Black History Month: Massachusetts Hip-Hop, Lecco’s Lemma, and Dance Slam

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Happy Black History Month! Black History Month is celebrated during the month of February every year as a way of celebrating important people and events from across the African diaspora. Here at UMass Boston, we have many collections about the Black history of Boston and our campus. Over the course of the month, we will be highlighting some of these collections and stories.

Photograph of cassette tape with Lecco's Lemma written on it in marker

Cassette recording of Magnus Johnstone’s Lecco’s Lemma radio show from August 8, 1987

One of our most significant digital collections is the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive. This archive is mostly made up of digitized audiocassettes from the Magnus Johnstone and Willie Alexander: Lecco’s Lemma collection, though there are a number of materials currently being processed, including recordings, photographs, videos, and interviews. The first set of audiocassettes in the Lecco’s Lemma collection, originally held by Magnus Johnstone, was donated to us by UMass Boston professor Pacey Foster in 2015. The second set was donated by Willie Alexander in 2016. These audiocassettes feature mixtapes and recordings of the Lecco’s Lemma radio program, a show that ran from 1985-1988 first on MIT’s WMBR (88.1 FM) and later on Boston College’s WZBC (90.3 FM).

Image of the side of a cassette tape with writing in marker

Cassette recording of Magnus Johnstone’s Lecco’s Lemma radio show from March 8, 1986

Lecco’s Lemma was hosted by Magnus Johnstone and featured music that wasn’t usually played by mainstream radio stations at the time. This included new, interesting, and undiscovered artists, rap music, and local groups. Johnstone would accept demos from Boston-area artists and play them on air. He would even ask these groups to play live performances on his show.

Over the three years he taped, Johnstone collected about 300 mixtapes from local artists, which are now part of our collection. The rest of the audiocassettes in the collection are recordings of the actual Lecco’s Lemma shows, taped by Boston’s “Godfather of Punk,” Willie “Loco” Alexander, on his home boombox. These tapes include ephemera like j-cards, notes, photographs, and lists of artists and songs.

The online collection of the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive also includes a video recording of “Boston’s first black dance-music-video television show,” Dance Slam, from the Tony Rose and Yvonne Rose collection. We are currently building the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive and welcome donations from graffiti artists, producers, promoters, musicians, DJs, break-dancers, and fans so we can further document and preserve the vibrant hip-hop culture of our area. If you have original and unique materials related to hip-hop in Boston and Massachusetts that you think should become part of the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, you can contact one of our archivists by emailing library.archives@umb.edu.

To see more from our Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive and listen to Johnstone’s and Alexander’s tapes, check out our digital collection. If you’d like to learn more about Magnus Johnstone, Willie Alexander, and Lecco’s Lemma, be sure to look at their collection’s finding aid.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

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In the Archives: Massachusetts Rock Against Racism – Antiracism in the ‘80s

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Mass. RAR, Inc.: The First 5 Years, 1985 February 19. This video is an excellent summary of the work that Rock Against Racism did from 1979 to 1985. It shows news clips, different RAR performances, and interviews with RAR leaders, including Reebee Garofalo, Fran Smith, Mackie McLeod, and student leader/producer Trae Myers. Some of the clips also include footage from “But Can You Dance to It?,” recordings from break dance crew performances, and sections from a remake of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video.

One of our digital video collections is from a group called Massachusetts Rock Against Racism (RAR). Back in the late 1970s and 1980s, this organization formed in order to address racism in the Boston community. Founders and leaders from RAR felt that popular music could transcend boundaries and bring people together, no matter how different these people were. Adults formed the organization and then brought it to Boston youth, specifically high school students. They held festivals where students and adults performed all kinds of music including rap, reggae, rock, and Latin. The festivals also featured break dancing and speeches from local officials and activists, including Mel King. In addition to these concerts, RAR worked with students to create variety shows at their schools and to script and produce a TV show called Living in a Rainbow World. RAR broadcast all of these shows. The leaders of the organization hoped that not only would students get to express themselves and reach across racial divides in the program, but they could also gain valuable workforce skills by being actively involved in the production and broadcasting of their work.

Footage used in Madison Park Rocks, English High All the Way Live, and the Jeremiah E. Burke Jam, 1984 March 18. Here are clips from three of the Rock Against Racism productions in Boston high schools. These include news clips with people like Donna Summers as well as a diverse group of students dancing, rapping, and singing.

In our collection we have final and unedited footage of these broadcasts, including several episodes of Living in a Rainbow World, three of the RAR Youth Cultural Festivals in Jamaica Plain and elsewhere in Boston, and variety shows from different Boston high schools. In addition, we have digital video of interviews with the leaders of RAR such as Reebee Garofalo, Fran Smith, Dan Richardson, Mackie McLeod, and student leader Trae Myers, as well as footage from professional concerts like the “World of Difference” Rock Against Racism television special, and from a one-time music and dance program called “But Can You Dance to It?” We also have videos featuring related people and organizations, including Project Aries (a similar program in Charlotte, North Carolina) and Karen Hutt (a woman working with the Business Connection, a youth entrepreneurial development program in Cambridge).

World of Difference television special, 1985 July 26. This is a Rock Against Racism concert and television special that aired on WCVB Channel 5 on July 26, 1985. Performers included the Red Rockers (rock), the O’Jays (R&B), the Rainbow Dance Company of Boston (modern/lyrical dance), Livingston Taylor (singer-songwriter/folk), and George Benson (jazz, funk, soul, R&B). The production also includes interviews with people such as Reebee Garofalo, Natalie Cole, The Fools, and Al Jarreau.

