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by Peter Moskos

July 27, 2008

RIP K-Swift, the Club Queen

You should really play this sound clip while reading this post:

I'm very sad to read in the Sun about the death of my favorite Baltimore DJ, K-Swift. The poor girl was only 28 and died in a swimming pool accident. And when she started mixing a decade ago, she really was a girl in a man's world.

There are three stories in today's paper. One, Two, and Three. And here's an older story from Spin about K-Shift and the Baltimore Club scene.

For those who don't know, my music tastes are eclectic (but no heavy metal or guitar-driven rock, please) but various forms of club music have always been important to me.

I got into hip-hop in 1985, when my brother forced me learn the lyrics to Krush Groovin' (I still know them). Then in high school I got into house music from listening to Chicago's WBMX, WGCI, and the Hot Mix 5. From about 1987-1989, I was a DJ on Northwestern University's WNUR's Streetbeat. I went by the name of "Peter the Piper." Sounds kind of dorky now. But I swear it was kinda cool then.

On WNUR we played, as they say in the Blues Brothers, both kinds of music: rap and house. Our signal was limited. And though I would often boost the power illegally, our signal never went as far south as the Loop (but that didn't stop me from giving shout-outs to the White Castle at Stony Island and 79th).

This was the first and at the time only radio show in Chicago to play rap music on the air. Chicago was a house town. Even today, name a single Chicago rapper. It's not easy. [ed note: OK, I've been called out. Maybe it's not too hard. Kanye West and Common are two. Still, name a third rapper from Chicago, if you can. Then think of all the rappers you know from New York and L.A.]

At the time, we were trying to bridge the huge split between fans of rap and fans of house (can't we all just get along?).

I was finally kicked off when somebody caught on that I wasn't a Northwestern student.

Each night we had a midnight house mix. Here's a sample from what was probably my show! Alas, I have no tapes of my show. We played mixes from Lil' Angel on Wednesday night. I was usually on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 10 to 1AM (2 in the summer, sometimes all night, if the "freeform" host didn't show up and I was in the mood to keep spinning records).

Our biggest name, in hindsight, was Derrick Carter. Personally, I was partial to Lil' Angel (he was such a nice guy and a new father last time I saw him 28 years ago) and Georgie "Mixin'" Porgie (also cooler sounding then than now).

I fell out with hip-hop when Gangsta Rap took over. Chicago house stagnated for about a decade (hip-house, anyone?) until discovered and reborn in Europe. And in the dark years of college in New Jersey, I was very far from any good music scene. I moved to Amsterdam in 1994 and discovered the joy of the European rave scene. Techno, drum and bass, trance, gabber. I love them all!

So it meant a lot to me when I arrived in Baltimore in 1999 and discovered a whole new style of music to love: Baltimore Club. Music is important to cops. If you're in a car with somebody for 4 to 8 hours, what radio station you listen to becomes very important. Usually we rode alone. Radio choice was the main reason I liked riding alone.

Most officers listened the commercial country station. Not my favorite, but I can live with it. One officer liked jazz on public radio. We got along just fine. Another liked Rush Limbaugh. We also got along just fine (though I still think there’s something very wrong about policing the ghetto while listening to Limbaugh spout his conservative crap).

I liked to listen to NPR all night, and then Morning Edition until the short Q92 morning wake up mix came at something like 7:35. It was hard enough to find a cop interested in either station. To find someone who liked both was pretty much out of the question.

If you policed listening to 92-Q during the summer days, as I sometimes did (and I may have been the only white cop do do so), you had the privilege of being tuned to the same station as half the neighborhood, which was kind of cool as you drove around and heard the music fade in and out.

I think I became friends with one of my squadmates solely because of our mutual appreciation of dance music. If, in 2000, you saw two cops in a car in the Eastern going crazy to Kernkraft 400's Zombie Nation (now so mainstream it's played in ballparks), it was probably us.

So all this comes back to K-Swift. She was the best. I didn’t go to Club Choices (as a white cop, I was afraid to go in with a gun, and afraid to go in without one). But I listened to her during her all-too-brief radio mixes. I have 6 of her CDs. K-Swift Volume 5 is my favorite. Too bad there won't be any more.


Anonymous said...

"Even today, name a single Chicago rapper."

Ummm, Kanye West. You poser. lol I'm going to check out your book. Sounds really interesting.

PCM said...

Oh yeah, Kanye West. I forgot about Kanye (though he was born in Atlanta). And there's Common. Still, name one more Chicago rapper. I dare you!

I still stand by my point that Chicago grew up with a serious house-induced rap deficiency.

When I was a DJ getting crappy sample tapes from up-coming-rappers (who never up and came), I used to joke about the "Chicago Style": slow and crappy.