I could not resist making a little re-edit of the original video replacing the CVS-inserted (yet strangely beautiful) audio with the Ronnie Ruff track, “It Comes From Boston“. Now I loved the original mind you and need to give props to Dennis, all his Brockton (East Side) breakdancing friends and especially his mom, who apparently was handy with the Super 8 (thanks MOM!). But adding the Ronnie Ruff track just seemed too perfect. Apparently, the gods of Hip-Hop agreed. Notice the reference to “frosting” right as the cake comes out? That was complete luck. I just dropped the audio in and it lined right up. I must be doing something right.
There are so many things I love about this video. Having grown up in Boston in the 1980s, I just love how it looks. Like home.
I also love how it transitions from hanging out with dad in the yard, to a quick dinner shot (mom was probably too busy making, serving and cleaning it up to run much tape) and then right to the impromptu breakdance parties in the street and driveway. Cardboard/linoleum + boombox + dope tapes (probably off the radio…maybe Lecco’s Lemma?) + friends = mini-kid block party. In this sense, the emergence of Hip-Hop was so very local and fractal…every neighborhood had at least one kid who could rhyme, dance, DJ or at least had some dope tapes and a boombox. Some neighborhoods had lots. The little block parties that happened all over sometimes got much, much bigger. Then it went global and the rest is history. But back then, before the big money got into it, it was more about your friends, their moves and who had the better boombox.
I especially love that the length of the video allowed for the shoutouts at the end and find it funny that we don’t get one for his own town…Brockton! (I have secretly considered doing a re-edit of the track to replace all the refs to “Boston” with “Brockton”. If someone posts a good “Brockton” drop, I am on it).
Another amazing aspect of the video (that only became clear after talking to Dennis this morning) is the way Hip-Hop attracted kids like a tractor beam and then mixed them together. When I watched the original video, I immediately noticed the older dudes who make a cameo appearance early on and then disappear. Apparently, these guys were from East LA and were out visiting one of the neighbors and came over when they heard the music and joined in. They were probably in their early 20s whereas the rest of the kids were early teens from Brockton, MA. Hip-Hop apparently bridged the significant differences between them. It just proves that one upon a time, kids loved Hip-Hop enough to forget their differences for a minute and just dance. Some of them still do.
The other day, I walked into the front room and was flabbergasted to find a little-known piece of Boston’s Hip-Hop history casually laid out on Ken’s Klipsch speaker as if I were meant to find it. This would seem like a magical manifestation under almost any circumstances given my fascination with Boston’s Hip-Hop history and the mindboggling connections between the Jonzun Crew and Sun Ra represented by this little paper triangle. The fact that I had recently been dreaming of building Pyramidal subwoofers makes it seem more like an intergalactic message dropped there by the Man From Saturn himself.
Although there is now a fair bit of information available about the OVC, when I wrote my chapter on Boston Hip-Hop, Tompkins had yet to release the mindbomb How to Wreck a Nice Beach and there was almost no information anywhere about the cryptic reference in the title of the Boston electrofunk classic Pack Jam (Look Out for the OVC) by the Jonzun Crew.
As I did research for my article, I kept re-wondering “What the hell was this OVC anyway?!” Having whined about it enough to the right people, I learned the answer shortly after it was (re)discovered but swore a solemn oath to keep the story to myself. Which I of course did. Take my word for it, this whole OVC thing was seriously secret info only a few years back. Even now it’s a bit esoteric and the fact that the OVC is the link between Sun Ra and Hip-Hop still seems almost impossible. If you are not quite sure what the hell I am talking about, here it is in one ghastly sentence:
Boston’s Jonzun Crew was connected to Jazzman/Intergalactic traveler Sun Ra via the OVC (the Outerspace Visual Communicator), a light show-producing keyboard that was designed by MIT-affiliated inventor/funk keyboardist Bill Sebastian and used in several Boston Sun Ra Shows and one film.
Now even if you are not a Boston obsessed music obsessive like me, this is a pretty amazing story. For me, its fundamental. In fact, the whole Boston-Electrofunk-Sun Ra connection is a critical piece of evidence that Boston was an important (and overlooked) source for Hip-Hop’s electro/cosmic elements. Seriously, find me a place where early Hip-Hop and Sun Ra connect other than in Boston. Whatever your beliefs about the importance of the Bean in providing some of Hip-Hop’s deepest connections with intergalactic beings, at the very least the OVC deserves a special place in the story of the birth of Hip-Hop (and its Beantown roots).
