May 22 - 29, 1 9 9 7
[Music Reviews]
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Just to get a rep

Boston rappers are onto something big.

by Brian Coleman

[Down Low Connection] Although rap groups from all over the country have been scoring big for years now, steady national recognition continues to elude Boston's hip-hop scene. There has been the underrated Jonzun Crew from the old school, and groups like the Almighty R.S.O. and Ed O.G. & the Bulldogs have likewise made stabs at national prominence. Gang Starr, one of hip-hop's best and most respected duos, share a 50 percent bloodline tie to Boston (Guru, a/k/a Keith Elan, is from Roxbury). Unfortunately, most local groups have had their moment in the sun and then spent the rest of their career in a music world where the West Coast or the five boroughs of New York City constitute the sun that rap music revolves around.

Despite the lack of exposure, there's never been a lack of local talent. And recently there have been signs that our "secret" scene may begin to get the national recognition it has deserved for years. There is still no "Boston Sound," but the diversity of groups coming up is promising, and the more who succeed, the more encouragement there'll be for others to keep experimenting and recording.

The new compilation Rebel Alliance (Brick) offers probably the best aggregation of rap talent on one piece of wax that this town has ever produced. The likes of 7L & Esoteric (formerly known as God Complex), the Architects of Intellect, Mr. Lif, Tony Infamous and Virtuoso (with production work by a crew including Truth Elemental), the Beyonder, Mr. Lif, DaRoc, and Papa Dee serve up a hearty dose of anti-establishment lyrics and attitude, with an impressive variety of sounds and production styles.

There's also Cambridge-based rapper Manuel, expertly produced by Waltham's Derek Marazzo (who also runs the Majestique label that put out Manuel's recent "Luv Luv" single). With a no-nonsense New York-influenced rap style and some inventive beats behind him, Manuel is due to have his full-length album out later this summer.

The most experimental and unashamedly non-trendy hip-hop group from around these parts, Brockton's CTS (Cooler than Smack), prove on their recent Disco Dust Delight EP (Linoleum) that a lack of studio time or polished mixing techniques need not get in the way of pure imagination. Their old-school electro-style comes off like the Beastie Boys doing a four-track tape on crack. God knows what it would sound like if it were professionally produced.

L. the Head Toucha and Raw Produce, both of whom use the locally based Vinyl Reanimators production crew, have made some serious noise lately on airplay charts across the country. Raw Produce's "Weight of the World" (Insomnia Records) and L. the Head Toucha's "Too Complex" (Direct Records) boast slick production worthy of any major-label release. And both artists have the verbal skills that could make them the next big hometown signing.

Down Low Connection, Phoenix/WFNX Best Music Poll Best Rap/Hip-Hop artists last year, are hands-down Boston's top live hip-hop group, but their Feel the Real EP (DLOCO Recordings) shows that they can make things work in the studio as well. Although it is more of a great work-in-progress, veering between live-sounding jams and beautifully minimal studio tracks, a producer with vision could mold the group's raw materials into an unstoppable package.

Laster's "Off Balance," featuring Boston rapper Ed O.G., and M-Slash's "Good Timez" (singles on Dark Records and Wildfire Records, respectively) share a production credit by Madsol, one of Boston's finest. These artists' vocal styles are equally commanding, and they boast the kind of laid-back-yet-aggressive flow that too many rappers only wish they had.

T-Max broke out last year with his "Execution Style" single; recently he followed it up with "Relax Your Mind" (both on Damage Records). His vocal style harks back to Nas's cerebral flow and Rakim's captivating machine-gun delivery, and the production values are outstanding.

Look also for the Lowell-based Krumb Snatcha, who have put out the singles "Mobsters" and "Mental Orgasm" on the Mass in Action label with production by national-name producer Ski, and an upcoming DJ Premier remix. Both could be national names in a short time.

The Rebel Alliance crew will have their album-release party tonight, May 22, at the Western Front, 343 Western Avenue, Cambridge. Call 492-7772. Down Low Connection play with Pimp Carriage on June 5 at the Karma Club, 9 Lansdowne Street. Call 421-9595.

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