Def Rock at Beat Research

Thanks to everyone who showed up on Monday for the Beat Research Rep Da Bean Night. Amazing to hang with 7L, Karma, Lyrical, Nomadik, Polecat/Brick Casey, Def Rock and the Megabug crew and many others while we listened to unreleased Lecco’s Lemma tapes, TDS Mob, T-Max and so much other incredible Boston hip-hop! We all agreed we need to do it more often.

We ended the night with a surprise appearance by Def Rock and Dr. Dooriddle (of Megabug/Monstamind fame) and DJ Richie Gambles on the decks. Check them out rockin’ through a hole in the wall using the random breakbeat records I happened to bring along.

Peace to the BEANTOWN MASSIVE!

Hip-hop in the hub

Its finally here. The day the book drops. I am heading over to Beat Research soon to celebrate with the Beantown massive and wanted to put up the article before I do.

There is so much to say about this piece of work that I can’t even really begin. It took longer and was harder than I ever could have imagined. But it was also the highest honor to be asked to write the first real academic piece on Boston’s hip-hop history. What would you say? Its a complicated tale to say the least. Well, this is what I came up with.

A few words of introduction are clearly in order. First, thanks to everyone who opened their lives, collections and memories to me. I could not have done it without you. Second, I know there are certainly going to be some errors, omissions, thoughts about other angles to highlight, etc. I welcome your suggestions (post them up here) and hope I can update this in a second version, later works, etc. This is certainly a first pass at a lifelong project. Finally, you may notice that the article leaves a lot of the recent history (and people) out. That’s not because I see it as less important, interesting, etc. Just that I had a chance here to tell some tales that have not been told, reach some people that are harder to reach, and dig a little deeper into the past. I also wanted to celebrate a scene that I have loved and been around (but not quite in) for my whole life. So, that’s what I did.

There are lots of things I would do differently if I could. But most of it, I would do the same way again. Visiting Rusty and Spice at Touch. The trip to Maine to see/hear the Lecco’s Lemma archives and talk to Magnus my old friend. Checking in with Skippy at his last remaining store and asking him about his first memories. Reconnecting the electro sounds coming out of Boston in the early 1980s to the birth of hip-hop. A lot. Anyway. I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Here it is with respect to all of you who lived it the first time around.

Hip-Hop in the Hub: How Boston Rap Remained Underground

For those of you who can afford the $165 price tag (nah, I don’t get any) its also available in the massive comp Hip Hop In America: A Regional Guide.

Thanks of course to Mickey for all the hard work putting out this massive compendium and inviting me to be part of it.

Old Whirled Music

Olga Bibor and Her Peasant Jazz Orchesra, Out of My Album

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Archive dot org on Olga Bibor.

When you spend enough time listening to and discussing old records, sometimes it seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same. Let me explain. I recently had the pleasure of hosting a lovely couple named Olga and Raph and who had played at Beat Research under the name The Gypsy Sound System. Despite some of the commentary over at Wayne’s mega blog, I have to say I liked the set a lot. In addition to a tasteful selection of tunes, Olga sang mournful melodies over dub instrumentals and they generally played a tight, danceable (if perhaps a little ethnokitschy) set.

Not the make light of the serious issues (of which I am largely ignorant) around the gypsy term in their name, but the whole debate reminded of another Olga who was engaged in a complex re-presentation of Eastern European musical memes and modern dance trends. But this one fronted a band back in 1919. Now this is the kind of coincidence that can only occur if you have paid proper homage to the vinyl gods.

Olga Bibor and her Peasant Jazz Orchestra’s “Out My Album” was recorded in New York City in May 1919 by a Hungarian group led by a woman named Olga. It was also the subject of an old post of mine back in 2006 titled Olga Bibor’s Peasant Jazz Orchestra and the Proto-Jazz Melting Pot and was the most inexplicable record in Rob’s Collection. The post generated a little buzz among a handful of 78 collectors (scroll down), but never went viral. Until now. If you head over there, note that I was not the source of the “world’s first jazz record” question. But these folks do have some interesting notions about the global dance musical goulash represented here.

According to one commentator “like many such emigrant ensembles in New York during this period, their output included folk dance melodies (csardas, waltz, lander), as well as Tin Pan Alley tunes such as Silver Threads Among the Gold.” Rob Chalfen hears this song as blending the sounds of “circus, NY string bands, proto-jazz, klezmer & somehow St. Louis or Memphis-type (?) ragtime riffs in one enigmatic performance.” While others don’t hear as much nuance perhaps, they are similarly clear about the early jazz content. “The tune sounds to me like it’s based, at least partly, on Weary Blues, a jazz standard dating from 1915, by Artie Matthews (prolific African American songwriter and ragtime composer).” Apparently (and not surprisingly), the group also performed under the name Olga Bibor and her Gypsy Ensemble.

