Underground hip-hop scene picking up

Underground hip-hop scene picking up

By Jonathan Dube

From waning crowds to venues shying away from booking performers, Boston’s hip-hop scene remained relatively under the radar until recently.

But during the past year, the underground hip-hop scene has experienced a shot in the arm. The resurgence of influence is due to a combination of factors, said Aaron Wetjen-Barry, an employee at the Underground Hip-Hop store located on the corner of Mass. Avenue and Huntington Avenue.

With a mix of promising new talent and a noticeable shift from hip-hop powerhouse cities like New York, which is known for producing top MCs like Jay-Z and the late Notorious B.I.G., Wetjen-Barry said Boston’s future looks bright.

“New York is kind of dead right now,” he said. “Right now it’s not at the top of its game which gives cities like Boston a chance to grow.”

Wetjen-Barry said past problems included fears of violence which forced larger venues to boycott shows, as well as a lack of public interest. Only two venues, the Middle East and the Paradise Rock Club were comfortable enough to book hip-hop-based performances.

“[In the past] it has been hit or miss, sometimes for the best artists, no one shows up,” he said. “It’s a problem in hip-hop, people showing up just to watch the show rather than dance.”

Relative obscurity wasn’t a bad thing for Akrobatik a.k.a. Jared Bridgeman, a Dorchester native who has performed with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Eminem, said difficulty getting people to listen to new, independent artists has caused the scene in Boston to change.

“You have cats from that era – 1998 to 2001 – which I consider to be the golden age of Boston hip-hop,” Akrobatik said. “Everybody was putting stuff out left and right. It’s hard now to get people to listen to new and independent artists. It’s affected the scene a lot.”

Daniel Laurent, a.k.a. rapper DL, the rapper whose album “the MASSterpiece (The Anthem),” made it to mainstream radio and became the No. 1 requested song on Emerson’s campus radio station WERS, said aspiring hip-hop artists come a dime a dozen.

“Everyone’s a rapper now,” he said. “There are people I went to school with who were studying to be in IT and some people studying to be mechanics and I see them and they’re rappers and they’re not good and no one tells them that.”

Northeastern alumnus Eric “Pops” Estevez said on the last Saturday of every month, the Underground Hip-Hop Store and Karmaloop throw a party at the Goodlife Bar on Kingston Street, which is downtown. There are also appearances and performances of local artists at the Underground Hip-Hop store on a regular basis.

There’s also a radio show on WERS’ “88.9 at Night” which showcases local hip-hop acts. The scene is a combination of Boston-based artists and outside performers and their audience is thriving, Estevez said.

Boston recently initiated a roundtable group that brought hip-hop artists together with community members to focus on ways to improve the scene. Discussions range from the fear of potential violence to possible opportunities for artists to reach out to the community by staging events such as concerts and spoken-word events.

Estevez said city backing has helped venues become more open-minded about the hip-hop scene, and appears to be aiding in its growth.

Jeff Maimon, a middler music industry major, said there seemed to be a sort of Roxbury/Dorchester feud. “It’s East/West in Boston,” he said. “Show violence is very minimal. More hip-hop violence is going to happen outside of venues.”

DL said although violence has been present in the hip-hop world, he would like to see more of an emphasis on what artists can do to improve their lifestyle, not simply dwell on it.

“We all know that police brutality exists, we all know there are economical restraints – tell me how we can band together in a positive way,” he said. “I appreciate NWA but what’s next. Let’s move forward. I look out and see crack vials and needles and broken bottles. I heard that. Let’s move on. Let’s talk about something else.”

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