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Baltimore, Charli

Charli Baltimore

Singer

Rapper and vocalist Charli Baltimore has faced many obstacles and troubles in her life and career. Her first two albums, both much anticipated, fell through the cracks due to shifts in the fast-moving hip-hop music industry. Prior to that she suffered a series of personal tragedies, culminating in the murder of her mentor and romantic partner, rapper Biggie Smalls. Yet a pair of hit singles showed Baltimore's potential, and she has been able to generate publicity and buzz even while searching for her place in the business.

Baltimore was born Tiffany Lane in Philadelphia on August 16, 1974; she took the name Charli Baltimore from the code name of the assassin character played by actress Geena Davis in the 1996 film The Long Kiss Goodnight. Her father was German and her mother African-American. Attending Catholic schools in Philadelphia, Baltimore loved to write poetry and got interested in music after hearing classic rappers Rakim and Big Daddy Kane. When she was bored in school, she wrote raps of her own. Her home life was chaotic, however, and in the tenth grade she became pregnant with her first child, India.

As a teenager Baltimore suffered four years of physical abuse from a boyfriend, even while she was pregnant. "I remember one time he had the door shut, and I was supposed to knock but I didn't. I walked in and he and three guys were playing a dice game," she told Elizabeth Mendez Berry of Vibe magazine. "I walked out with a black eye." After giving birth to another daughter, Sianni, she went through hard times, but pulled her life together and obtained certification as a paralegal.

Baltimore's life in the fast lane started when she met Biggie Smalls, otherwise known as Notorious B.I.G., at a party in 1995. Smalls had recently separated from his wife, vocalist Faith Evans. "I guess the best way to describe him would be like Barry White: He could charm you out of anything—even your clothes," Baltimore told Interview's Dimitri Ehrlich. The pair began what turned into a two-year relationship, and despite reports of his abusive ways toward his female partners, Smalls nurtured Baltimore's musical talent. "I called his beeper one day and did a rap on his voice mail," she told Interview. "He called me right back and said, "Did you write that? It's kinda cool, you should keep writing."

Smalls planned a hip-hop trio that would include himself, Baltimore, and rapper Jay-Z, to be called The Commission. But those plans were dashed by Smalls's murder in March of 1997. During that same year, the father of Baltimore's younger daughter committed suicide, a close friend was slain, and her father died after a long struggle with cancer. Baltimore contemplated suicide after these calamities, but the single mother of two stepped back from the brink. "I'm a realist who believes in learning from mistakes and tragedy," she told Charles R. Rogers of the New York AmsterdamNews. "Plus, I have my kids to live for. … I knew I had to keep on keeping on for them and myself."

Baltimore's runway looks landed her modeling jobs, and her name continued to circulate around the music industry. In 1998 she contributed a song to the soundtrack of the film Woo. "Money," with songwriting input from Philadelphia soul veterans Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, rose to the middle range of Billboard magazine's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. Another single, "Stand Up," cracked the top ten of the magazine's Hot Rap Singles chart.

Baltimore's Untertainment label debut album Cold As Ice, was slated for release in June of 1999. With some production work from DJ Premier, distribution from the major label Epic, and guest appearances from Ghost-face Killah and other top rappers, it seemed to hold plenty of promise. The album was even distributed to reviewers; the New York Amsterdam News praised Baltimore's "seductive ghetto-girl linguistics," although Brad Mills of All Music Guide felt that the album's content was "certainly nothing worthy of the attention she gets and guest appearances she draws."

Despite the buildup, Cold as Ice mysteriously disappeared from the radar; the AskMen.com website reported that it was "shelved due to creative differences between Baltimore and the record label, and further complications." Searching for a recording deal, she remained visible to music audiences with both screen and soundtrack appearances in director Spike Lee's 2000 satire Bamboozled (in which her contribution, "Charli," seemed designed to broaden her name recognition) and in Snipes (2001), working with rapper Nelly in the latter film. Baltimore's personal life took a turn for the better in 2001 when she married Jack Dreece.

In 2002 Baltimore signed on with the Murder Inc. label, where hip-hop mastermind Irv Gotti (Irv Lorenzo) was perfecting a commercially savvy variant of the music, featuring sexy female vocalists such as Ashanti. A master practitioner of the cross-branding that had increasingly come to dominate the hip-hop scene, Gotti at first exploited Baltimore's modeling background; he announced a partnership with the Revlon cosmetics firm and planned to revive its Charlie perfume in a campaign featuring Baltimore. "Icily beautiful, she is the perfect role model for a perfume launched to original Charlie's Angels-type women in 1973," noted Dom Phillips of the London Guardian. A track from a new Baltimore album-in-progress featured a hook sampled from the perfume's original advertising campaign.

Once again Baltimore seemed close to a breakthrough. A 2002 album called Irv Gotti Presents The Inc. featured Baltimore teamed with Ashanti and rapper Ja Rule on a track called "Down 4 U," a major hit that dominated hip-hop airwaves late that year. Baltimore was the featured artist on another track, "No One Does It Better." A fresh round of Baltimore interviews appeared, revealing an intelligent woman with career smarts despite the many roadblocks she had encountered. In 2003 Baltimore went on an international tour with Ja Rule and Ashanti, but by the following year, she parted ways with Murder Inc. Tensions between Murder Inc.'s unusually large group of female artists didn't seem to play a role; Baltimore told AskMen.com that "People expect there to be friction, but we get along very well." Baltimore's music continued to circulate on mix tapes, and the German-African-American rapper with the fashion-model image still seemed to be a star in the making.

Selected discography

Cold as Ice, Untertainment, 1999 (limited release).

(With others) Irv Gotti Presents The Inc., Murder Inc., 2002.

The Diary, recorded, 2003.

For the Record …

Born Tiffany Lane on August 16, 1974, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of a German father and African-American mother; married Jack Dreece, 2001; children: India and Sianni (daughters). Education: Attended Catholic schools in Philadelphia; obtained paralegal certification.

Recorded single "Money" for soundtrack of film Woo and recorded chart single "Stand Up," 1998; recorded album Cold as Ice for Untertainment label, 1999; project shelved; appeared on soundtracks of films Bamboozled and Snipes, 2000-01; recorded with Ja Rule and Ashanti on hit single "Down 4 U," from album Irv Gotti Presents The Inc., 2002; recorded album The Diary for Murder Inc. label (not immediately released), 2003; toured with Ja Rule and Ashanti, 2004.

Addresses: Record company—Murder Inc., 825 8th Ave., 20th Fl., New York, NY 10019.

Sources

Periodicals

Courier Mail (Brisbane, Australia), March 11, 2003, p. News-4.

Guardian (London, England), October 24, 2002, p. 16.

Interview, May 1998, p. 56.

Mirror (London, England), July 24, 1998, p. 29.

New York Amsterdam News, June 10, 1999, p. 24.

New York Post, September 15, 2002, p. 62.

Vibe, March 2005.

Online

"Charli Baltimore," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (March 19, 2005).

"Charli Baltimore: Femme Fatale," AskMen.com, http://www.askmen.com/toys/interview/_60/61_charli_baltimore_interview.html (March 19, 2005).

JamesM.Manheim

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