So, here we have a woman named Olga fronting an Eastern European band playing a combination of currently popular dance music with jazz in their name (a term which may have been added by recording executives who were trying to capture the exploding interest in this new beat heavy music). But remember folks, this was 1919, just two years after the earliest Original Dixieland Jazz Band releases. Back in the old days, people still managed to share their influences with no assistance from blogs, torrents or rapidshare sites. They traveled around buying records and playing them for (and with) other people. Listening, watching, learning, playing, and partying together as best they could given the social contexts they were coming from/into. In the process, things get creatively scrambled. Trust me. It happened just the other night.

The night Raph and Olga stayed over, I got to chat with them after the gig for a while. They didn’t strike me as boorish exploiters of others’ cultures. Rather, they seemed like kind, open-eared fellow travelers in the musical omniverse. Things got really interesting when Raph pulled out the accordian and I tried to accompany him on some trad sounding tunes. As an old rock guitarist from way back who has gradually lost his chops, I was having trouble finding the right strumming rhythm. After kindly suffering my rhythmic mutilations for a while, Raph finally turned to me and said, “its like ska, chak-chak-chak” as he mimed the guitar strum physically and sang it on the “ands” for me. Somehow, he must have known that a Specials reference would help this half Ukranian Boston PhDj former alterna-rocker learn how to muddle through Eastern European tunes he was still (re)learning himself.

Like I said, le plus ça change.

Lexington 78 Haul

Last Saturday morning, a friend texted me to tell me that a relative in Lexington was getting rid of her parents’ old record collection. Apparently, the collector had been an accountant and at minimum, his organizational scheme might be of interest. I was led to believe it was a few hundred records and possibly some 78s and didn’t expect much given the description. He told her that I was among the few people in town who would probably be willing to come haul it off on short notice. Apparently, he was right. I agreed to be there later that day.

What I discovered was a big collection of 78s (about 40 books in all!) that included some cool jump blues, jazz and hot 20s dance sides along with the predictable preponderance of schmaltz, 40s swing, vocal jazz and other goofball stuff. Luckily, I know one of the only people in town who has the skill to sift through the collection for any instances of blues, jazz or other proto-funk content. Watch and learn as the master works.

My best record find ever

Those are big words for sure. But in this case, it has to be true. Last summer, while sorting incoming records at the old lab, I flipped past  this copy of Ofra Haza’s Galbi 12″. As it was heading for the “sell/trade” pile (I already have a few), something caught my attention. The record sleeve seemed a little thick. There was clearly something else in there. “Hunh, might be worth keeping her promo shot/press kit, plus, it has an old WERS stamp on it…,” I was thinking as I removed the printed material inside. Then I fell over.

After a year digging into the basement of Boston hip hop looking for its origin stories, my personal grail had escaped me.  I knew that The Source magazine started in Boston (in the Cambridge dorms at Harvard to be precise) and I really expected to run across an old copy. Indeed, lots of folks reported having copies way back when (before the move, fire, robbery…) but I never was able to track one down. Until now. In the most random way imaginable.

Here, in a record I was about to throw away was a copy of The Source, Vol 1, No. 2, November 1988! Not only was it  still stapled shut but it started right out with a list of “hot picks from streetbeat” (presumably a reference to the weekly rap radio show run by David Mays Jon Shecter on Harvard’s student radio station WHRB). Also, nore the appearance of the local classic TDS Mob track Dope For the Folks along with a pile of golden age gems from national acts.  This amazing bit of Beantown hip-hop history was delivered in a way that only the vinyl gods could have organized. It also put a beautiful bookmark on the end of my year-long quest for the foundations of Boston hip-hop. Grail. Check.

Lecco’s Loco on WZBC

I’ve been digging through the tapes and found a good one. This is some audio of Magnus on a later incarnation of Lecco’s Lemma on WZBC in Newton. Not sure of the date, but it was post 1988 (it starts with Cold Lampin’ With Flavor). I also love that it was sponsored in PART by a grant from Mattapan Music…right there in Mattapan Square!

I’ve edited it a bit to focus on the talking (sorry Magnus) and one track from the mix that is not available elsewhere. Can you get to this? The Willie…Alexander…Rap. Yup. Once and former member of the later Velvets and Boom Boom Band leader, Gloucester’s own post punk magnate did a rap tune that was hyped by Magnus on ZBC way back when. Not only that, he just released a new/old record.

