On a perfect Wednesday night last month, Daniel Laurent gathered about 60 of his closest friends, fans, and family members at a community church in Quincy. It was a unique setting for the veteran MC, though for those who have followed his career over the past 15-plus years it was hardly surprising that Laurent was doing something different. A versatile lyricist with deep roots in the Roxbury community, he made a strong impression on the underground as well as so-called street rap scenes in the aughts. If you’ve ever heard the cut about all of the neighborhoods in Boston set over the theme song from Cheers, then you have heard Laurent, who dropped the single “MASSterpiece” a decade and a half ago under the name DL.
Despite occasional hiatuses, he’s always made it a point to come back strong, to leave a mark, and his latest project follows suit. More than just a music video and album, Laurent tapped local director Jeff Palmer of Reel Emotions to build something bigger, basically a short film for the single “Outside,” a preventative tale about life in the most complex, often dangerous places. The extended version we saw at the viewing party, which has been submitted to and recognized by short film festivals across the country, even included a five-minute preamble in which the artist walked those of us in the room through tribulations he has personally faced up to this point, including the loss of his first love due to violence.
Being woke is nothing new for Laurent. He’s never been a gun clapper or trap rapper, and though he steers clear of the cornball lane, his music’s fit for younger cats. That includes his own son, who plays a starring role in the “Outside” film. In one particularly vivid moment, Laurent aims a pistol at his boy’s head, followed by a scene in which the script flips and those roles are reversed. Speaking after the premiere, the rapper spoke about the emotional experience of shooting “Outside” and also recording the track, a tough but still melodic ride through peaks and valleys. As Laurent rhymes, “The story that’s told is too heavy / Shoulders built Ford tough since nine-six was born ready / I’m touchin’ the people / With this hip-hop I’m ready to battle and my crew is rock steady.”
The video is challenging throughout, but never more so than when it cuts from the abstract to real life; specifically, a curbside memorial for a shooting victim. As Laurent says on the hook, “Why you all scared to come outside? / Cause them killers got guns outside.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.