Dan Keech, the rapper who records as Height, has been a big part of Baltimore’s DIY scene for upwards of a decade, and he’s also a talented and supremely good dude who deserves your attention. Last year, the crew Keech calls Height With Friends, released Versus Dynamic Sounds, a “period piece” concept album full of ancestral rap double-dutch routines. That was the first album in a trilogy, and the second, Versus Electric Rockers, is out tomorrow. This one brings the period piece into the early L.A. electro-funk age, going heavy on vocoders and crude, spacey drum-machine patters. Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner guests. Below, stream the whole album, check out the “Skateworld ’83” video, and read Keech’s explanations for every track on the album.
Height With Friends Versus Electric Rockers is part two in our oldschool periodpiece trilogy. This time, we imagined ourselves on the west coast in the early 80’s, in the era of Egyptian Lover, World Class Wreckin’ Cru and Dave Storrs. While the first record emulated live tapes of early park jams in NYC, this record pays equal tribute to studio cuts, radio broadcasts and live recordings of early LA hiphop. Secret Weapon Dave manned the wheels of steel. Mickey Free controlled the mix. Eze Jackson, Jenn Wasner and Glitteris provided additional vocals throughout the album.
The first tape I ever bought was LA Dream Team. I was six, I had a dollar, and my family stopped in a truck stop that sold one dollar tapes. I thought they were one of the biggest rap groups in the world, because I heard them first. I like their song, “Rockberry Jam.” It never explains what a Rockberry Jam is.. I tried to evoke a similar vibe by calling this song “Pinecone Jam.”
This was my homage to bleak old-school songs like Nuclear Holocaust by The Future or Survival by The Furious Five. The rhymes are essentially just a list of different upsetting ideas. Most of these beats are sample based, but this was my stab at a west coast drum machine / keyboard beat.
For the first album in this series, I wrote rhymes for ten different people and taught them all how to say each line. This time, I needed a break from that, so I made something closer to a solo record. Eze Jackson has been the biggest supporter of this old-school project, so it was a no-brainer to have him do the only guest rhyme on the album. Part three of this trilogy will be more of a posse record in the style of Crash Crew or Fearless Four.
Present Shock, the book by Douglas Rushkoff, was a big inspiration for this album. A lot of early hip-hop addresses the idea of Future Shock, so I thought it was only right for me to address the concept of Present Shock. I was reading this book and working on these dystopian raps and the two concepts connected in my mind.
FANTASY PALACE 1983
I like old-school songs where they spend half the verses just explaining what rap is to the audience, as if they’re still selling people on the concept. (like Ice-T’s Body Rock) I like imagining a time when rap was a mystery to almost everyone, and not just to the biggest squares on earth. This is my, “here’s what’s up with rap” rap.
This is the closest I’ve ever come to a political rhyme. It’s easy to miss the mark with political music, and I’ve never been driven to do something like this before. Somehow, it came naturally when pretending to be Kid Frost on “Rough Cut.” We’re not the first people to use this source material. I love that loop.
WKLX Interview 1982
I always liked hearing Greg Mack’s appearance on the first Eazy-E album. It seemed strange that this chipper, friendly guy had something to do with the maniacs in NWA. I tried to conjure up his vibe on this track, when performing the part of this imaginary radio DJ.
THE TELEVISION RAP
This was my second time doing a Jimmy Spicer style story rap. I remember hearing Too Short say that Jimmy Spicer was a massive influence on west coast, in a way he never was on the east. It was only right that I do a rhyme like this over one of these west coast classics. The verse is on a “Trapped In The TV” tip.
IMPERIAL CLUB 1981
I was trying to channel King Tim 3 or Jocko Henderson on this one, as in trying to emulate a kind of proto-rap that existed parallel to early hip-hop. I recorded this in a Microtel in Winston-Salem. The vocals have a weird buzz which I was originally intent on replacing, but I grew to think of it as part of the faux-live sound.
Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak did these vocal parts, as well as two other singing parts on the album. She has insane vocal chops and lends her skills to a lot of Baltimore albums. The vocal melody is (obviously) based on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly theme, as to fit with this Old West story rap.
WKLX Midnight Mix (radio dub)
This is my story of how this fictional Height went from the east coast (on the first album) to the west. I wanted to paint a picture of an outsider coming on to the scene. This one was made to sound like a cassette dub of a radio broadcast. There’s a collection of KDAY mixes called KDAY Traffic Jams, which sounds very lo-fi, in a great way. We mixed this to sound like something you would hear on that collection.
When I toured Europe, my tourmate (PT Burnem) kept pointing out how European audiences act like they’re actually there with you, instead of acting like they’re at home watching you on TV. I wanted a song to play live that could bring attention to the fact that our set is really happening in real life. On my last few tours, I’ve noticed deader crowds becoming more aware and alive for this one.
This is my version of a World Class Wrecking Cru love rap. Unlike most of these other breaks, this loop has no historic relation to west coast hip-hop. Secret Weapon Dave felt like it still fit on the record somehow, and I agreed. This one is a love rap for my wife.
4th OF JULY JAM AT POMONA ICE HOUSE ’84
I wrote this rhyme right after seeing a documentary about a tiny village in Siberia where people are still living how their ancestors did, centuries ago. Writing literal rhymes based on movies or books has never worked for me before, but it came so easy with these old school rhyme styles. It’s easy to see why these all old-school dudes rapped about every topic under the sun.
This is a magical break. I thought I hadn’t heard it before, but once I wrote to it, I realized it had been used in some classic rap songs, in a subtle way. I wanted to give people a rest from some of the more bummer subject matter on the album, and go out with a general banger.
Versus Electric Rockers is out 1/28.