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:
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 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!
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
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
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…
“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”