I have moved around a fair amount in my life, but I have always considered Boston home. After spending my elementary school years in Acton, and then moving around a bit more, I arrived here for good in 1988, as I landed to begin my freshman year at Boston College.
Although it took me until this latest volume of my book series, covering ED O.G’s first album – 1991’s Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto – was a prospect that was always lurking in the background for me. It wasn’t a possibility for Rakim Told Me (from 2005), because that was all ‘80s chapters. For my last book – the first volume of Check the Technique, which included albums from the 1990s – I hemmed and hawed about it. I think I felt that if I put it in, people might say I was a “Boston homer.” That I included it just because I’m from here; not because it was a bona fide classic.
But that was foolish. Because Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto is an incredible album, no matter when it came out and no matter what city gave birth to it. So when I went about compiling my list of hopefuls for this next volume, Ed’s classic from 23 years ago was at the top of my list. And the more I analyzed it, as well as interviewed the people who helped make it happen, the more its classic status was confirmed to me.
I hope you agree, and I hope Bostonians appreciate how dope and how important Ed is – not only the local hip-hop scene, but Boston’s music scene in general. A lot of local Boston “scene” writers and DJs are full of shit when they claim to represent the entirety of the music produced here. Ed deserves as much respect locally as just about all of the artists playing different Pipeline reunion shows combined – because he loves his city; because he stayed and thrived in his hometown; because he represents and shouts out his city every chance he gets; and because he is still making kick-ass music to this day.
You can make your own judgments about Ed and the album. I just hope you give it a first or thirtieth listen after reading more about it here. Because I remain steadfast about this – it’s almost impossible to like an album less once you know more about how it was made. Hopefully I have proved that 25 more times with Check the Technique Volume 2.
Ed O.G & Da Bulldogs
Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto (1991, PWL America / Mercury)
*From Check the Technique Volume 2 by Brian Coleman
“I didn’t want to be in any lane. I was all over the place, but that worked for me.”
– Edo G
In the early 1990s, hip-hop was wide open. Gone were the days when you had to be serious on every track; when you had to be a goofball or have a gimmick to sell records; when you had to rock gold chains to be hard; or when you had to dress to the nines just to get attention from the ladies.
Long gone, too, were the days that you had to be from New York to be taken seriously, or to sell records. LA and Miami had long since proven that they had artists like Ice-T, 2 Live Crew and N.W.A. who could be international rap stars. Even Philly came to the plate, with the multi-platinum DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and, before them, gangsta pioneer Schoolly-D.
So it seemed logical that Boston – who in the ‘80s had produced the bubblegum of New Edition and New Kids on the Block – was overdue for its own hip-hop star. And that’s where ED O.G [Edward Anderson, aka Edo G] came in.
[Author’s note: Keith “Guru” Elam – who we love and miss – was born and raised in Boston, but relocated to New York in the late-‘80s, before he became known nationally, thereby disqualifying him from pure Boston hip-hop status.]
“I was born at Boston City Hospital,” Ed says today, sitting on his porch, which straddles the Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhood line. He adds, proudly, “And I have lived in Roxbury my entire life.”
Ed’s early years in school were more tumultuous than they should have been, thanks to Beantown’s shameful resistance to educational integration in the early 1970s. He was bused to nearby Roslindale for elementary school. “I honestly didn’t really know what Roslindale was actually like,” he explains. “I went there to school, got off the bus, and went back on the bus at the end of the day. It was kind of fucked up, we had rocks thrown at our bus and all that. As a kid, I just stuck up my middle finger and stuck my tongue out the window [laughs]. I was so young, I didn’t really understand the bigger scope of what was going on.”
But there was, of course, an effect. “To be honest with you, it just made me dislike white people at that particular point in time,” he says. “Boston was a segregated city then, there weren’t many white people where I was. And, honestly, I didn’t venture outside of Roxbury much as a kid.”
As he entered double-digits in age, he attended Dorchester’s Martin Luther King, Jr. K-8 School and started to feel the first rumblings of a calling to showbiz. He remembers, “I was a B-boy at first, a dancer. I probably did my first talent show when I was 10. Breakdancing wasn’t even out, we was just popping. By 12 years old I started to feel that I really wanted to do something with my life on stage.”