Since I could not run this down in the chapter given my oath (and could never have done it better than Dave anyway), allow me to offer a few annotations to the now mythical story of the OVC. (Oh to have stalked the beast into the gloamy evening underbrush with Dave and Brian back in the dark ages of ’09…sigh.)
But first of all, where did the poster come from? Did Sun Ra really show up and leave it up front? Most likely not. Originally, this poster was from a series of shows at Mass Art on June 26-29, 1980. Most recently, it arrived by way of Roger Miller who had it floating around in the Alloy Orchestra van. Being a fan of Sun Ra, a gobsmacked bandmate asked if he could have the artifact for his ephemera collection (since it was just laying around the van anyway). Apparently Roger gave it up gladly claiming “to have plenty of them”. Wha?! Sometime after that point the cosmic communique was left on the speaker where I found it. But frankly Ken did not seem entirely sure about any of this, really. Maybe its more plausible that Sun Ra did drop it off.
Wherever the thing came from, it got me sleuthing around again about the OVC. I returned to Dave’s book, of course. Then I went looking for digital crumbs on the internet which I have assembled together here for you. This re-search turned up the following known and semi-known bits of additional info arranged in a rough timeline of the OVC and its interconnections with the Arkestra via Bill Sebastian and the Jonzun Crew.
1973 – Keyboardist/inventor Bill Sebastian is playing with the Johnson Brothers and invents a keyboard light show that plays the band’s name in lights. Perhaps the fractal-electronic seed of the OVC had been planted. Go read the whole awesome interview with Michael Johnson (did you know he and Maurice Starr did a bunch of backing tracks at Sugarhill, for example?). That same year, Sebastian sees sun Ra play in Boston (where was this show?) and spends the next five years building the OVC.
Sometime before 1977 – Sun Ra and the Arkestra play at Paul’s Mall in Boston. According to Warren, they were promoting Space is the Place so this show had to be before 1977. Please go see his amazing pictures of this show. Here is one I borrowed for this post.
1977 – Sun Ra plays the Cyclorama in Boston. No info on this show yet.
1979 – Sun Ra plays The Modern Theater in Boston. This is a week (or two) long run at which The OVC appears for the first time. Waren’s recollection of the show contains a nice reference to the OVC:
“He [Sun Ra] was to perform at a now-defunct theater in Boston, and it was to be a week-long run in which the Arkestra was joined by light artist Bill Sebastian, who had crafted an extraordinary device (the Spacescape light organ) that gave a dazzling visual accompaniment to the music. The photos of Ra and the Arkestra on the back jacket [The Other Side of the Sun] were taken during the band’s two-week stint at Boston’s Modern Theater in 1979. (Obscure digression: if you happen to see the film The Verdict with Paul Newman — filmed in Boston around the time of these shows – watch for the distinctive triangle-shaped flyer for these shows next to him in the scene where’s he’s chatting on an outdoor payphone.) Anyway: Two photos on the rear jacket of this LP show members of the band playing in front of Bill Sebastian’s eyeball-melting Outerspace Visual Communicator, an amazing light-sculpting device”
1980, June 26-29 – Mass College of Art. The OVC was clearly in full effect at this point, as was its inventor, who apparently spun around dressed as some kind of space Wizard. Perfect.
1984 – Sun Ra visits a new “OVC-3D” at the Johnson Brother’s studio, Mission Control. Somewhat earlier in 1982, the OVC was placed at Sebastian’s Munster-esque mansion in Roxbury, MA.
1986 – Sun Ra’s “Calling Planet Earth” video is released. Bill and Jonzun worked on this video with the Arkestra and it contains the best footage I have seen of the OVC (though it is still a little unclear to me how many of the effects were done with the OVC and how many were post production). The video once lived on the YouTube, but the only version I can find now is this one which I scraped off of the web:
Can we get a reissue/better version of this, Bill? Anyone?
