Tales from the Tapes: Processing the Lecco’s Lemma collection

Guest post by Gayle Schechter

Show tapes from the Lecco’s Lemma show (writing by Willie Alexander).

Not many people are required to listen to hip-hop at their jobs, but for the past few months as a University Archives and Special Collections intern in the Joseph P. Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston, listening to hours of freestyles and beatboxing has all been part of a typical day’s work. Tasked with processing recordings of radio broadcasts from the Lecco’s Lemma collection, part of the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, I’ve not only gained valuable experience with digital collections, but also gotten a crash course in the history of Boston hip-hop. The Lecco’s Lemma collection chronicles an era when hip-hop in Boston was still in its infancy, and when you would record your favorite songs off of the radio instead of searching for them on YouTube.

The Lecco’s Lemma collection contains recordings of radio broadcasts of Lecco’s Lemma, a local hip-hop program hosted by Magnus Johnstone from 1985-1986 on MIT’s WMBR and from 1986-1988 on Boston College’s WZBC. Along with nearly 200 audiocassettes of Lecco’s Lemma broadcasts, the collection also contains more than 200 demo tapes from area hip-hop artists sent to Johnstone to be played on air. In addition to airing local artists, those familiar with old school hip-hop would recognize many of the artists played on broadcasts of Lecco’s Lemma, from Boston-bred Gang Starr to New York City’s Run D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys. The digitized recordings are available online here.

Show tapes from the Lecco’s Lemma show (writing by Willie Alexander).

While the Lecco’s Lemma collection provides a window into Boston’s underground hip-hop scene of the 1980s, the unique nature of the recordings created a number of issues to be considered by University Archives and Special Collections staff. Many of the recordings contain explicit language, necessitating content warnings for our digital collection. The do-it-yourself nature of recording demo tapes often meant artists would take commercially-released cassettes and dub their recordings over the originals. While one side of the tape may contain original beatboxes and rhymes from a Boston crew, the other side could contain half of a Donny Osmond album.

Cassette recordings of the Lecco’s Lemma radio program are not official recordings, but rather were created at home by Boston punk rocker Willie “Loco” Alexander, who recorded them off the radio on his boom box. One broadcast of the show can span a number of cassettes, and many cassettes contain portions of episodes recorded on different days creating instances where one object has more than one date associated with it.

Despite the challenges that the Lecco’s Lemma collection has presented, it’s been an honor to help preserve the history of hip-hop. Though the story of hop-hop in Boston has in many ways remained a well-kept secret, the Lecco’s Lemma collection shows that hip-hop artistry was very much alive and thriving in Boston during the 1980s.

Explore the Lecco’s Lemma digital collection online here.

Read more about the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive here and keep visiting blogs.umb.edu/archives for future updates.

Gayle Schechter is an M.S. candidate from Simmons School of Library and Information Science.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more about University Archives & Special Collections, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

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Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive launch: Saturday, November 19, at the Boston Public Library

hiphoparchive_nov19draft1In celebration of Hip-Hop History Month, the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston and the Boston Public Library invite the public to the launch of the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive.

When: Saturday, November 19, 2016  |  12:00 to 5:00 pm

Where: Boston Public Library, Rabb Lecture Hall  |  700 Boylston Street., Boston, Mass. 02116

For more information and directions, visit www.bpl.org or RSVP on Facebook.

Browse the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive here.

This event is free and open to the public and will include:

  • Artist panels with legendary local hip-hop artists from the 1980s to the present, including members of first-generation Boston groups The Almighty RSO, Top Choice Clique, FTI Crew, and artists including Rusti Pendleton, Edo G, Akrobatik, Bay Holla, Professor Lyrical, among others;
  • Listening sessions where the public can hear unreleased demo tapes from the Lecco’s Lemma collection from artists like Guru (Keithy E.), The Almighty RSO, Top Choice Clique, FTI Crew, and many others;
  • Hip-Hop in black and white: A discussion of racism and appropriation in American popular music and hip-hop history hosted by local activist scholars and cultural historians Jamarhl Crawford and Reebee Garofalo;
  • Official launch of the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive and Lecco’s Lemma collection and thanks to donors Magnus Johnstone, Willie “Loco” Alexander, and Tony Rose.

mhha
Visit blogs.umb.edu/archives and follow the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive on Twitter for updates.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more about University Archives & Special Collections, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

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