Here’s the review from the recent Noise.

[snip]
WILLIE ALEXANDER & THE BOOM BOOM BAND
Captain Trip Records
Loco Live 1976
16-song CD
Those unfamiliar with Willie should know he graced Boston stages playing Boston rock ’n’ roll when even dinosaurs like myself were playing Little League. I mean, this dude was in one of the last lineups for the Velvet Underground! It’s an honor to review a still-playing legend and I’m very glad this didn’t fall into the hands of some fool like Zortar’s hands. This CD was recorded at two Boston clubs—the Rat (there’s even a song called “At the Rat”) and the Club. The sound is great and the selection of songs is pretty representative. Younger folks expecting an early punk sound might be put off by Willie’s sometime falsetto and keyboards, but like most early Boston rock, his style is more garage than punk and he was one of the earliest and best of the time.

Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band play sloppy, eccentric, creative, rockin’ Boston music and you can’t go wrong with the lyrics from my favorite “Pup Tune”—“Your dog swallowed another pair of panties, she puked them up in the hall, they’re in a ball now.” (Slimedog) [snip]

Locos Lemma Lives!

RepDaBeaNdex

I am happy to report that my article on the history of Boston’s early hip hop scene is coming out this November in the book Hip Hop in America: A Regional Guide. Stay tuned for some more on that. In some final back and forth with my editor on the page proofs, I got a question on the accuracy of the following statement:

Ed: Pacey, is this right?

“pg 210: MC Keithy E of the Gang Starr Crew’s departure for Brooklyn, NY (along with Gangstarr name) was a formative story for the Boston hip-hop community. His subsequent success with DJ Premier is the stuff of legend. However, because Guru did not regularly refer to his Boston roots in those early days, some folks back home felt the city had lost an opportunity for national recognition that it deserved.”

Although I am not in love with the grammatical construction here (too late for changes), I told my editor that I had gotten this sense both from interviews from and being around on the sidelines at the time – but that I couldn’t be sure. I also said I’d double check with two local beat researchers who know a little about this stuff. The replies back made me feel more confident.

B: I would agree with that. Guru didn’t start mentioning Boston until early/mid 90s on tracks like “The Planet” (on “Hard To Earn”). I don’t remember him mentioning Boston on the first 2-3 albums, altho I could be wrong…. a lyric check would confirm that. He didn’t pretend that he grew up in Brooklyn, but at the same time he didn’t continually give shouts to Beantown in Gang Starr’s (vs. Gangstarr Posse’s) earliest years once he went to NYC and hooked up with Premier.

W: I’d agree too, though perhaps a lyrics scan of those first albums would be worth it.

While I was feeling confident enough to go to press, the fact that both suggested I check his lyrics left me feeling curious (and wishing I had thought of the idea months ago!) As soon as I had a few hours, I decided to answer the question properly.

Using two of the many rap lyric websites,  I collected all the available lyrics for the first three Gang Starr albums. Then, using a simple search (crtl+f) in MSWord, I counted the number of references to Boston, its neighborhoods and icons (like sports teams, etc).

As I read through Guru’s early lyrics, the pattern seemed pretty clear. I had remembered his frequent Brooklyn references on the early records, but had forgotten about the New York homage Place Where We Dwell. In addition to including shout outs to all the boroughs, the track is built on a bed that includes the oft repeated chant “Go Brooklyn” — over, and over and over. Reading the frequent New York references, my Beantown blood bubbled a bit and I became curious what the actual ratio of Boston to New York references was in these early Gang Starr songs. Did Guru simply fail to mention Boston much or did he actually use New York as his lyrical home base?

To figure that out, I counted the number of references to New York (its boroughs and icons) in Guru’s early lyrics. I also noted that in Place Where We Dwell, Guru actually mentions Boston as one of many east coast cities, none of which live up to Brooklyn (which he finds to be “the best”). I read this as a mildly negative Boston reference and thought I needed to subtract something from his Bean reppage for that.

So here are the results:

Songs: 43
Boston: 2
“Bean”: 0
Boston Teams: 0
Other Boston towns: 0
New York: 7
NY boroughs: 27 (in Place Where We Dwell alone. Total Brooklyn = 16)
Boston Disses: ½
NY Teams: 0

Looking at this data confirms my sense that in the early years Guru used New York (and particularly Brooklyn) as his rhetorical home base. While it resolved my editor’s question,  it doesn’t speak to the deeper (and perhaps more controversial) question about how Guru’s Boston references compared to those of other early Boston rappers. How do we know that ALL early rappers didn’t reference New York a lot? How do we know that Guru was different from other early Boston rappers in his lack of Bean reppage?