“My first real show was as a dancer, in junior high,” he continues. “A guy named Paul, who went by Disco P and is on [the 1986 Boston hip-hop compilation] Boston Goes Def, was looking for dancers for a school talent show. From that day on, all I wanted to do was perform.” He says that at age 15, in 1985, he also added beatboxing to his performance arsenal.
The aforementioned Boston Goes Def compilation, put together by local producer Steve Barry to highlight some of the city’s local rap talent, played a significant role in the lives of many Boston hip-hoppers in the ‘80s. Although many of the groups were only moderately impressive, or guilty of straight-up jacking Run-DMC and other New York acts, there are some shining moments on the collection. “New York was definitely a big influence on how Boston groups sounded back then,” Ed admits.
Ed, then known as Edo Rock, is on the compilation, featured as a non-rhyming beatboxer on FTI’s “Suzi Q.” FTI stood for “Fresh To Impress.” The song was catchy, a bit naughty, and well-executed, even despite the fact that it was a clear nod to Doug E Fresh’s and Slick Rick’s “La Di Da Di,” with some “Roxanne, Roxanne” mixed in.
“We had dreams of getting on wax, not being huge stars,” Ed recalls. “Having our song on that compilation was a big deal. FTI lived in my neighborhood, Humboldt Avenue in Roxbury, and they really did dress fresh. They had Kangols and everything. Slick Rick was the leader – this is before anyone really knew who the New York Slick Rick was. Rick was older and had the illest rhymes. My boy T-Nyne, from [Ed’s later crew] Da Bulldogs was in FTI, too. He was Spoony T back then. He was Rick’s cousin and he was 18 at the time. I was only 15 or 16.” Ed notes that his future DJ, DJ Cruz, was across town in Cambridge, but he was also down with FTI in the Boston Goes Def era.
Ed continues, “I made up the ‘Suzi Q’ song in my head. Everyone back then had a girl song, that’s what could get you a hit. So that’s what we did. I had the beat and the hook and everyone came up with their rhymes.”
FTI had actually recorded an earlier version of “Suzi Q,” several months before the Boston Goes Def compilation hit, on cassette, pause-tape style, at DJ Cruz’s house. The song was never made available for commercial sale but did well on Boston’s only real outlet for local rap talent at the time, WMBR’s weekly “Lecco’s Lemma” show, with host Magnus Johnstone. “We were number one on Lecco’s for several weeks, just as a tape,” Ed remembers. “By the time the compilation came out, that song wasn’t new, but it was still popular. Plus people hadn’t been able to buy it before.”
For the compilation, they went in and re-recorded “Suzi Q” properly, with Barry at the controls. They also laid down another song called “Rock Hard,” which included Ed’s first rhyme put to tape. For better or worse, only “Suzi Q” made it onto Boston Goes Def.
Overall, the compilation made an impression in Boston, especially with those already in the scene. But, truth be told, it didn’t make many waves nationally. They had an album release party at local rock club TT The Bear’s Place, and everyone enjoyed themselves to the hilt. Ed recalls, “I can remember Disco P and the Fresh MC [whose song “Girls” leads off Side One] sitting outside the club in a white limo, waiting to go on. It was hilarious. It was sold out, Body Rock Crew murdered it. I think we made $24 total. We bought some pizza with it [laughs].”
By 1987, Ed had left the FTI Crew – who did not go on to much renown after Boston Goes Def – and was working with his friend Shawn Pete, aka Professor Rock, in a group called 3 Def Notes, whose four members included Ed, Pete, Black and Anthony aka A-Train, who was their beatboxer. With their group name listed as A-Train, they had a track on the follow-up to Boston Goes Def, 1987’s Def Row, called “I Can’t Hold It Back.” Ed says, “That was a dope song. I really thought we was gonna blow up with that one.”
They had a second 3 Def Notes song, which circulated on cassette to local radio, called “Black Is Back,” which was recorded at “a real studio.” It did well on the WHRB show “Street Beat,” which was hosted by two Harvard students – Dave Mays and Jonathan Shecter – who would go on to more renown soon thereafter, founding The Source magazine in their college dorm room.
