable drum patterns guide listeners through patterns of sound that enter, leave and re-enter again. Like a swan crafted from a single sheet of bright origami paper, each track disguises the precise manipulation of the material. Unraveling each song reveals the sheer number of folds, creases, and fingerprints that comprise their own story.
Before his event “Blaq to the Future” began (where he not only performed, but made his famous chicken and waffles), Blaqstarr discusses his early career throwing parties in Baltimore, meeting and working with M.I.A. and his transition into an entirely new sound.
Q: My introduction to Blaqstarr was Ryda Girl. That was 2006, I had just moved to Towson for school and it was still going crazy all over the radio. Describe what you were trying to do with some of those first songs, Ryda Girl, Tote It, Hands Up.
BLAQSTARR: When I first started I was servicing a group of kids that used to come down to my parties, that I used to throw weekly. I used to do it on a Monday. We’d have to find a spot because the following weekend was probably booked at the last spot we had, so each Monday we found a new rec center for the kids to come to.
“It grew to a crowd of about 500 kids that used to come. The fire marshal and police had to come shut it down”
I was playing the tracks that every DJ would play: the mainstream music and the local producer club tracks. It was outside of everything that was going on. These were the kids that weren’t old enough to get into Hammerjacks or the Paradox, and they were right on that verge being able to be able to get into clubs. It grew to a crowd of about 500 kids that used to come. The fire marshal and police had to come shut it down, until I graduated to the stage I had to be put on to bill for Hammerjacks, the Paradox, and with the big-name DJs.
“It all started with me building my own cult-following… Each week I tried to make at least a few tracks to play at the next party”
It all started with me building my own cult-following off all the tracks I was making at the time. Each week I tried to make at least a few tracks to play at the next party. “Tote It” was strictly servicing that group and expressing exactly what I was feeling at that time, with “Get Him Pumped” and that type of stuff. “Ryda Girl” I wanted to hit ’em different because every track before [that one], besides “Shake It And Jiggle It,” was get-pumped type of music, fighting type music – the “Tote It,” the “Get Ya Hands Up,” which was like a violent chant, but it’s not talking about violence.
Q: It was a call to action.
BLAQSTARR: Exactly, so after that I decided to service something a little light for the ladies. “Shake it And Jiggle It” sounds like I was playing on that right? It was actually just a track, and I just ran into the girl today that made up the dance, the shake-it-and-jiggle-it dance. So I saw here and right now I’m talking about “Shake It And Jiggle It,” and it’s like magic.
Q: One of the first mixes that I heard from you was a mix for the Mad Decent Worldwide Podcast “I’m Bangin’”. Do you remember the process of making that?
BLAQSTARR: Along with the tracks I was doing weekly, I was making mixes monthly and I would sell them. “I’m Bangin’” was a series of the mix cd’s. The “I’m Bangin’” that you heard, that I gave to Mad Decent, was the last of the series that I could find. There were hundreds of tracks that came out of the “Tote It” era that have probably never been heard before, but I just found out that somebody had two CDs that I don’t even have anymore, so I might get those CDs and they might be open the market real soon.
“There were hundreds of tracks that came out of the ‘Tote It’ era that have probably never been heard before”
Q: Did you meet Diplo at that time? How did Mad Decent reach out to you?
BLAQSTARR: He came to Baltimore, and I forgot how he heard about me, but he actually drove his car from Philly – it was this red Jeep he used to drive – and came to our house, talked about a little about what he was trying to do and how he believed in what I was doing, and loved my voice and everything. He had a girlfriend at the time who he felt that our voices would match. He was like “my girl loves your voice” and everything, so I said aight, let me meet her! About two weeks later, he brought her in town and it was M.I.A., and she was on the couch just sitting there and chillin’.
“He was like ‘my girl loves your voice’ and everything… About two weeks later, he brought her in town and it was M.I.A., and she was on the couch just sitting there and chillin'”
She had this accent, and I fell in love with her accent. I always loved the London accent, and she was just talking regular, and that was everything to me! I said I could do so much with your voice! That was the beginning of how our journey. From there, Diplo would get me DJ gigs and stuff out of town, off the projects I put through him and stuff. When I didn’t have any tour dates, Maya would come to Baltimore and stay at our house and we would bang out music the whole time she was there.
Q: How was it like working with M.I.A. on “Kala,” which I feel was pretty much a tribute to Baltimore club music? Did you play a lot of stuff before you started getting into making the songs?
BLAQSTARR: She already heard enough stuff, so the first session – the first day she was in the basement – we just pulled stuff out of thin air. I was behind the keyboard, she was over there writing, it was kind of weird, because she was introducing me to a new way of recording. I was used to doing a take, messing up and then saying hold on, let me start all over.
“I can just pick the best parts from that ten-minute track. Still to this day, I record like that”
I would be working on a beat while she would be recording, and say if I’m doing a run for ten minutes of just experimenting and everything, she would just keep going, even if she messed up. She would just pick right back up. She showed me that afterward, I can just pick the best parts from that ten-minute track. Still to this day, I record like that, and record every artist that I work with like that. It’s little gems like that, that I still find priceless.
Q: Your music started to change, you were less of the chants, less of the Baltimore club sound that you started out doing. You started singing more and putting more of yourself, more lyricism in your tracks. Why did that happen?
BLAQSTARR: It was part of the evolution. I started to get more fulfillment out of expressing myself that way, being outside of the safe route. The radio was already bumpin’, it happened, it had its time. I still got it in me, but I want to expand to bring more possibilities to my sound. Why stay in the box, in the safe lane, being fearful? I rather be fearless.
“Why stay in the box, in the safe lane, being fearful? I rather be fearless”
Q: Can you talk more about Blaq to the Future, and what you’re doing tonight?
BLAQSTARR: Blaq to the Future that was an event sketched by my wife (Mia), actually. She was looking at everything that was going on, and [wanted to express] that Blaq represents the future. Blaq represent the sound, the movement. I’m not even going to keep using the word “my” because this is happening in all our lives. We all have premonitions that lead us to higher ground.
“I’m not even going to keep using the word ‘my’ because this is happening in all our lives. We all have premonitions that lead us to higher ground”
This event tonight is super loose. We got people coming to have fun, eat special dishes made by me – I got the gourmet chicken and waffles. They’re done like they’ve never been done before. At the last event, somebody said “yo, these are so good, it tastes like funnel cake or something, is that funnel cake?” I said no, that’s my special touch on the waffles. I don’t even know why they came out like that. I’m not even going to explain it, it’s just meant to be felt and loved. The mission is love.
“That’s my special touch on the waffles. I don’t even know why they came out like that. I’m not even going to explain it, it’s just meant to be felt and loved”
Q: There’s a renaissance happening in not just Baltimore, but in the region. Why do you think that’s happening now?
BLAQSTARR: I was talking to someone the other day, and they could totally relate on something I was personally going through. I’m not going to act surprised because I know what it is. It’s the sign of the times. It dates back to the first linkage of me and Maya – we made a song called “Sign of the Times.” She’s from a whole different part of the world, but she could relate totally with me, in a creative room. That was real important for good situations to happen.
Q: Where will you be in 5 days, 5 months and 5 years?
BLAQSTARR: Higher. For every venture of my life. But to be more specific, I don’t even want to limit it and say that I will be in Costa Rica in a hut producing music and sending it over to the U.S. I want to keep it boundless in my imagination so I can keep expanding my imagination day-by-day. Therefore, I just shoot for higher in every endeavor and every step of the way on this journey.