HOLD YOUR APPLAUSE "I know how good I am. I don't need an industry machine to tell me I'm great."
Ask any group of teens on Blue Hill Ave how many of them rap and you'll get more affirmatives than you would surveying kids at Mass and Boylston for slap-bass skills. Allston might be a crab bucket of indie-rockers, and one in three JP residents is an abstract painter, but MCs in Boston's black communities have more competition than nail salons in Dudley Square.
"People have no idea how many great MCs there are out here," says Big Shug protégé Singapore Kane, whose first official album, Living Militant, dropped recently on Brick Records. "Just because they haven't put out albums doesn't mean they aren't dope. I have longevity, though. I've fought for my place, represented Boston in New York, and never given up. I nudged out a lot of dudes to be the best rapper in Mattapan hands down, and that's why Shug chose me."
Although Massachusetts is known for its underground rap talent, it's largely perceived that Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan (ironically enough) have been disproportionately slept on. Explanations vary, but Kane cites the number of gifted lyricists who are incarcerated, and the inability of some rappers from depressed pockets to compete in the digital age. Long gone are the days when MCs were discovered shredding freestyles in city parks, as Kane was nearly five years ago.
"I stand out for a few reasons," he says. "I don't really consider myself a street dude, but you can look me in the eyes and see that I got stabbed right in my face. I've seen someone get shot a couple of times, and it's something that will give you nightmares. Rappers need to stop glorifying bullshit and tell both sides of the story. If you talk about selling drugs, then you have to talk about going to jail."
Although he's been spitting for a decade — and dropped three well-executed hand-to-hand mixtapes since 2007 — Kane's acclaim just recently spread from Boston's hardest corners to the Web and beyond. Since getting tapped by Shug to carry on the Gang Starr Foundation tradition, he's appeared on several singles with his mentor and toured Europe three times. The Shug connection also opened garage doors for Kane to spill his multi-syllabic mutiny atop backdrops by hip-hop giant DJ Premier, a beatmaker with whom concrete-spawned MCs from Mattapan to Panama dream of working.
"I know how good I am," says Kane. "I don't need an industry machine to tell me I'm great, because I've had better compliments than that — Preme first told me I was dope years ago. When I recorded 'My Boston' with Big Shug and Termanology, I went in to spit a rough take and Preme said we were keeping it. I told him I could do it better, but he said, 'Trust me — I've been doing this for 20 years.' "
Kane has embraced his slow ascent, and he remains determined to continue climbing the old-fashioned way: from the curb to the club to above the clouds. Even in his current incarnation as a subterranean force — he's guest-starred on releases with such Boston cult favorites as Bomshot, Chan, and Slaine — the Mattapan traditionalist has not abandoned the ultimate street dream of signing to a major: "I know that I would have to wait or get put on the shelf for a while. But I'm waiting right now — so what's the difference?"