The Culture Report: Baltimore at the Grammys and a look back at a classic track

Published 2/5/2023 6:00 a.m. EST

Turnstile, the hardcore band from Baltimore, is pictured performing in a black and white photo.

As a society, we probably still care a bit too much about the Grammy Awards, even though their validity has come into question more than ever in recent years. In a time where tens of thousands of songs are uploaded to streaming platforms daily, we have so much more autonomy over the music we absorb and are able to form opinions on that music independent of institutions.

Still, seeing your favorite artist awarded always feel good.

This weekend, Baltimore hardcore band Turnstile is nominated in several of the Grammys’ rock categories. It’s the first year they’ve been nominated, which ensures their future will likely be fruitful even if they don’t go home with trophies. That kind of crowning also has me thinking of past Baltimore artists whose music soundtracked life in the city and made our days a bit lighter. More on that in this week’s Culture Report.

Turnstile is up for three Grammys

If you plan on following Grammys news on Sunday night, the potential of a Turnstile win (or three) may be an added incentive to stick around for the many award announcements.

The band, which formed in 2010 and makes a brand of hardcore rock that often has tinges of hip-hop, has been one of the more consistently productive acts from the city, regardless of genre. For about a decade, Turnstile released a string of EPs and albums on indie labels, but in 2018, they made their major label debut with “Time & Space,” released through hardcore-focused Roadrunner Records. Their 2021 album “Glow On” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hard Rock charts. From that album, “Blackout” is nominated for Best Metal Performance and Best Rock Song, while “Holiday” is nominated for Best Rock Performance.

It’s not often that Baltimore artists get nominated for Grammys, so a win would mean a lot not just for Turnstile, but in helping rising musicians here dream beyond city limits.

Almost 15 years of ‘A Bit Too Much For Me’

Since 2023 started, I’ve been thinking about the legacies Baltimore’s musical heroes have left us. It’s probably because this year marks about a decade since I started to feel firmly planted in my role covering the music that Black Baltimoreans have made and the stories they tell through their work.

Though it feels crazy to type, this year is also the 15-year anniversary of “A Bit Too Much For Me,” one of the more locally ubiquitous songs of my teens. The song was released in 2008 by Smash, a.k.a. T-Mac, a gravelly voiced rapper from Southwest Baltimore’s Irvington neighborhood. It was the perfect storm of a hit.

For one, Smash’s voice sounded like the Cookie Monster, and mimicking the way it manifested itself through melodies was a fun challenge. Secondly, at its core, it was a love song — or, even better for music from men, a song about the pursuit of love.

The hook goes, “I can’t lie, the first time that I saw you I was hypnotized,” while abbreviated bursts of “hey” and crashing drums in the background make it feel, in energy, akin to Baltimore Club. Ultimately, it’s a story of wanting someone you can’t really have , but still trying because you see something in the cards. That song played on Baltimore and D.C.-area radio stations every few hours at its peak. I remember as a 17- or 18-year-old feeling like Smash may be on his way beyond Baltimore if the songs got in front of the right people.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Smash continued to make music that was very good, but nothing ever really caught the way “A Bit Too Much For Me” did. I was lucky enough to see him give an intimate performance at City of Gods in Southwest Baltimore in 2011. He was the star that night.

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Sadly, two years later, Smash died from heart failure at the age of 31. It feels important to remind folks of the impact he made while he was here, because if we don’t, these very valuable stories will fade. Run “A Bit Too Much For Me” a couple times this week to honor a legend.