Boston Hip-Hop Fest 2015: A Celebration of Then, Now, & Forever

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It used to be such a funny thing to your boy Mr. Golden: for the longest time, hip-hop mavens outside of the parameters of New England viewed our scene through a far different lens than we did. For decades, we were primarily known for our many rock contributions  – the Remains, Modern Lovers, Pixies, J. Geils Band, etc. – as well as being the homebase of the Queen of Disco, the late, great Donna Summer. Yet when folks thought about Boston’s hip-hop community, they could muster only a small handful of names, typically led by Guru, the partner of DJ Premier in Gang Starr. Them folks had never heard Kevin Fleetwood & the Cadillacs of Sound “Sweat It Off”; they wouldn’t be able to tell you who Magnus Johnstone is in a million years; no clue The Source was launched out of a Harvard University dorm; nor would they have known anything about our hip-hop groups being threatened with litigation by police in years gone by.

Indeed, it seemed Boston hip-hop was always a background player when standing alongside such hotbeds as New York City (and hell, much like many of our rock acts, even Guru eventually migrated to Brooklyn). Thankfully, in recent years, we’ve seen the 617 gain more & more notoriety for its hip-hop contributions. Through dedication, perseverance, consistent hard work and genuine love for the art form, many talents have built a solid foundation for Boston’s hip-hop empire to grow on, one which will continue to grow for generations to come. Promoters like the brilliant Leedz Edutainment group, whose shows have been documented here in the past, help to provide a stage for these heavyweights of the game to shine upon. This past Saturday, the legends, the stars, and the next generation gathered together on one bill for the latest edition of the annual Boston Hip-Hop Fest, and family, I can tell you this was hands-down the strongest to date.
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One look at the lineup for this year’s Hip-Hop Fest told you this was the see-and-be-seen event of the weekend in Boston nightlife: Dutch ReBelle. Akrobatik. Edo.G. STL GLD, the devastating tag team of Moe Pope and the Arcitype. Slaine. REKS. Latrell James. This, you guys, is just to name a few. A who’s who of the genre, gathered under one roof, giving us everything they had on that stage and, together with the packed house before them at the Middle East in Cambridge, celebrating the timeless power of hip-hop.

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From the jump, the raw energy – the sheer passion – shared from artist to audience could be felt. Host Mark Merren – best known in our city for emceeing Motivate Mondays at Church of Boston – did an amazing job in pumping up the crowd throughout the event, just as he does on a weekly basis. Stiz Grimey, Spnda and Esh got the evening underway, with fiery performances that saw these young lions leave every bit of themselves onstage. In particular, Latrell James left a solid impression on me. Latrell has earned enormous respect through his production work with a myriad of Boston hip-hop super talents – many of whom shared this very bill with him on this night. His energetic, uplifting set was a major highlight of this year’s Boston Hip-Hop Fest; I most definitely see a Monday Night GOLD radio appearance in the future for Latrell. From Latrell, to gifted wordsmiths such as Avenue, Millyz and Cam Meekins, the early portion of the night would prove to be a super-tough act to follow for the main event talents yet to come.

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With a new free mixtape titled Viva la GLDplay set to drop next month, STL GLD continue to show and prove daily, letting their success be their noise as they remind fans why they are one of the most talked about units in today’s game. Moe Pope and the Arcitype – alongside Christopher Talken – stormed the Boston Hip-Hop Fest stage and delivered one of the most blistering sets of the night, a performance worthy of a 20,000 seat arena. Few get the crowd on its feet quite like the STL GLD team, a brilliant unit with a blindingly bright future still ahead.

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Then came a performance by the man who I feel stole the night with a thunderous performance that saw him murder the beats behind him: my brotha Akrobatik, a legend of Boston hip-hop and truly one of the most humble and hard-working men in the community, even after years of success the world over. For Akrobatik, this show was a homecoming of sorts: it was in 1996 when 20-year-old Akrobatik stepped onto the Middle East stage for his first-ever live set. From early catalog favorites to music from his most recent joint Built to Last, Akrobatik crushed the joint and left the audience going up to the stratosphere in ways only DJs AlexXxan and Howie Rivet of mission KNTRL could do. Having known this great man for several years now and interviewed him numerous times on different radio shows, I can tell you this man has been to hell and back, and is still standing to do what he loves to do more than anything in this world. Big love and respect all day for Akrobatik.

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Another iconic name in Boston hip-hop, the great Edo.G, took the mic next. Rightfully, Edo made it a point to remind the audience to keep the inspiration & influence of Guru (whom Edo has known personally for 30 years) in mind. This – and strong performances of memorable jams such as “Two Turntables and a Mic” – left the crowd screaming enthusiastically. I have had the honor of getting to know Edo.G in recent years, having built event fliers for him and hosting him for a live radio interview in 2013; much like Akrobatik, he is a true pillar of our scene whose credentials are beyond reproach. It’s always a real pleasure to see this man work; from a 13-year-old kid in junior high bumping his music on cassette tapes to standing off to the side of the stage seeing him perform for his masses, lawd it doesn’t get much better than that. Salute to Mr. Edo.G.

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From established kings Akrobatik and Edo.G to the queen of Boston hip-hop; 2014 Hip-Hop Artist of the Year (Boston Music Awards) Dutch ReBelle was next to invade the stage. With unyielding charisma and a set ranging from tracks from 2014’s ReBelle Diaries to new music yet to be released, Dutch ReBelle made the Saturday night spotlight all her own. Her performance was a testament to the exciting future of Boston hip-hop, one that promises to deliver storied new chapters in the genre’s ongoing saga. Having interviewed her earlier this year for Boston VIPs, I can tell you Dutch ReBelle’s love for the music and enthusiasm for giving her fans her very best is all too real. “Kiss kiss, bang bang.”

The night would wrap with incredible sets by celebrated Boston-area stars REKS and Termanology, capped off by rapper-turned-film star Slaine, a powerful conclusion to an incredible event. Facts only: Boston Hip-Hop Fest 2015 was a night of passion, and celebration. This was not only about the music: this was about community. Boston’s hip-hop scene is one that sees artists and audience come together in support of a culture, an art form, that has changed lives and changed the world. You saw this all night long at the Hip-Hop Fest, and you see it every time you lay down your money to come discover a dope young creator on the come-up, or rediscover a longtime veteran of the circuit. Big love once again goes out to Ned Wellbery and the Leedz Edutainment squad for presenting the finest that our city – and beyond – has to offer.

Then, now, and forever: hip-hop lives on.

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