It’s Not About the 'Bling'

Open mic night at Massive Records started a little slow last Friday night. DJ Lay-Z-Boy spun records in the back,

Open mic night at Massive Records started a little slow last Friday night. DJ Lay-Z-Boy spun records in the back, taking requests from the customers and showing off his scratching skills. A few local rappers wandered in and out, rifling through the record displays and talking to the four hip hop aficionados who run the place. Jesse Christopher, the loud-mouthed head of marketing for the upstart record shop, remained upbeat, placing calls to his friends in the Boston hip hop scene, inviting them to come down and try their hand at the mic. Anthony Bushu, the “mad mellow” store manager, hung back behind the counter with a Heineken and watched over the scene.

The night never really took off, but that’s only because Massive Records is still a young establishment. Opened just last September, it’s still getting its name out and building its credibility.

Christopher, Bushu, and their partners are attempting to turn a decrepit space on the lower level of a Mass. Ave building—former home to Second Coming, an all-purpose music store that closed this summer—into the epicenter of the New England Hip Hop scene, just a block east of Harvard Square.

“We want to be a home for hip hop,” says Bushu, the self-described “idea man” behind Massive. The dream, he says, is to create a place where MCs, DJs, and all other members of the hip +hop community can come network, shop, perform, and relax. Open mics happen every Friday, and several times a month Massive hosts in-store performances by local rappers and DJs.


Located down the street from the Middle East and the Western Front, two major Boston concert venues, Massive Records is in a prime spot to support the local rap scene—but uniting its participants is not going to be an easy task. Christopher, Bushu, and the other employees describe an overriding disunity in the Boston hip hop scene, an obstacle, they say, that is only made more insurmountable by the scene’s bad reputation in the national circuit.

Those in charge want their store to reinvent the character of Boston rap and foster a new sense of community on the local level. As they passionately explain, the true face of hip hop is far from what is presented in the mainstream media. Hip hop, they say, is “also conscientious and positive, and about bringing up the community.” This is the side of hip hop that they want to promote.

“None of us drive Bentleys. The closest thing I have to ‘bling-bling’ is a couple of quarters in my pocket,” says Christopher, who was brought on board by store president Andrew Mwase. “We consider ourselves almost a higher plane of hip hop.”

“Hip hop in this city already has a bad stereotype,” adds Bushu, who blames the nation-wide association of hip hop with extravagance on popular rap personas such as 50 Cent. Indeed, the only national rap star to come out of Boston in the last five years is Benzino—a dubious claim to fame for a city which has also spawned dozens of critically acclaimed underground rappers.

No, Massive Records is certainly not about the ‘bling-bling,’ nor does it aspire to be. It’s Boston’s underground scene they want to support, and the atmosphere inside is appropriately down to earth. Spend a few minutes inside, and one of the owners will try to engage you in conversation. If you’re not already a hip hop devotee, they will try to educate you. They sat this reporter down with the hip hop DVD Keep Right from KRS One—“required learning” for any hip hop newbie.

The store is still a bit rough around the edges. A circular saw lies on the floor in front of the sound system in the back, and speakers are stacked haphazardly to the left in front of a torn leather couch. A bench seat from an old employee’s Dodge Caravan sits against the center display, enticing the tired shopper. The entire ceiling is plastered not with insulation, but old records.

Yet what they lack in furnishings Massive Records makes up for in music. The store’s shelves are stocked with a colossal variety of vintage records, from a Tribe Called Quest to Boston’s own Mr. Lif. You’ll find just about everything here except for J-Kwon and his ilk. Much of what’s in stock is geared towards DJs, as almost everything is on vinyl, but Massive also carries a selection of used CDs, vintage jerseys, and DJ apparel.

“We’re not a retail store, we’re a hip hop culture store,” Bushu says.


“Now that’s hip hop,” comments local rapper Lyrical as he listens to the Tupac record that’s playing over the sound system. Co-manager Dennis Bogere nods in agreement. Christopher, kicking back behind the counter, chats with customers who leisurely peruse the store’s almost exclusively vinyl selection.

Suddenly, Christopher has a marketing epiphany. “Hey guys, let’s get some girls in bikinis to dance on the counter,” he says. “No—let’s put the store on dubs. Yeah, let’s prop the whole building up on 20-inch spinners.”

Instead of girls and dubs, Massive Records has funneled its resources into more “positive” projects. Their “Music as Education” program brings DJs and rappers into local high schools to show kids that hip hop is not about self-aggrandizement, violence, and licentiousness, but rather about “perseverance and common respect.”

The vibe inside the store matches its mission, and on a normal day, despite the fact that the cash register towers over the racks from atop a raised platform, the employees treat their customers like friends. It’s a local music scene with none of the usual pretension of the “underground”—a collective of fans and musicians who love hip hop more than just about anything else.

“It’s hot, man—you gotta like the room,” says Lyrical, who lives just down the street from the store. “It’s a big improvement on the last place. I just wanna see my vinyl up there.”