RESEARCH BY THE MASSACHUSETTS HIP-HOP ARCHIVE
Cindy Diggs, known as Mother Hip Hop to multiple generations of Boston musicians and peace activists, has been rounding up the breakers, graffiti artists, MCs, and DJs on social media. Plus the producers, promoters, and everyone else who has contributed to the Hub’s rich hip-hop history. The public invite she’s been pushing on behalf of UMass Boston’s Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, along with other heroes of the Boston rap scene like Rob Stull, a graffiti legend with a pedigree that includes membership in the multifaceted original school crew AWOL, simply reads, “Show ’Em Whatcha Got.”
“The archive is a reality in the making,” says Stull, “and long overdue for Boston.”
With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and in partnership with the Boston Public Library, the UMass-hosted project has planned a series of monthly meetups and discussions to rekindle energy among those who form the foundation of New England hip-hop. That in addition to the years volunteers, spurred by the personal collection and efforts of UMass professor Pacey Foster, have spent parsing and converting countless recordings and documents for organized keeping. Now, the scrapbook party rockers are asking heads in their network and whoever else is in possession of relevant goods to bring items to be digitally archived, so that all eras and elements of the culture can be represented and catalogued for future generations—for research purposes, sure, but primarily so that their contributions can be scanned in stone.
“The archive … sets a true timeline on hip-hop in Massachusetts and lets the artists speak,” says Tony Rhome, a member of the Almighty RSO. Rhome, whose group was among an exalted few to rep Mass on the national rap map in the ’90s, says this effort equals something tantamount to eternal props, as artifacts will be easily discoverable “even in the future when the artists won’t be here to speak for themselves.”
For Saturday’s “Show ’Em” festivities, organizers are asking people to bring three things that speak to their role in Boston hip-hop, then or now. Think photos, flyers, and preferably items that are small, flat, and easy to process (long-form media like video and audio will be after the event by appointment). The event isn’t simply for artists—it’s for fans, promoters, DJs, and anybody else who, in addition to having their objects scanned for posterity, wants to give their personal account of why those items are important to them in an archival video. Up to this point, Foster says, the collection is predominately audio, featuring dozens of unique, ultra-rare (and streamable) Boston rap demo tapes from the ’80s; with this effort, the idea is to add color and visuals to the unique and growing collection.
“This archive … secures for us a sure place in history,” says MC and spoken word artist Lisa Lee, an active member of the Massachusetts hip-hop scene for 40 years. A two-time Boston Music Award winner, Lee will contribute a recording of the “Big Dig Rock,” a track commissioned by the city during the track’s namesake infrastructure overhaul. Adds Lee: “This will empower … generations that follow to express themselves, without hesitation, through hip-hop.”
Recalling his coming of age in Greater Boston, Stull salutes his peers from the first hip-hop generation and calls them “contributors to the culture of the city.” The UMass archive, he says, cements “our story and our history, in our own words, with the opportunity and the platform to tell it and have it documented for future generations.”
Bring whatcha got to the Massachusetts Hip Hop Roadshow on Sat, May 19 at Boston Public Library (main branch), lower level, from 11am to 4pm. Learn more about the archive and the event at facebook.com/masshiphoparchive.
SELECT ITEMS ALREADY IN THE COLLECTION
GURU/Gang-Starr Posse early demo tapes
In 1986, just before Roxbury native GURU (aka MC Keithy E) moved to Brooklyn and started working with DJ Premier, the future legend was still producing homemade demo tapes with his local partners DJ 1-2-B-Down (Mikey Dee) and beatboxer Damo D under the Gang-Starr name. These early demo tapes were sent in to DJ Magnus Johnstone for the Lecco’s Lemma show and were donated to the archive. They contain an early version of Gang-Starr’s first 12” release, “The Lesson,” as well as many unreleased recordings. According to Mike Dee, there were only three original copies of the tape (informally titled Introducing Mc Keithy E of Gang-Starr).
Original Source Magazines
Before it moved to New York and became the definitive hip-hop publication that it remains to this day, the Source began as a photocopied newsletter produced and distributed by David Mays and Jon Schecter out of their dormitory at Harvard University where they were students. Donated by Foster from his personal collection, the archive has three of these extremely rare publications from the fall of 1988 and spring 1989.
Dance Slam Video
In the summer of 1989, Tony Rose, a well-known local producer and engineer who played a central role in Boston’s black music revival in the late ’70s, produced 10 episodes of a dance and music video show called Dance Slam. Hosted by Mike Shannon, this show was a local version of the popular teen dance show genre and featured local youth dancing to rap and urban hits as well as short segments of music videos. The MHHA has one DVD of this show donated by Tony Rose in 2018.
Edo G Tour Videos
Edo G is one of the best recognized and most respected of all the hip-hop artists to come out of Boston. A longtime supporter of the archive, Edo’s early demo tapes appeared in the Lecco’s Lemma collection under the name FTI Crew, and he used one of the pictures from the Lecco’s Lemma collection (in which he appears as a jubilant teen) as the cover for his 2011 album A Face in the Crowd. In 2017, when he was working on a documentary and needed his private collection of tour videos digitized, the archive stepped in and helped. In return, Edo has donated all 12 of these personal videos of his tours throughout the 2000s to the archive. While not yet public, these tapes contain countless hours of never-before-seen performances and backstage footage of one of Boston’s most legendary MCs.