Perhaps Boston’s biggest secret is how deep the talent in our rap scene runs. While there are plenty of famous hip-hop acts that call Boston home, it’s those closest to the underground scene and their initial roots that are delivering some of the most genuine and intriguing work today. There’s a slight disconnect between the old generations and the new generations, between the national touring acts and those still performing in basement venues. That’s why you have to send the elevator back down when you make it to the top. That’s exactly what Mark Merren is doing. This Friday, he’s throwing another edition of Branded Authentic, and this time he’s sending a dozen elevators down at once for the show.
Brighton Music Hall will host one of the best rap events of the year this Friday. Dubbed Branded Authentic, the concert will see Mark Merren co-headlining with Oompa for just $13 in advance. The special surprise to an already promising night is that they plan on featuring a massive selection of special guest performances. Not just three or four. No, this year’s Branded Authentic will see over a dozen fresh faces in hip-hop taking the stage beside them.
For those who aren’t familiar with Mark Merren, trust us when we say it’s worth it to go to the show just to see him. As a solo artist, Merren has two albums: Motivate and this year’s powerful Motivate II. Released this summer, the latter pairs soulful, layered production with conscious wit and lyrics that confront self-doubt. It’s a stirring listen—especially onstage, as Merren knows how to deliver his material like a pro.
Ever since his cousin tapped him to perform a talent show at 9 years old, Merren knew he was destined to become a performer. So did those around him. His cousin believed Merren had raw talent in him and just needed someone to cultivate it. So the following year, he helped Merren begin to write and record his own raps. He’s never looked back since then. Merren joined the creative collective Agari Crew—a music and art-focused group of friends based out of both the US and Japan—and they soon released a self-titled project later in 2009. While trekking around Japan on a mini tour in support of the record, Merren found a new fire within himself. He was determined to get his solo career going.
Now, Merren wants to make sure others have the same opportunities to not online rise up, but to discover and embrace the natural talent sitting inside of themselves. This isn’t his first rodeo in doing so, either. Merren threw the first Branded Authentic back in August of 2010. At the time, he noticed the lack of quality outlets for Boston hip-hop and wanted to make a contribution. He’s since continued to throw showcases under the Branded Authentic name over the years. But because this Branded Authentic is taking place at Brighton Music Hall, a special venue with its own historic history and the biggest event he’s thrown yet, Merren decided to go a bit bigger than normal. If all goes according to plan, this all-hometown lineup will sell out the 475-person capacity space. A big part of why that’s possible is because he’s teamed up with Oompa, one of the brightest and biggest rising stars of Boston’s local scene right now.
“Mark Merren gave me my first chance to be a rapper on stage, so when he asked it was as good as done,” says Oompa. “I just want to make sure I earn that featured spot. I want to do Merren proud. Because that is synonymous with doing well by the city.”
“I met Oompa at an event that I put together with my business partners Stae Tru called Verses,” he explains. “It was an Emcee competition. She competed and destroyed the stage! It wasn’t even close! I was drawn to her stage presence, confidence, the cleverness of her lyrics, and that she’s such a great spirit. She truly represents what Branded is all about. Being your true authentic self unapologetically,” says Merren. “I’ve been doing showcases for so long, and I have genuine relationships with a lot of artists [because of it]. I made the decision for this lineup based on the recent shows I’ve been to. All of these artists bring a different energy. I wanted the lineup to be diverse as possible while still being rooted in hip-hop.”
He’s staying true to his word. There are a lot of people tapped to join them onstage, and the talent ranges in ways beyond just flow and background. The special guest performances include artists like Rayel, Bakari JB, Anson Rap$, Spnda, Stay Pure, Philly G & Baylen, Ace Da Truth, Vylette Music, Treva Holmes, FreshfromDE and Ab Soarin, Rex Mac, Self Serv, and MegaZoyd.
“I’m excited and honored that Akrobatik is hosting this show,” says Merren. “He’s a hip-hop legend in my eyes. He’s always been supportive of what I’m doing. Other than that, I’m excited about the show as a whole.”
A big part of that excitement stems from the special guests. Both artists are eager for concertgoers to fall in love with some of the names they may not recognize and the features that will be performed onstage. For Merren, there’s a lot of promising energy and skill coming from Rayel, someone he’s eager to watch the audience see. Though he’s quick to mention the equally impressive work by Bakari JB, Anson Raps, and FreshfromDe and Ab Soarin.
“Who am I ready to watch the city love the way I do? Anson Rap$ and Rex Mac,” says Oompa. “[In Boston’s rap scene, we] don’t tear each other down. We have cross-genre support and it’s amazing. There’s a show happening like every few days, and they’re such high quality bills. We’re a small city. Which means you will have multiple touch points to the same artists. It means that the people who are important will hear those artists’ names and get to decide how they engage with them. Everything here is DIY and in that way, the artists get a lot of control over how they show up in the world.”
Believe us when we say you’ll be able to feel what Oompa is describing come to life onstage this Friday. And when you show up, there’s another special feeling that will bury itself in your soul. There’s the sense of supporting a community that has done the work needed to deserve its time to shine. It’s just waiting to share that glow with the people already living here.
“We have to support not just by clicking or liking on social media. We have to show up more, and we need more venues that support local hip-hop consistently,” says Merren. “I’m proud of how people have taken matters into their own hands. There are so many dope platforms and outlets that support Boston music now. I think people are starting to buy into the idea that we have our own industry here. It’s come a long way, and I think Branded Authentic helped to make a contribution to spark that growth as well.”
MARK MERREN, OOMPA, SPECIAL GUESTS. FRI 8.31. BRIGHTON MUSIC HALL, 158 BRIGHTON AVE., ALLSTON. 8PM/18+/$13. CROSSROADSPRESENTS.COM