When you think of rap music, there are a few cities that come to mind first. Places like New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, and Miami are likely at the top of the list.
Boston is a great city in many ways (sports teams, universities, hospitals) but they’ve never had a big national presence in the rap game. They did produce some great popular artists back in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s (Aerosmith, Boston, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Cars, New Edition), but hip-hop was never at the forefront of the city’s music scene.
The biggest hip-hop legend in the history of Boston is irrefutably the late great Guru, the voice of the dynamic duo Gang Starr along with producer DJ Premier from Brooklyn, New York.
Since then there has been a barrage of talented underground rappers from Boston and surrounding areas who have built solid fan bases across the globe but haven’t exactly “blown up” to the point that they’re one of the most talked about names in the whole genre. They include Slaine, Edo. G, Akrobatik, Reks, Termanology, and Esoteric.
As of right now, it looks like Massachusetts is ready to make some noise in mainstream hip-hop. There are a lot of artists who have begun to grab people’s attention over the last couple years (especially the last few months) and make their way onto world-known radio shows and popular hip-hop blogs and magazines. If you’re a rap fan you know about XXL Magazine’s annual Freshman Class where they gather all of the up-and-coming MC’s who are turning the most heads. There are four Massachusetts artists nominated for 2016’s class, and the Bay State rapper who has created the most buzz over the last few weeks isn’t even one of them. Don’t worry, we included him in our list.
Here are the seven names in hip-hop that are putting Massachusetts on the map:
1. Joyner Lucas (Worcester)
Joyner Lucas wrote his first rap at age seven and recorded his first song when he was 10, thanks to the musical influence of his father. With 18 years of practice under his belt, the 25 year-old is finally reaping the benefits of his hard work.
He went under the name “G-Storm” during his early years before changing it to Future Joyner in 2007, the same year he formed a group called “Film Skool Rejekts” with his uncle (producer Cyrus Tha Great), Sheen Phillips, and DJ Prince. Their mixtape “Workprint: The Greatest Mixtape of All-Time” gained recognition from mainstream rap blogs before Cyrus tha Great and DJ Prince left the group to work with Skyzoo, a Brooklyn rapper who was beginning to make a name for himself in the underground.
In 2011, Joyner released his debut solo project “Listen 2 Me”, which was able to gain some notoriety on the internet despite limited promotion. He followed it up with “Low Frequency Oscillators” in 2013 and he continued to get his name out by winning several rap competitions.
The big break for Joyner Lucas came in 2015. Following the release of “Along Came Joyner” in April, which is an absolutely incredible project, he was asked to partake in the famous yearly BET Cypher in October. He was initially only slotted for the “internet cypher” for the lesser known artists, but after showing what he was capable of he was upgraded to the official cypher and it’s safe to say that his verse took the hip-hop world by storm. It led to him garnering co-signs from legends like Snoop Dogg and managing to do songs with Busta Rhymes and Royce Da 5’9. He’s also been in the studio with Hopsin recently.
Joyner’s first song/video to go viral was “Ross Capicchioni” last year and if you watch it you’ll understand why. The art of storytelling has always been a vital part of rap music and this is the one of the best storytelling tracks that you’ll ever hear. It’s based on a true story about a kid who was shot by his own friend as part of a gang initiation. Joyner raps the first verse from the perspective of Ross, the kid who got shot, and the second verse from the perspective of the shooter. The song is coupled with some detailed visuals which really bring the story to life:
Another favorite of mine includes “Long Way”, which also features a well put together music video that tells a gripping story:
Joyner recently appeared on popular hip-hop show The Breakfast Club and is currently the biggest artist in Mass.
2. Token (Salem)
Token is a kid from Salem who’s been rapping since the 5th grade. I say kid because he’s only 17, even though he’s better than most rappers in their 20’s and 30’s.