Mays, Shecter and the late Kenny Mack were, in fact, managing the 3 Def Notes during that time, trying to get them a record deal with connections they had in New York City. Their efforts on behalf of the group, unfortunately, did not amount to much, except for some attention from another manager, Jay Ellis.
Into the mix of Ed’s adventures and misadventures in the hip-hop world in the late ‘80s, three new acquaintances came into Ed’s orbit who would each have significant impacts on his career. The first two ended up as a business relationship down the line, but things started out as a purely family affair. The gentlemen in question were Teddy Tedd [Tedd Whiting] and Special K [Kevin Bonners], aka The Awesome 2.
Based out of New Jersey, Tedd and K were top-tier movers-and-shakers in New York’s rap world, starting with a pioneering and influential early ‘80s radio show on WHBI, which eventually led to hosting “Celebrity Tuesdays” showcases at the Latin Quarter in 1986. By the late ‘80s they had parlayed their industry contacts into a management company, Awesome Entertainment, working with groups like Nice & Smooth and Positive K.
It also turns out that the Awesome 2 had a rap star-to-be in the family. Ed explains, “Tedd and K are cousins with each other, and they are both my cousins. My grandmother was married to their uncle, and then they had my aunt.”
Complicated family trees aside, Ed says, “I wasn’t aware of it until the mid-‘80s, but once I found out they were in my family, I was all over their asses! [laughs]. I found out around the time we were recording for Def Row. They were in town because Tedd was the DJ for The Real Roxanne. That was the first time we met, they came over to my grandmother’s house.”
Ed continues, “I started sending them my demos in 1987 and ’88, and I kept in touch. I’d also go and visit them in New Jersey sometimes.”
Teddy Tedd says, of those early demos, “When we heard Ed’s earliest stuff, it honestly wouldn’t have survived in the climate of the time. We told him, ‘It’s not ready, you need to go back to the drawing board.’ And he did. Once we heard the stuff he was doing with Joe [Mansfield, see below], we were excited, it was hot. We knew it could survive and that we could get it in there.”
“Ed came back [with demo tapes] three times,” Special K adds. “With the first couple, it wasn’t ready. But by the third time, the Joe stuff, it was.”
They say that they felt no obligation to manage and shop Ed just because he was family. “A lot of guys come to you and talk about a lot of things and then you never hear from them again,” Tedd explains. “But Ed was persistent, and he really honed his craft.” Tedd and K both mention that Ed was so anxious to have them hear his new music that he would frequently drive demos down – four or five hours each way – instead of simply mailing them.
The second important new component of the ED O.G equation, entering in 1989, was Joe Mansfield. Mansfield would go on the produce most of Ed’s 1991 debut.
“Around 1988, we [Ed’s rhyming crew, post-3 Def Notes] were just calling ourselves Da Bulldogs,” Ed recalls. “There was no ‘ED O.G and…’ back then. My boy Money 1 moved out to Medford [just north of Boston, about 5-6 miles from Roxbury] and said, ‘Man, I found this white dude out here who has a studio and makes beats. You should come and check him out.’”
Ed continues, “I went up there, Joe played me some stuff and I spit a bunch of rhymes. I had tons and tons of them at that point, from all those years. Joe was blown away and I was blown away. So we decided to start working on stuff together. Joe basically just joined Da Bulldogs at that point. It was like, ‘You’ve got tons of beats, and we’ve got tons of rappers.’” By 1989 they were working with purpose on Ed’s solo demo, recording in Joe’s basement studio.
Mansfield, a computer whiz at an early age, was born and raised in Medford. “I wanted to be a DJ when I was about 14,” he explains. “I’d buy records with DJing in mind. And that got me deeper into music, because I was listening to them more closely.” He first got hooked on hip-hop around 1982, with Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock.” From that point on, rap was an obsession.
By the mid-‘80s he started another lifelong obsession, this time with drum machines, first purchasing a used Roland TR-808. During this era, the final part of the hip-hop production puzzle was solved, at least temporarily, with an Akai 612 sampler. “It had about one second of sampling time,” he laughs. “Basically, by 1988, I had enough equipment in my basement so that I could record whatever I needed.” By 1989 he expanded, with an [Emu] Emax sampler and an Akai ASQ-10 sequencer.
