How does one go about telling the story not of a single person, or a group of people, but of an entire city? From an infinite number of moments, characters, and contradicting truths, what does one pick to show? TT the Artist responds to this question in the very first lines of her debut documentary Dark City Beneath the Beat. “There are a thousand ways to tell this story,” it opens. “Let’s start here.”
‘Here’ is an aerial shot of downtown Baltimore, the city in question. It is also, less literally, the Baltimore club music scene, a creative hotbed within the city’s Black community that draws rappers, musicians, dancers, and producers of all ages. Baltimore club (or Bmore) is a music genre that developed in the 1990s, a breakbeat blend of hip-hop and house that pulses around 128-140 BPM, and that has- regrettably, according to TT- failed to gain much recognition outside of its birthplace. For this reason she left, as show in the doc, to found Club Queen Records in Los Angeles, and for which she made Dark City with Insecure’s Issa Rae as producer: not only to spread the word about Bmore club, but also about Baltimore itself, a city so long defined by media like The Wire as nothing more than its crime statistics.
It is TT’s directorial approach- her way of telling the story- that makes Dark City something entirely modern and exciting: not only a documentary, but an hour-long music video, not only a viewing experience, but a physical, visceral journey. The city symphony genre has been around since the 1920s (with Strand’s Manhatta or Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis), but what TT creates is more like a DJ set, playing the viewer, keeping their heart rate up without burning them out. She skillfully passes from man-on-the-street interviews to beautifully designed and choreographed dance numbers to moments of startling social protest, accompanied by Baltimore producer Mighty Mark’s original soundtrack. The city speaks through its creators- Uneek, Terry Weddington, Johnny Blaze, Blaqstarr, to name a few- and through its music, its dance: its beat. What lies beneath is a community lacking funding and visibility, but bursting with talent, creativity, and energy: an energy that keeps the blood pumping even after the film ends.