2015 was a huge year for the young MC as his continuous YouTube videos started to gain traction and he began to grab the attention of some well-respected rappers. A big moment was when he was co-signed by the legendary R.A. The Rugged Man last summer after a show at the Middle East in Cambridge:
In the eight months since that moment, Token has taken off. He’s done a song with Joell Ortiz of Slaughterhouse on Eminem’s Shady Records and his video for “No Sucka MC’s”, which was released back in October, has exceeded a million views. It features Token walking through his neighborhood while displaying his exceptional lyricism and flow:
The highlight of Token’s journey thus far is his recent appearance on “Sway In The Morning.” For those of you who don’t know, this is the biggest radio show (along with the Breakfast Club) in hip-hop. Household names like Kanye West, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar have all been on the show. The most popular part of the program is when they artists are given a beat and put on the spot to show off their talents. As a 17 year-old kid given the same platform as some of the legends of rap, Token knew that he had to come prepared. He rapped 100 passionate bars and gave arguably the best performance in the history of Sway In The Morning. He even made one of the co-hosts cry:
(he starts rapping at 7 minutes)
If you watched any of the three videos that I posted, then you know that this kid has the potential to be one of the greatest of all-time. That may sound a bit premature but when you consider how talented he is as well as how much time he has to keep on perfecting his craft, there’s really no limit to how good he can be.
3. Michael Christmas (Boston)
Hailing from Roxbury, Michael Christmas grew up in an apartment two doors down from Edo. G’s son. They used to play basketball together.
He began experimenting with rap in 7th grade and first grabbed attention with his funny/creative video “Michael Cera” from his “Is This Art?” mixtape in 2014. Christmas is a self-proclaimed weirdo who often describes himself as awkward and the video is a perfect portrayal of his persona:
In the last couple years he’s been on tour with Logic and managed to work with some other big names.
His debut album, “What A Weird Day”, was released last October and features songs with Logic and Mac Miller. It also includes some great visuals for the song “Look Up/Save The Day”:
Michael Christmas considers himself to be an artist rather than just a rapper and he hopes his rap career will open more avenues for him:
I want to be able to do other shit. I want to write and be on television. I want to make a commercial for Nike or some dumb shit. I want to be creative at all times. Rap is cool but I can show creativity in so many other ways. I want rap to be an avenue to take me further as far as showing creativity and entertaining people.
Seems like he has a lot in store so it should be interesting to see which direction he decides to go in.
4. Bia (Boston)
Bia is most known for her role in the reality television show Sisterhood of Hip Hop, although she is no longer a part of the show and has shifted all of her focus to her music career.
Her rap dream started at age 14 when she used to hang out with a bunch of rappers in the studio. Her job was to simply hit the record button for them, but little did they know she was writing her own rhymes. She wrote music in secret for four years until she finally decided to start sharing it when she was 18. After surviving a near-fatal car accident in 2013 when she and her friends were hit by a drunk driver, Bia decided that it was time to follow her dreams and really pursue a career in hip-hop.
The last couple years have been a dream come true. Bia was initially discovered by her current manager on YouTube and was eventually introduced to Pharrell. Pharrell recognized her talent and took it upon himself to sign her to his “i Am Other” record label.
Her most popular video to date is “La Tirana” with half a million views but recent hits “Bobby Brown” and “Whip It” have drawn the most attention as of late:
Bia was recently on Hot 97’s Ebro In The Morning where she talked about being signed by Pharrell and doing a song with T.I. She’s currently on the road performing on Pusha T’s “Darkest Before Dawn” tour.
5. Cousin Stizz (Boston)
Cousin Stizz is from Dorchester, specifically Fields Corner. His music has a much harder and more aggressive feel than the carefree Michael Christmas, but the two of them have formed a good relationship as Boston’s up-and-comers.
The mixtape that changed Stizz’s life was “Suffolk County” which he released in June of 2015. The song “Fresh Prince” reached a million views on YouTube thanks in part to its use in a viral comedy clip.