Just to be extra careful, it seemed worth comparing Guru’s stats with some iconic early Boston group. You could pick Edo, sure, but that seemed too obvious (and less controversial somehow). I chose the The Almighty RSO.

To compare the extent to which Guru and RSO “Repped Da Bean” required calculating the average number of Boston references per song for each artist. Given the historical competition between New York and Boston, I also decided to include a negative value for references to New York. Finally, it seemed important to include a negative value any direct Boston disses (which I count more in the negative than a Boston reference in the positive). Therefore:

RepDaBeaNdex = (# Boston References / # Songs) – (# New York References / # Songs) – (2 * Boston Disses)

Let me say a few things about this measure. First, while its obviously insane, it actually represents a pretty straightforward way to quantify the extent to which a given artist’s lyrical content represents a given location. You could substitute any location for the ones chosen here, right? It also leaves something/s out and makes some assumptions, like all measures.

It leaves out context (or at least leaves it up to tht researcher to decide – and explain – what words constitute references to a given place). For example, in Positivity, Guru shouts out Damo D-Ski. Does this count as a Boston reference to you? (It did to me, but we could argue about how “strong” a Boston reference it is.) If you wanted, you could modify the index to count only strong references, etc. That’s up to you!

Finally, since Boston and NY have had a longstanding rivalry that is tangled up with the origin stories of hip-hop in the Bean, I decided to subtract references to NY from the BeaNdex. Does this seem right? Hell, it does to me. I also set it up so a diss of Boston takes away more from your BeaNdex than a simple Boston reference adds. That’s another judgment call, but hey, if you don’t like it, make up a new one. That’s the way research works. Eh? I have already received some suggested modifications, which I can post later.

With this index in hand, I returned to the web to collect data on RSO (who had far fewer songs transcribed, so I was happy for my BeaNdex). Here’s the RSO data.

Songs counted: 7
Boston: 5
Bean: 1
Boston Teams: 1 (Bruins)
Other Boston towns: 6
New York: 0 (two men mentions by Mobb Deep guest Prodigy don’t count and one mention is King of New York ref, not a shout out really.)
NY Boroughs: 0 (Queens, Queensbridge both mentioned by Prodigy, from Queens)
NY Teams: What do you think?

While the pattern itself is pretty clear (fewer songs and many more references), I felt it was important to complete the process, so I calculated each artists RepDaBeaNdex.

Guru’s RepDaBeanNdex = (2/43) – (35/43) – (2*.5) = -1.76
RSO’s RepDaBeanNdex = (13/7) – (0) – (0) = 1.86

I hope you enjoyed this little exercise in hip hop statistics. Calculate an index for an artist or town you love and post the results and any modifications/suggestions. I would like to see one for Edo and other early Boston Groups. TDS? Top Choice? Brick records artists? Lif vs Akro! Not to start a war here, just diggin in the digital dustbin trying to get the story straight!

Oh yeah, and I’m a geek.

Peace to the Beantown MASSIVE! Leccos Lemma Lives!

GURU EXAMPLES

Positivity
[Guru]
So if you’re generatin positivity out there
You know that’s the move
Yo me and Premier, we always got positivity
DJ Tommy Hill, he got positivity
Damo D-Ski, got positivity
Brooklyn, the Boogie Down
All the boroughs.. got positivity
Boston, Philly, New Jersey, Houston
The rest of the hip-hop world.. got positivity
Peace

Premier and the Guru:
“I sound greater because I’m head of the comittee I chill in New York City, I’m witty, so get me To Brooklyn, so I can ill and peace no joke..”

The Place Where We Dwell:
(27 mentions of NY Boroughs and locations not including “NY” counted elsewhere)

New York, New york is where we live and we’re thorough
Never taking shorts cuz Brooklyn’s the borough
Peace to Uptown, to queens and the Bronx
Long Island and Jersey get as fly as they want
Where we rest is no joke
So let me break it down to sections for you slowpokes
Fort Greene, bedstuy, Flatbush, Brownsville
Crown Heights and East New York will be down till
Medina takes respect for the style’s we bring
Cuz in Brooklyn, we be into our own thing
Alantic terminals, redhook bushwick
Come to Brooklyn frontin, and you’ll get mushed quick
We ain’t just know for flipping and turning out parties
But also for the take no bullshit hotties
On the subject of blackness, well let me share this
Brooklyn is the home for cultural awareness
So in all fairness, you can never compare this
Some good, some bad. little hope for the weak
Dangerous streets and Coney Island Beach
All this included when you go for a tour
Some can get scandolous and outright raw
When you step, step correct and watch where you move
We pay dues so we ain’t trying to lose
Here in Brooklyn
The home of the black and the beautiful
For a ruffrap sound, ain’t a place more suitable
Other cities claim this, and others claim that
But let me give some props to the place where we be at
B-R-double O- K-l-Y-N
I came in for a visit and ever since then
I’ve been incorporated with select personel
Right here in Brooklyn, the place where we dwell