More recently, rumors have been circulating around town that Bill and/or Sun Ra may be rebuilding the OVC. There is a tantalizing video called “The Return of the OVC” that claims to be footage from 1986. I can’t be sure what it all means but I hope posters about it keep showing up.
I’ll be looking into all of this as soon as I get that Pyramidal Subwoofer built. In the meantime, keep your eyes out for the OVC (or at least another poster). It may be appearing soon at a future mythical reunion show near you.
…was from Boston?!?! Back before Earl Simmons became known as the NY DMX, a Boston Beatboxer by the same name was tearing up local mics. I had not realized that the DMX we have come to recognize was also originally a beatboxer who got his start around 1984. I guess given the timeline, a DMX vs DMX battle was a possibility. Note to the hip-hop historians: Could we still put this battle together as a follow up to the infamous A-Train vs Solo Battle? (Yeah NYC, we won that one hands down). DMX (NYC) and DMX (Boston), you down?
Anyway, a while back I got a request for some Boston DMX and being the keeper of the tapes, it is my responsibility to provide. Here is the classic DMX/LeCarr routine from the Leccos Lemma show ca. 1986. There are so many amazing things about this routine to me. From the quotation of Trans Europe Express, Inspector Gadget AND the Pink Panther to the huge number of people in the background shouting and cheering along to the whistle beatboxing (which according to A-Train we invented) to the seamless tradeoffs between these cousins, it’s another example of how Boston was right there at the start (and all along really).
To celebrate the recent release of the book The History of American Graffiti by local author Caleb Neelon and co-author Roger Gastman, I thought it would be good to share some additional detail on a piece of Massachusetts’s graffiti history that did not make made it into his book. Though I am still waiting for my copy, I did skim the chapter in the bookstore and was blown away by the amount of history they cover. Neelon and Gastman clearly did an incredible job and I offer this as a friendly addition, both to my own chapter and to his, not as any kind of criticism. As I learned when writing my own version of our local history, there is no way to get it all the first time. That’s why we need to work together to get it straight. [Ed note: Caleb emailed this AM and explained that he was the one who connected Freight Train Graf folks with MAST and that both he and Spray WERE in his chapter on Mass. A real honor given how much he had to include. Apparently, its just me that has trouble getting it right out of the gate and he certainly needs no help from me! LOL and sorry to doubt you from a mere skim, Caleb!]
Back in the 1980s, a Lowell MC/DJ/Dancer/Writer by the name of MAST/Def Rock was rockin’ the Shaughnessy Projects and tearing up the train yards. Back in the early days, there was much less specialization in hip-hop than there is today. Def is a classic example of what I call a 4 elements b-boy. In other words, he could dance, rhyme, rock the decks and get UP…all at the same time. Dudes like him are rare (non-existent?) among the up and comers who seem to focus on one, or at most two, main skills. Like all fields, it seems hip-hop has undergone a degree of specialization as it has evolved. (Correct me if I am wrong about this and there are more young 4 elements b-boys/girls out there than I am aware of).
Back in the day, there seemed to be many more who could do it all. He was (and still is) one of those dudes. As such, he deserves our undying respect as a founding father of the art out here. And like many of the best from Mass, Mast didn’t get the credit he deserved. Luckily, he is still at it and still dropping heat (focusing on the music now rather than the less legal forms of the practice). Go check out his shows up at the Stone Church (recently rocked with Just Ice and Lyrical) and get his latest release Progress/Regress! Its free up on Archive.org fergawdsakes people (but you should really send him a check anyway for helping to create hip-hop for you).
Not only was he the mastermind behind monstamind/megabug and the engineer/DJ behind Excalibur’s 1997 Butta Messenga/Les Miserables (with a young MC Lyrical on the mic), he was also a well known freight train graffiti artist writing as MAST. Living near (and eventually in) the Lowell freight train yards, his early train pieces got him enough recognition to appear in the 2006 book Freight Train Graffiti. The picture above is MAST and his partner SPRAY (rip 1994) rockin’ red jackets in their “iron playground”. Note that like many things Massachusetts hip-hop, the title suggests a low status position in “eleswhere USA”. Come on man, it was right up in Lowell. Elsewhere my ass. Dude was all NATION – besting the hardest of the early MBTA bombers in geographic reach at least.
