Blaqstarr – “Hands Up Thumbs Down”


Go-Go in DC, ghost riding in Oakland, and La Sape in the Congo—it feels like a minor miracle that any regional subcultures still exist. Excuse the Thomas Frank digression, but corporate culture has been gobbling up “cool” for so long that it is amazing that not everything can be homogenized and packaged for mass consumption. Not that I don’t want every NOLA bounce artist to have a record deal and Mid-Atlantic hand dancing to become a national craze, but when we see something with a little local flavor, it’s a reminder of the infinite variety of shit people will get up to when they’ve got limited means and want to get down. No matter how alienated we might feel from our neighbors or how super-super mobile modern life can be, we’re still of a place whether we like it or not.

The only problem with local flavor is that it’s an inside affair. You gotta do the time to catch a glimpse, and for better or worse, our society is pretty locked-down. Average your friends and relations out, and unless you really work at it, you’re all in the same socioeconomic ballpark of one another. The easiest way out of our bubble and into the way the other bajillion-some people on this planet live is through a kind of mediated tourism—documentary films, podcasts, and the occasional Vice expose.

All of which brings me to Blaqstarr. Blaqstarr is a Baltimore club legend, which means very little to people outside of Charm City or who are not very, very attentive to who has been producing M.I.A.’s tracks. As trendspotting as ever, M.I.A. and Diplo—when that duo was tight—were all over Blaqstarr. He was gonna be huge or, at least, live in Los Angeles, but then, he kinda disappeared.

Fortunately for everyone who likes to “jiggle it” or pretend to care a shit-ton about Baltimore because of The Wire, Blaqstarr reemerged earlier this year with The Blaq-Files, a collection of his early club bangers. Now a decade-old, his anthem “Hands Up Thumbs Down” just received the video treatment with a major assist from the 12 O’Clock Boys, an illegal West Baltimore dirt bike crew and the subject of video director Lofty Nathan’s documentary of the same name.

“Hands Up Thumbs Down” is a rush—immediate, in-your-face, and with a stomping vocal repeat that I dream of playing at full-blast in my cubicle every Friday at quitting time. The B-town kids dancing up a storm in the video are the very definition of “bringing it,” and the 12 O’Clock Boys are cool-as-fuck in a way that I imagine most law enforcement officers and mothers would not endorse.

In their honor, play it loud. Your fast-and-furious peek into Blaqstarr’s Baltimore begins now.