written by Kathia Dawson Plus DJ Mo Wilks
photo curated by Bryan Edouard
As the month of November closed, Berklee College of Music – an institution known for developing premier music talent – recognized music pioneers of the past locally and nationally. Hip-Hop fans from and around the Boston metropolitan area filled the seats at the Berklee Performance Center, where the members of the Africana Studies hosted a showcase honoring the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Hip Hop as well as inducting the first class of the Berklee Hip-Hop Hall of Fame. The evening’s honorees included Boston’s own Prince Charles Alexander and Ed OG as well as national recording emcee/rapper and one of the first female emcees in the Hip Hop game Roxane Shanté, the headliner of the show.
The Performance Center room tone was set courtesy of one of Hip Hop’s signature elements: the DJ. After the crowd was warmed up with familiar tracks, Berklee’s dean of the Africana Studies, Dr. Emmett G. Price III, provided the opening welcome to the sold out Berklee Performance center audience. Following Dr. Price’s welcome, the lead emcee/ local poet and host was the renowned 2022 Boston Music Award Spoken Word winner, Amanda Shea. Shea took to the stage and moved the crowd not only with her infectious energy, but her provocative spoken words as well.
Amanda Shea initiated the festivities with heartfelt gratitude, extending thanks to all those in attendance. A special shout-out was given to the Roxbury community eliciting applause from many in the crowd. She emphasized the significance of celebrating Hip-Hop and its profound impact on the Black community. Shea literally passed the mic to the future movers and shakers in music, Berklee students, to share their interpretations of selections from the evening’s honorees.
Berklee students from the College and Conservatory performed from the songbooks of Prince Charles and Ed OG. The students poured their energy into captivating performances dancing across the stage and igniting excitement in the crowd. They consisted of 2 guitar players, one keyboarded, three rappers that seamlessly transitioned between vocals and instrumental prowess. The stage was filled with rapping and singing. The mesmerizing performance, drew the audience’s attention in every direction.
Following the Berklee ensemble, an emerging new local emcee – Oompa from Roxbury – controlled the stage, solidifying that Boston’s Hip Hop future is in very good hands. The 14-time nominated and 3 time Boston Music Award winner Oompa matched the playful production by bouncing across the stage while the lights bounced with them while also rapping about the struggles of the streets. Oompa has been a performing fixture on the Boston scene for a number of years gracing the stages of local festivals such as BAMSFest and Boston Calling.
After Oopma’s standing ovation worthy performances, Dr. Price returned to the Berklee stage to commence the induction proceedings. The first inductee into the Hall of Fame was producer and Berklee professor Prince Charles Alexander. Alexander has the distinction of being one of the first Bostonians to produce a Hip Hop album. His career started as the lead of “Prince Charlees and the City Beat Band.” He released three records before focusing on audio engineering. He’s led a successful career, his clients include Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child, Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, P.Diddy, Usher, Brian McKnight, and many others. He is a multi-Grammy nominee and a three time Grammy winner as a recording and mixing engineer. He has accumulated more than 40 platinum and gold certifications for record sales from the Recording Industry Association of America. He currently teaches courses in Berklee’s Music Production and Engineering Department. Charles said during his acceptance speech, “I will work tirelessly to push for hip hop to be recognized within academica for the valuable human, musical, entrepreneurial and educational impact.” After his sincerely heartfelt speech, Dr. Price moved the ceremony to the hall’s next recipient Ed OG.
Roxbury’s Ed OG, real name Edward Anderson, is one of only a select few early Hip Hop pioneers – rocking since the late 1980’s – to not only be successful internationally, but to proudly rep the Boston area. His group Ed OG and The Bulldogs – (an acronym for The Black United Leaders Livin’ Directly On Groovin Sounds) jazz-soul infused songs “I Got To Have It,” “Love Comes And Goes,” and “Be A Father To Your Child,” are Boston Hip Hop classics. “ I Got To Have It,” off his first album Life of a Kid in the Ghetto went to number one on the Billboard Rap Singles charts nationally. Ed O.G is still performing and producing with other Hip Hop artists locally and nationally such as Boston’s Fakts One and New York’s Pete Rock and the Juice Crew’s Masta Ace. Ed humbly accepted the induction and urged the Berklee crowd to keep Hip Hop in their hearts and keep believing the power of it moving forward.
The final induction was saved for pioneering female emcee and trailblazer Roxanne Shanté. Shanté, born Lolita Shante Gooden, was an inspiration to the plethora of female emcees who followed her when she single handedly took on U.T.F.O. in the infamous Roxanne Roxanne Hip Hop diss-track vinyl wars of the mid-1980’s. Her 1984 single, “Roxanne’s Revenge,” was one of the first of its kind during Hip Hop’s pre-teen genre youth. It wasn’t rare for the reply, but it was definitely a first as a female emcee to oppose a male emcee. Gooden’s gift of gab grabbed attention at age 14. Shanté challenged other rap crews including New York’s Boogie Down Productions with KRS-1 as well as west coast area rappers like JJ FAD. She worked on projects with other recording artists like record label mate Biz Markie, and funk master Rick James. Roxanne is a two-time Breast Cancer survivor. She shared her love for music, and the struggles it took to get her success, the sexisim she faced, being a single mother, the people who cheated her out of money. WIth that said, she performed just as fearlessly.
Currently, Roxanne Shanté can be heard on L.L. Cool J’s ‘Rock The Bells’ channel on the Sirius/XM satellite radio network. Introducing and welcoming her into Berklee’s Hip Hop Hall of Fame was another genre icon, Public Enemy’s Flava Flav. Shanté, who didn’t have a prepared acceptance speech, revealed she usually speaks from the heart, emphasizing that
“Everything for me, including my life, is a freestyle.”
After all three recipients happily received their Hall Of Fame medals and took photographs together, Shanté was backed by Biz Markie’s DJ CutMaster Cool V for a magical performance that saw her walk through the audience and interact with them. Roxanne took the Berklee crowd on a historic ride through not only some of her own hits, but Hip Hop’s golden era hits including Run DMC’s Sucker MC’s and Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend.” More importantly, she reminded everyone about the struggle, lifestyle and culture associated with inner city living.
Berklee’s Hip Hop anniversary celebration revealed something that the Boston faithful inside the Performance Center already knew. Hip Hop and Boston, are inextricably linked. Some of Hip Hop’s biggest supporters, performers and creatives have roots that originated right here inside Boston Massachusetts, be it Roxbury, Dorchester, or Mattapan. The event was a testament to the enduring influence and versatility of Hip Hop and serves as an affirmation of the power in uniting through music.
As this celebratory year closes out, may we remember Hip Hop has outlasted early critics who deemed it wasn’t real music and just a passing fad. Hip Hop is the story of young Black America and has evolved into a national phenomenon of global importance and power. As Rakim so eloquently penned, “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at!” Props to Hip Hop and Boston’s contributions to it.