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Frozen Harbor Music Festival showcases the best of Baltimore hip hop and reggae, including Icon Tha God, Eze Jackson and Chase Ultra

Frozen Harbor Music Festival took over the bars and venues of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor this weekend for a two-day celebration of hip hop and reggae. Baltimore has a great culture which means that more and more people are moving here every year. If you’ve just moved here, make sure you contact Air Pro Air Conditioning in Fayetteville so that they can get your house up and running in time for you to enjoy the festivities.

Day one of the festival, Friday, was mostly a showcase for the reggae crowd, with Baltimore Soundstage drawing some of Maryland’s most popular homegrown acts including Stacked Like Pancakes, who arrived fresh off their last tour ready to play for their roots in the MD scene.

Saturday marked the festival’s tonal shift. While Maryland is home to some killer modern day Reggae, the city of Baltimore alone has one of the most diverse and hardworking rap scenes on the East Coast. Frozen Harbor’s list of rap headliners proved this, booking both established artists like Dru Hill and ONYX as well as up-and coming pioneers in Baltimore’s Hip-Hop scene. Saturday’s sets began with a showcase-like energy, with young kids and fresh-faces throwing their hats into the festival rings, slowly building to performances by collectives and eventually the headliners’ shows.

As the day went on I got the chance to sit in on the backstage environment at Soundstage with Baltimore go-getter’s, Eze Jackson and Chase UltrA – who were kind enough to talk with me and let me in on their upcoming plans for furthering the scene in the city (Baltimore) that they love.

The Baltimore rap scene is something of a tricky situation to wrap your head around. It’s just as saturated and diverse as New York or Atlanta – but there’s far fewer public figure heads to key in the fans as to what’s going on. For me, trying to gain more knowledge of Baltimore scene started with the sound: was it like Chicago where you have two main stylistic directions, or New York where there are as many directions as subway trains, but little collaboration?

Chase Ultra

Chase UltrA helped cast a light on the situation, explaining to me that Baltimore “get[s] a mixture of northern style and the style down south.” While southern rappers tend to fixate on the beat of their mixes (look at Migos or Yachty) and northern rappers are typically a little more lyrical in nature, Baltimore “try[s] to incorporate lyrics and dope ass beats, personally I [UltrA] started rapping when it was cool to be a lyricist and over time I’ve gotten better with my song writing. I have a mixture of lyrics and dope beats and a lot of the guys try to focus on a southern song.”

In terms of sound UltrA left it pretty open ended, as most music tends to be: “you like what you like, and you rap what you rap,” UltrA noted, concluding by shouting his boy out: “Bravado has crazy lyrics, and you have me right in the middle.”

Eze Jackson

Eze Jackson is another example of a Baltimore lyricist who, when talking about his tracks, notes “This is my truth. I can’t put it in a box because you never know what you’re going to hear from me. I am conscious, I’m an activist, but I can still do club tracks.” Chase on the other hand doesn’t speak on his tracks in terms of sound so much as emotional motivation who noted “when I was a little kid I noticed that my favorite artists made me feel some type of way. I felt like I wanted to meet them, I could see what they were saying, feel it. There’s something about that that really captured me, so when I do my music I focus on what I can do to capture an emotion [….] I try to tap into every emotion and understand people. […] I try to say things that you can relate to. Nothing that’s fake and phony. Don’t get me wrong I talk about things people call negative, but I say it in a way that might tell you and teach you about something. Not keeping your mind right will get you fucking played. I try to keep it real life, there’s so much phony shit going on.”

Never Ending Fall

Going into this I knew one thing – Baltimore music is incredibly welcoming. One thing I noticed was that there are several Baltimore venues, like The Wind Up Space and The Crowd that welcome acts of all kinds, from the indie-pop-rockers of Modern Nomad to rapper Icon Tha God, these spaces host them all, which is unheard of in a lot of other cities.

