"He's always been the same guy — ever since he used to put together these wild routines for [Body Rock]," says Robert Minzie, who remains best friends with Ennis today. "Looking at the community stuff that he does now, and everything that he did with his clothing business, it's obvious that he was a leader from way back then."
Through mutual friends, Ennis eventually met Ray Scott, a/k/a Ray Dog, from Boston's premier hip-hop franchise, the Almighty RSO. Ray was known for hard rhymes and his relentless power of persuasion, and in 1986 he convinced Ennis to leave Body Rock and switch teams. One of the group's main hitters, Orange Man, was heading to jail on murder charges. Ennis, who was rapping as Emo-E, renamed himself the Mack Devil E-Devious, and joined RSO.
It would be five years before RSO and Ennis caught a big break from Tommy Boy Records, which signed the group to a deal in 1991. By that time, two RSO members had been killed, and most group affiliates were toting shotguns and slinging blow by the ounce. So it should have come as no surprise that RSO's major-label debut single, "One in Da Chamba," packed a violent message. Still, despite the plethora of gun rap on the radio at that time, "One in Da Chamba" — released soon after Ice-T's controversial "Cop Killer" — gained the ire of, among others, the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association and conservative provocateur Oliver North. Within weeks of the blowback making headlines, Tommy Boy cut the group from its roster.
"It was like we watched everything we'd worked so hard for get flushed down the toilet," says Ennis, "and that was just the beginning of the shit." Soon after losing the Tommy Boy deal, RSO recorded an EP for RCA. But the group was also dropped from that imprint after members brutally beat two critics from The Source magazine — in which Ray Dog owned a large share — during a press junket at the label's New York offices. The writers had thought it'd be a good idea to serve Ray legal papers, over a work dispute, in front of the media. RSO disagreed.
"After that, we were really blackballed," says Ennis. "The worst part was that because of all the controversy, people weren't giving us due for our music. But that was our heart, even though we were also in the streets in a major way. I had a daughter at that point. I had to make money any way I could."
Ennis finally got some artistic validation in 1996, when the iconic Houston label Rap-A-Lot released his group's first full-length album, Doomsday: Forever RSO. The album made the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart and is regarded as a Boston classic. For Ennis, though, real success in the rap world came as a designer, after he teamed with an unlikely partner, Brookline-based leather seamstress Roseanna Ansaldi, that same year. The two met through the downtown boutique High Voltage, where RSO regularly copped concert threads.