Other hit songs include “No Bells” and “Shoutout”, which both have music videos that show numerous recognizable Boston landmarks. “Shoutout” was the cause of Stizz’s greatest career achievement thus far when a video surfaced that depicted Drake bumping the song on his birthday. The music videos for both of these songs have reached around 300,000 views:
Cousin Stizz is currently on tour doing his best to capitalize on his recent success.
6. Cam Meekins (Wellesley)
Cam first made a name for himself about five years ago. I remember when his “1993” mixtape dropped in 2011. At that time he was still trying to find his lane and hadn’t really developed a unique sound. The talent was there, but there was nothing separating him from all of the other Mac Miller carbon copies that were taking over the rap game.
His 2013 album “Lamp City” showed tremendous progression and turned me into a fan. Tracks like “Better Days” and “Inhale” are smooth, poetic, and real. In his first project it seemed like he was hiding his insecurities and just trying to be the “cool rapper guy”. The honesty, humility, and emotion in songs like these were a breathe of fresh air:
In September of 2015, Cam Meekins released an album titled “Stories from the Greenline”. Again he decided to experiment with different styles as there’s more singing on this project than usual, but the bars continue to get better. My favorite track is “Wasn’t For You”:
Cam Meekins is currently on a West Coast tour with Massachusetts band Aer.
7. Dutch Rebelle (Milton)
Dutch ReBelle was born in Haiti and raised in Milton, Mass. She’s been making music since her childhood and first introduced herself with her debut project “Married To The Music” in 2012, which featured the powerful track “Sunday Morning”:
The mixtape earned her a fan base, which only grew following the release of her sophomore effort “Rebelle Diaries” in 2014. She was first nominated for XXL’s Freshman Class in 2014 (also nominated 2016) and won “Best Hip-Hop Artist” at the 2014 Boston Music Awards.
She was also nominated for the 2016 Freshman class thanks to the success of her 2015 release “Kiss Kiss EP”. The song “Mix It Up” from that project is well on its way to becoming her most viewed video on YouTube:
ReBelle has had a solid following in Boston for a couple years but she’s finally getting her name out to the rest of the world.
Artists To Watch For:
While it’s great to see these seven local rappers hitting it big, there’s still plenty of talent in Massachusetts that gets overlooked. Here are some artists who have been putting in work for years in the local hip-hop scene:
Easty has been rapping since 2007 and it’s been a joy to watch him progress. The 23 year-old, far removed from his days as “Tha Kounc3llor”, has spent the last decade sharpening his flow and perfecting his delivery. The hard work has led to him to be one of the best spitters in Mass and has given him opportunities to perform in Los Angeles, New York, and Florida. Easty also plays locally on a weekly basis and can often be found at Maggy’s Lounge in Quincy. Here’s his track “No Limits” with Protege:
E.S.P is another great lyricist who works hard to get his name out. He has participated in Wreckshop Movement’s Subway Cipher and has large collection of music on his Soundcloud which is all worth all a listen. Here’s one of my favorite tracks:
Protege, who you saw in the video with Easty, has been rapping and producing since his childhood. He’s produced for various local artists and has an extremely keen ear for music. His lyrics and flow are just as impressive as his production. Find Protege on Soundcloud and check out his latest track:
Riggz Two Nice
Riggz fell in love with music at an early age and began creating when he was 11. He’s a mult-talented artist who can rap, sing, and act. All three of these skills are on full display in his entertaining music videos. Here’s his most popular one, “Mind Right”:
Tooty might be the best rapper you’ve never heard of. He’s unbelievably gifted on the mic and you can feel the pain and emotion in each word he speaks. There aren’t many recent songs from Tooty that can be found on the internet but he’s currently in Florida working on music so that should change soon. Here’s a deep, heartfelt song that he created five years ago and it hasn’t gotten old:
Lateb is a member of the Heddshotts crew, but his solo career has started to take off. I saw him open for Talib Kweli back in October for his album release party and I was thoroughly impressed with his performance. You can find that album, “Truth and Malice 2” on iTunes and Spotify. Here’s one of his music videos:
“Truth and Malice 2” also features a song with Token.
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour