To say that home recording technology has helped in Boston hip-hop’s recent development would be, at best, a dramatic understatement. Innovative sounds from emerging artists like Immigrants and Boogie Boy Metal Mouth have come from the comforts of makeshift bedroom studios that don’t charge hourly fees or require years of experience to operate, and getting high-quality audio isn’t exactly a priority in the age of compressed YouTube files.
But inside the confines of The Bridge Sound and Stage, located in an innocuous looking building on a dead-end street in West Cambridge, co-owner Janos Fulop, also known as hip-hop producer The Arcitype, sees something more than just a place where artists can record on professional equipment. To him, the studio serves the same vital role for the Boston hip-hop scene that it has for various genres for decades: to pull a group of creative, like-minded artists into the same room, and give them some very fun toys to play with.
“The first studio I worked at coming out of college was called Waltz Audio, and that was very much a hub for the hip-hop scene,” says the New York-born, Western Mass.-bred Fulop. “It was one of these scenes where you never knew who was going to be there, there were people coming and going all the time. When that closed, [the scene] kind of dispersed to all these different studios. There wasn’t that central place where it was happening. For me, being a producer and an engineer, I wanted to try and have a focal point for all that again.”
The opportunity came in 2008 when Fulop, 30, found the building on Edmunds Street, the former home of the legendary Fort Apache studio where the Pixies recorded early demos and Buffalo Tom, the Lemonheads, and countless others cut tracks up until its closure in 2002. Working with Owen Curtin, his former audio engineering professor at Emerson, and a team of dedicated interns, Fulop slowly refurbished and expanded the space to its current state, which boasts two recording rooms, a full spectrum of equipment and instruments, a lounge, and an impressive performance stage.
The Bridge’s impact on the local hip-hop scene can be heard in the music that has come from its booths: veterans like Slaine, Reks, and D-Tension have all recorded tracks here, as have emerging talents like ESH the Monolith and SupaStar Snuk.
“You should be trying to be professional and competitive if you’re an artist coming up,” says Termanology, taking a break from a session for his new album. “You want people to take out a Jay Z album and put in your album and the sound quality is the same or as close as you can get. If not, you are already taking away from yourself and all the time and effort you put into the music. You might as well spend a little extra bread and get it done the right way and be able to compete.”
Aside from bringing the audio quality up to snuff, The Bridge has also helped foster evolution within the local sound by allowing for dynamic creative exchange between rappers and instrumentalists.
“The possibilities are endless,” says Fran-P, who is also an artist on Arcitype’s AR Classic Records imprint. “I can contact Arc to say, ‘Do you know a drummer who we could bring to the studio to redo these drums?’ or find someone who plays guitar if I need that. Having folks that might not be an artist that works with Arc, but who play a specific instrument that can add to your song, which is difficult in a home studio to have the connections.”
Having greater control over the back end has also given Fulop sharper tools with which to forge his own sound.
“I was never great at sampling, and not sampling started out as an artistic and legal decision, but now it’s mainly an artistic one,” says Fulop. “I’m creating something from the ground up, and it’s custom tailored to whoever I’m working with. When ESH comes through, we tend to make all our beats together. He’ll have these ideas, we’ll tweak at it and work it and we get these results that are completely unique to what we are doing. It’s all us from the ground up.”
Besides providing a home for hip-hop, Fulop and Curtin hope that The Bridge can continue to build a strong reputation, and all signs seem to indicate that being the case. The studio has hosted artists ranging from the likes of Sheryl Crow and David Gray to an amateur ensemble recording songs from “Les Misérables” performed in Arabic. Curtin, who has done much of the ambitious reconstruction job himself, hopes to utilize the performance space for film scoring in the future. For hip-hop and beyond, the possibilities are encouraging.
“Boston hip-hop artists rarely get this kind of scenario,” says Moe Pope. “With the exception of some people, it’s usually in somebody’s basement. And that’s OK, too. But I feel better about being here versus someplace else because I know that the sound of my city is resonating out of here.”
Chelsea rhymer Stiz Grimey releases his new album “Spare Change,” Friday, hosted by DJ Deadeye, which can be found at www.soundcloud.com/stizgrimey. . . . Cam Meekins takes his sound in a new direction on the breezy, pop-friendly, and nostalgic new single “Top of the World,” which you’ll likely hear blaring from the direction of high school graduation parties this spring. . . . For those wondering how finance undergrads sound over a beat, BU Hip-Hop, a student group that meets for weekly freestyle cyphers on campus, just released its first compilation album, “BUHH Vol. I: The Ill Rhettoric,” for free at buhiphop.bandcamp.com.Martín Caballero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @_el_caballero.