The book quotes him as follows:
“My house was directly across the street from the biggest freight yard in Lowell. I had anger against the freights because those things woke me up in the middle of the night. I could step out of my house and there I was in my iron playground. I knew every nook and cranny of the freight yard; it was packed tight with trains. You couldn’t even take flicks of most of them because they were so close. The trains would pull out before you could see it too. We had three cabooses we used to hang out in. We brought turntables down and turned it into a writers bench. We had a power supply for the turntables — plugged into the weigh station for the trains. We actually did live in the freights: For a very long time, SPRAY and I were both homeless. We had these three cabooses that we painted, bombed and partied in and brought girls back to and drank wine in. During the cold winter, we stayed inside the engine because they kept it on all night. Graffiti was a big movement; Lowell was crushed out because we wanted it to look like New York.”
Can you even begin to understand having that kind of history in this hip-hop life?! Respect to all the Massachusetts originators out there and peace to my man Def. Give him respect due. Still wondering…go check the Battle Yell video! Underground hip-hop like it always was meant to be. RAWWW!
On March 2rd, 2011 I joined Dana Scott and the gang down at WMBR (88.1 FM) for the second installation of my Boston Hip Hop tribute and Lecco’s Lemma Archive sessions. It was epic, if I do say so myself. I dropped some classic Boston 90s ish by artists like God Complex, Polecat, Tmax, Motion, Prento Kid (not from Boston but with Boston production by Underground Productions) and more. We also rapped about some history, had some laughs and nearly melted the decks with all the Boston heat.
Heads were bobbing off their necks in the studio as always happens when I break out the mid-90s Underground tracks (respect to Brad and Dow, the least appreciated producers out there in the Bean IMHO). Man, people have been sleepin’ on Boston’s lost classics for way too long now. Its amazing to us elders, but for all the really deep underground 90′s stuff (and earlier), there’s a new generation of ears out there who are feeling it hard. Lots of catz and kittens who are down with the underground now were still making macaroni art for gold stars when some of the Best Boston Beats dropped in 1995-1998. Listen for yourself.
All of this seems like it was preplanned. One possibility is that Lecco engaged the services of the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu and somehow orchestrated a rediscovery of 1980′s Boston hip-hop to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Lecco’s Lemma show. In another, Lecco invaded the Media Lab through a wormhole he left back in 1986 and secretly built a tractor beam to draw the Lemmas back home. Whatever the plan, the machine certainly seemed to speak this weekend up in Maine. Let me provide some history.
You see, according to the origin myth, Lecco was the computer that was secretly running the local rap radio show that Magnus started in September 1985 in the basement of MIT. Even then, the singularity seemed near. The tapes (or more properly the songs) were his Lemmas. I have been searching for them for a while now.
On July 11, 2007, I visited Magnus up in his northern lab/studio/record repository. As usual, he is way ahead of everybody else (having moved to high ground long ago with his massive collection of reggae 45s and acres of LPs and 12′s). Unfortunately, on that first visit I only had one night to spend with him. It was great to reconnect and greater still to hear the famed Lecco’s Lemma tapes. But it was rushed. I was only able to record a few tapes before grabbing a couple of hours of shut eye for the long drive home. Not only that, I hadn’t brought a proper tape deck and the good one was deeply wired into Mango’s studio. So I wound up grabbing audio out of a boom box headphone jack. (Somehow appropriate, but not exactly up to even my lame archival standards).
As a result, I was only able to digitize a small fraction of the three wine boxes full of Lecco’s tapes he had kept together. I thought there was a life’s work just in those three boxes, but as I was leaving he explained that there were probably that many more tapes scattered throughout his dozens of boxes of unsorted tapes. I assured him I’d be back soon.
As it increasingly seems to do, time raced along and it was two years later (nearly to the day) when I discovered the second trove. Not in Magnus’s lab this time but in a closet up on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Coming just before the 25th anniversary of the first Lecco’s Lemma show, this new discovery seemed like an clear message from the record gods and perhaps even from Lecco himself. After years of asking around, what’s the chance of finding a collection of 180 show tapes containing the precious on-air performances that Magnus had witnessed (and fondly described) but never recorded? And on the 25th anniversary of the show no less! I immediately called Magnus to see about coming to find those remaining tapes. This time I went prepared with some time on my hands and a tape deck.