His first official release as a producer came out in early 1989: Terrors Of A New Breed’s “Realm Of Evil,” on Too Dope Records. Mansfield recalls, “It was two MCs, a guy Eric Hill who used the name E.Z.E. and another guy Joe Butler, I can’t remember his MC name. They were from Chelsea [also just north of Boston, a couple miles from Medford] and I met them in 1988. They already had demos when I met them, but I helped them put everything together.” He also acted as DJ for live shows they did in 1989, after the 12-inch came out.
Aside from receiving a smattering a local radio play, the group didn’t go on to accomplish much of note after that single. But, Mansfield says, “The important thing I learned from that experience was that it wasn’t that hard to put out a record. I learned the ins and outs of manufacturing.”
As Terrors was progressing, slowly, Joe and Ed were introduced. Mansfield recalls, “I knew who Ed was before I met him, but he wasn’t a star or anything. I knew about FTI and Boston Goes Def. Money 1 was living in the projects in Medford, across the way from me. Money was from Roxbury originally, so he knew Ed.”
Joe adds, “Basically, when I met Ed, I stopped working with Terrors Of A New Breed. It was definitely my choice. When me and Ed recorded our first stuff together, I knew we had something. What he was doing was what I wanted to do. It was a lot different, it sounded more contemporary. I thought what we were coming up with had a chance to do something.”
Regarding Terrors of A New Breed, Ed recalls: “I liked one of the MCs in that group. I know in some way I kind of pushed them out, but I didn’t do it on purpose. Or maybe I did, I was pretty arrogant and aggressive at the time [laughs]. I think that my New York connections just kinda trumped whatever they were doing at the time, and Joe knew that.”
At this point it might be helpful to elucidate Da Bulldogs, since it has always been a bit hazy to outsiders, in no small part because none of the group was really heard on Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto, despite having billing – and photos – on the cover. Promotional materials from the album list them as “A small nation of talented rappers, writers and producers. Right now, T-Nyne [Terry Smith aka Spoony T], Smooth Ice Gee [Glenn Moore] and DJ Cruz are the most visible.”
“That was just our crew,” Ed explains. “At first it was about 20 of us. Everybody rhymed and did different things. When we got the deal [with PWL America, for the album, see below], my boys were rhyming on some of the demos, too. But it became mostly me. I hate to say it, but the rhymes they had at the time were not that good, and it was all about putting out the best possible stuff. They were cool, but the songs they were on didn’t make the album. So it was kind of like Heavy D & The Boyz, I guess. Da Bulldogs would be there with me rhyming at shows, though. It wasn’t a huge issue, because I was trying to get everyone deals back then.”
He adds, “I had Da Bulldogs a separate deal with Mercury, but they didn’t pursue it aggressively enough. Mercury wanted to hear more songs, but it just never worked out.” Rapper Scientifik, who would become part of the posse around 1990 but was never officially considered part of Da Bulldogs, did get a deal, with Chemistry Records – the name PWL America took on – in 1991. His album Criminal, would not appear until 1994 [on definite Records], Executive Produced by Ed with multiple producers including Ed, Joe Mansfield and Diamond D. Sadly, Scientifik was killed in the late ‘90s.
Ed’s old friend DJ Cruz, from the FTI days, was the only member who was actually heard, doing some cuts on the album and always on the road as Ed’s tour DJ. Although Cruz helped with early FTI production work – which was lower-budget, pause-tape style – Ed explains that while Cruz did produce in the late ‘80s, Joe’s beats were the only ones they used on demos given to the Awesome 2. On the other side of the coin, Joe could DJ, but wasn’t interested in doing so, so the Joe Mansfield / DJ Cruz pieces within the crew puzzle seemed to fit nicely.
Ed says, “Once me and Joe hooked up in ’89, I think Tedd and Special K started to pay more attention.” Teddy Tedd agrees: “Joe just had a great ear for abstract loops. His work was definitely very melodic, too. I didn’t deal with Joe too much before we started actually recording the album, but I was always impressed.”
“I liked what Ed was rhyming about with the new material in 1989,” Tedd adds. “He was positive, he was fun and silly. He had a little bit of everything. Back then nobody had really represented Boston yet either.”
