When most people think about Baltimore, the city’s thriving music and art scene isn’t likely the first thing that comes to mind. However, the Issa Rae-produced documentary “Dark City Beneath the Beat,” which premiered at the SXSW film festival and is currently available on Netflix, highlights the contrast between Baltimore’s gritty streets and its thriving creative and musical scene.
The musical-style documentary, which is narrated by Baltimore native Uneek (Errigh LaBoo Jr.), who also goes by Neek and was directed and edited by TT the Artist, showcases some of the city’s top dancers, DJs, MCs, freestyle rappers, poets, and lyricists, providing glimpses into their lives as they try to grow their careers while navigating the turmoil of everyday life in one of America’s most dangerous cities.
The documentary provides a brief 15-year history of the Baltimore club music culture, simultaneously highlighting talent while also telling off the struggles faced by so many in the film.
A key theme of the documentary can be summed up in one line early on in the film: “there’s a lot of talent in the city, but limited resources for artists.”
Dark City Beneath The Beat interweaves personal narratives and original musical sequences to illustrate the personalities that are defining the local soundscape, which can accurately be described as both rhythmic and raw. The diversity of sound and visuals holds the viewer’s rapt attention and shows that the Baltimore music scene is about much more than just hip-hop and rap.
The documentary also introduces the audience to some unlikely influencers in the community including female artists who are starting their own record labels, community organizers who are using music and dance to keep youth off the streets, and the LGBTQ artists that are influencing the music, dance, and fashion that surround the city’s hip-hop community.
While it describes struggles, trials, and tribulations, the documentary shows a lot of the positive aspects of Baltimore’s music culture including the efforts of many within the community to promote music and dance enrichment for local youth. In addition to narrating the documentary, Neek also serves as the creator of B More Than Dance, a Baltimore talent and enrichment program that began as a one-night dance competition created to crown one winner the dance “King or Queen of Baltimore.” Since its conception in 2007, B More than Dance has grown to service up to 300 youth and young adults each year, holding workshops, dance class, and other events within the community. Neek and his team have worked with world renowned artists and performers such as, Rick Ross, Jaquees, Da Baby King Combs, and other international artists.
As Baltimore, like much of the country, struggles to recover from the economic uncertainties following the Covid-19 pandemic, “Dark City Beneath the Beat” provides not just an inside view of the club music culture of Baltimore, but hope for a brighter future for the city in the years to come.
More information about B More Than Dance can be found here.