A PERSONALIZED TOUR OF THE BALTIMORE STREETS FROM AVANT-LYRICIST LABTEKWON
Part gutter griot, part urban surrealist, part metaphysical vegan, part lustful soothsayer, leftfield rapper/producer Labtekwon is not easy to categorize. With albums like Song Of The Sovereign, Hustlaz Guide To The Universe, and The Ghetto Dai Lai Lama v. 777, he has pursued a unique aesthetic taking in true-school hip-hop, Afrocentrism, free jazz, and dance beats, from funk to techno, but none of this would be possible without his eccentric upbringing in the streets of Baltimore. We tapped Lab and his cousin Chinchilla for a tour of some of the lesser known spots that make the Charm City sing.
The Original Paradox
Thanksgiving of ’87 was the first night people wanted to be here. It was basically kids from Morgan, Loyola, Towson, kids would come up from D.C., Jersey. It was a place where house, hip-house, classics, dub, reggae, and all of those things were played together. This was before the genre naming occurred, back when jungle was just a blend of a reggae record from Bob Marley and a house track by Farley Jackmaster or something like that. There used to be a lady at the door where, if you dressed too country or too, like, crazy, she would be like “Not this week” and send you home. You had to have house flavor to get in here. In 1990, they moved the club from here down to 300 Russell Street – it’s downtown now and it’s called Paradox. That’s the one everybody knows. Technically, we’re on the Westside now, Charles Street separates the East and West Sides, but really we’re downtown now.
Lab buys some cookies, some soy yogurt, and cherry pie filling. In California it’s easier to imagine a hippie lifestyle; it’s warmer, it’s a bigger space, it’s more diverse. But for me I’m like the urban hippie – kind of counterpart to the urban cowboy. You got to stretch, you got to do yoga – tantric as well as the regular kind. You got to eat vegan cuisine and take in art, graphic and visual, and music.
Whitelock & Woodbrook
We at Whitelock and Woodbrook right now, getting near the corner of Pennsylvania and North Avenue. If you walk further up the street, you go deeper in the Westside. If you go down this side, it turns into the Eastside which is hood too, but a little different vibe. The Westside is more like Brooklyn, the Eastside is more like the Bronx. There’s a lot of cultural centers in Brooklyn but it’s still hood; I mean, you could lose your life but you’ll still find things that are enlightening and culturally-based in that same environment to a higher degree. The Eastside is a little more closed-in; there’s other things… but mostly basketball. A lot of people from the Eastside are ballers like Sam Cassell, Mugsy Bogues, Reggie Lewis who played for the Celtics (R.I.P).
Community Service Spot
That’s where I used to do my community service when I was a teen and I got caught for doing graffiti. There was an old man he used to sign the hours thing. I used to do it for like 20 minutes and roll the fuck out the back door. I like to be prepared to play full-court basketball at all times so I always wear a pair of athletic socks and then then a compression sock as well over the top and a pair of basketball shorts under everything whenever I leave the house. I’m always prepared to hoop. I got a YMCA membership for central Maryland, so I can go to any Y. I’m a fanatic; I love basketball, I love football. I say that for me, sports is a dream deferred.
Damn, they getting ready to have showboats on this bitch. This is the Chesapeake Bay, or a tributary or something. Don’t get me on my geography. This is a side of the harbor that’s a little more sedate, it isn’t so much the tourist side. When we were kids we used to walk all the way down here from our neighborhood; none of these condos used to be over there.
Pennsylvania Avenue is historically the main thoroughfare for the chitlin circuit and all the black musicians that came through throughout the early 20th century, up until the ‘60s. You had a lot of performers… James Brown, Count Basie, Billie Holliday, the list goes on and on. All these guys would come here to perform, and then you had gambling houses, burlesque, and all the other stuff that was in the nightlife. It was like the Broadway of Baltimore. This was the main thoroughfare.