If you want to be a legendary hip-hop artist, it’s mandatory to have some references to Baltimore in your music.
That may not actually be true, but it does seem like most of the top rap artists have acknowledged Baltimore — in some way — in their music.
Why, you may ask? The Baltimore Banner was also curious, so we asked legendary Baltimore DJs Rico “Quicksilva” Silva and Shawn “Ceez” Caesar.
Maybe it’s because Baltimore’s reputation as a staple city in drug trafficking, and some of these artists may have done business here.
“Without incriminating anybody, they really were stopping by,” said Quicksilva, chuckling. “They had a job here, that’s the best way that I can put it.”
Quicksilva gave famous Jay Z lines as examples: “Expanded the operation out in Maryland, me and Emory Jones in the caravan,” from Jeezy’s “Seen It All” single. “Was herbing ’em in the home of the Terrapins” is from one of his own most popular tracks, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).”
“That was real,” he said in reference to both of those lines by Jay Z. “But he wasn’t talking about basketball.”
Said Caesar: “We know why they mention us. We know what’s really happening, who has been in and out of the city and things like that so I’m just glad they’re telling the truth.”
But drug trafficking isn’t the only thing artists rhyme about when they mention Baltimore. Some have roots to the city, like DMX, and some may be familiar with the city because they live close by, like DMV rapper Wale. Others are fans of the Ravens football team, whose quarterback, Lamar Jackson is also very popular among artists in the hip hop genre.
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop, The Banner compiled a list of some of the most unique references to Baltimore in songs in the genre.
“I’ma go harder than Baltimore” - Jay Z on “Go Hard (Remix)” by DJ Khaled featuring T-Pain, Kanye West & Jay Z
The popular DJ Khaled “Go Hard” single spawned several remixes from artists like Twista and Juelz Santana, but none were more notable than the remix by Jay Z. His boastful verse from 2008 drops mentions of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in “The Dark Knight” and fellow featured artist Kanye West. Still, no mention was more satisfying for Baltimoreans than hearing the acclaimed rapper mention their city. Natives of Baltimore have frequently been described as having no fear, which would cause people to say that the city “goes hard.” Jay Z, who had some connections to the city in his hustling days, acknowledged that and mentioned he’s going to go even harder.
“A Baltimore Love Thing” - 50 Cent
50 Cent, who will perform in Baltimore next month, cleverly titled one of his songs on his 2005 “The Massacre” album “A Baltimore Love Thing.” While the track may seem like an homage to love songs, he is actually rapping about heroin and its effects on its users. During the time of the song’s release, Baltimore was unfortunately considered the heroin capital of the United States. With the many depictions of the drug problem in the hit show “The Wire,” this song title was a timely reference.
“Let me holla at you, youngin’, Baltimore shit” - DMX on “Get at Me Dog” featuring Sheek Louch
Although DMX is from New York, he spent an extended period living here in Baltimore. He actually spent so much time here that during his appearance in the Ruff Ryders cypher at the BET Hip Hop Awards in 2012, the network said the late legend was from Baltimore. “Get at Me Dog,” DMX’s major-label debut single, was an undeniable hit for the rap artist’s originality and unique voice, but was also memorable for a line in the third verse. “Let me holla at you, youngin’, Baltimore shit” is a tribute to the city’s dialect, which excited local listeners with the mainstream recognition.
“You would think we live in Baltimore, the way they ravin’ about the latest product” - Drake on “Middle of the Ocean”
Baltimore has been detected in Drake’s songs in several ways, including influences from Baltimore club music that can be heard on his “Honestly, Nevermind” album. Not to mention the rapper wearing a Lamar Jackson Ravens jersey in his “When to Say When & Chicago Freestyle” video and calling Jackson “my quarterback” while bringing him on stage at his D.C. tour stop. In his sharpest lyrical performance — “Middle of the Ocean”, on his collaboration album with 21 Savage, “Her Loss” — the Canadian artist spits a clever double entendre where he mentions Baltimore’s football team, the Ravens, while bragging that his recent music has been so great that listeners constantly give it rave reviews.
“Hit licks in Baltimore, gettin’ HipHop chicken like Kevin Liles” - Wale on “The God Smile”
DMV rapper Wale is known for his clever wordplay, but many of Wale’s Baltimore middle school, high school and college listeners were also fans of his acclaimed sneaker collection. The District of Columbia- born rapper has referenced Baltimore several times, but none may have been more dexterous than his mention on “The God Smile” from his 2015 album “The Album About Nothing.” HipHop Fish & Chicken is a popular chain restaurant in Baltimore and Kevin Liles, a legendary Baltimore-born music executive, has made “chicken” — slang for money — for quite a long time.