HUB OF THE UNIVERSE: “I guess when people saw us rocking B-hats and Red Sox jerseys on MTV, it finally started to click,” says Termanology (left, with Statik).
At a middle school in Roxbury last week, a teacher friend of mine, hardly expecting a landmark response, asked her students to list their favorite hip-hop artists. After several teens predictably named the usual commercial clowns, one brave young cat passed up Wayne and T-Pain to prop a home-town hero: "Termanology can take all those suckas." For a rap scene that's always been overlooked in its own backyard, this was a milestone.
The Lawrence-bred Term is not the only New England MC earning young hearts and minds despite getting minimal commercial burn. His Brick Records labelmate and fellow Lawrence lyricist Reks has in the past few years become the premier darling of hip-hop bloggers everywhere, earning more Nas comparisons than even he's comfortable with. At the same time, Southie-Roslindale rapper actor Slaine recently steered into mainstream consciousness with a standout role in Ben Affleck's Charlestown caper flick The Town, at once inflating the hardcore fan base he'd already hooked with the House of Pain expansion team La Coka Nostra.
As the hip-hop world flattens, leveling the subterranean-versus-mainstream dynamic that's hobbled gimmick-free MCs for decades, Boston is emerging as a cultural centerpiece. In the middle of that spotlight is the super-prolific Statik Selektah, a Lawrence-born, Hub-bred, New York–based producer/DJ who connects extraordinary commonwealth talent with exalted collaborators from Q-Tip and Wale to Bun B and AZ. Indeed, Statik handled beats on three widely anticipated Bean-fed projects dropping this week: his 1982 tag team with Term, Slaine's The Devil Never Dies, and a Reks sequel to last year's In Between the Lines mixtape.
"We're underground in our hearts," says Reks, "but at this point, Statik is on the front lines as a respected producer worldwide. Term is also going overseas non-stop, and I'm finally about to start doing the same thing. I guess you can say we've broken out of that underground mold."
What's more impressive than the strength and reach of contemporary Boston hip-hop is the lack of beef among scenesters. A notorious crab bucket, the Mass rap landscape has long been home to warring, or at least divided, factions. But that's largely over now; the evidence is in everything from Term and Statik tapping Masspike Miles to smoke the hook on "You Should Go Home," which is now rotating on MTV Jams, to the joint release party that Reks, Term, Slaine, and Statik are throwing November 6 at the Middle East.
"I think my seeing what they've built and their seeing what I've built gave us a real mutual respect for each other," says Slaine, who reminds me of a New Year's Eve show in North Station, four years ago, when his camp nearly clashed with Term's compadres. After they discovered that a third-party instigator had fueled the situation for controversial video footage, Slaine turned his aggression on the cameraman. He's been cool with Term ever since. He continues: "I also think we realize that we're all at the forefront of Mass hip-hop, and that doing this show together was a powerful statement."