In March of 2012 a young writer and educator named Joseph Poirier submitted an essay to the Husslington Post. Through an email exchange it was uncovered that coincidentally Joseph and Sam Seidel, the Curator-in-Chief of the Husslington Post, had attended the same high school, Cambridge Rindge and Latin. Joseph proposed conducting a series of interviews of Rindge graduates who make hip-hop music, with a focus on how their educational experiences at the school influenced them as artists. This piece is the first in that series–an exclusive on the Husslington Post.
How long have you been making music? How did you start?
Since ‘84. I stopped breakdancing to start rapping for my breakdance crew. I’m old school, believe it or not.
Tell me a bit about your music – how would you describe your hip-hop and where you’re coming from?
It’s music…life music with feelings, thoughts, inclusions, and fun. Well, at least it is now. Before, when I was younger, it just used to be fun. I’d experiment and play with words just because. I was into similes and metaphors early on, and I would just find creative ways to play with individual words. I used to randomly pick words out of the dictionary just to see how I could use them in the next rhyme. I was making kind of a nerdy attempt to expand my vocabulary, I guess. That quickly grew to playing with thoughts, different languages, symbolisms, dialects, double, triple and sometimes quadruple meanings, etc. In fact, I believe that it was one of Chuck D’s lines that prompted me to actually ‘grow up’ from the way I wrote – when he said: “I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddling.” I was like: “then what the fuck am I doing?” [laughs] ‘Cause that was CHUCK D – a man, in my opinion, [who] commands maximum respect. Now, don’t get me wrong, I haven’t completely abandoned the ‘ways’ that birthed this craft for me. Instead, I simply created a category to kind of justify what I’m doing, when I’m doing it…it’s exercise. You know? ‘Lyrical calisthenics’….yeah, that’s it.
Today, I’m all grown up, though. I do a whole lot of ‘on purpose’ writing now. I’m talking with adult themes, ideas and speech. It doesn’t matter what type of song – party, battle raps, relationships, ideologies, etc. - I often say I keep [it] grounded like the third prong. That’s because what I write nowadays are simply fathomable experiences conveyed artistically with the skills attained from many years of practice. As far as where I’m coming from…would you understand me if I just said ‘within’?
How important do you think a hip-hop artist’s schooling is to their music?
Very. But I’m coming from the standpoint that schooling in any life genre is mega-important. Not just hip-hop. Whether it’s academics or hard knocks, you’re a product of what you’ve been taught and your output reflects that.
What role did the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) and the Cambridge Public School system play in your development as a writer, an artist, a thinker, and a musician?
An encouraging one. But I think that’s just growing up in Cambridge, period. You’re exposed to the entire gamut, so to speak. So much so that it ultimately becomes a matter of choice as to what direction you want to travel down. As a writer, well, English class is English class. You learn the technical aspects of the ‘word’…what’s a noun? What’s a preposition? The indirect object of a sentence? That’s just the automatics of ‘school’, I think. The ill shit is recognizing its application and using it to your advantage. That’s when the transition is made to artistry. I can’t credit my musical development solely on CRLS or the Cambridge school system, though. I mean, a lot of that came from the people and environments I surrounded myself with. That being said, Cambridge is a scholastic city. You kind of have no choice but to be influenced by that.
Why do you think CRLS produces so many rappers and producers? Is there something about the school system? The people? The classes? Teachers?
Today, it seems, everybody and their grandmother wants to be an emcee. I’m not up on the numbers coming out of Rindge. However, if it’s crazy, I think that’s just the result of how commercial this art form has gotten. I think it’s like that almost everywhere and rarely has anything to do…specifically with the school system, classes or teachers.
Are there are any memorable hip-hop moments from CRLS you could share?
During my days at Rindge, most of those ‘hip-hop moments’ really occurred out of school, unless we’re talking school parties. We weren’t really battling or breakdancing in the hallways, or nothing like that. If anything hip-hop was happening, though, it was during B Lunch in the Media Cafeteria. The Big Beat would be banging on the lunch tables and heads would set off freestyles crackin’ on everything from clothes to teachers. In fact, those were THE only moments and cats would take that energy back to their respective hoods and keep it pushin’…outside of school.
Your music seems like it has some Caribbean influences – does any of that come from your Cambridge or CRLS background?
Nah. Again, those were my influences outside of school. I come from a West Indian family and I love West Indian music, but I was born here in the states.
Are there any other CRLS grads that made or are making hip-hop that have influenced you, or you’ve worked with?
As far as influence goes…not really, except for maybe a group called High Authority – my mens DJ D, Crime Master D (turn[ed] Dred Manaflo, now Sickman and DJ Creation) – but we were peers and pioneers that worked together many times. I tend to feed off of the energy of crew. That’s what we did. You coming with an ill verse made me have to come with one even iller than that. It went back and forth.
Do you think hip-hop music can play a role in the classroom? How and why?
I’m sure it can, in the sense of teaching technology and innovation – i.e. the advent of the mixer or fader in relation to the ‘potentiometer’ - or relative content to exploit points in subject matter – i.e. historical outcries of social groups relative to current events or politics. Or even as examples of different styles of poetry. However, NOT in the sense of guiding towards a career path. I think the youth can do without a ‘teach me how to rap’ class. Hip-hop to me is just one of those things you just simply get into and live.
Looking back on your public education, how do you wish hip-hop or music could have been incorporated into learning?
I don’t – talking [about] hip-hop specifically. If it came up – as it has – it’s only because that’s what I used to express or contribute to an assignment – creative writing or presentations. For me, it was to be used as a tool and was never the focus. Now, music in general? I say talk about it all day, as long as it [is] in the context of just that – music – which is inclusive of every other genre as well. Make comparisons, document social change, stagnancy, or set backs, etc. Let it spark debate.
What makes a Cambridge rapper different from a Boston rapper?
The same shit that makes rapper A different from rapper B. I’m not them and they are not me. Although, we are who we are and if that is – God forbid – absolute trash or straight up nasty with it, it is what it is. To me, not everybody should pick up the mic, and Cambridge does have its share of the ‘not-so-nice’, as does Boston. But that BS could never trump the level of artistry found in the best of both environments.
No shouts…Rest in power: Erik “Eddie Bones” Brown, Sion Chambers, Dave Swinton, Leslie Kimbrough.