"Roc had his mind on his music — we were actually shooting a video for one of my songs all afternoon on the day he was killed," says Smoke. "But no matter what, for him it was always family first — he never missed [his son Jamie's] basketball or football games. Me and my brother come from one of the strongest families in the 'hood — we're like the ghetto Cosbys. Our parents have been together for 30 years, and they instilled a lot of good values in us. Music and family always went hand in hand."
While Lee was constantly recording, Hatch, having played a major role in Boston's nascent underground scene, relaxed his music grind a few years ago, and was recently focused on raising his one-year-old daughter Gianna. Yet the 36-year-old's musical accomplishments, like rocking one of the first Lyricist Lounge shows in New York, remain fresh in the memory of Hatch's Mikst Nutz affiliates.
"He was the dopest MC in the crew, and someone who I looked up to lyrically and as a friend," says Ripshop, who, along with Big Oh, Buda, and DJ Kon comprised Mikst Nutz. "Johnny had a big heart — he let me stay at his house for months back in the day. That's just the type of guy he was."
WORK FOR PEACE?
Starting in 1995, Diggs and her UMMF federation streamlined peace and promotional efforts, securing venues for rap shows while encouraging crews from warring rival neighborhoods to host shows together. The group's work, which over five years yielded dozens of concerts and three major conferences, dovetailed with the so-called Boston Miracle: a 63-percent decrease in youth homicides, a 25-percent decrease in gun assaults, and a 44-percent decrease in the number of youth gun assaults in the highest-risk district, Roxbury. At the same time, in 1997, gang-related rappers representing 12 warring Boston neighborhoods convened as the Wiseguys, demonstrating that peace and compromise were possible. The group's deal with Def Jam never materialized, but its message rang loudly in the streets.
In late 2005, the city's worst murder in a decade was committed against three aspiring hip-hop artists and one of their friends. It didn't matter that the rappers, who collectively billed themselves as Graveside, were just getting their feet wet on the local scene. The slaughter, which transpired in a Dorchester basement that they'd turned into a studio, sparked a proactive dialogue. Powwows organized by the Mass Industry Committee (MIC) and Peace Boston attracted hundreds of artists and promoters, while scene heroes Mo'Gee, Twice Thou, DQuest, and Edo G formed the philanthropic rap troupe 4Peace to broadcast their message.
These days, as violent crime continues to devastate the Boston blocks that many rappers call home, there's little orchestrated synthesis within the rap scene. Artists in the spotlight don't often beef with one another, but, according to some, they're not motivated to catalyze change, either. "It was heartbreaking to see how many people at Johnny's [wake] were part of UMMF," says Diggs. "We used to have meet-ups with 50 DJs every month; now everyone is online — they barely see each other anymore."