Before summer hit in 1989, a clear momentum was in full swing and Ed and Joe were riding the wave. Mansfield explains, “By the spring of ’89 we were recording so much stuff that it was crazy. We would make songs and Ed would play them for the Awesome 2. They would tell him that we were onto something and said to keep going, so we kept recording. Every week Ed would call me, ‘I want to come over, I’ve got some new lyrics.’”
“I had tons of records at the time, and my family had tons of records,” Ed recalls. “Some of the stuff we used for the album, like the Bohannon sample for ‘I Got To Have It’ or the Archie Bell for ‘Bug-A-Boo’ were from my grandmother’s or aunt’s or my mother’s collection. Me and Joe raided everybody’s shit! [laughs].”
Joe mentions that Ed wasn’t the only artist with whom he was working in 1989 – Mansfield was also doing demos with local MC Swift, who was also from Roxbury. But, he explains, “I was giving all my best stuff to Ed. We also had the plan in place to sign other rappers besides Ed and I would do beats for them, too.” Their production company was called Groovin’ Sounds Productions.
“By later in 1989, we had really hit a stride,” Ed says. “I sent Awesome 2 a demo tape with a couple songs on it, they loved it and they said they were finally going to shop it to some labels.” Mansfield agrees that it took about six months of work until they had songs ready to be heard by labels. “I thought we could compete with stuff that was out at the time,” Joe says, looking back.
Mansfield adds, “I don’t think that most of the songs on that demo even made the album.” Joe would give Ed the finished demos on cassette and then Ed would bring them to Awesome 2. As a result, Ed and the Awesome 2 were more involved in what songs would finally be shopped.
They were indeed clearly onto something, since the shopping process wasn’t a long one. “The first label they took the demo to was PWL America,” Ed recalls. “And that was it, they signed us up. I couldn’t believe it. It was a $75,000 advance, which was a lot of money. We were a very low income household.”
Ed continues, “Brian Chin from PWL was the guy who signed us. He was a house music guy, but he knew his hip-hop. He signed Diamond D [for the album Diamond And The Psychotic Neurotics Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop, from 1992, on Chemistry], so he gets props for that, too. I think he could see the bigger scope of what I was all about, not just one aspect. He loved ‘Feel Like A Nut,’ that was the song that got us signed.”
Brian Chin has great memories of his first important hip-hop signing for the brand-new PWL America label: “As I recall, Special K brought me four songs, on a cassette, with two or three other Bulldogs besides Ed performing on a couple of them. A song called ‘Now You Wanna Know Me’ was one highlight, T-Nyne got a good verse off in that one. And ‘Dedicated To The Right Wingers’ was on there, which appealed to my politics. ‘Gotta Have Money’ also helped me feel sure enough about Ed to make an offer. We didn’t do singles deals, so it was for an album.”
Chin continues, “‘Feel Like A Nut,’ was also on there, and I almost laughed coffee out of my nose when I heard the hook. I recall that my overall impression was that I could listen to Ed rapping for 45 minutes straight, and I hoped America would, too.” According to Chin, he made the Awesome 2 a verbal offer for an album deal with Ed & Da Bulldogs and, he says, “I referred them to our attorneys to get a contract signed.” It was enough of a green light so that the Awesome 2 and Ed’s crew could move ahead recording the album, with PWL’s backing.
“I was signed to PWL America, which was an independent label,” Ed says. “Mercury was the distributor. For the album, I had to sign contracts with both. In the end, PWL had the final decision about what songs made the album, not Mercury.”
PWL America was a new-jack on the block in 1990, looking to break into the U.S. hip-hop scene. Owned by UK-based pop production mogul Pete Waterman – who counted Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue and Bananarama among the artists he had brought to superstardom – the label was a new face on the rap scene, but still had big goals.
Marthe Reynolds was General Manager of the New York City base of operations, and Brian Chin was the head of A & R. PWL America was distributed by Mercury Records in 1991, but was not owned by them, so they did have a certain amount of autonomy.
Reynolds explains, “Pete Waterman was setting up a rap label in the U.S. and we were the ones who were tasked with doing it.” Operations started in 1990 and it was a small staff: Reynolds came from dance label Vendetta Records; Chin from Profile [where he had signed Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock, among other talent]; and Robert John Jones was president. Jones’ then-wife Margaret also worked in the office. College radio reps included Marc Raybin and, after Raybin left, Jamieson Grillo, who arrived in mid-1991.
