Los Angeles, 1991: A 21-year-old up-and-coming rapper from Roxbury named Edo G (for “Every Day Other Girls”) is on a video shoot, his second of the week, watching in awe as established hit makers — Tone Loc, Kurtis Blow, Afrika Islam — stop by to film their cameo appearances for the clip. With the breakout success of his single “I Gotta Have It,” Edo’s debut album, “Life of a Kid in the Ghetto,” was a nationwide hit. His label hoped that the high-profile guests in this new clip for “Bug a Boo” would push it to greater heights.
It did exactly that, helping to cement the album’s classic status and launching Edo’s still-active career. But now, 23 years later, one question about the video remains: What is a Boston hip-hop icon doing rocking a Lakers jersey?
“There weren’t enough black people on the team at the time, I’m sorry!” laughs Edo, a fan of Magic Johnson rather than Larry Bird, over coffee just a few blocks from his old neighborhood on Humboldt Avenue. “In the ’80s, everyone that I knew was rooting for the Lakers to win.”
It’s a small but revealing detail about Boston at the time, one of many captured in Malden-based author Brian Coleman’s exhaustively researched new book, “Check the Technique, Volume 2,” the third release in a series (starting with 2005’s “Rakim Told Me”) chronicling the stories behind some of hip-hop’s most important and celebrated albums. The book contains sections on classic works by Ice Cube, Raekwon, Mos Def, and 22 others, but the longest chapter is reserved for “Life of a Kid in the Ghetto.” Though the Lakers bit may just be an aside, it’s part of an engrossing, well-overdue tribute to an LP that Coleman regards as the most important in Boston hip-hop history.
“I think it’s important on every level,” says the author, who will sign copies of the book and conduct a Q&A with Edo at Underground Hip Hop on Thursday at 6 p.m., ahead of a release party at Good Life. “It represents something outside of New York and LA, from a place where you have to work a little bit harder [to make it]. But it’s also just a dope album. There was a lot of goofy stuff, there was some R&B. It took a different path.”
For a young rapper looking to break out of the local scene in the early ’90s, that path simply didn’t exist before Edo created it. Both he and Coleman recall a period where a combination of factors — resistance from venues, violent incidents at shows — isolated Boston hip-hop from the culture’s overall growth, to the point that modest Providence offered greater options for fans and artists. Without hometown support, some of the city’s top prospects — most notably Guru of Gang Starr — were forced to relocate to advance their careers.
But Edo had an ace in the hole: his cousins Tedd Whiting and Kevin Bonners, otherwise known as Teddy Tedd and Special K, a.k.a. The Awesome 2, former radio show hosts turned New York-based management team. The young rapper worked tirelessly to earn their approval, recording demo after demo, often driving several hours to New Jersey to play it for them and get feedback. Once the pair heard the tracks Edo was making with his new Malden-based production partner Joe Mansfield, they helped him to become the first Boston rapper with a major label deal when he signed with PWL America/Mercury Records in 1989.
He was happy enough with the $75,000 advance, but when “Life of a Kid in the Ghetto” dropped in March 1991, its impact was bigger than anyone anticipated. “Life” unflinchingly showed exactly what its title described, from the good times (“Feel Like a Nut,” the song that earned Edo his deal) to the bad (the Charles Stuart-referencing “Speak Upon It”) to the choices that can lead to either (“Be a Father to Your Child”). It also didn’t hurt that he had the No. 1 song on the Billboard Rap Singles chart, “I Gotta Have It.”
“It happens so fast, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Edo of his early introduction to celebrity. “After we shot the video for ‘I Gotta Have It,’ we actually got into a fight a few days later and into a shootout in Dudley Square. We weren’t in the streets, but we were still around them. I was like, this is the type of things that happen right before you’re about to be a superstar! We jetted back to New York after that and stayed away from Boston as much as possible.”
Edo wouldn’t perform his chart-topping smash in his hometown until the following year; he would have played more songs, but the openers, fellow local rap crew Almighty R.S.O., stole his equipment. Coleman’s chapter contains more such stories from the emergence of Boston’s first rap superstar, culled from extensive interviews with everyone involved in the album, from Mansfield to PWL America A&R executive Brian Chin and studio engineer DJ Doc. Along the way, he helps to answer the burning questions: Who exactly were Edo’s crew, Da Bulldogs? Why wasn’t the album cover shot in Boston? And, again, what’s with the Lakers jersey?
“If I hadn’t done this chapter in this volume, I would have been pretty upset with myself,” says Coleman, who has no plans for a fourth volume. “It was really important to me to get it in this last one.”
“ ‘I Gotta Have It’ and ‘Be a Father to Your Child,’ those are still constants in terms of live performances,” says Edo, just a few weeks after releasing “After All These Years,” his 11th studio album. “It still comes up all the time, because that’s still the last song I perform. It’s ingrained in me. If it wasn’t for [this album], there would be nothing else. It’s the genesis to everything.”
Michael Christmas is the gift that keeps on giving: The young rapper, who is nominated for hip-hop artist of the year at this year’s Boston Music Awards, recently tweeted a picture of himself in the studio with Mac Miller, teasing at a forthcoming collaboration that’s sure to prompt more questions of “Is this art?”. . . Boston’s hip-hop scene will be well represented at this weekend’s annual A3C Festival in Atlanta: Local artists Gio Dee, Avenue, Ashy Nuxx, FlyBoyDizzy, Dutch Rebelle, Nyce Frank, and Millyz will rep the city at the “Boston’s Finest” event tomorrow night from 6-8:30 at Apache Cafe, 64 3rd St. NW, Atlanta.Martín Caballero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @_el_caballero.