For this edition of Baltimore Music Right Now, I interviewed Miss Kam, Marquis “Mighty Mark” Gasque, and Kilian Fonlon. All three artists value collaboration and mentorship, have a deep love for creating music, and an irrevocable commitment to Baltimore’s various music scenes.
Miss Kam is a creative force from West Baltimore. Her frenetic, inspirational performances and lyrics are imbued with an incredible mixture of bravado, vulnerability, humor, and love.
She is on the Hip-Hop Committee for the Recording Academy, D.C. Chapter. Earlier this year, she performed at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
How do you describe your artistic practice?
I translate. I feel like I’m a messenger to convey emotions, ideologies, and concepts.
When I listen to different songs and sounds, I really try to feel it. And you know how some people say they see colors? I feel music. I can see it. I can envision all different types of beautiful things with it.
I feel like it’s my mission to tap into every single emotion that music can convey and bring it out in whatever way. And not only that, I grow along with my music as well. So, it’s a different part of me at every stage where you listen to my music.
What has your musical journey been like?
The relentless pursuit of doing what I love, regardless of the circumstances in life. I’ve been through some crazy, crazy, crazy stuff, and through it all, I just kept pushing through because it’s what I’m passionate about at the end of the day.
When I wake up, that’s all I want to do. If it’s the end of the world and there’s nothing else I could do but create, that’s what I would do.
Can you describe your writing and recording process?
I like to get my production in order and figure out what I’m trying to convey through the album. Every album or project I have has a concept, not just songs on it. And, like I said, it reflects what point I’m at in life.
Recently, I’ve tried to attack it like, “How will this beat make you feel?” It’s all emotional for me. Sometimes it takes me a long time to write a song. Sometimes it takes me 30 minutes. Sometimes producers send me beats, and I sit on them for a year, and sometimes I write them in ASAP.
It is a matter of intention for me, and I don’t rush the process.
Could you share a moment where you felt fully in your element while performing?
The most recent and memorable was this year when I finally performed at SXSW.
That was very emotional, and I didn’t even mean to cry. I didn’t think that was going to happen. It’s still wild for me to comprehend how that happened because of how much work it took to get to that place.
Lauryn Hill said that shit, “if you ain’t right, then you’re not going to win.” So I had to get it right.
Shit was hard. I had to ask people to help me even be able to go to South by Southwest because the money wasn’t like that, you know?
I try to be transparent with people about the process because it’s really hard. You know how social media gets. It took a lot of pride for me to let that go and just be like, “Look, this is something I really want to do, and I know that if I do this, I’m going to kill this shit. And that’s exactly what the fuck I did.”
Marquis “Mighty Mark” Gasque
Marquis “Mighty Mark” Gasque is one of the artists pushing Baltimore Club music far outside this city. He’s a music producer and a DJ. In 2023 he received an ASCAP Rhythm and Soul Music Award, and his production has been included on television shows like Insecure. In 2021, he earned a Platinum Record plaque for his writing and production on UNIIQU3 and TT The Artist’s record “Off the Chain,” which singer and actress Chloe Hailey sampled on her hit single “Have Mercy.”
You’ve been integral to the Baltimore Club music scene for decades. How did you get started?
I started off rapping. I ran the rap club at Poly [Baltimore Polytechnic Institute]. We combined with the spoken word club and became “The Floetic Lyricists.” I realized I had no beats to rap on, and a friend gave me a copy of [music production software] FL Studio. I put that on my computer and started making hip-hop beats.
I volunteered at a recreation center then, and all the kids listened to club music. I thought, “That doesn’t sound too hard. I think I can do that too.”
I started making club music in 2008 and 2009 and handing my CDs out in my neighborhood. I got [Baltimore club pioneers] KW Griff and K-Swift’s emails. They started playing my tracks on the radio and around the clubs around the city.
I was one of the early people putting club music online. Back then, you could only get the club music if you knew the DJ. You protected your tracks. You didn’t share them. But I wanted my music to get out. So I started putting it on SoundCloud, and colleges up and down the East Coast began hitting me.
I had never thought about DJing, but someone said, “We’ll pay you $4,000 or $5,000 to come play.” I said, “Shoot, I’m going to buy myself a little DJ controller.”
When I started, having a controller was taboo. People were using turntables, mechanical CDJs, and Serato. But the controllers were light, and all my music was on my computer.
