Ask older people of faith in the Hub’s black community about the so-called “Boston Miracle,” and you’ll likely hear about how ministers and churches led a movement that felled murders in the city by more than 100 a year in the mid-’90s.
Walk into a diner in West Roxbury or Quincy and ask some retired Boston cops about the storybook end of the Crack Era, or any older white folks in the region for that matter, and they will probably point to the work of Bill Bratton, the current New York City police commissioner who rose to national fame two decades ago for, according to the most exaggerated reports, single-handedly dismantling the Hub’s criminal element, Captain America-style.
But if you visit the hot corners, parks, and housing projects that were actually impacted by the poverty and drug epidemics which bloomed under Reaganomics, you’ll hear a different version of events altogether.
“At that time a lot of murders were going on, and we wanted to do something that the cops couldn’t do, as far as getting the gang members off the street to quell the violence, which we did in a massive way,” says Antonio Ennis. Also known as E-Devious and Twice Thou from an iconic rap career that’s spanned three decades and included stints in major label groups including Made Men, Ennis has worked in an official capacity as a community organizer in recent years, but even in his street days, he says he used his platform for a greater purpose. He adds: “Murders in ’96, ’97 were down like they had never been before.”
Specifically, Ennis cites the Wiseguys as a catalyst. Boasting elite rap talents like E-Devious and Tangg the Juice (the album even featured then-Celtics point guard and Hub native Dana Barros rhyming as DB-11), the Wiseguys collective emerged in 1995 and pacified rival blocks citywide.
“Go around and ask [people in Boston’s black community], and they’ll tell you about the Wiseguys, but they’ve never heard of the Boston Miracle,” says Mann Terror, a key part of the ’90s gang truce. “I’ve read some of the stories, and I was seeing clergymen and all these people taking credit, but Wiseguys was the Boston Miracle.” Adds Ripshop, a current crewmate of Mann Terror’s: “I never thought you could have guys from different sets come together like that. That was dope.”
In the time since Wiseguys, Ennis has pursued a host of projects aimed directly at the inequality that chokes the Hub’s minority areas. A collaboration called 4Peace, with Boston contemporaries Mo’ Gee, Edo G, and D Quest, brought a message of hope and unification during bloody times 10 years ago, while Twice Thou’s solo work—notably his 2012 protest album, The Bank Attack—took predatory lenders out behind the dumpsters.
With social unrest hitting high notes once again, Ennis recently set course to power a new movement, one more tooled for modern warfare. In something of a hybrid idea bridging Wiseguys and 4Peace, he recruited an illustrious and diverse cast of MCs for The Bost6n, his latest enterprise for impact. After some shuffling and lineup changes, Ennis—still rapping as Twice Thou—assembled not just a musical outfit but a potential political force in Boston also comprised of Mann Terror and his lyrically adept brother Champagne Rod, both hailing from the storied Orchard Park projects in Roxbury; Boston and New York hip-hop veteran Sondro Castro, whose roots extend back to the Gangstarr Posse days; gravelly underground stylist Ripshop, a longtime highlight of the Hub’s subterranean scene; and Eroc of Foundation Movement, the latest squad addition and a tried community activist.
“When I got the call, my answer was, ‘I’m honored,’” Eroc said at a recent studio session with The Bost6n (pronounced “Boston 6”). “Then we had a two-and-a-half-hour meeting, and [Ennis] showed up with a vision. That’s coach, and coach has a strategy. That’s how you play on a team with a bunch of all-stars.” Added Ripshop: “I grew up listening to [Twice Thou]. I’m proud of this man, with the foreclosures and The Bank Attack. This is the most important project I have ever been included on.”
Looking for not just a local miracle this time, but rather to inspire widespread activism and like-minded projects elsewhere, The Bost6n plans on addressing several issues—in songs, and through education and action. Presenting themselves as a group for the first time last month, they dropped the scathing single “Still FTP,” an updated tribute to the N.W.A. classic “Fuck tha Police” on which Rod, in one explosive turn, raps, “Hands up, hands down, no matter a man down / Darren Wilson played God and killed Mike Brown,” while Twice Thou jabs, “We ain’t advocating violence, to cops / But we choose not to be silent, ’til it stops.”
During our interview in Dorchester, members of the Bost6n recalled a lifetime’s worth of inspirations for “Still FTP,” as well as the enduring climate around police violence. “Nothing changes,” Mann Terror said. “Except social media—people are a lot more aware now.” Added Ennis: “Every day [cops] would chase us. They could never catch us with shit, so they took it upon themselves to get us one by one, just to fuck us up. And they did that—they broke my nose, gave me black eyes.” Ripshop piled on: “In other neighborhoods, if there’s a cat going up a tree, people might think the cop is a good guy who goes and gets the cat. In our neighborhood, even if you ain’t dirty, you freeze up. That’s how it is when we see ’em.”
The group hopes to play a part in the conversation around police violence and gives a shout-out to Black Lives Matter on the debut single. Eroc explained, “When people say, ‘There are good cops,’ OK, sure. But every time you see a siren or a police car you shouldn’t have to be thinking to yourself, ‘Who am I dealing with here?’”
At the same time, the Bost6n is promising a range of content. “Our movement is awareness,” Mann Terror said. “Even though ‘FTP’ was the first song we came out with, we’re touching on all things that happen in the hood. As the older spokesmen, we’re trying to bring these neighborhoods back together. We’re talking for the people who you aren’t going to hear elsewhere. That’s our whole goal—to give people this voice.”
Added Terror: “My older heads was crackheads and dope fiends. Now I can lead by example. I changed my life. I buy houses, fix them up. I even went back to school to learn how to be an electrician. I changed my hustle, so now when young kids look at me they can see I’m out here doing other things and that I’m all about my family life. They relate to me.”
Trading memories from their first attempt at building bridges with hip-hop, Twice Thou and Mann Terror laugh about the Wiseguys album release party at the long-gone Skycap Plaza nightclub. “It was the first night we brought all of our crews,” Terror said. “[Detectives] were all up in there, but it didn’t matter—the streets run the streets. That was a powerful night, when you had all these crews side by side. They never beefed after that.” Adds Ennis: “And the shit was packed.”
All these years later, their vision still calls for getting heads in the same room and having faith that something positive will prevail. “Sometimes people have to be uncomfortable,” said Ennis of reactions from the public and authorities. “But if it’s in your heart to see the value of getting justice and being equal, then that shouldn’t be a dilemma. This is turning out to be something really different. We’re confident that we can do this to the level that others will want to emulate.”
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.