“Ed’s record was the second or third project we put out,” Reynolds recalls. “Pete Waterman trusted Brian Chin implicitly to do the right thing. We all knew Brian had great ears. And I was going to work all of our projects as hard as I possibly could.”
She adds, “The Awesome 2 introduced me to every person I needed to know in the hip-hop world back then. All the radio guys, all the writers. Every one of them. I owe them a lot for that.” In addition to his obvious talent, Reynolds feels that Ed got heard by a lot of important people because of the Awesome 2’s co-sign on him.
By mid-1990, Ed, Joe and the crew began shoring up the tracks that they would be using for the album. As always, pre-production was done at Mansfield’s home studio. Mansfield was a semester shy of graduating from the University of Massachusetts Boston at the time [in Business Management], but left and never went back. He explains, “At that point, I had figured out that I could probably make a living doing music, one way or another.”
By the summer, they headed down to New York City, where final production and mixing on tracks was completed, at Queens’ Power Play studios, thanks again to the Awesome 2’s connections. Ivan “DJ Doc” Rodriguez, who had worked with a distinguished list of hip-hop artists including Eric B. & Rakim and Boogie Down Productions, was their engineer and studio godfather.
“Once we got to Power Play, we would lay the tracks down,” Tedd explains. “We mixed all the songs and helped produce a couple of them.” K adds, “DJ Doc had a unique style. There was great chemistry all around during those sessions.”
Interestingly, according to Ed, Joe and Brian Chin, neither of the album’s most impactful singles, “I Got To Have It” and “Be A Father To Your Child,” was on the original demo that got the group signed. So, although the fun and loose “Feel Like A Nut” may have reeled PWL in, the label clearly watched with excitement as even more depth was revealed as the group really got to work.
Chin recalls, “’I Got To Have It’ was in the second round of demos, I heard it when I visited Ed and the Awesome 2 at Power Play. By then, Ed was already in command, getting his vocal tracks down perfectly with exact punch-ins. The final contract still hadn’t been signed, but at that point I knew we had to do that as quickly as possible.”
“We were there at Power Play for a couple months,” Ed recalls. “It was easy, we just had to get used to being in a professional studio. Everything took a little longer, just because it wasn’t as automated back then. But we learned a lot from DJ Doc, he was the best engineer of that era. He brought out my vocals and gave me a new way to present myself on the mic. Plus he pretty much mixed every track on that album.”
Mansfield agrees: “Doc pretty much mixed the entire album [Author’s note: Mixing for most album tracks is attributed to Teddy Tedd in the album’s liners, not Doc] and engineered most of it as well. He was really helpful to us when we were there.”
While they were there at Power Play – staying in Manhattan at hotels with varying star ratings, none of them terribly swanky – they had numerous hip-hop stars stopping by to check out the new jack on the scene from Boston, thanks to the Awesome 2. Ed says that their top-tier guests included Erick Sermon, KRS-One and Biz Markie, among others.
They also hit clubs when they weren’t making tracks. “We met so many people when we were down there,” Ed says. “The energy and the vibe we got was amazing. It was just a really pure experience making the record. We were young and having fun in New York. There was no club or party that we couldn’t get into.”
Mansfield recalls, “Recording at Power Play did seem like a pretty long process, actually. I had to go in there and track all the beats from our demos on their equipment before we really started the harder work. Power Play was a big spot, their equipment was more advanced and it was definitely more ‘hip-hop friendly’ than the rock studios you would have to record in back in Boston.”
“We were there at Power Play for about a month or a little bit more,” he estimates. “We’d go down for a week, come home for a weekend, then go back down.”
As for how the studio speakers were sounding on playback to the young talent assembled, Mansfield says: “We were making what we liked, music-wise. At times I was even thinking to myself, ‘Is some of this stuff really hip-hop? Will people accept it that way?’ But [A] Tribe [Called Quest] did it, and we saw that it went OK for them, so we kept going.”
