It was the weekend of my 30th birthday, nearly a decade ago. Despite having to go to a wedding more than five hours away from the Hub on Saturday night, I convinced my date to leave the next morning before breakfast so that I could get home in time for Hip-Hop Jeopardy at the Good Life. And it was worth the hustle.
There are some pictures from that Sunday, and from about a half a dozen hip-hop trivia events that went down after that. When I return to them all these years later, I see a jovial kid fully wrapped in what were some of the most memorable moments of my young adult life. At the same time, I hear the voice of DJ On&On, a rap scene stalwart in these parts for nearly two decades whose hilarity marked the soundtrack to innumerable legendary mixtapes and club nights.
Flipping through CD books of old local hip-hop in the wake of learning that he passed away from cancer last week, it’s been remarkable to recall just how many projects On&On touched and hosted, from his squawk as one half of the Masters next to JayCeeOh, to V.I.P. Love Lounge with DJ Knife, to his standout Golden Brown album with NoDoz, he exemplified what hip-hop heads refer to as a party rocker. By true school standards, there has never been a higher calling, and on the strength of both his laying down roots in the Bronx before coming to Boston as well as his deep appreciation for the genre, On&On was endlessly determined to move people on the dance floor.
He also packed a personable punch and was incomparably funny, the butt of many of his jokes being the small potatoes hip-hop cats who act as if they’re platinum icons. Nevertheless, while On&On tended to roll his eyes into the back of his shaved head whenever anyone declared themselves to be “King of the Bean,” he was often among the first on hand to help those local artists get exposure beyond Boston. His years-long run behind the boards on JAM’N 94.5 FM’s The Launchpad was a case in point, with On&On taking much pride in the task of identifying up-and-coming talent that jocks who are in it for the fame and cash pass up for junk artists du jour.
I have far too many memories of On&On to mention; they have been coming back to me all week. From the countless hours we spent interviewing MCs at the UndergroundHipHop.com store in Back Bay, to blogging with him on our old site JumpTheTurnStyle, to covering him volunteering for several fundraisers and, in one case, organizing a basketball tournament in Roxbury during an especially bloody summer. (He was also a concerned dad, and I suppose that I can now say openly that he became the source behind one of my early investigations on charter schools after teachers at the charter his son attended passed out literature telling middle school kids to avoid BPS high schools). Though not an activist in the social justice crusader sense, on a fractured music scene for which the go-to metaphor has always been a crab bucket, On&On was a uniter with friends on all sides. I can’t even begin to say how many people he saved from getting their asses kicked over the years, like the time he brokered peace with a New York rapper who his UndergroundHipHop.com colleague Van Stylez insulted.
This is a brutal one to write; despite all of the laughs we had, the only time I’ve smiled about the loss this past week was when I was reminded by our mutual friend Aronious that GZA from Wu-Tang Clan once called him DJ Onion. Funny as that was, Onion’s actually a fitting moniker, since On&On could make you laugh until you cried, and because even the hardest among us has shed tears about the unimaginable loss of a real Boston classic.
Rest in beats.
A service will be held for David Cohen (DJ On&On) on Monday, Nov 26 from 6 pm to 10 pm at the VFW at 114 Mystic Ave in Medford. Please send pics and tributes to email@example.com.
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.