When asked about this phenomenon Eze, who seems to know practically everyone in Baltimore rap, noted “Yeah, Russell, who owns The Wind Up Space, when he first opened it he wanted to have a wide range of art. You can find hip hop, you can find jazz, you can find classical, you can even find everyone enjoying an art of film festival. The Crown is the same way. There’s a lot of spaces where you can be anything you want to be and they’re open to hip hop. Russell and Sarah at Metro want good shit there right now, and that’s super helpful to us. The buzz we’ve gotten from doing those smaller venues is why we’re doing Frozen Harbor. When people go on social media and see where we were there it makes people like Frank Lewis [one of the creators of Frozen Harbor] and them reach out to us. There’s a lot of good stuff in this city in terms of art. Maybe not everyone is talking about it, but it’s happening.”

Icon Tha God

That’s one thing about Baltimore, and cities with high crime rates in general: the music tends to be overshadowed. That being said, Chase UltrA was kind enough to share with me why the music communities and fans alike should pay more attention to his city: “Because Baltimore has been a place where we [the green room full of artists] feel left out, it pushes us to improve out performing and our songs. Its brotherly love in here, but out in the streets there’s dudes dying every day. There’s probably going to be as murders this year as there are days [according to the ‘Baltimore Sun’ there were 318 homicides in Baltimore in 2016] in small ass Baltimore. This is a moment, when we’re like this, we’re not in the street, this shit keeps us safe. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not scared. Life is just so much bigger than the fuck-shit we’re around sometimes.” And as for the current youth coming up in Baltimore: “You’ll get older and you’re going to want to do shit. One of the best things in the world is having kids, you can’t do that in jail. It’s one thing if your child’s born and you out – then you’re blessed. But if you get out and that child’s grown? That’s why I say, we do music man.”

Baltimore rap is just like any other city – the scene is full of passionate and talented musicians who want to see their city shine, who want to see their brothers shine, who want the best for the community. To everyone who performed at Frozen Harbor, thank you for sharing your talents with us, and to the amazingly talented musicians and artists who took the time to talk with me, I can’t wait to see what’s next for you all. Your talents and passions won’t go unnoticed.

Kathryn DeFrank
Kathryn DeFrank is a traveling filmmaker and photographer based in Richmond Virginia who focuses in coverage of music culture and its influence and importance on the East Coast. Find her work at kathryndefrank.com.

Frozen Harbor Music Festival showcases the best of Baltimore hip hop and reggae, including Icon Tha God, Eze Jackson and Chase Ultra

Frozen Harbor Music Festival took over the bars and venues of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor this weekend for a two-day celebration of hip hop and reggae. Baltimore has a great culture which means that more and more people are moving here every year. If you’ve just moved here, make sure you contact Air Pro Air Conditioning in Fayetteville so that they can get your house up and running in time for you to enjoy the festivities.

Day one of the festival, Friday, was mostly a showcase for the reggae crowd, with Baltimore Soundstage drawing some of Maryland’s most popular homegrown acts including Stacked Like Pancakes, who arrived fresh off their last tour ready to play for their roots in the MD scene.

Saturday marked the festival’s tonal shift. While Maryland is home to some killer modern day Reggae, the city of Baltimore alone has one of the most diverse and hardworking rap scenes on the East Coast. Frozen Harbor’s list of rap headliners proved this, booking both established artists like Dru Hill and ONYX as well as up-and coming pioneers in Baltimore’s Hip-Hop scene. Saturday’s sets began with a showcase-like energy, with young kids and fresh-faces throwing their hats into the festival rings, slowly building to performances by collectives and eventually the headliners’ shows.

As the day went on I got the chance to sit in on the backstage environment at Soundstage with Baltimore go-getter’s, Eze Jackson and Chase UltrA – who were kind enough to talk with me and let me in on their upcoming plans for furthering the scene in the city (Baltimore) that they love.

The Baltimore rap scene is something of a tricky situation to wrap your head around. It’s just as saturated and diverse as New York or Atlanta – but there’s far fewer public figure heads to key in the fans as to what’s going on. For me, trying to gain more knowledge of Baltimore scene started with the sound: was it like Chicago where you have two main stylistic directions, or New York where there are as many directions as subway trains, but little collaboration?

