Mastermix radio show on WERS in 1983

Boston_80s_College_Radio_Tapes

The title of this blog becomes increasingly ironic the bigger the piles of cassettes become around here. But then, they are mostly tapes of records, or at least radio shows of records and music made with other records. So that’s something. They are also revealing long lost tales of Boston’s largely overlooked urban and dance music scene in the 1980s. This new little collection also provides some important pre-history for the Leccos’s Lemma show, Boston’s first rap radio show that started in 1985. Allow me to offer a little context while you listen. I hope you like scratching.

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Mastermix Show with Hosh Gureli on WERS 88.9 FM 5-21-83

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the Lecco’s Lemma story, but those who are just getting here may consider starting with this piece from the Boston Phoenix. There have been big new developments on that front and Chris Faraone did an amazing job telling the tale of the tapes and the couple of crazy caucasians who kept them all these years. Just this past Sunday we finally got the whole collection together for the first time.

The proximate cause of this reunion was a visit up to see Willie “Loco” Alexander to collect the last two boxes of his Lecco’s Lemma show tapes. While conducting an interview (more of a paean to our pal Magnus really), Willie pulled out a small pile of other local college show tapes that he had set aside. Luckily, I was running video at the time. Watching it now, it’s cringe worthy how giddy and excited I become as he rattles of titles of shows I have never heard of with dates descending back into the electro infused daze of early 1908s. But then, these are the moments I live for. One of the most incredible and earliest in the pile was this tape of the Mastermix show on Emmerson’s WERS 88.9 FM from 5-21-83.

Although there is not much on the internets about this show, one of the first mentions I found brought me back literally full circle. It was in a comment left by Matt Reyes on my old blogspot site in a post called “Magnus Carta: Boston Hip Hop History” about the Lecco’s Lemma show. Wat?! Here’s what he said back in ’05. I had completely forgotten the reference to the Mastermix show.

Magnus Johnstone was always a bit ahead of his time where music was concerned. He’d discover, devour, disseminate, then depart once the next new thing came along. He was into reggae, Chicago house, Kraftwerkian electro, all before they became widely popular. And then in the early 80’s he got in on the ground floor with hip-hop. In 1985, he got a radio show on MIT’s radio station WMBR 88.1 FM, on Saturday afternoons, and would play the newest rap records from Spin City, Skippy White’s, Nubian Notions, and Nancy’s Record & Book Store downtown. Although some rap had been heard previously on WERS 88.9’s “Special Edition” (Cosmic Crew, pre- Def Jam Beasties, UTFO’s “Roxanne Roxanne” in Hosh Gureli’s 1984 Mastermix), that show featured mainly current urban dance like Jonzun Crew, Shannon and Freeez. Kiss 108 had played “Planet Rock”, “Jam On It” and “Rapper’s Delight”, but that was really just for novelty’s sake. And Boston’s preeminent black music station, WILD 1090 AM, utterly refused to play rap at the time. So hip-hop fans from all over Boston tuned in as best they could to Lecco’s Lemma, this tiny signal down at the bottom of the dial. The origin of the show’s title was that the whole thing was being run at the behest of a master computer named Lecco, and these songs were the “lemmas”, or things he desired.

Here is an even more detailed recollection from DJ Spinelli (Ed Note: Check out his amazing list of DJs including lots of local ones!)

Hosh Gureli (88.9 WERS) – One of the best DJs in the early 80s here in Boston. Known as the “Mastermix” on 88.9 WERS, he was far ahead of his time with mixing/remixing/editing and everything else in between.

His style of mixing wasn’t just “mixing one song into another” like most would do. Instead, he would have 3 or 4 songs going at once, throw some edits in and then go into another 3 or 4 songs (keep in mind, this is back in 82/83). Fortunately, I have many tapes of his mix shows that I recorded back then.

Interestingly enough (during the late 80s), I was in a “Battle Of The DJs” contest with Hosh at Faces nightclub in Cambridge and couldn’t believe I was going up against him (which he won, of course).