In 2009, I did a project with Da Yo Boyz, [club music producers] Debonair Samir, DJ K-SPIN, and Mike Mumbles called “Fukizuyo.” I produced a song on that project, “Let Me Show Em,” that TT rapped on.
That’s how I met TT. Her manager kept calling me, saying, “I’m trying to reach the Da Yo Boyz. I’m trying to reach the person who made that track.”
We started doing tracks together, and our tracks started kicking off. Issa Rae found some of our songs from TT’s 2015 Art Royalty EP, I co-produced “Lavish,” which was featured in the promo for Insecure Season One, and we had a song featured in every season of Insecure. From that, other shows like Harlem or Grown-ish, Nappily Ever After.
Then, people started sampling us. The biggest one was Chloe Bailey. She sampled TT The Artist’s “Off The Chain,” which I originally produced, [and] sampled that for “Have Mercy.” We got royalties off of that, so that was pretty nice, plus that song went platinum.
I’m just continuing to wave that Bmore Club flag. I always like working with new voices that are serious. That keeps me fresh, too.
You mentioned when you started making Baltimore Club, it was something completely different from when you were producing hip-hop. Do you think one is easier than the other, or do you have a preference between the two?
Some hip-hop producers looked down on Baltimore Club because they thought it was simple.
But it’s not simple. It’s really about the arrangement and where stuff comes in and where stuff leaves out.
Hip-hop producers will make it beat, a verse, then a hook, and then a verse, and then a hook.
With club music, you might have an intro, like a rock-off part, then it gets hyper, then you might have it break down.
When it comes to production, club music is about being raw, gritty, dirty. It has feeling.
And it has to have arrangement.
Just because you hear that “doon doon doon doon doon,” that necessarily doesn’t make it club music. Some people hear that, and they assume it’s Baltimore Club. That drum pattern is popularized by Baltimore Club, but it got opera sounds over the top of it. It might be Baltimore Club-inspired… but is it really Baltimore Club?
Kilian Fonlon is a rapper, producer, and member of 3SIDE, a collective of rappers, producers, DJs, and creatives in Baltimore. Earlier this year, the group released a music video for “NAAN Prophet,” a single that he co-produced with Cyril Ejiogu. The video pays homage to the golden era of rap and the 1992 video “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest and Leaders of The New School. The video and the song represent Fonlon’s love for the past, while ushering in the future. He’s preparing for the 2024 release of a new full-length project, called “PRODUCTS OF OUR ENVIRONMENT.”
How did you get started making music?
I started in high school after being introduced to my homie Rashad, who goes by TEK.LUN, and homies from TheNasa8, too.
It was funny. I was wearing a Tron Cat Odd Future Shirt. One of the homies from TheNasa8 was like, “Oh shit, you listen to Tyler and them?” That’s how we became cool. Then we started realizing, oh shit, we all actually like making music too. Let’s try and do some shit.
It felt like an apprenticeship or a mentor program, as far as learning how to rap and how to make beats. It was TEK who was teaching me how to make beats, and it was my homie Nick who was teaching me how to rap for real. Even the way he taught me was just very, “Just rap about the shit you want to rap about. It is not that hard for real.”
It was so much trial and error. I didn’t really care for mixing and shit back then. I was throwing paint on the wall and seeing what could turn out.
Tell me about your upcoming project, “PRODUCTS OF OUR ENVIRONMENT.”
I named the project in 2021, and I bought the artwork three months later from this artist Noah Kocher, who is based in New York.
I just miss concept albums and an album having a story. MF Doom is a huge inspiration for me in making beats because of how he would cut vocal samples to tell a story throughout the album.
The coolest part about this album is when I was making it, I wasn’t thinking about any tracks as far as just the building of it. I thought, “I’m just going to make stuff.” And that was the best way I could have done it.
I did a track on there with VLAAD called “War” in 2020. That was the first song where I was like, “Okay, this has to go on the tape,” but then I realized that I had to make sure all my tracks on the album were on par with that song.
There was a lot of stuff happening in my life where I was just like, “Dude, really?” So I decided to write about it all — good stuff, bad stuff, including bad I’ve done too. I’m not perfect, either.
I wanted it to represent [the idea that] just because we’re from the parts of the world we’re from, whether good or bad, we still don’t let that define who we are or who we want to become over time.
Just make life what you want it to be for yourself. It feels very hard, but once you do it, it just feels like you’re a boss, you know what I mean?