I honestly had no idea what was awaiting at the Museum of Fine Arts last week. The invitation listed little more than the the host, Boston hip-hop giants STL GLD, the time, and the venue: “You are cordially invited,” the evite read, “to an exclusive unveiling of art.”
After a short wait inside the atrium, the band, along with its hookup from the museum, led us into one of the American period rooms. With founding fathers staring down at us from every angle, STL GLD producer the Arcitype broke the silence, thanking the MFA for allowing the band to unveil not only its message, but something more as well.
“The world is in a strange place,” he said, standing beside what seemed to be a canvas of some kind tucked behind a sheet. “This really is far from normal for any of us. However, here we are.”
As bandmate Christopher Talken pulled the drapes back on the MFA piece, painted by longtime STL GLD collaborator Alexander “Lexx” Grigoryan, Arcitype continued: “We’ve been working on this for the past year. It’s called The New Normal.’’
You don’t say.
Not too long ago, STL GLD front man Moe Pope was sounding alarms about how Boston venues were closing their doors on hip-hop just as a new generation was making enormous strides outside the city. The scene is still imperfect here by many measures, but STL GLD’s hustled up the best imaginable outcomes, as well as some that nobody could have foreseen. They broke beyond the Hub club scene to rock at last year’s Boston Calling, as well as the Museum of Science planetarium and the Oberon, among other bold endeavors. Still, this particular museum milestone seemed to feel as unreal for the group as it did for the rest of us sitting in front of the gargantuan George Washington battle scene.
“Hip-hop was never meant to be here,” Moe Pope told the crowd of family, friends, and artistic associates who came out for the event.
Before passing out headphones through the crowd so heads could hear their surprise latest LP, also titled The New Normal, the MC waxed on the long journey he took from the other side of Huntington Ave to the Museum of Fine Arts, making a point to remind everybody that despite STL GLD carving out and claiming a new normal, there’s still a lot of the old bullshit to watch out for.
“Hip-hop has given me so much,” Pope said. “It’s opened doors for me … it’s given me a tool in which I can take all the world has thrown at me and scream it back in a peaceful manner. … They don’t tell our stories. … Being poor, being fatherless, living inside miniature concrete boxes that are more like prison cells called projects, malnourished, and feeling like you are alone walking through war zones every day.
“Hip-hop on the local level in this city has been tough. This has been a rock city for so many years, and while I love rock and roll, the playing field is not level. We’ve been shut out, and without people of color getting liquor licenses or the proper funding, the venues are slim to none.
“Some,” he added, taking in the moment with a deep breath, looking at his group’s work beside that of John Singleton Copley and other American masters, “do not believe that hip-hop is real art.”
With that mindset having met its match, those of us who were lucky enough to be there smiled, put on our headphones, and experienced The New Normal for ourselves.