There are countless people in the Boston area that can thank Hosh for being an such an inspiration to them – myself included!

In case you missed it, let me repeat the most important line for you: “Fortunately, I have many tapes of his mix shows that I recorded back then.”

Mind = blown.

Dear DJ Spinelli, let me take this moment to publicly thank you for keeping your tapes of this amazing show and preserving Boston’s musical history. I think I can speak for all past, present and future Beantown beat heads and club kids when I say “we would sure love to hear some of your tapes”.

DJPace

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

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.

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”

Lecco’s Lemma at Beat Research

As many of you know, I’ve been workin’ on an article about the history of Boston’s early rap scene for better than a year now. Its finally off to the press and I’ll certainly post it as soon as it hits the streets (if not sooner). A big part of the project was locating (and visiting!) the legendary Lecco’s Lemma tapes.

Back in the fall of 1985, DJ/painter and local music legend Magnus started a rap and electronic music show on Saturday afternoons at WMBR in Cambridge, MA. In addition to being one of the earliest rap shows in the country (which puts him in the company of folks like Mr. Magic and Red Alert), it was the first in the Bean to feature local artists regularly. As a result, it was the hub of the Hub’s earliest rap scene. Shows like Beat Street were soon to follow, but Magnus was a critical pioneer and superfan who helped to launch the careers of artists like Gangstarr, The Almighty RSO, Edo G, Big Chuck, etc. To this day, he refers to the regular attendees as “the kids” and he loved them like an older brother. Based on the interviews I did, the love and respect still flows back to Magnus from everyone who remembers the show.

According to folks like Rusty Pendleton (whose legendary Funky Fresh Records is in danger of closing – so go by a cd y’all!!!), the Lecco’s Lemma show was THE SPOT to be back in the day. He should know. After all, he was rocking the decks with his TOES back at the Talent Nights while the New Kids took notes in the background!

Still don’t believe a PhDJ/professor of management? (I don’t blame you really). Check out D. Scribe’s words on the matter from back in 2005. Or how ’bout a post from my very own early bloggy days with critical history from Type 4 and Magnus himself chiming in. For that matter, head on over to the Lecco’s Lemma page Matt put up with streamin audio and all!

The amazing thing about Magnus is that he saves everything (everything good that is). Over the years, whispered words of a lost Lecco’s Lemma tape archive were passed around among Boston hip hop junkies but no one had ever seen them or knew whether they existed for sure…until now.

Last year I was honored to visit my old friend Magnus in his lab in rural Maine and see the Lecco’s Lemma tapes. (More on the visit soon as its a story in itself). Sitting above his equally legendary collection of reggae 45’s, the three wooden wine boxes contained a litteral treasure trove of early Boston rap tapes! The first one I opened knocked me off my chair.

That hand written tape on the top says “This one’s called she’s a mutt by Edo Rock of the FTI crew”. OMG! There was Guru’s “For Magnus” tape when he was just back from college and appearing as MC Kiethy E. Right up front was Malden’s Top Choice, there was TDS Mob’s whole TAPE (!?!) on Race Records, a hand made demo tape of Boston Goes Def…and on…and on…until the break of dawn. I spent a sleepless night surrounded by Magnus’s psychedelic bio-mechanical paintings taping everything I could in 12 hours. (If you look below, you might notice that my portable protools rig is connected to…what’s that? No, no, not the cool ass reel to reel. Try the 1/8″ jack of the ca. 1989 “all in one” stereo Magnus pulled out for the purpose! More on that later)

I’ll be sharing some of the gems in all their hiss and glory this Monday night at Beat Research at the Enormous Room in Cambridge, MA.(567 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA)

The Lecco’s Lemma listening party goes from 9:30-10:00 at which point, Flack, Wayne and I will trade sets. You can be sure mine’s gonna have plenty of classic Beantown tracks in it (along with a healthy dose of the random dancefloor killers I have collected over the years).