This last weekend, on the 25th anniversary of the show, I spent a whole day in Magnus’s lab sorting tapes while he painted. Strangely, we often worked in silence. Sometimes he would amble over to my ever growing piles and dig out a familiar gem. They were always incredible. Tapes of his pre Lecco’s show Reggae Mukassa, original tapes of Gnawa music from the 1970s and of course, many many Lecco’s Lemma demos.
In my secret dreams I must confess I had imagined reuniting the two Lecco’s Lemma tape collections. In more sober moments I also thought it might be either unwise to have them all in one place (what if lightning hit the pile for example) or at best highly unlikely that Magnus would want to part with even one box of the precious Lemmas. Luckily hope prevailed over caution and I mustered the courage to ask him in a statement that was only half a question…”er, well, you know if we get this grant to digitize them, we might need to, er…take some tapes.” The quiet answer was a shudder inducing, “I think I can trust you”. The next morning, his mind-frying coda was delivered over the phone when I called him at work to confirm that it had not been just another diggers dream. “You are the caretaker now.” I had to turn off the video tape to collect myself.
Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that I got it all on tape. Audio tape of course. But more importantly, video. I have perhaps 2 hours of Magnus telling the story of the show, his own history as a DJ and lots and lots of me digging.
Whether by fate, luck or some cyborgian scheme, somehow the Lemmas returned home just in time for their 25th birthday. I don’t know why I was chosen. Perhaps just because I kept asking. Or perhaps it was part of the plan all along. Either way, Magnus knows I will be a good custodian and that Lecco watches over the Lemmas always.
When I got to visit Magnus and the original Lecco’s Lemma tapes I was honored and humbled. Here were the raw materials of one of the oldest rap shows in the country (September 1985) and a critical one in the history of Boston hip-hop. In all of the wonder of that discover there was only one problem…Magnus didn’t tape his own show (or at least not that often). It makes sense. Listening to these tapes it’s clear he was juggling a lot already. The problem is, he did lots of on air stuff. Without the tapes of the shows the record would always be incomplete.
So I began asking around. Lots of people claimed to have tapes of the show. I have a few myself. But when it came right down to it, there just weren’t that many around. But there was one person on my list who I never quite connected with…until recently. I guess I just assumed when he said that he taped the show a lot it was the same as all of us…a lot less often than we remembered. Well. In this case I was wrong.
I finally connected with him this past weekend. As I walked up to the house with my backpack, he stood up from the stoop where he had been waiting and said, “Where’s your truck”. “Truck?”, I replied already taken aback. “What do you mean? How many tapes do you have?” “Like I said, I have boxes, man” was his only reply as he disappeared up the stairs to the archive. I still didn’t quite believe him until he opened the closet door. Then I had to sit down to keep from falling over. He has boxes man.
I left with one box containing 64 tapes of the show. He still has two more. Rounding down, lets say there are 60 tapes per box. That’s 180 tapes. Two tapes per show on average is about 90 shows. Since the show only ran for three years, that’s more than half the shows EVER! With this and Magnus’ original tape collection we will be able to compile a pretty complete picture of 80s Boston hip-hop.
Needless to say, there will be much more to say (and more importantly hear). I’ll be putting stuff up here and on the new Lecco’s Lemma soundcloud account all year. After all, September 2010 is the 25th anniversary of the first Lecco’s Lemma show in 1985…so bust out the tape decks people as we run it down for y’all.
Peace to Magnus and DJ Spin (the first Lecco’s archivist) and all the Lecco’s Lemma alumni out there!
Hey all. Last week I got a short notice request to join flack and wayne at Beat Research tonight. I decided I’d use the night to showcase some of my favorite local ragamuffin hip hop. And when you are doing that, you are basically playing stuff from Jr. Rodigan’s Mastermind Records. Everyone knows the classic ragamuffin hip hop sounds popularized by Bobby Kondors via Massive B Records. Lots of folks also know the collection of stuff on Profile (including the seminal Daddy Freddy and Asher D track) not to mention all the stuff on Nervous. What most people don’t know is that in the mid-90′s, Boston was putting out raggamuffin hip-hop as good as anyplace!!!! Believe it. Like all things hip-hop, Boston’s contribs have gone less recognized than some other places. Until now.