When the album finally hit in 1991, the production credit – which was a surprise to Ed and Joe – read: “Produced by Teddy Tedd, Special K and Joe Mansfield for Awesome 2 Productions.” This was all fine and well, except that Joe Mansfield had done a majority of the production work, not Tedd and K.
“It was annoying to Joe and all of us at the time,” Ed admits. “Joe wanted to be recognized for what he did. He pretty much did all of the beats for that record. We were young and we signed a management and production deal with Awesome 2. So they really Executive Produced. Tedd only produced one track, ‘Dedicated To The Right Wingers.’ They are my peoples and I love them, but they took credit for a lot of stuff. Tedd was more involved in the studio, and K was more on the business side.”
Mansfield explains, “I don’t know if the Awesome 2 necessarily took credit for producing, but they did put their names on the album as producers. I didn’t really think about it or care that much back then. Honestly, I was just happy to have a record out nationally. And Ed always told everyone that I did everything anyways, it’s not like people didn’t know. I had nothing against the Awesome 2, they were good guys.”
Teddy Tedd says, “We produced the project, the entirety of it. I suppose it could have listed us as Executive Producers instead.” Special K says, “Honestly, at the time, it helped having our names on there like that. It’s no dis to him, but nobody knew who Joe was at the time.” Either way, both Tedd and K agree that Joe did indeed do most of the production work on the album.
It’s possible that Ed himself could have even gotten a co-production or at least co-writing credit on certain songs, but that was never his concern. He mentions that he gave Mansfield the bassline sample used for “Bug-A-Boo” [Archie Bell’s “Don’t Let Love Get You Down”], and says, “I didn’t feel that I deserved production credit for something like that, because whether I brought the sample in or not, I knew who produced the track. You still have to make the record dope. And that’s what Joe did.”
“Ed would sometimes bring records and say he liked a loop and I’d do something with it,” Mansfield says. “There were only a couple of those that made the album, like on ‘Feel Like A Nut’ and ‘Bug-A-Boo.’ Ed was into a lot of ‘pretty’ soul music, he favored stuff that was more melodic. Ed didn’t dig for obscure records or anything, he brought stuff that was popular at some point, or that he heard from someone else.”
When the album was completed, the entire crew felt like they had something special on their hands. Ed says, “When it came to lyrics, I really wanted to cover every topic I could. I didn’t want to leave anything out. I wasn’t worried about the range. It was all about my life, everything I had seen and everything that had gotten me to that point. There’s skills rhyming on ‘I’m Different’ and socially conscious stuff with ‘Speak Upon It’ and ‘Dedicated To The Right Wingers.’”
But which songs were the real ED O.G in 1991? “Probably all the stuff about girls [laughs deviously]. I was 20 when I got signed. It was all about girls.” After all, he says that ED O.G stood for “Every Day, Other Girls” back then.
Teddy Tedd has this to say about the range on the album: “I didn’t see the variety as being an issue at all. People at the label were asking, ‘What’s his image?’ And today that might be more important. But every person is a multitude of things. No one is the preacher all day, and no one is having fun all day. That’s what the album represented to me.”
“I don’t think Ed ever tried to be like anybody else,” Marthe Reynolds says. “There was a gritty elegance about Ed and Da Bulldogs, in general and also when they performed live. The album was jam-packed, it was just a great record. It wasn’t slick. And with both Ed and PWL America, we were the underdogs, so we just wanted to be heard.”
Ed remembers the album cover photo shoot, which was snapped by famed hip-hop, punk and skateboard photographer Glen E. Friedman, but unfortunately not done in Ed’s Boston backyard: “We shot that in Harlem, maybe 137th Street. I bought all those clothes in New York for the shoot. Those green boots, they don’t even match my jacket. And I was wearing glasses, even though I have 20/20 vision! I guess I was trying to look educated [laughs]. We all looked pretty crazy on there.”
“The reason for shooting in New York instead of Boston was solely financial,” Tedd explains. “We had a small budget for that and shooting in New York while they were already there meant that we wouldn’t have to do flights and hotels for the photographer. Either way, we did get one of the best photographers in the game, Glen Friedman. He did so many classic covers.”
