Nearly a decade ago, a new crop of artists headlined by Lor Scoota, Young Moose and YGG Tay began to emerge in Baltimore’s street music scene offering, presumably, first-person accounts of what they were experiencing in the city.
There were others before them. The FMG squad out of Chapel Hill Housing Projects on the eastside, G-Rock from Edmondson Village, Smash from Irvington. Their late 2000s/early 2010s glory years came during the early days of social media and online music sharing — using MySpace, Facebook and sites like LiveMixtapes to promote their material. Making it independently was a more daunting task than it is today.
But around 2013, thanks to the growing popularity of social networks like Twitter and Instagram, where people from all over the city, and world, had minute-by-minute updates of people’s lives, Lor Scoota and Young Moose rose quickly.
Most would say Scoota had the highest probability to break into the mainstream, considering his on-trend fashions, connections to established artists, and impressive skill for merging popular production styles and raw lyricism that accurately reflected the city experience of someone in their late teens or early 20s.
Moose — who had his own industry ties — was a bit more rough around the edges, which is why people here loved him so much. He was uncut, unmoved by outside trends. Moose and Scoota will go down as the two local pillars of the social media rap era. But the third artist of this class is mentioned a bit less, purely because he arrived a little later.
In October 2014, YGG Tay’s “Why You So Mad?” took the city by storm. It was street music, but it was jolly. Throughout the song, he taunts his competitors and concludes their hate for him is really just envy for the exciting life he leads. Typically, in rap, if someone is elevating themselves by putting someone they don’t care for down, it’s with a scowl or menacing approach. But in the song’s video, Tay smiles and laughs throughout.
In most of the music that followed over the next five years, there was a similar sense of exuberance. He made songs like “Bag,” “M.C.D.H.D” and “Lit Up” that perfectly soundtracked fun-filled nights out on the town with friends, spending money that you probably shouldn’t. It was luxurious street rap that often included references to the illegal activity it took to support the lifestyle Tay described.
As fans of rap, it’s rare to think about the ramifications of what we listen to. The majority of pop music, at this point, promotes some sort of delinquent behavior. It’s a reflection of American society’s obsession with guns, sex and bending the rules for your own profit. But, in recent years, there’s been an uptick in law enforcement looking into street music all over the country. Moose, Scoota and Tay all experienced that at some point in their careers.
On Lor Scoota’s 2014 track “YBS the Team,” he rapped about knowing he was being watched by the feds and local government officials. Young Moose fought a long battle with now-incarcerated officer Daniel Hersl, who was one of the focuses of Baltimore Banner investigative reporter Justin Fenton’s book on the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, “We Own This City,” and the HBO series of the same name.
Most recently, YGG Tay was indicted on federal racketeering conspiracy charges and accused of being behind multiple murders. The 28-year-old is already serving a 15-year sentence on federal drug and weapons charges, and if he is convicted on these new counts, he’ll likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
It’s a tragedy for all involved, and it effectively ends an era — albeit complicated and controversial — of local rap music that penetrated the nation in a way the city had never collectively done before, laying the groundwork for everything that has come since.
Scoota was killed in 2016 after leaving a charity basketball game at Morgan State promoting anti-violence. Moose’s career was successfully derailed for years due to his run-ins with corrupt officers (in June, it was announced that he settled a wrongful arrest lawsuit against the city for $300,000). And now Tay faces a life sentence.
YGG Tay was genuinely one of the more entertaining, distinctive and charming artists the city has produced over the last 10 years. His legal troubles underline a greater issue in hip-hop culture in which artists are incentivized to make sure the Scarface-ified lifestyle detailed in their music lines up perfectly with what they do in real life. And it’s a cycle that doesn’t seem to have a plausible end in sight.
Across the country, rappers have been the targets of federal and state indictments. Most notable right now is the state RICO case in Georgia that has named Atlanta rap superstar Young Thug as the leader of a gang called YSL. So, in that context, YGG Tay’s circumstances aren’t surprising, but that doesn’t make them any less unfortunate.