However much Facebook and Google may protest, hip-hop may still be the most important force of globalization in the world today.
After all, there’s a reason why you can find Wu-Tang graffiti scrawled on a back alley in Buenos Aires or a weeklong hip-hop festival in Slovakia, or, for that matter, a Boston hip-hop group made up of a Bengali emcee and a Ukrainian producer. But despite the old rap cliché of inclusivity (“It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at”), Immigrants are right at home on the outside looking in.
“The idea behind the name is feeling like ‘the other,’ ” explains Theory Engine, the lyrical half of the appropriately titled Immigrants, alongside producer mR. id. “The name reflects something personal about us, but it also means something foreign, something outside of your realm of understanding.”
Admittedly, both Engine and id are hardly new arrivals: The former was born in Boston to Bengali parents and spent his early childhood years in Bangladesh before returning to Massachusetts, while id emigrated from his native Kiev to Maryland as a child. After moving to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music, id met Engine through mutual friends and the two began recording music together, at which point id’s stripped down, lo-fi sample-based beats found a natural fit with Engine's darkly absurdist rhymes and lyrically dense flow.
Their two EP releases, “Initial Demonstration” and “Ambisinister,” put those talents on full display. “Maniacal Laughter” ticks along with a dusty guitar loop for Engine to lace with bleak humor, twisting rhymes into offbeat patterns with graphic imagery: “blood stains squirt on passers by/ the masses try to pacify their active minds and half-placid lives, an active lie.” The next track from “Ambisinister,” “That’s the Way and This Is How,” shifts gears to a loose, improv jazz vibe with Engine freestyling through a distorted vocal filter.
Those tracks have helped build Immigrants’ overall aesthetic, with prominent influences ranging from MF DOOM’s layered metaphors to RZA’s glitchy looped samples to the hyperstylized nihilism of Guns N’ Roses.
“I like my music to be socially conscious while accepting that the world is an ignorant place,” says Engine, while showing off his notebooks, each page filled to the margins with ideas both visual and in text. “I don't want to promote racism, homophobia, sexism, but I also want to use words that might reflect that, just to throw something at you. Because I don’t care! I do it because I thought about it, not because I want to offend you. I want things to be dark, to [mess] with people’s notions and standard opinions of things. I like being political, ignorant, abstract. I want my raps to encompass a lot of things at once.”
“I don't even think of it as hip-hop; it’s music that has its roots in hip-hop,” says id, who constructs beats in real time on his MPC drum machine during the group’s live performances. “If you think of it as hip-hop, then you have to be hip-hop. If you don’t, then you can do whatever you want. When I’m playing the instrumentation during a show, it adds a lot more that you can do; we can jam and freestyle and improvise.”
Their live shows helped win Immigrants the attention of local clothing line and website La Parca cofounder Stephen “Este” Ferreira, who made the group the debut signing of their new record label subdivision. They’ll celebrate the release of the group’s new 7-inch record on April 3 at Good Life, with a full-length album expected to follow by the end of the year.
“I asked them to come out to play our summer launch party and they killed it,” says Ferreira. “They were going nuts, this dude ripped his shirt off. They brought 40 people out and had this great dynamic between each other. The live show being so good is what made us say let’s do more with these guys.”
Though more attention is likely in their future, Engine and id aren’t trying to lose the “otherness” that has served them well thus far.
“We are weirdos,” admits Engine. “But I’m really confident in what we do. I love hip-hop, I’ve always loved hip-hop. If you met me 10 years ago, you would have seen me with baggy pants and Timberlands. Everyone changes and I’m really comfortable with myself right now, I’m really comfortable with our music. That’s why every time I get on stage, I’m trying to kill you, because I know I can.”
Magnus Johnstone, whose landmark hip-hop show “Lecco’s Lemma” on WMBR-FM (88.1) in Cambridge helped introduce listeners to Boston’s burgeoning rap scene in the mid-1980s, died of cancer in Maine on Feb. 22. Johnstone is remembered for his musical curiosity and warm personality, and for providing a platform to a new generation of local artists including Edo G, Guru (of Gang Starr), and countless others. The legacy of “Lecco’s Lemma,” which continues with an archival project led by UMass-Boston assistant professor Pacey Foster and with the current WMBR hip-hop show “Musenomix,” was chronicled in a story in the Globe on Nov. 22 last year.
Local heavyweight Slaine’s new release, “The Boston Project,” which features an impressive list of established and underground talent from the 617 area code, has been pushed back from its original release date of March 19 to April 16, with the record release party slated for April 11 at the Middle East Downstairs.
Controversial Brockton child rapper Lil Poopy will represent the decidedly “new school” portion of the Big Daddy Kane/Slick Rick show at the Wilbur Theatre on March 29 — assuming he gets all his homework done beforehand.Martín Caballero can be reached at
email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @_el_caballero.