There’s a certain saying: The Dude abides. Frederick has its own: J Berd maintains.
And maintaining is just the thing the Frederick-based rapper uses to describe how he’s still in the game since the ‘90s. He’s been quietly dropping quality mixtapes and albums simmering with calibrated boom-bap beats over jazz, evoking A Tribe Called Quest while cultivating his own unique sonic and lyrical imprint.
And yet despite the accolades, the Frederick hip-hop aritist has had some measure of difficulty booking live shows in the city of Clustered Spires, which is heavy ironic since J Berd has played some really big shows, opening for the likes of Wu Tang Clan’s Method Man and his frequent collaborator Redman in Pittsburgh last fall. On an even more monumental scale, on April 20, J Berd had his name in marquee lights at The Anthem in Washington, D.C., opening for Dead Prez and the reunited Black Star (Yasiin Bey — AKA Mos Def — and Talib Kwali). If you weren’t among the 6,000 already holding tickets, you were shut out: The Anthem was completely sold out that night.
Given the socially conscious vibe surrounding Dead Prez and Black Star, J Berd fit in nicely as the opening act. Gangster rap, it was not; all the groups — in particular, the reunited Black Star — elevated the genre with lyrics that challenged listeners to think as well as feel. J Berd’s latest album, “Overtime,” with Scott Kuzner on production, while not necessarily in the Venn diagram of socially conscious rap, overlaps on a number of musical and qualitative levels.
The first words out of J Berd’s mouth after talking to him offstage on April 20? “I’m feeling good.”He looked relieved and drained at the same time.“It was overall really dope,” he said. “The crowd was into it, everybody was in a good mood.”His thoughts then immediately went out to his friends and family who were driving down to D.C. for the show, worried they couldn’t make the earlier-than-anticipated set time.
“It’s dark, but you know people are out there,” he noted. “I [eventually] did see a couple of people I knew and that’s always a good feeling.”
He went on after taking the stage of the premier venue in D.C.: “It was like, ‘Wow, this was crazy. It was just kinda surreal.”DJ John Daily took note of how incredibly crystalline his monitor mix was at The Anthem, something he detected right from the gate during soundcheck. Considering the venue just opened last fall, it was no wonder the sound equipment was world-class.“
Yeah, the quality was out of this world,” J Berd added. “You could hear a snake fart in Texas with that soundsystem. It was just a great experience. It was just a good atmosphere to be in. Everybody wanted to be there — everybody was in a good kind of mood. It was really dope and hip-hop people were in that zone … it was tight.”He has another memento of the occasion: a photo of him in front of the huge theater marquee. Before soundcheck, he initially didn’t believe his crew when they told him his name was up there in lights. Eventually, he was coaxed out to see for himself. Though it spelled out “Jay Berd,” which was one of his instagram handles separate from his actual music moniker, the slight error wasn’t ill intended from the organizers. He’s still one and the same and the feeling to be on the marquee alongside the headliners was overwhelming.“That’ll be one of those ‘grandkid’ photos,” he said. “You know what I’m saying?”
Quickly wrapping up, J Berd is part of a music-meets-visual arts segue to a very neat monthlong show beginning Saturday, which happens to be Free Comic Book Day.
Bold Lines: Comic Art Show at Brainstorm Comics at 54 E. Patrick St. will feature the original artwork by some of the edgier artists in around Frederick as they present their modern take on iconic (and left field) comic book characters. J Berd isn’t the only musician who will participate. Also part of the show will be Goodloe Byron (who fronts the band The Ten Thousand), Ashli Cheshire (who fronts Cheshi), Ben Jardeleza (who is the guitar player for Crooked Hills), Jake Warrenfeltz (Crooks & Crows), Stephen Blickenstaff (you know him from his iconic Cramps album cover), John Detrich (“Subversive” underground punk music zine art) and Bernard Rollins (he’s not in a band, but some of his brilliant hip-hop mashup artwork has been in collaboration with MF Doom, Action Bronson and more).
A number of the bands associated with these musicians/visual artists are playing down the street on Saturday as part of the Frederick Friends Fest at the Eagles Club, a benefit show in honor of Colleen Morin. Lastly, daMood, who will headline that event, just released a new EP titled “Shot a Honey.” Check that out on your favorite streaming platform of choice.