It’s almost needless to say, but Boston hip-hop has come a long way in the past three years. I started The Fresh Heir in June 2011, returned to Boston for my third year of college in the fall and within two months, met a rapper named D-Note who inspired me to gain an understanding of and become part of the local scene. He introduced me to Gio Dee (known as Bigg Dee at the time), and soon after, I had an idea. I called D-Note: “Yo, what if I did like a XXL Freshman list in Boston?”
What I was seeing at the time was a group of young, up-and-coming rappers receiving very little support from the community. There was no blog presence or support, only one real outlet to perform (watered down bills at the Middle East) and minimal collaboration. Boston had the makings of a scene, but it would have been a stretch to call it that. I’m not talking about older artists like Termanology, Reks, Slaine, etc. They had their own wave, and neither I nor any of the young artists I was meeting in late 2011/early 2012 were a part of that. There was a tremendous divide between the youth and the more established artists (not to mention a decade difference in age), and there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of forward movement from either group.
When I called D-Note about the “XXL Freshman” idea, the point was not to hand out trophies and name a certain number of rappers the best in the city, but rather to establish a power circle in which an atmosphere conducive to collaboration and friendly competition would be birthed. The city needed a spark of energy, and what eventually became a movement I coined #12For12 (12 rappers in 2012) became just that. I met two other kids who I was attending Boston U with at the time (Guillermo and Blair), and the three of us formed a team that would develop and execute the #12For12 vision. We scouted artists, discovered new ones through countless hours of listening/video sessions and eventually settled on 12 we thought represented the city in a positive light, that brought unique styles to the table and that, above all, could rap.
Admittedly, we didn’t know much about the local scene at the time. That became clear early on in the process, when in the spring of 2012 several artists that weren’t a part of the original #12For12 lineup (namely Michael Christmas, Jeff Replay, OG Swaggerdick, Cousin Stizz, Casso) started showing up to our events and outperforming, outworking, and standing out amongst some of the others. But indirectly, that was exactly what we had been hoping for all along. #12For12 motivated and inspired artists to go harder than they were at the time, and everyone who was up for the challenge became better for it. The cyphers—like this one and this one—were electric, and for the first time (at least in my eyes), it felt like a handful of future stars were being birthed. No one was comfortable with their current positions anymore. They could look to the left and right and see talent from their own city constantly trying to set the bar a little bit higher. And little by little, people from outside Boston—particularly a handful of my blog homies like Pedro Gonzalez, K1ng Eljay and Mahbod of Rap Genius—started paying attention.
Fast-forward three years. It’s January 2015, and I’ll confidently say Boston hip-hop is in the best place I’ve ever seen it. Again, I’m not talking about the state of the scene in 1997. Or 2002. Or even 2009. I’m talking about the 2010s because that’s all I know. I didn’t grow up in Boston. I grew up in Connecticut and moved to Boston in the fall of 2009 for school, so the years since then is all I know… but over the past three, it’s been a whole lot of progress, and I don’t think I’m the only one who would say so.
I could go into much more detail in reviewing the past, but I want to talk about right now. And since I already talked enough, I’m gonna let the music do it for me. Here are some tracks and videos from the past few months that you may have missed or are at least worth checking out again if you’re already hip:
Caliph – “Break The Internet”
This joint is crazy. Off the bat, it might seem like a gimmicky effort—Caliph fires shots at or name drops virtually every rapper that made major noise in 2014—but the second half of the track is a wonderful expression of sociopolitical views deserving of all the attention it has received just a few days into its release. Caliph is a remarkably talented lyricist—it’s been that way since I met him—and hopefully “Break The Internet” is just the jumpoff point for a breakout 2015.
Michael Christmas – “Fuck Wit Me”
Christmas burst onto the national scene in 2014, and he’s kicking off 2015 on a 40-date tour with Logic. “Fuck Wit Me” was his last release of last year and undoubtedly a sign of much bigger things to come. The track first surfaced on Soundcloud then was supplemented by the live, in-studio performance video below.
Gio Dee ft. Kool John – “Wit Me”
This is the banger Dee’s been looking for. He’s more than capable of taking over with club anthems, and “Wit Me” is the latest and best example. HBK affiliate Kool John is the supporting act on the record, and it’s certainly a repeat-worthy one. “Wit Me” has just the right bounce—I wouldn’t be if this one catches on in a big way soon.
Latrell James – “The Button”
Latrell has been making waves as both an emcee and producer over the course of the past year, and “The Button” is proof of both. Produced by his 5 Star Generals crew, the song tells a poignant story that’s brought to vivid life by the black-and-white video. It’s a cut you have to run back two or three times to catch everything, and as with the releases listed above, it’s a sign that Latrell is on track for his biggest year yet.
Casso – “For The Loot”
Casso’s latest is laced with a sickeningly catchy hook, and the video is the best representation of the him that I’ve seen to date. “For The Loot” is powered by the same hunger Casso’s brought to the table for years—if there’s more where this came from, he could make a lot of noise in 2015.
Cousin Stizz – “Shoutout”
This came out last summer, but it’s about to catch a huge second wave when Stizz’s debut project Suffolk County drops, so spin this a few more times and be ready for that because it’s coming. Also, watch this.
Jeff Replay – “Ask For Juan”
No matter what Replay’s up to at any given time, it’s probably worth paying attention. He hasn’t released anything official in some time, but know that a track, video, or entire project could pop up on AskForJuan.com literally whenever. There are already a few gems on there, so go check that out and be ready to see a lot more of Replay’s name in 2015.
Black EL – L_ST
EL’s latest project dropped in November, and it’s been in rotation ever since. He, Durkin and Victor Radz put together a super cohesive, innovative body of work that caught the ears of heavyweight producers and industry heads, and if they’re able to stay consistent throughout the course of this year, a fan base will be soon to follow.
Cam Meekins – “Cool”
Cam’s been on a roll. His December EP did numbers, and “Cool”—the first single off the forthcoming January (1/12)—is one of his best singles in recent memory. The flow is smooth, the self-produced beat is warm and nostalgic and the hook is sure to stick.
There’s more where all that came from too. Artists like Avenue, OG Swaggerdick, Dutch Rebelle, Kareem $ully, Nat Anglin and Dutchy Dobad are all names to look out for this year, and we’ll do our best to let you know exactly what you should be up on and why. Stay tuned for more.