So I'm walking past the Jeanie Johnston in Jamaica Plain after the Boston Music Awards, and I see Slaine and his friend Ronnie hugging the bar and crushing rum and cokes. Despite being nominated for Best Hip-Hop Act, the Southie-Roslindale rapper actor preferred to spend the evening getting whacked at his old stand-by, which was empty by the time I spotted them and joined in for a nightcap.
In defending his decision to skip the awards, Slaine mentioned his disappointment that Sam Adams wasn't also nominated — yes, the same Sam Adams whom months earlier he banned from Boston, and whose music he decried as "blueblood frat-boy bullshit." "He had the biggest album of the year," Slaine now says. "You can't deny that." I suppose he's right — a complete unknown last December, the kid has already graduated from Harpers Ferry to the House of Blues.
If cool heads have finally emerged on the Sam Adams issue, that must be because the Boston underground — and everybody else, really — is also in good shape. The Hub has always had extraordinary hip-hop talent and remarkable releases; at times, however, it's lacked significant local and national exposure. That's no longer the case. Much as in the early 2000s, Boston this year re-emerged as an indie-rap mecca where the acts don't sell out but their shows often do. In April, the Bean lost one of its greatest in Gang Starr MC Guru, who succumbed to cancer at 43. But in his wake, it seems New England's budding rap stars have gotten a whole lot brighter.
There's no denying that Slaine, who just dropped his The Devil Never Dies (Suburban Noize) mixtape, and DJ Statik Selektah command the forefront of said enthusiasm. The latter's 1982 (Brick) with Termanology even made commercial waves, and Slaine's role in Ben Affleck's The Town also garnered attention for the city. But the real story is that those three aren't carrying the torch alone. Rather, they've opened doors for scores of rookies, regulars, and veterans to compete with cats from every city, scene, and subgenre.
Special Teamz gunner Jaysaun's long-awaited Game of Breath (Brain on Drugz Music) was titanic, and his video for "On Your Job" is a hilarious high-budget production feat. And there are other signs that roughneck street rap is back with a vengeance. Chilla Jones and Amadeus hit the mixtape circuit hard in 2010, as did Cambridge champs NBS, whose Celtics salute "Who Are We?" showed the world that in Boston even our sports anthems are hardcore ghetto bangers.
With his first official album following a two-year radio and concert blitz, North Shore native M-Dot (who won the BMA for Best Hip-Hop Act) dropped the downright dope Run-MPC (EMS) with Parisian producer Jean Maron. He'll return in January with a true solo outing, and no doubt after that with something even bigger. Also progressing from fresh interim mixtapes to proper projects are Mattapan lyricist Singapore Kane and Reks, who —no exaggeration — may be the best rapper alive. Reks has been recording with Moe Pope, whose Life After God (Brick) with producer Rain is a superlative pick for 2010 hip-hop anywhere.
Other long-time players also delivered. 7L & Esoteric reunited on the stellar 1212 (Fly Casual Creative); Nabo Rawk and Paul Foley turned Wasted Talent into a masked performance-art collective; Oak Lonetree cut about 25 new albums; Virtuoso, Dre Robinson, and Mic Stylz returned strong after years on the lam. New-crew honors go to Fameless Fam, Agari Crew, Click Animosity, and many more whom I'll be watching next year. Maybe Slaine was right about Sam Adams and his impact. I just never thought that it would take a "blueblood frat boy" to invigorate the toughest subterranean rap scene on the planet.
READ:Chris Faraone's 100 Essential Hip-Hop Tracks for 2010.