If you were teleported to Baltimore at this very instant and placed inside of a running car that was playing local urban radio station 92Q, there are two songs that you would hear every hour: Peso Da Mafia’s “Money Man” and “With My Team” by Creek Boyz. The former elaborates on the impenetrable bliss of having more than a few dollars to your name, sometimes causing you to break out into an improvised shimmy that you didn’t realize was alive inside of you. The latter is a touching tribute to friendship and an urgent one, considering the growing number of lives being taken in the Baltimore area due to homicide. There has been an unofficial rivalry between these songs throughout the course of the year, especially a few months ago when videos for both tracks were nearing the million-play mark on Youtube. An accompanying dance helped “Money Man” hit that milestone first and land a deal with Asylum but as time progresses, “With My Team” is proving to have the most crossover potential and the bigger shot at getting out of Baltimore and its surrounding regions.
On the hook, the Creek Boyz quartet collectively sings “Everyday we on our grind/ Baltimore too many niggas dying/ Gotta watch out for me and mine/ Everyday I’m with my team.” The message is simple enough: in a city where the murder rate is growing more grim by the year, it’s wise to stick with the people you trust the most. That straightforward, but overwhelmingly relatable declaration partnered with a unique hood boy band twist is what has helped “With My Team” resonate with Baltimore and its surrounding counties so intensely and it’s what has helped the song get out to the rest of the country. It’s the first song that the group recorded together and due of its reach, Creek Boyz ended up landing a deal with 300 Entertainment this year. So doing what labels do, 300 had the Baltimore County act rerecord the song and video for the BIG PUSH. Today, the song’s new video was premiered on Pigeons and Planes, and a tweak in its hook has single-handedly minimized its impact. Where the song once said “Baltimore, too many niggas dying,” it now says “Can’t nobody stop our shine” and in the apparent interest of pushing the song to the masses, 300 has deflated a song that was initially made as a coping mechanism to heal a city in pain.
This is a confusing annotation. For one, if the worry is that being too Baltimore-centric will somehow hinder the song’s reach and streaming numbers, then that would go directly against the power of regional identity throughout rap’s history. Petey Pablo’s 2001 hit “Raise It Up” was exclusively about his home state North Carolina’s cities and prisons. It peaked at number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In 2005, Ludacris and Field Mob recruited a Jamie Foxx acting as Ray Charles for “Georgia,” which peaked at number 39. The meteoric rise of Chicago’s drill scene at beginning of this decade is what helped burn the nickname Chiraq into the consciousness of rap fans around the globe. This tweak could also sour the group’s relationship with its home city in attempts to grab larger audiences, killing their base.
If the worry is mentioning death, then how would someone make sense of Tay K’s “The Race,”which is unabashedly about killing someone and evading the police, being a mainstay on rap charts? If it’s that mentioning death in a song from a boy band-like group that could potentially resonate with American tweens due to their harmonizing is harmful, then why is a singing rapper like A Boogie wit da Hoodie so big with younger audiences? It doesn’t make sense however you slice it.
The reason why the song’s hook is so contagious is that it gives a soundtrack for how to reconcile with the unsettling frequency of bloodshed and death. “Tired of seeing my niggas dying/ Tired of seeing my mama crying/ Told her it’s gon’ be fine. It’s gon’ be fine. It’s gon’ be fine,” is how group member ETS Breeze expanded on the track’s theme in his verse. A city like Baltimore, that is currently on pace to surpass New York City in homicides when its population of 620,000 could go into NYC’s 8.5 million nearly fourteen times, is in dire need of music that tries making sense of this tragedy to go national. Affirming that nobody can “stop your shine,” on its face, is fine but not when its pit against a rare rap moment of emotional transparency.
With or without this change, “With My Team” has the potential to be a hit song. Its theme of togetherness is one that transcends the fine print and it has already proven to be a go-to workout track for athletes online. But showing that you should not be numb to death and that it’s ok to be sad about it and find solace through your friends is the type of action that needs to be encouraged, not erased.
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