Way down in Brooklyn (3x)
Those who live in Brooklyn know just what I’m talking about

Verse two:

Peace to Boston, Philly, Connecticut, DC
All the east coast cities are fly to me
Peace to everybody down south and out west
But for me, Brooklyn, New York is the best
Don’t be afraid to venture over the bridge
Although you may run in to some wild ass kids
Take the j train, the d or the a if you dare
And the 2,3,4,5 also comes here
There’s so much to see cuz Brooklyn’s historic
Fools act jealous but you have to ignore it
So I just lounge wit the fat clientel
Out here in Brooklyn, the place where we dwell

Way down in brooklyn
You know the place…

RSO EXAMPLES

Forever RSO:
“You know this one gotta go out to them niggas up in Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury, South End, Columbia Point, JP”

Prodigy on The War is On:“…USA, New York City if you wanna be exact a soldier story from Queens if you look closer on the map…”
and later in same song…
“New York, Boston
yo, cross the tri-state
the five gates, word up
Queensbridge, the Infamous RSO”

5 Minutes of Doom: “I’ll be on some King of New York shit”

Computer Rock Control

Computer Rock Control 1

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Computer Rock Control.mp3 1983
Discog Page for Computer Rock Control

As we prepare for another Project MUM party (August 29, 2009) under the Mcgrath O’Brien bridge in Somerville, I have been digging through my piles of electrofunk, beantownboogie, discobreaks and other appropriately future themed music. Once again, I gravitate back to this  foundational Boston electrofunk classic, Computer Rock Control from (Maurice) Starr’s Computer Band.

Not only do I love the idea of a “Computer Band”, but the title itself seems so forward thinking. Back in 1983 Maurice was already creating the kind of computer fueled dance funk that was sweeping the hip-hop underground along with the recently released “Planet Rock”. In fact, Back in the day, Boston was a hotbed of these electro-sounds. Looking at the credits for Planet Rock the producer was none other than our own Arthur Baker. Not only that, Boston-based “Planet Patrol” (formerly “The Energetics”) recorded a follow up hit “Play At Your Own Risk” on the same backing tracks that were used for “Planet Rock”.

Here’s Arthur Baker’s own description of the recording process from Sound on Sound. “In fact, we realised we might get sued by Kraftwerk if we used the ‘Trans-Europe Express’ melody, so John performed a different string melody just in case — it was on one of the tracks on the same tape — and that was what we ended up using for ‘Play At Your Own Risk’.” I mixed the two on my Beantown Boogie mix, if you want to hear it there. Or simple youtube it and you are sure to find.

Not taking away from the genius spark provided by Bam in all things electrofunk, just sayin that the Bean was right in there at the ground floor c/o folks like Arthur Baker, Maurice Starr, Michael Jonzun, Planet Patrol and the flows of people and styles moving back and forth between Boston and NYC in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Tracks like “Computer Rock Control” and Dwayne Omarr’s “This Party’s Jam Packed” document Boston’s place in the early electro-sound that was to serve as the foundation for so many styles to come.

I’ll be tracing some of these early Boston electro-links in subsequent posts leading up to the MUM party in August. For now, enjoy some electrofunk from Boston back in the day!

Freakazoids…robots…please report to the dance floor.

Makin Moves

When you have thousands of records, moving day is time of reckoning. Its the day when all those Sunday thrift store purchases come home to roost. Its the day when you wonder whether all those doubles are really necessary. Its the day when mp3s start to make sense. Its the day when you wish you had hired the cast of Ben Hur instead of the three skinny movers who just arrived from the former Soviet Union only to find themselves trapped in a different kind of gulag.

But when you are moving into a 2000 sq. foot chicken loft,  its all worth it in the end. And that’s just what we did.

Last weekend, we moved our base of operations to the legendary Chicken Loft in Cambridge. More on that soon. But we are already off to a good start. On the very first day, as we sat and sipped a bottle of Wayne’s home made wine, he looked down at his tweetyphone and exclaimed with shock and honor, “holy shit guys, MIT just saved my life”. He learned he had been selected as an MIT Mellon Fellow. Congrats Wayne. Auspicious beginnings.

Control+Alt+Delete. Talk to you again as soon as I unpack!