When it comes to East Coast hip-hop, Boston—and Massachusetts as a whole—hasn’t garnered the same attention as neighboring cities like New York and Philadelphia. While there have been individual success stories, such as Guru of Gang Starr, viral sensation Joyner Lucas, boom-bap torchbearer producer Statik Selektah, and Ed O.G., acts on their level have been few and far between. While it doesn’t want for talent, the region simply doesn’t have the infrastructure necessary to help grow the local scene into something more. The state’s close proximity to New York makes it easy for artists to jump ship, heading to a bigger market with more opportunities.
But now, a new generation of Massachusetts rappers are poised for a takeover. These artists are diverse in sound and story, unconcerned with past perceptions of their region. Many of them rap as well as produce, and they often work with one another. The cross-collaboration has resulted in a self-contained ecosystem that has allowed these artists to craft a cohesive sound, and to cultivate a following locally and beyond.
Many of these artists embody the grimy, hardcore boom-bap principles of hip-hop mixing in their own unique flavor. While each artist has their story to tell, that story becomes more compelling when told in collaboration with their peers. All of them have amassed a small army of ravenous followers, one that grows steadily with each new release. These are the key players shifting the rap paradigm in Massachusetts.
al.divino (Lawrence, MA)
On the forefront of the new wave is Lawrence emcee and producer al.divino. Having already garnered national attention for his rapid fire, surrealistic lyricism and punching production, divino has certified himself as a name to watch on a national level. His impressive catalogue has earned him a loyal fan base, allowing him to price albums for $123 and to lean into his enigmatic status.
With tracks like “King Midas“, divino delivers a barrage of layered punchlines merging casual braggadocio with geopolitical references in under two minutes, begging listeners to hit replay if they want to truly make sense of everything this wordsmith is spitting out. On “MOROCCANMAUSOLEUM”, he slows his flow down over more laid back production while still managing to provide a menacing presence as he makes mincemeat of the beat.
His collaborations with other Mass rappers such as Estee Nack have shown he can share rapping and production duties, as long as the talent is deemed worthy by the young Dump Gawd. In the case of al.divino, it is a product of a less is more attitude with a diamond cutters focus and precision in creating art. He is not as concerned with accessibility as he is with crafting timeless pieces for his ever-growing legion of supporters.
Estee Nack (Lynn,MA)
Entering the world of Estee Nack is like attending a meeting of the 5-Percent Nation at a resort in Punta Cana, beneath a cloud of weed smoke. This Dominicano has a penchant for exercising complex, intellectual wordplay without sacrificing his humor or street sensibility. His tracks are a blend of braggadocio, Caribbean historical references, and hustler’s motivation while his gruff voice and slick tongue exude effortless confidence. As the figurehead of the Tragic Allies crew, Estee Nack is no rookie in the Massachuessets rap scene. The Lynn OG has aligned himself with younger talent such as al.divino and RLX for collaborative projects that have yielded some electrifying moments.
His blend of scientific wordplay and street scholar perspective comes together perfectly on “Moguls” where we find the Nack Daddy taking Dabs in Aruba and emerging out of rap cryogenic chamber all in a single verse! Having put in considerable work in the underground circuit, he saw his biggest industry breakthrough last year, when he featured on “Banana Yacht” for Westside Gunn’s Hitler Wears Hermes 7 project. The Fly God gave Estee Nack the majority of space to weave some luxury bars and do what he does best. Coming into the year with a major co-sign in tow, 2020 is bound to be bright for Mr. Nack Mandela.
MichaelAngelo (Boston, MA)
Sweeping strings and layered textures provide a cinematic quality to the Bostonian’s production. With nods to Italian culture sprinkled throughout his work, the producer has carved out a strong lane. Along with working with notable names from this list, MichaelAngelo has also collaborated with the likes of rising New Jersey phenom Crimeapple and New York rapper Rome Streetz, and Rochester representative Rigz. MichaelAngelo’s approach is a refreshing take on a classic sound, creating high art pieces transporting the listener to a different time and place.