Chase Ultra

Chase UltrA helped cast a light on the situation, explaining to me that Baltimore “get[s] a mixture of northern style and the style down south.” While southern rappers tend to fixate on the beat of their mixes (look at Migos or Yachty) and northern rappers are typically a little more lyrical in nature, Baltimore “try[s] to incorporate lyrics and dope ass beats, personally I [UltrA] started rapping when it was cool to be a lyricist and over time I’ve gotten better with my song writing. I have a mixture of lyrics and dope beats and a lot of the guys try to focus on a southern song.”

In terms of sound UltrA left it pretty open ended, as most music tends to be: “you like what you like, and you rap what you rap,” UltrA noted, concluding by shouting his boy out: “Bravado has crazy lyrics, and you have me right in the middle.”

Eze Jackson

Eze Jackson is another example of a Baltimore lyricist who, when talking about his tracks, notes “This is my truth. I can’t put it in a box because you never know what you’re going to hear from me. I am conscious, I’m an activist, but I can still do club tracks.” Chase on the other hand doesn’t speak on his tracks in terms of sound so much as emotional motivation who noted “when I was a little kid I noticed that my favorite artists made me feel some type of way. I felt like I wanted to meet them, I could see what they were saying, feel it. There’s something about that that really captured me, so when I do my music I focus on what I can do to capture an emotion [….] I try to tap into every emotion and understand people. […] I try to say things that you can relate to. Nothing that’s fake and phony. Don’t get me wrong I talk about things people call negative, but I say it in a way that might tell you and teach you about something. Not keeping your mind right will get you fucking played. I try to keep it real life, there’s so much phony shit going on.”

Never Ending Fall

Going into this I knew one thing – Baltimore music is incredibly welcoming. One thing I noticed was that there are several Baltimore venues, like The Wind Up Space and The Crowd that welcome acts of all kinds, from the indie-pop-rockers of Modern Nomad to rapper Icon Tha God, these spaces host them all, which is unheard of in a lot of other cities.

When asked about this phenomenon Eze, who seems to know practically everyone in Baltimore rap, noted “Yeah, Russell, who owns The Wind Up Space, when he first opened it he wanted to have a wide range of art. You can find hip hop, you can find jazz, you can find classical, you can even find everyone enjoying an art of film festival. The Crown is the same way. There’s a lot of spaces where you can be anything you want to be and they’re open to hip hop. Russell and Sarah at Metro want good shit there right now, and that’s super helpful to us. The buzz we’ve gotten from doing those smaller venues is why we’re doing Frozen Harbor. When people go on social media and see where we were there it makes people like Frank Lewis [one of the creators of Frozen Harbor] and them reach out to us. There’s a lot of good stuff in this city in terms of art. Maybe not everyone is talking about it, but it’s happening.”

Icon Tha God

That’s one thing about Baltimore, and cities with high crime rates in general: the music tends to be overshadowed. That being said, Chase UltrA was kind enough to share with me why the music communities and fans alike should pay more attention to his city: “Because Baltimore has been a place where we [the green room full of artists] feel left out, it pushes us to improve out performing and our songs. Its brotherly love in here, but out in the streets there’s dudes dying every day. There’s probably going to be as murders this year as there are days [according to the ‘Baltimore Sun’ there were 318 homicides in Baltimore in 2016] in small ass Baltimore. This is a moment, when we’re like this, we’re not in the street, this shit keeps us safe. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not scared. Life is just so much bigger than the fuck-shit we’re around sometimes.” And as for the current youth coming up in Baltimore: “You’ll get older and you’re going to want to do shit. One of the best things in the world is having kids, you can’t do that in jail. It’s one thing if your child’s born and you out – then you’re blessed. But if you get out and that child’s grown? That’s why I say, we do music man.”

Baltimore rap is just like any other city – the scene is full of passionate and talented musicians who want to see their city shine, who want to see their brothers shine, who want the best for the community. To everyone who performed at Frozen Harbor, thank you for sharing your talents with us, and to the amazingly talented musicians and artists who took the time to talk with me, I can’t wait to see what’s next for you all. Your talents and passions won’t go unnoticed.

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