I was born in Boston, Massachusetts during a turbulent
time in it's history (1975). It was a powder keg filled with
tension between the races. After Martin Luther King
Jr.'s assassination the only thing that kept our city
from burning the same way our cousins in New Jersey's
did was that James Brown came to Boston to do an
emergency concert and urged the residents not to riot
and stay inside to catch the show on TV and the radio
or come to the show back in 1968 (Rest In Eternal Peace, Godfather).
Later, the city almost burned again after busing was
instituted. The end result was Boston getting the
stigma of being the Little Rock, Arkansas of the East
post the Brown vs. The Board Of Education decision in
1954. White parents took their children out of the
public school system and most of them fled the city
altogether for the suburbs. The city of Boston was
EXTREMELY segregated then (it kinda still is today,
but NOTHING like it used to be) and there were places
that depending on your background you didn't dare
venture to go.
I came up during the late 70's/80's and I had two older cousins
that lived upstairs from me that were both DJ's and
had separate record collections. I used to go upstairs
and go through/listen to their records then come
downstairs and go through my mom's collection. I was
listening to everything from Mahalia Jackson, Etta
James, The Brothers Johnson, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious
Monk, Ohio Players, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Rick
James and Miles Davis.
I went through old 45's, ran across 78's, listen to 8
tracks with the huge make-your-ears-sweat headphones
that messed up your afro. I had heard so many jazz,
blues, soul, R&B, classic rock, gospel and country
albums by the time I was 9 I could've written for
Rolling Stone or Right On! and I was addicted to music
and searching for new sounds.
When Hip Hop hit, it was just what cats were doing in
the street, it was a natural occurence...one we
thought only happened in New York, New Jersey,
Connecticut, here (Boston) and I heard cats stories
did it out in Philadelphia as well...until we heard a
rap on record and the radio...it was 1979 and it was
Rapper's Delight, next came King Tim III, then
Superrappin'...the kids and teenagers were lovin'
it...we had our own thing that was ours and ours
The adults thought it was noise, the critics and the
suits thought it was a fad that would soon die out. It
was a culture with a language, script, writing style,
music and dance of it's own that we alone understood
that outsiders couldn't grasp at all...we lost our
Rap records became a novelty almost as for the next
two or three years, they popped up from time to time
with a couple of classics occasionally dropping with
some garbage dropping from vanity one-off labels.
The classics were made by Sequence, Grandmaster Flash
& The Furious Five aka The Younger Generation, Crash
Crew aka The Force of 5 MC's, The Funky Four Plus One
More, Spoonie Gee, The Treacherous Three, Kurtis Blow,
Jimmy Spicer and The Sugarhill Gang. I remember there
being only 6 or 7 rap labels (Sugar Hill, Winley,
Spring, Pop Art, Enjoy and Tommy Boy).
The local record store chain decided to concentrate
more energy into the young art form (Skippy White's)
and local radio embraced it (WRBB & WILD). Since we
were hearing the songs so much on the radio it was
necessary to GET A RADIO! We got a box from our mother
who bought it from some heroin addict booster for
$5...it was worth $149 in the paper! It lasted from
1982 to 1989...the end of hip hop's Golden Era.
I feel sorry for those of you that didn't have the
opportunity to experience the culture first hand when
it was band new and still growing every day. Y'all
missed the new tapes coming from different boroughs of
New York that gave us new names and routines to learn.
Ya'll missed the days of stealing/buying tapes and the
art of the pause tape! I became a master by age 8!
I knew the beginning of each song they would play on
the radio and I could recognize if it was the straight
joint or a blend immeadiately. If you got tricked you
had to STOP, REWIND, STOP and hold down PLAY, RECORD
and PAUSE without cutting off ANY of the previous
joint you recorded! You had to have the levels just
right on the radio, too. Otherwise it sounded wack on
playback, the kids with the best tapes and the
freshest jams got respect. That was us (my brothers
You got your Flow pens, Uni wides, Sharpies, Marks A
Lot's and homemade markers and practiced your hand
styles, bubble letters, came up with a name and tried
to take it ALL CITY. Since Boston was so segregated
back then (1978-1989), this was harder than you could
imagine. The elevated train line which ran through the
largely Black and Latino populated areas of the city
was torn down in 1985 and replaced by the Orange
Line...A new graf revolution began shortly therafter!
After Style Wars came out, Boston's PBS station
REFUSED to air it (WGBH) in fear that it would result
in widespread tagging and grafitti everywhere...they
didn't realize that in Mattapan, Dorchester, Roxbury,
Jamaica Plain and the South End IT WAS ALREADY TOO
If you weren't there in the early years of hip hop
you'd never understand the feeling of rapping and
poplocking and b boying and carrying crates of
records, linoleum or cardboard around everywhere (take
the huge gold metal staples out and save someone a
trip to the emergency room!) while EVERYONE ELSE who
wasn't familiar with the culture was looking at your
style of dress like you were on crack rock.
In the South End, kids went from street to street
looking for competition. The kids in Villa Victoria,
Methunion Manor and in the Piano Factory on Tremont
used to battle at Carter Park and Sparrow Park for
supremacy. Emcees and B-Boy's would also face off at
the now long defunct West Canton Street Fair. Cats
would be rocking their jean jackets with the graf on
the back panels and down the pant legs. Beatboxers
would get busy while the emcees battled.
Crews would do routines complete with dance steps and
matching outfits. It was all for the love of the
culture..It was all love before the money really came into the
You'll never understand why we loved this culture so
much. We knew every new jam word for word. Every new
beat was being banged on walls and lunchroom tables in
every hood in the city. It's even more remarkable if
you take into account that WE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT THESE
CATS (EMCEES/DJ'S/WRITERS/B-BOYS) LOOKED LIKE!
We had to wait for them to actually have their picture on the
cover of a single/album or to see their picture in
Right On! or Black Beat.
Show flyers OCCASIONALLY had pictures on them that you
could make out (I remember when my whole block of kids
on Mass Ave. got paid to tape up Doug E. Fresh & Slick
Rick flyers back in '85...it was the first time we saw
what they looked like).
There was a culture you came up in with
apprenticeships where you learned a/or multiple
trades. You wanna be an emcee? Find a DJ, start
carrying crates and arranging records. Learn breaks
and instrumental tracks from funk records. Watch older
emcees rock, hop on the mic once one of them leaves to
smash a groupie or gets too high/drunk to rhyme any
more (or they just run out of raps).
Wanna be a B boy? Find a crew (Floorlords still
reppin' Boston since the old days, look 'em up), spend
time practicing with them and learning footwork and
floor moves while developing a personal style/uprock.
When a battle occurs, get in the cipher and throw
down. Wanna be a (graf) writer? Find another
writer....prepare to do some searching....etc.
YOU COULDN'T JUMP ON AND CALL YOURSELF AN ANYTHING IF YOU
DIDN'T LEARN ALL OF THE TRICKS OF THE TRADE AND PAY
YOUR DUES FIRST! TOYS GET NO RESPECT UNTIL THEY EARN
In Hip Hop back then, the biggest insult was to be
called a BITER. Dudes would laugh off a diss about
your mother...to call me UNORIGINAL? We gotta fight!
Being branded a biter was the worst. If you lost a
battle, you went back to the lab, worked at your craft
and came back hard in hopes of becoming the victor
next time...you didn't come back and stab or shoot the
dude who beat you in the battle with mad niggas in
tow...THAT WASN'T HIP HOP!!...I miss the old days.