It’s 1986, and somewhere in Boston there’s a party going on. The place to find out where is along the outer fringes of the FM dial — 88.1 (WMBR) to be specific — where an effortlessly cool, smooth voice floats out over the airwaves as a raw hip-hop beat pulses in the background. The station hot line is open and listeners are calling in to announce that their house party is the place to be, or maybe give a shout-out to a friend, a diss to a rival, or to find out what rapper just kicked a hot verse on the last song. Whatever it was, this was the place to find out.
Broadcasting from the station’s basement studio inside the Walker Memorial Building on MIT’s campus, the engaging voice on the other side of the mike, belonging to an infinitely curious music fan and part-time antique painter named Magnus Johnstone, was helping lay the foundation of Boston’s nascent hip-hop scene on his show, “Lecco’s Lemma,” one week at a time. By the time the genre grew from urban youth phenomenon to part of mainstream pop culture in the latter part of the decade, the show’s brief, bright run had already ended, and in later years the reclusive Johnstone himself retreated from the community he helped create. The legacy he left behind included hours of tapes, a golden generation of local artists, and two individuals determined to celebrate and preserve the show that helped start it all in Boston.