TT The Artist is part of Oxygen’s digital series In Progress 52. In 2016, Oxygen's Very Real digital hub is featuring 52 of these outstanding women: that's one woman a week, for 52 weeks. Check out the series here!
For some, club music is what you hear while turning up. For others, club music is a lifestyle -- an entire culture and community of shared enthusiasm and unexpected positivity. One of the loudest female voices in the world of club music, specifically Baltimore Club music, is TT The Artist. This pioneer's hard hitting dance jams have subtly influenced the sounds of hip hop and rap for almost a decade. Known for her notoriously raunchy lyrics and aggressive dance tracks, TT just dropped her debut LP, Queen Of The Beat, last week. We took some time to chat with the underground legend about everything from the challenges of the indie music world, to the LGBT rap game, to the politics of the business. Check out our interview, below!
Let's start by having you explain what Baltimore Club music is.
Baltimore Club music is a form of breakbeat style of music, derivative of hip hop with influences of house.
As far as how I got into Baltimore Club music – I grew up in Florida. I grew up on Miami Bass music. I was listening to like, Uncle Luke, 2 Live Crew, a lot of 90's dance music. When I moved to Baltimore to go to college ... I got my start just being straight up hip hop. Straight up lyrics and flow. When I came to Baltimore I was just really mesmerized by the club sound. It was very nostalgic and familiar, almost a piece of home for me. Then I kind of put things on pause for music and I was trying to be a dancer. I moved to New York after college, doing the whole temp thing. I auditioned to go on tour with Beyonce. Of course I didn't make it because I was literally in a room full of 200 girls. We were just asked to dance. I had no prior technical training in dance – that was just one of my experiences; I realized dancing wasn't going to be the career path for me. So in 2008 I moved back to Baltimore, I started doing music professionally and started to do shows. Then I linked up with Mighty Mark, who was developing this new sound and evolution of Baltimore club music. So we started working together. From there, that's where I started getting involved with not just the hip hop world but dance music in general.
Baltimore Club is hard, it's raw. It's repetitive. It's about a community.
Can you describe the Baltimore Club community?
The Baltimore Club music community consists of all types of people from all ages. It comes from the street. You know what I mean? It's something that's home grown. It's about people coming together. That's what you get when you hear club music – it's very familiar to the people of Baltimore City. It's the one thing that people kind of connect with on a universal level.
It's a bit of a subculture as well. A lot of people who come to Baltimore – they don't know about it until they get exposed to it. Once you're exposed to it, you can't help but get into the culture.
Club music to me is really a positive thing that's coming out of Baltimore. It's been around. What I'm doing is working with dancers who specialize in the Baltimore club dance and work with local producers; we're trying to push the sound more globally and continue to pioneer the sound. We want to be the new wave of the evolution of club music.
The thing about the music is – it started being built off a lot of samples. Producers really couldn't make money off the music. It was just an underground thing, sampling the latest Supremes song. And then producers started creating original club music. Like Unruly Records, who came together to organize a label that would start pushing club music.
So the clubs were like the one place that housed everything within the Baltimore club culture.
It's interesting how you talk about the lack of credit given to Baltimore Club. But, in the mean time, Jersey Club music has totally blown up internationally. What do you think about that?
One of the things a lot of people say is that people don't work together enough in Baltimore, in terms of the older producers who have the experience and the knowledge and the newer producers [who] are just developing sounds on their own. There's a divide there. I think that's a big reason why in other cities – you can see producers of different generations working together to push their homegrown sound. That's one of the thing that slows Baltimore down. Everyone has their own thing going on. And if we all come together who knows what we could do?
...It does kind of hit in a soft place when you hear that the other cities are becoming the posterchild for the sound when this sound really, really developed in Baltimore and later trickled down to those other cities. If you research you can see Jersey club is derivative of Baltimore club.
Luckily, the Jersey club producers are very good about giving credit to Baltimore.
Yes! You just hear a lot more people endorsing Jersey.
To what extent have you faced sexism in the industry?
I think you face sexism as a woman in the music industry in general, in all facets, from business to production. I have a very strong voice and creative drive when it comes to my work....I think as a woman, the type of adversity I face is people not feeling as confident when I speak. They're like, “What does she know?” They're surprised about what I do know and how long I've been doing this. You just get that out the gate. There's sexism, there's male chauvinism. There's egos involved. And if you're a woman and you're coming in and you have a strong voice people will almost take that moreso as you being difficult instead of seeing you as in control of your creative direction. I think Nicki Minaj said it once. When she bosses up she gets called a bitch. But men boss up all the time – in our society it's their role to be aggressive. But in this industry, as a woman, you have to boss up, you have to be strong, you have to stand firm on what it is you see for yourself and your creative space. If not, that's how you get thrown by the wayside and that's how people overlook you because they think you're just a woman. They think you're here for games.