I offer this Mastermind Monstamix to prove that the Bean was rocking the ragga sound as hard as anyplace in the mid 1990s. As usual, its pretty much unedited and done live with two decks and included here warts and all. Its also clearly not ALL mastermind stuff and veers into a little paid in full mini-mashup by the end complete with Wayne flowin’ over a PM dawn IM (which always makes me smile).
Respect to Rodigan and his collaborators including the prolific Bingy Twins who co-produced many of his hottest raggamuffin hip-hop dancefloor burners! I’ll be rocking Boston Raggamuffin Hip Hop Classix tonight at Beat Research for anyone in town.
Bigup to the beantown massive. Stay tuned for the Monstamind Master Mix that will be highlighting some lesser known scientifikal rappers from MA.
Last night, I had the honor of meeting Jr. Rodigan and playing a set of his classic 90s track while he sat and listened. Talk about pressure. He shook my hand at the end of the night though, so I guess I did it proper. Listening to his verse on One in the Chamba while he sang along next to me has to be one of my all time best musical moments! More on that track in a minute but for now, keep those Boston beats bumpin’.
Insane newsof Guru’s coma today threw me for a loop. I thought there would be a lot of people out there in shock and figured it might help to hear some of the old tapes from before things got complicated. For those needing an update, the whole history has been recounted today by Dart Adams.
Here again (but this time set to video Ken Burns style) are the tapes Keith sent to Magnus at the Lecco’s Lemma show on WMBR in Cambridge in 1986. Among all the tapes in the boxes, he had the most by far (maybe next to DJ Prime – a strange coincidence actually). Its a sad day in Boston hip-hop whenever one of our own gets felled for any reason. Hopin’ for good outcomes and listening to these tapes is helping. Hope it helps you too. We know Guru always had Boston in his heart and recent years proved it. Peace.
Here are two of the tracks
Take a lesson
P.S. SUCH great news that he pulled out OK. Man, I was praying hard in my way over here and I know a lot of others were too. Hopes for a fast and full recovery and many more years of dopeness! WTF?!?!?
Short notice but I wanted to shout about a benefit tonight for DJs for Peace (a new initiative being brought to you by local peace/hip-hop activist Cindy Diggs). As a local DJ/Peace and Global studies graduate and Cindy fan I am definitely there. Not only that but the lineup looks amazing.
Here are the deets. But even if you can’t go, send some love Cindy’s way. She is doing amazing work as always.
Every year since 2006, Peace Boston has premiered their promotion for the year in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday dubbed by Peace Boston as The Ultimate Peace Weekend. This year is no exception.
On Thursday, January 21, 2010, The DJs for Peace – seventeen of New England’s best – will light up the wheels of steel, demonstrating the art of DJ battle and old school tribute as a benefit for youth fundraiser and danceoff The Beantown Bounce IV!
This year’s spin-a-thon will take place at Club Choices, 379 Somerville Ave, Somerville MA and is 21+
The event will feature special guest performances by DJ Act One’s breakdance crew The Krazy 88′s; Boston Music Award winner Lisa Bello; and a Run-DMC Tribute with DJ Cruz featuring Big Scythe and Visionary Da 3rd. Other DJs on deck for this occasion: DJ Black, DJ Daz-One, DJ Def Stef, DJ Dex, DJ Dru Nyce, EJ Spin, DJ Greg G, DJ Inkognito, DJ Jon Jack, Killer DJ, DJ Knucks, DJ Lil Nes, DJ Nestle Quick, DJ Val Beatz, and DJ Vixxx. Chip Greenidge will host.
The first forty-five patrons will receive a free gift from Peace Boston.
The Day of the DJ Meet & Greet at 7PM (for DJs only)
Guests are encouraged to dress for the occasion to win the Best of the 80′s Dress Contest and to participate in the 80′s dance competition.
Doors open for the public at 7:45. Show starts at 8:01 PM.
Admission is just $10. Guests may also purchase a copy of Peace Boston’s youth and anti-violence programming benefit CD PEACE IN THE STREETS for an additional $10.
Presented by The Knights of the Turntables and Peace Boston
For more information contact: