It comes from Brockton!

While preparing for a talk this week on Boston Hip-Hop history, I stumbled on a youtube video of kids in Brockton, MA breakdancing in the 1980s. I think I got there while looking for info about Ronnie Ruff, a dope Brockton DJ/Producer/MC from way back.

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.

Ronnie Ruff

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.

Peace Boston

Pace

Massachusetts Graffiti History Vol. 1: MAST and SPRAY

MAST_Freight_Train_Graffiti_p102

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.

Freight Train Graffit Cover

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!

peace

pace

Mastermind Monstamix: Boston’s Ragamuffin Hip-Hop History

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.

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Mastermind Monstamix

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.

peace

P.S.

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’.

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.