With seagull sounds in the background on “Langosta,” he is able to transport listeners to fishing boats in Boston Harbor. With the help of fellow Bostonian, rapper Primo Profit, MichaelAngelo creates a somber scene on “Piatto Dei Demoni” that could easily be background music on the latest episode of Narcos. Having worked with many artists on this list, it’s suffice to say he’s bringing his whole state with him as he continues to raise his profile.
RLX (Lawrence, MA)
Relative rap newcomer RLX (an acronym for Real Life Experience) has made a big splash in a relatively short period of time. Having released a string of singles with MichaelAngelo, the versatile Colombiano cliqued up with Estee Nack for an incredible project, Renaissance. Here, he is able to showcase his production chops as well as his rap talent. As a lyricist he approaches his bars like an abstract painter who “splatter(s) paint on the canvas with high standards,” throwing vivid imagery against smooth, but still hard hitting beats. He sounds philosophical without being preachy, giving you deep insights into his mentality without actually revealing too many details.
“Test of Time”, is a perfect example of the young Colombiano’s sparse lyricism, displaying a streetwise mentality along with a taste for the finer things in life like Japanese denim, pressed juices and gold crests. On “PELICULA” he relays psychedelic experiences without losing his Don Dada persona, remaining calculated and precise with every line.
Aside from his limited solo releases, RLX also produced the entirety of al. divino’s Legacy EP.
Primo Profit (Boston, MA)
Colombian export Primo Profit delivers a raw brand of street hip-hop rivaled by very few. His raps are filled with stories of importing Colombia’s most famous national product through the streets of “Medebean” (a play on words referring to his two hometowns of Medellin, Colombian and Boston) over dark, booming production. His grizzly voice and unflinching commitment to expressing the Narco lifestyle makes for some captivating music. On his latest project, El Dorado, Profit takes listeners on a trip back to the motherland, serving as a barrio tour guide for those searching for a first hand perspective.
While hip-hop music culture is full of glorified coke rap, none come as close to the source as Primo Profit, and are able to express that in an authentic sympathetic fashion. For as much as he gives you the impresario outlook, he also dives deeper into the darker aspects of the business, providing the perspective of a conflicted street soldier, who understands he is but a small pawn in a much larger game. His new EP, Callejero Vagabundo with producer Vago and collaborations with legends like Jadakiss and rising Buffalo spitter Conway, show he’s ready to take his game to the big league and supply the masses with his signature product.
Grubby Pawz (East Boston, MA)
A member of the City Music Collective, Grubby Pawz has worked with the elite rap talent in the Massachusetts scene. His recently released Kurdebrick EP features both instrumental and rap vocal versions of the songs. The grimy distorted sound has a dystopian feel, only further enhanced when the raspy voices of Estee Nack and Sully Nomad. “Afterpartiesinpelan” is a calm cartel-style song with enough space in the beat to give rappers a platform to move between different pockets. “NG4 Cartridge” has a menacing score full of dark tones and lyrics. If the other producers are making mob movies, Grubby Pawz is scoring horror films.
Vinyl Villain (Boston, MA)
This Boston navive is another noteworthy producer who has worked with top talent in the Massachusetts scene as well as other east coast acts like Eto, Crimeapple and ANKHLEJOHN. Signature samples from classic mobster films add mystique and film-like qualities to the music.
There is often an operatic feel to the choice of samples, thematically supporting the street narratives of his rapping collaborators. The villain draws stories from his artists’ that have the audience riding shotgun on their next money heist. As he continues to build with upcoming talent with hustle and passion, it’s only a matter of time and the movie makers will come calling.
Codenine (Lynn, MA)
As a member of the Tragic Allies crew , Codenine established his own imprint within the hard hitting crew. He brings a calm mafioso approach to the mic, calculated, but nonetheless deadly. Speaking in his own code, he lays out an active everyday reality mixed in with memorable punchlines over smooth, melodic production.
He plays the role of underground soldier biding his time but maneuvering his way through every level. The wordplay is dense and lethal as he asserts his presence to dispel all doubt, he is to be taken seriously. As more solo projects are released, Codenine has the tools to share his vision on a broader platform.