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Scene & Heard

Charmingly Ghetto brings brains to his beats

Charmingly Ghetto’s tracks take on urban blight, black identity, and hip-hop itself. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Charmingly Ghetto doesn’t go to Boston University, which makes his decision to meet at the school’s campus in Kenmore Square - at 1 p.m. on a Sunday no less, the time most students are still in bed recovering from the previous night - an unusual one.

The usually packed sidewalks on Commonwealth Avenue are barren and the cold late-winter air quickly chills any exposed skin; CG, as his friends call him, pulls a long scarf tight around his neck when he arrives in front of the university’s radio building for the photo shoot. The school is far from where he went to college at UMass-Amherst, and a vastly different environment than the one found in his native Dorchester, but, as evidenced in his exciting development as an artist, CG has a knack for making connections - across borders both geographic and psychological.


“If you are in college, you are searching for something,’’ he explains later between sips of beer at a nearby restaurant. “I don’t care what it is: It could be a girl, it could be a wife, you could be trying to get a degree, you could be trying to sell drugs. Whatever it may be, you are there for a reason. So I had something to give these kids and it’s been mad love. Not to say that it had something to do with them going to BU, but just being college kids.

“I expected it because I wanted people to see that I have something up here,’’ he adds, pointing to his head.

Targeting college kids for their intelligence (rather than their thirst for partying) seems like a leap of faith for a budding artist in today’s music industry, but the 24-year-old M.C., who next performs at the Lily Pad in Cambridge on March 24, could hardly be confused with fist-pumping “frat rap.’’ His auspicious entrance onto the city’s hip-hop scene, via the mix tapes “The Opening Act’’ and “Overstanding,’’ has been colored by his willingness to approach headier subject matter - from black identity, to urban plight, to hip-hop’s current state - than some of his college-based peers.


“My name ties into that,’’ he says. “Even myself, I can be ‘charmingly ghetto’; I can sit down and have a beer with you and have a conversation about Euro-centrism, then get on the mike and talk about some ignorant [expletive] too. It’s all hip-hop. It’s everything. It’s both sides of my personality. You gotta have it. If you aren’t in touch with that, then you’re [screwing] up.’’

Indeed, just seconds earlier he was explaining the impact of reading W.E.B. Du Bois’s theories on race and culture in “The Souls of Black Folk’’ while studying journalism at UMass. He credits his upbringing in Dorchester’s eclectic mix of people and cultures as influential to his lyrics, as well as his experiences attending Boston Latin High School and later college. While in Amherst, he honed his craft rapping and DJing with friends at campus parties, but didn’t begin to take shape as an artist until after graduation.

“I don’t think my outlook changed,’’ he says. “I think it just intensified a bit. I expected a lot and I just grew and it happened to be through music. I started really thinking about what I was talking about, and not emulating things and trying to find my own sound. I kind of got hit more with the whole life thing all at once.’’


His early results inspired an enthusiastic response not only in Boston, but overseas. His most recent album, “Study A’broad,’’ released in November, is a collaboration with producers from France, Russia, New Zealand, and other countries whom he met when they individually began e-mailing him instrumentals. It was a somewhat risky choice for an artist still making his name locally to look elsewhere for beats, but the album’s smooth jazz samples set the mood perfectly for CG’s introspective narratives.

Yet, prodigious as his talent may be, CG’s career is just beginning. He’s eager for success yet wary about compromising his artistic integrity to attain it. He contends that he doesn’t want anything to sound forced but admits he’s stimulated by all types of music, not just hip-hop. Neither a rookie nor a fully developed artist, CG is somewhere in between, seeking to make his own connections.

“I wanted to show a kid infiltrating that dichotomy of what is culturally correct or what’s wrong,’’ says CG about his new video “Glory,’’ which was shot on a crowded BU campus. “If people understand how they feel about that, they won’t stress life so much. They won’t want to recognize their faults so much, and they’ll find ways to capitalize off something that could be perceived as a handicap. Then you have mastered both worlds.’’

Bonus tracks


Odd Future will visit Boston for the third time in less than a year when it plays the House of Blues on March 21. . . . Local veterans Big Shug, Jaysaun, and MC Esoteric join Hartford’s Blacastan at Church (21 Kilmarnock St., www.churchofboston.com) on March 15 to celebrate the release of his new album, “The Master Builder Part II,’’ out on Brick Records. . . . Slaine and Rite Hook coheadline at the Middle East Downstairs on March 16, while both the Nipsey Hussle and GZA (of Wu-Tang Clan) shows at the venue this month have been canceled.

Martín Caballero can be reached at caballeroglobe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @_el_caballero.