…Hip-hop is about cooperation, incorporates improvisation, Hip hop is education, destroys the mind’s stagnation, through Hip hop and radio stations we’ll mobilize this nation, but Hip hop is now shift-shaping to Down Low formations…cuz we enhance on the skills and send chills until you feel the real…”Feel the Real” – Down Low Connection (1996)
The Boston underground Hip hop scene of the 1990s was a microcosm of what the “Hip hop generation” hoped to achieve. Though rooted in the Black community, it was by 1994 a multicultural and intersectional community that protested structural inequalities, treated timeless questions of philosophy and religion, and promoted abstract poetry as a high art. Underground Hip hop shows created a liminal space where the music, style, and art of Hip hop united disparate groups of people, even if only for a few hours, immersed in the music, message, and social justice mission Hip hop.
After Ed OJ and Guru, Boston’s little-known 90s hip-hop history often goes unnoticed. But between 94-98 one all-but-forgotten live Hip hop band called the Down Low Connection (DLC) served as the launch pad for later Boston successes like Akrobatic, Mr. Lif, and RadioActive, along with local instrumentalists who went on to various successes. Even Professor Oneka LaBennett of Cornell University—author of She’s Mad Real: Popular Culture and West Indian Girls in Brooklyn—occasionally ran with the crew as friend and mentor. The DLC won multiple local music awards for best hip-hop and/or funk band and opened for legendary acts like the Roots, Run DMC, the Pharcyde, the Watts Prophets, and Fred Wesley of P-Funk and James Brown fame. They toured the East Coast from Philly to Maine, performing at colleges, clubs, galleries, festivals, and youth empowerment programs.
The Hip Hop Generation is a doomed generation..with no emotions, and no attachments, and no name, but everything should be absorbed in the single thought and single passion for revolution by means of change, creation, improvisation, rhythm, hunger that’s Divine, poetry, and rhythm and soul. We will create a world where beauty, and poetry, and rhythm empower the unrestrained soul.“Hip-Hop Generation” –Down Low Connection, 1995
The Hip-hop generation was the other Generation X. With the rise of abstract conscious hip-hop, especially the Native Tongue school, the DLC came to participate in underground live hip hop shows in Boston and around the North East, interacting with other touring musicians, and passing mixtapes and bootlegs. They existed in a larger space of liminality where intra-group belonging was fostered across communities through the shared platform of hip-hop music and culture. The underground hip-hop scene was quintessentially intersectional, linking marginalized communities across the region (and the globe) on a platform of justice and equality, creating what Spevack calls “subaltern networks of protest.” The DLC’s shows brought disenfranchised youth from Lynn, Dorchester, and Roxbury into the same spaces as Dunster House residents and international tourists; they brought together bandmates from across the nation from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds on a single stage.
The Down Low Connection is not merely a local act whose legacy is worthy of archiving. It was a revolutionary experiment at the intersections of race, spirituality, religion, philosophy, gender, social justice, poetry, jazz, hip-hop, urban and rural culture, socio-economic disparity, East Coast and West Coast Rap, improvisation and composition, local and global musical culture, and more. Archiving its historical record preserves the history and culture of the underground Hip hop community in Boston in the early 90’s when hip-hop wasn’t on Lansdowne Street and groups of more than 4 Black men were turned away as a matter of policy. This is when DLC cut their teeth at Cambridge’s iconic Caribbean club The Western Front, backing weekly MC battles, then moving their act to The House of Blues and other top-billing clubs within a year.