“When the album hit, we got a lot of love, in Boston and just about everywhere,” Ed beams. “It was great. The only thing that sucked was how violent Boston was at the time. We didn’t get any shows in my hometown, so I didn’t get to perform ‘I Got To Have It’ in Boston when it was at its height. No one would book hip-hop shows in Boston back then, even if you had a huge record. All the big shows went to Providence.”
Response to Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto, which hit in the early spring of 1991, went beyond Ed’s wildest dreams, and at age 21 he was living the life. “It was crazy. Everywhere we went, it was huge,” he says. “We did a toy drive at Christmas for KJLH in Los Angeles, which was owned by Stevie Wonder back then. It was at a huge place, with Stevie, Ice Cube, all of these huge artists. We did stuff like that all the time.”
PWL promotional materials from back then list some of the album’s accomplishments and accolades: “’I Got To Have It’ went to number one on the Billboard Rap Singles chart; number one six times in a row on the CMJ college charts; and number one on the Gavin Report, which subsequently named the group ‘Rap Artist of the Year.’ The video also went to number one on the ‘Yo! MTV Raps’ countdown.” The press release goes on to say that the album sold 150,000 copies in only 10 weeks. Tedd says, “They [PWL or Mercury] say it didn’t go gold, but it must have by now.”
“The album definitely exceeded our expectations,” Reynolds says. “The response to the singles ‘I Got To Have It’ and ‘Be A Father To Your Child’ was incredible to see. I don’t think that any of us could believe how quickly things started moving once ‘I Got To Have It’ took off. It was a juggernaut. It just had velocity.”
Brian Chin, looking back, says: “I got prouder and prouder of the album as it was cut and mixed and readied for release. Once ‘I Got To Have It’ was chosen for the single and the video was shot, I got even more excited. I wasn’t at all surprised when it became number one on ‘Yo! MTV Raps’ and all the other charts. Ed was totally in control of his talent and his message on the album, and what he was talking about mattered. That’s why, in the later ‘90s, the single and the album were still showing up on ‘all-time-best’ lists in places like The Source.”
Jamieson Grillo, a hip-hop promotions guru who knew Ed before the album and also worked with him when it was out, says: “Back in 1991, music in general was more fun. After that, it started getting more hardcore or ‘hip-pop’ with the stuff Diddy was doing. But back then, pretty much everybody was real. You could do goofy, funny stuff but you could be serious, too. That’s why Ed did well, because that was him and he arrived at the perfect time. Besides being the first national hip-hop artist from Boston with a number one single, the importance of that album is just the variety. The samples, the messages, it was all just perfect.”
“It’s not that complicated: Ed has a very unique flow and his lyrics could be very deep,” Mansfield explains. “Plus, the music was catchy. It was simple, but also different. The music is unique because we were into a lot of melodic samples. That set us apart. We’d layer those in with raw drums. You can hear the drums cutting through the tracks, they’re not smooth in the mix. It was a great combination.”
“Ed was the first hip-hop act that Mercury dealt with back then,” recalls Teddy Tedd. “He dug the trench for Black Sheep [whose very successful A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing came out on Mercury later in 1991]. It was easier for them to have success after we came through.”
“There were no bad times about that era for me,” Ed says, looking back. “People loved the record, we toured everywhere. It was great. We didn’t even have any sampling lawsuits. And when I hear the album today, the three singles – ‘I Got To Have It,’ ‘Bug-A-Boo’ and ‘Be A Father To Your Child’ – stand out to me. They have all stayed pretty relevant and have become classics to a lot of people. Especially ‘I Got To Have It.’ That song was hard and street, but it also became a club record because of the beat Joe did.”
He adds, “If it wasn’t for that record, I wouldn’t still be in the rap game today, still traveling, still making the music I want to make. We’re laying the foundation now for cats who are in their 20s but want to still be doing it 20 years from now.”
The complete chapter on Life of a Kid in the Ghetto, including track-by-track breakdowns, can be found in Brian Coleman’s Check the Technique Volume 2. Available now.
THE UNTOLD STORIES OF HUB HIP-HOP
THE UNTOLD STORIES OF HUB HIP-HOP: INTRO
Q&A: TURNING THE TAPE RECORDER ON HIP-HOP AUTHOR BRIAN COLEMAN
EXCERPT: CHECK THE TECHNIQUE VOL. 2