One thing about me: I'm very serious. In all facets of the business! Behind the scenes and in front. I'm not just an artist. I do my music video productions. I'm a creative director. I have my hands in everything and I'm involved in every aspect of my production.
Your lyrics are also almost explicitly feminist, and sometimes delightfully vulgar. I can't imagine a lot of men react very positively to that.
The funny thing is: it's really exactly the opposite! When I perform live – my live performances are really interactive. The shock value: did she really say that? I'm saying things that most people may be uncomfortable saying. The idea of taking something that's very private – you know guys talk about their private parts all the time. Why is it such a taboo for a woman to say something similar? It's a sexual revolution! The only reason there are barriers is because we allow them to be put in place. At some point, as female artists, we really need to to click up, link up, get together and stop being so competitive with each other when we haven't even broke the mold yet. Our level of representation is nowhere near the level of male artists. We have male artists from every part of the spectrum: small, big, short, tall, black, white, it doesn't matter. They have such a wide range! But with females we're constantly being archetyped or boxed in to a certain formula.
But now, maybe for the first time, there are starting to be listeners who only want to listen to female hip hop. Which might also be related to the growing presence of openly LGBT people in the hip hop world. How do you feel about the new queer artists in the rap game?
I feel like the LGBT artists are doing their thing. What's happening now is that they're not [just] making music that only exists in the LGBT world. There are artists that are breaking the boundaries. Like Big Freedia. She's getting mainstream visibility and mainstream radio play. It goes beyond sexuality – it's about making good music. It's about making music that taps into the emotions of people. For that, I think where the LGBT music world is heading is a very good direction. I think the world is actually opening up more to be receptive. We're all getting more opportunities to put music that is not just the status quo onto bigger platforms.
TT The Artist by Mica E Wood
What advice do you have for young artists?
My advice would be: first decide what type of artist you want to be. That's the most important thing you can do. Don't do it for validation.
You also need to research the business. You have to fully invest yourself in all sides of the business. It's very important to understand how to make money and sustain yourself as an artist.
And last: Have respect for yourself! Don't ever let someone tell you you're not good enough. Don't ever let someone tell you that what you're doing isn't valid. No one is responsible for your success: not your booking agent, not your publicist. You are the only one who can make yourself successful. You can have people help you but if you're not doing the work, if you're not showing the enthusiasm, if you're not motivated, there's nothing that those people can do for you.
Tell us about your newest release.
My debut album is called Queen of the Beat. It is a blend of sounds from different genres. Hip hop, Baltimore club, Miami Bass, with an influence of EDM, Chicago Juke, and bounce. The thing about this project is that it's very, very collaborative. I'm working with a lot of different producers ... I'm excited for this project because it's going to show my range as an artist. A lot of people are familiar with my very provocative Baltimore Club music, my raw sound. This is moreso reintroducing people to me as a lyricist. We're making fun records but we're going to tap into a little bit more about my journey.
Who were some of your biggest influences on the album? Who are you listening to right now?
I listen to so much! I have my throwback moments. I have playlists ranging from 90's dancing music to alternative R&B to hip hop to experimental music. I really love Disclosure! I'm feeling The Internet. Syd The Kid. I love the vibes of their projects.
One of my favorite artists of all time is Erykah Badu. Any time of the day. Any mood. As far as rappers, of course I'm a Kanye fan. I love Drake. Kendrick has kinda really grown on me.
I listen to a lot of dope female artists that are on the come up too! I really like Katie Got Bandz, I'd really love to collaborate with her. She has a lot of power in her voice. A lot of people say there's not a lot of female rappers out there but I think that there just are. It's just like, are you listening? I like Tink. I've always liked Tink. It's a whole new wave. I love love love M.I.A.. I like that she has done such a great job of staying socially conscious but also knows how to have fly music that people play out. She's kind of a genius. And of course Missy. I would love to do something with Missy.
What's coming up for you after the album?
I'm actually in the process of working on a film. I'm in the funding stage, seeking grants right now. It's a film on Baltimore Club culture. It's not going to be like a traditional documentary. I'm taking the approach as more of an art film that really helps people to understanding the elements of this sound in a creative way. It's more of an audiovisual experience. We're taking the dancers out of the context where you'd normally see them in and creating art and music and sound and kinesthetics. By the end of the film you'll see what this genre is and how it's created and the inspiration. It's called Dark City Beneath The Beat.
I started it in 2011 but we're basically revamping the whole style of the film so now we're getting ready to start pitching and pitching and pitching. I did a Kickstarter a few years ago because we were trying to raise money for equipment and then our equipment got stolen. So we had to use a lot of our fundraising money to replace the equipment and that set production back. From 2011 til now I had to take a step back from the project. Now I have connection with all the key players in the communities. Where we're at right now is we're applying for grants … Everything's happening so fast, but it took me a while to get back to this place. I realize this film has to be done and it has to be done by me … I'm willing to fall on my face a million times but it will get done.