The following is a true story about the power of music and in particular, one song that we've come to know as the Boston Anthem...well, it actually means even more than that to me. Let me first explain why....
I was in Baltimore, MD. A freshman at O'Connell Hall in Morgan State University back in 1996. I was in a historically Black college and it seemed like every other region was reppin' hard but mine (Boston, MA...South End to be exact!). Every major city from the East Coast on down to the Midwest was deep with representatives. One day, a bunch of us were in the lobby talking about the most famous hip hop joints from where we were from. Someone suggested that we all go and select some songs that best represented where we all were from, we all went to our rooms and conferred with a group of cats from our hometowns to pick some songs that spoke for us.
A group of about 8 cats from Boston and some other spots in Massachusetts, including myself were left with the task of picking that one song that just screamed Boston...we didn't even need to deliberate, fam. I just went straight for the tape...but my boy from New Bedford had it on CD. We headed back downstairs to wait for everybody else to come down with their joints.
About 45 minutes later, no less than about 200 cats filled up the entireity of our dorm lobby. Each group taking turns playing songs that represented their areas. New York cats not only picked songs that repped their borough, in some cases, they picked joints that repped their projects (yeah, they were THAT deep). We heard classic after classic. "South Bronx", "The Bridge", "Strong Island", "Protect Ya Neck", "Bucktown", "Put It On", "Money Earning Mount Vernon", "One For All", etc. Shit, even some kids from Lefrak City in Queens played the brand new joint "LA, LA" by some dudes named Capone N' Noreaga that were down with Tragedy! After about a hour of playing NY joints it was time for Jersey to represent.
We heard "Sleepin' On Jersey", "Jersey", "Rock Dis Funky Joint", "Wrongside Of The Tracks", and "Time 4 Sum Aksion" from Jersey. Philly repped with "P.S.K. (What Does It All Mean), "Funky Dividends", "Glamorous Life", "Serious", "Clones" and "Brand New Funk". Houston reps played "Mind's Playing Tricks One Me" and"Mr. Scarface Is Back". They were heated because they wanted to play more but tape after tape was rejected because too many cats were like "Never heard of 'em!"
Next, the Chicago heads rocked "I Used To Love H.E.R." and left it at that. Detroit cats played "Ain't No Future In Yo Frontin'" and stepped off. They realized that it was a waste of time to try to argue with the large New York and California delegation in attendance.
The Washington D.C./Baltimore crew played Nonchalant's new hit (at the time) "5 O'Clock" and let it go there for the same reason (No one was accepting GoGo, so no E.U. or Trouble Funk joints counted). There was mad tension considering that some cities didn't have ANY joints that broke nationally. To make it even crazier, the massive squad from California stepped up next.
Let me remind you that back in the spring of 1996, the whole East Coast/West Coast beef was going on strong. The New York Times magazine with Death Row on the cover was being passed around like a joint in dorms. The songs "LA, LA" and "New York" were being played to death on the radio. If cats started playing Pac loud in some parts of the building, the room directly across would play Biggie loudly...next thing you know cats were straight up brawling right there in the hallway. Fighting over dudes that neither of them even knew personally...it was that serious back then.
The Cali squad was from all over California and about 40 dudes deep, they could've easily broke Cali up and played 10+ joints to rep where they each were individually from, but no, they all decided to play ONE SONG...I knew what they were gonna play and I prayed a riot wasn't going to go down between 200 Black dudes in a college dorm lobby over Rap music...I could see the the headline "East Coast/West Coast Rap Feud Spills On To College Campuses". I wanted NO part in that.
The Cali crew's CD went into the player and a familiar riff that we all heard 30 times a day on the radio started blaring through the speakers...."California Love" by 2Pac...at this time on campus, merely playing that song in the wrong place could set off beef. Here we all were standing in front of the stereo system, with said joint playing MAD LOUD...Shit was REAL..Something had to give.
Heads were sitting around eyeing each other for close to 3 minutes before I got up, lone CD in hand and said "Come on y'all, if we wanna hear this joint we could just turn on the radio!". The dudes from California started laughing. A Detroit head said "Y'all could've played ANY other joint!" Before anyone else could speak I said to everyone in the lobby as I slid the CD in the stereo "Ay Yo! Everyone put your hands over your hearts...This is the Boston Anthem!"
Those first familiar notes boomed from from the speakers, faces all around the lobby started changing immeadiately, heads start bobbin', some dudes even made the "this joint is the shit!" face. Then came the rhyme...200+ brothers in unison began spittin' the lyrics along with the emcee. The Emcee was Ed O.G. The song in question? "I Got Ta Have It".
I'm hard like an erection/I'm burnin' suckas so wear protection/whose next when Ed's flexin?/
I'm the bread and you are just a crumb off/stand back relax cuz Ed O.G.'s about to come off/
Everyone in that lobby knew this joint word for word. It made me realize immeadiately the duality of music and the potential it had to both divde us and bring us all right back together. After it ended, heads were like "Play that joint again, Celtic!" (It was my nickname...I was the only cat on campus with a Wilkins #12 jersey). "Those horns were ill!" "That was my jam right there!" "I had the single and I played that shit until the letters on the tape rubbed off". I heard story after story about that song, a couple of dudes even started buggin' out and doing the dance from the video in the lobby...you know the one, the one with cats pumping their fists in the air while going in a circle.
The words to that song put our whole situation in perspective that night. Ed spit lines like "you can buy some new Adidas but you can't buy my life back" and "Black people unite and let's all get down" that we were used to hearing back in the day, but hip hop had gotten away from by then (and has COMPLETELY ABANDONED now). The whole mood had been changed around thanks to what 8 dudes thought was just the Boston Anthem.
It turned out that quite a few of them had not only that tape, but the "Roxbury 02119" album, singles for "Bug A Boo", "Be A Father To Your Child", "Skinny Dip", "Love Comes And Goes" and "As Long As You Know". To think, it went from 30 seconds short of Black on Black violence to a bunch of hip hop fans reciting lyrics to a song in unison in under 5 minutes. After playing that joint and couple of others like "I'm Different", "Speak Upon It", and "Dedicated To The Right Wingers" we all decided to just play our favorite joints, regardless of region...we were there all damn night playing song after song.
Even though heads didn't know shit about the Black and Latino experience in Boston, they knew that we were there because of Ed O.G.'s "Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto" and "Roxbury 02119". It made me feel proud to be a Bostonian, much the same way it did every time a New Edition, GangStarr , Joint Venture, or Almighty R.S.O. joint came on the radio or on BET.
Ed O.G. has repped for the Bean since his days in the Fresh To Impress Crew back in the 80's, he held it down with Da Bulldogs in the 90's, introduced us to one of the best that ever did it, Scientifik (R.I.P.), and he has continued to rep until now on his classic singles, solo joints and 12"s including the Dedicated EP, The Truth Hurts, My Own Worst Enemy (f/Pete Rock), the Special Teamz mixtape and most recently the 4 Peace project. Ed O.G. has been making me proud to be a Bostonian for damn near 20 years now and he's still tearin' shit up on tracks. Respect due to the one and only Ed O.G., the illest Roxbury representative since Malcolm Little.
This blog was originally posted on the Rewind section of RepDaBean.com in December 2006.