Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun
March 7, 2013
For many up-and-coming rappers, naming your most anticipated project "Best Mixtape Ever" would be ill-advised. But to Colby Hall, the MC better known as Starrz, it was self-imposed motivation to deliver his best work yet.
"When I made 'Best Mixtape Ever,' I wanted people to just open their eyes to what I was making," Starrz said. "Even if they hated it, [the title] would get you that extra listen."
In a historical sense, the title is beyond a stretch. But living up to a near-impossible title was never truly the goal. Instead, the 19-track mixtape released last September established Starrz -- who grew up in East Baltimore and now lives in Parkville -- as one of the city's most promising artists, and the current rapper to bet on to break Charm City's confines.
With long dreadlocks and a skate-meets-street style reminiscent of Lil Wayne, Starrz looks the part of a rapper on the brink. (He says he's in talks to model for Karmaloop, the popular streetwear e-store.)
But it's the music, and more important, Starrz's ability to balance clever wordplay with overwhelming confidence -- he branded it "the swag entendre" -- that makes "Best Mixtape Ever" such a compulsive listen. "American Nightmare" has him in empathetic storytelling mode, while "No Panties" proves Starrz can make infectious party music that's clever precisely because of what it doesn't say.
"Best Mixtape Ever," which has more than 7,000 downloads on the mixtape website Datpiff, has elevated Starrz's reputation locally and online. In December, Starrz had Baltimore rap fans talking about his impressive opening set for Los' homecoming concert. His video for "American Nightmare" has close to 160,000 views on YouTube. Progressive steps like these were possible because of the well-received "Mixtape."
"It was a blatant record that was so raw, but it wasn't too explicit," he said of "No Panties." "I wanted to give the best of both worlds. I'm happy I can please everybody."
Starrz has completed four songs for his next mixtape, "Live Forever, Die Dope," including the first single, "Dope Trilla aka Baltimore," a gritty love letter to his city. He's planning a busy 2013: "Live Forever, Die Dope" will likely drop in June or July, and the plan is to follow it up with "Skyy Jones: The Album" before the year ends.
With new material on the way and a palpable buzz, it seems fair to ask Starrz -- who attended Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School and Baltimore City Community College before focusing on music full time -- if he can envision a national breakthrough. Naturally, he answers with the confidence the most successful rappers all seem to possess.
"I'm ready for that," he said. "Do I think I'm the most talented? Yes, I believe so. In the city, I don't think anyone is as well-rounded and branded as well as I am." -- Wesley Case