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How a college radio show helped spread hip hop in Boston


While hip hop now occupies a broad swath of the commercial radio dial, in the early 80's the new and experimental art form was confined to the left hand of the dial. In Boston, Lecco’s Lemma, a show started in 1985 by Magnus Johnstone on MIT's WMBR (88.1-FM), introduced thousands of people to the genre. It was a show that was decidedly local and heavily featured mixtapes from the area's aspiring MCs, back when mixtapes actually came on cassettes.

Cassette tapes from the Lecco’s Lemma Collection (source)

And thanks to the cassette tape, some of this history is preserved as the Lecco’s Lemma Collection, part of the Massachesetts Hip-Hop Archive at the University of Massachusetts. From demos and mixes given to Johnstone from area rappers to air to recordings of the show from a fan, Willie “Loco” Alexander, the archive is a glimpse into the early days of hip-hop, as it moved out of New York and eventually became mainstream.

Here's an example of a weirder, more experimental track in the collection, "Rap In C Minor" by MC Cosmonaut which talks about the space program over a theremin-like soundtrack:

Rap In C Minor by MC Cosmonaut (source)

Collections like this and documentaries like, Stretch and Bobbito, capture the inventiveness of the early years of hip-hop and the role these radio DJs played. And while Boston might not be known as a mecca for hip-hop, the Lecco's Lemma Collection shows us the optimism and ambition that existed in one local scene.

Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives (trailer) (source)