Crate digging with Hub rap archaeologist Pacey Foster

Hip-Hop History
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  November 15, 2012

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Pacey Foster used to fly home from college in Indiana, hustle to his Newton bedroom, and reach straight for the radio dial. It was the mid-1980s, and, just like in New York, hip-hop was mesmerizing the youth around Boston. At the local level, acts like Almighty RSO and MC Spice were making noise, and chiefly amplifying tales of ghetto life and partying through WMBR, the MIT station at the ass crack of the FM dial, 88.1 FM. For new jams, burgeoning hip-hop fans listened there for Lecco's Lemma, a weekly show hosted by eccentric music scenester Magnus Johnstone. Like countless others from the 'hood to the 'burbs, Foster was fully fixated.

Hip-hop history is full of stories about standout white guys — mostly on the business side — who changed the game. But Johnstone was different: a creature of the deep underground whose affection for emerging rap trends was entirely devoid of monetary motives. A tiny figure in tattered T-shirts and tight black jeans, Johnstone was a product of the punk-rock aesthetic. In MCs and DJs, he saw both the hope and the rebellion that rock once evoked, and he helped deliver that excitement from the streets to listeners from Mattapan to Malden.

"That was the best experience of my life," says Edo G, the leading Boston rap stalwart who got his start on Lecco's Lemma. "Magnus changed everything. Once we were able to get on the radio, everybody in the whole neighborhood would listen. That show was the only thing going for rap — and especially for local rap. Back then, everything was new — we didn't rock to hip-hop before that, like New York did. It was an amazing time — Magnus definitely helped shape hip-hop out here."

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In addition to being the first to spin hip-hop in Greater Boston, Johnstone also opened up his studio doors, inviting budding artists to rock live on air. Those in-house jams were so hectic that in his final year, Johnstone had to relocate Lecco's Lemma to WZBC at Boston College; MIT had grown tired of his entourage packing the studio each week, their "routines," as raw tracks were known back then, spilling onto the surrounding campus after shows. By the time that mainstream vultures and commercial jocks caught the rap bug, around 1988, Johnstone had moved on. He'd dutifully fulfilled his role as the odd Caucasian uncle of a new urban art form.

Though Foster was among those who listened to Johnstone's show religiously, by 2006, it had been years — decades — since he thought much about Boston rap's pioneering moments. A professor at UMass-Boston's College of Management, he had become a well-rounded music geek: the more than 10,000 records in his library of vinyl, as he fondly calls the walls of wax in his East Cambridge party loft, span all genres. So when friends approached him six years ago to pen the Boston chapter for an epic tome about regional rap scenes, Foster was reluctant to engage the opportunity. Before long, though, the old-school beats got the best of him, and Foster became the closest thing that Hub hip-hop has to a historian.

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