360°Sound caught up with singer/rapper/producer TT The Artist, director of the new musical documentary Dark City Beneath the Beat, which spotlights Baltimore’s club music and dance scene. The 65-minute film was co-produced by Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO’s hit series Insecure. It was set to premiere at the SXSW 2020 Film Festival in March before the entire event was canceled due to COVID-19.
TT The Artist’s career has been red-hot in 2020. She placed a Baltimore club-style song in a Super Bowl commercial and recently performed a rap about the U.S. Census on TBS’s Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. In this 360°Sound exclusive, the 35-year-old Florida native, who moved to Los Angeles from Baltimore 18 months ago, talked with me about her career and this exciting new film.
360°: Please start by giving an overview of Dark City Beneath the Beat.
TT The Artist: Dark City Beneath the Beat is a musical documentary and an audio-visual experience that profiles the Baltimore club music and dance culture, which is a community-based, homegrown sound coming out of Baltimore. Although the film is a documentary, it kind of steps away from the traditional format of documentary by intercutting these music-video inspired sequences. It also touches on the social climate of Baltimore.
It’s a story whose narrative is driven through the music. It’s based on an all-original soundtrack that we created for the film, so all the music is by Baltimore-based artists and musicians. It was important for me to create a film that really uplifted the narrative of Baltimore and what we’re used to seeing, which is a lot of images associated with drugs, violence and trauma. I thought it would be something that would really shed light on something that impacted me as an artist and helped me develop as an artist and find my voice.
How did Issa Rae’s production company get involved?
When I connected with Issa was around the time that I moved to L.A. I had the opportunity to shadow direct on Issa’s HBO show Insecure. I had been working with the show getting music placements on it for the past three seasons. They were working on Season 4, and I got invited to be a shadow director for Episode 2. That’s kind of like how I connected with ColorCreative because I met Deniese Davis who is the supervisor/producer for Issa’s company ColorCreative, which is a platform that supports underrepresented talent. They loved the film first and foremost when they saw it, and they just reached out and wanted to support me. And they thought it would be a great partnership because I already had this connection with Issa and her show musically, so the film was just kind of the next step.
They really helped us finish the film in terms of post-production and marketing and figuring out how to get into the festivals. They just brought a whole new wave of energy to the film. I’m just so excited to have that type of support from women, especially black women, in this business. I think that’s very important. Having that representation gives this film some wings to really fly.
How would you characterize Baltimore club music?
Baltimore club music is a breakbeat genre form of music. It has influences of house music and hip-hop. Old-school Baltimore club music really was heavily sampled. They would take samples and then they would create the music. It was very percussive and almost like looped. The new wave kind of created more original sounds that followed the traditional song formatting but also using original vocals, which is something that I do a lot in my music.
It’s really really energetic, raw, and it’s just something that if you experience it live in concert or live in a club or see dancers it really does trigger something inside of you. That trigger for me was a sense of being and a sense of connection through the music and the community.
I listened to your 2016 debut album Queen of the Beat and really enjoyed it. Like you said, it’s super energetic. Would you like to see Baltimore club get more national attention?
I would. I definitely appreciate you listening to my album. I’m currently working on my new music, and I’m very excited about that now that I have my own record label, Club Queen Records, which is a woman-focused label. We’re all about pushing women voices to the forefront. I also talk about that in my film. I’ve been doing independent music for 10 years and I just never really got invited to go on these tours after working with so many influential DJs and producers who are mostly men.
I did get to tour with the artist Peaches once. That was an amazing experience. Much love for her for her support. But I feel like a lot of women get kind of lost in the sauce because we might have a different type of sound, or it’s not necessarily the most commercial thing ever. But I think now the industry is moving in a way where they’re opening more rooms to artists like myself. I’m excited about the new music because it’s such an evolution of my first album. Everyone can look forward to that. I definitely hope that the music does vibrate and gets into the right ears and people see the connection between my love for film and music.
How will people get to see the film?
The festivals, now that they’re postponed or canceled, really would have gave this film the word-of-mouth buzz that it needed to really attract the bigger distributors. Now, we’re in a position where we have distributors looking at the film, but because they’re sitting in more of a corporate chair, I feel like a lot of the rejections that we may be getting are coming from just not hearing the voice of the people. I believe that the festivals would have allowed the audiences to really see and experience the film in a different way because the audio is such a big part of it.
We’re currently shopping and trying to find a home for the film. As soon as we know, I will definitely be making an announcement through our social channels and website. We’re hopeful that we will find a home for it. We don’t just want to throw it out. We do feel like it’s a very special project. I’m very confident that the right situation will present itself. In the meantime, we’re continually working and pushing and pushing as much as we can and getting the community involved with our social media.
You recently performed a census rap on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Talk about that and how it came about.
One of my successes I feel that I’ve been able to gain in this business is licensing and music placement. That’s something that’s been able to help me survive. My biggest thing this year was actually doing a song for the Super Bowl. I did a song with TurboTax and it went viral like crazy. Then I got approached by the Samantha Bee show on TBS. It was originally supposed to be a live performance and that would have been my first live performance on nationwide television, but with COVID everything got canceled.
We switched the idea to an animation. So I built out the track, I had a co-producer help me named Dela, and then we put the song out through Samantha Bee’s show. It just came about really organically. They told me to write a song about the census. It was kind of technical because it’s like ‘How do you write a song about the census?’ But, again, I was inspired by Baltimore club and dance music, and I used those elements to make the beat. Then I came up with the lyrics, and they loved it. I’m glad that it made the cut.
Anything you’d like to add about Dark City Beneath the Beat and your career?
People with any interest in seeing the film can follow us on social media on Instagram @DarkCityBmore, and our website is www.darkcitybmore.com. As far as myself, I have Club Queen Records, where I’m continuing to work with artists, especially women of color and women in music, to help encourage and lift their voices to the forefront. I’m looking forward to my projects that are dropping this year.
People can follow me @TTTheArtist. I thank everyone so much for the opportunity to speak. If people check out the trailer — share it; that will help us get the attention of some of these distributors and the word-of-mouth buzz that can be generated. That’s the type of support that we’re really looking for.