To see the rest of this footage, take a look at our digital collection and its finding aid (which includes descriptions of all the other RAR documents we hold in the UASC). To learn more about the Massachusetts Rock Against Racism program both then and now, check out their active Facebook page.

Let me know if you stumble across the footage of five young boys dressed up in matching outfits, singing and dancing to “El Coquí (Merengue)” by Carlos Pizarro (hint: they performed at the second Youth Culture Festival).

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Join us on Saturday, June 15 for discussion of Graffiti Art in Hip-Hop Culture at Grove Hall Branch of the BPL

Flyer for BPL graffiti art event at the Grove Hall branch of the Boston Public LibraryWhat: Element of Graffiti Art in Hip-Hop

When: Saturday, June 15, 2019 | 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Where: Grove Hall Branch of the Boston Public Library, 41 Geneva Avenue, Dorchester, Mass. 02121

Click here for directions.

Boston Public Library, UMass Boston, and members of the hip-hop community invite hip-hop enthusiasts of all ages to attend a free event at the Grove Hall Branch of the Boston Public Library on Saturday, June 15, from 1:00-3:00 p.m.

“Element of Graffiti Art in Hip-Hop” is the final event in a series of hip-hop programs to take place as part of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Boston-based artists Rob Stull, Problak (Rob Gibbs), and Fabian Murray will lead a conversation and participate in a panel discussion about their identities as graffiti artists and their careers as graphic designers. Collectively, these gentlemen represent over 100 years of artistic expertise. They will be sharing their stories and individual experiences of maneuvering through the intricate world of professional art. An art demonstration will take place following the discussion. Boston is home. Hip-Hop is the foundation.

Learn more about this event and let us know on Facebook if you’re planning to join us. Read more about past programs in this series here.

Logo for National Endownment for the Humanities

This event is presented in partnership through Boston Public Library and the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston, and made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations in this program do not necessarily express those of the National Endowment of the Humanities.


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.

University Archives and Special Collections is working to expand its collections related to hip-hop in Boston and Massachusetts and welcomes donations of archival materials from musicians, DJs, breakdancers, graffiti artists, producers, promoters, and fans that will help document the area’s rich heritage and legacy of hip-hop culture. Click here to learn more about what we collect. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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Join us on Saturday, May 25 for a Hip-Hop Dance Jam at the Codman Square Branch of the BPL

Flyer for BPL HIPHOP DANCE JAM event at the Codman Square branch of the Boston Public LibraryWhat: BPL Hip-Hop Dance Jam

When: Saturday, May 25, 2019 | 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Where: Codman Square Branch of the Boston Public Library, 690 Washington Street, Dorchester, MA 02124

Click here for directions.

Boston Public Library, UMass Boston, and members of the hip-hop community invite hip-hop enthusiasts of all ages to attend a free event at the Codman Square Branch of the Boston Public Library on Saturday, May 25, from 1:00-4:00 p.m.

“BPL Hip-Hop Dance Jam” is the third in a series of hip-hop programs to take place as part of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This program will focus on and celebrate the dance element of hip-hop, including demonstrations, narration, and a dance competition featuring local dancers. The event is hosted by Dash Boogy with music by DJ Flyte. The “Freshest Dancer” will take home $400 in prize money. All levels of dancers are welcome.

Learn more about this event here, and let us know on Facebook if you’re planning to join us. Read more about past programs in this series here.

Logo for National Endownment for the Humanities

This event is presented in partnership through Boston Public Library and the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston, and made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations in this program do not necessarily express those of the National Endowment of the Humanities.


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.

University Archives and Special Collections is working to expand its collections related to hip-hop in Boston and Massachusetts and welcomes donations of archival materials from musicians, DJs, breakdancers, graffiti artists, producers, promoters, and fans that will help document the area’s rich heritage and legacy of hip-hop culture. Click here to learn more about what we collect. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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Videos from “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” Mass. Memories Road Show available online now

The 42 videos collected at the “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” Mass. Memories Road Show: The Hip-Hop Edition are available online now.

Held at the Boston Public Library in May, the event was a collaboration between UMass Boston’s Healey Library and the Boston Public Library. It was part of a larger project called “Local Rappers, DJs, B-Boys, and Graff: Documenting the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Community from the 1970s to the present” and was supported by a Common Heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor and the UMass President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund. Learn more about this project here.

Contributors shared memories of their roots in the Boston hip-hop scene and launching a wide range of careers as visual artists, dancers, musicians, and producers. Many artists described their experiences creating original music and choreography, touring local, national and international stages, and producing events. Local success stories include major performing and record contracts which brought widespread recognition to Boston hip-hop and inspired up-and-coming artists.

The videos in the collection also testify to the significant contributions of Boston hip-hop artists in the development of innovative MCing, DJing, engineering and production techniques and technologies. This pioneering work led to cutting-edge recordings and the founding of independent Boston-based hip-hop record labels, which gained global audiences and recognition. Contributors described the importance of historic albums and recent discs to the hip-hop legacy.

Additionally, the video collection documents contributors’ stories about launching a number of Boston-area radio programs such as Hip-Hope Nation and TV shows such as The Somerville Line, which shared local hip-hop music and culture with wider regional and national audiences.

A few of the videos in the collection further highlight contributors’ experiences launching projects and founding organizations to use music as a vehicle for social change.  For example, the Loop Lab engages Boston youth-at-risk in training programs that address the opportunity gap, by teaching audio and video production skills. Other contributors have started peace-building initiatives to end violence through hip-hop and produced hip-hop performances that explore social justice and other current political issues. All of these initiatives illustrate how members of Boston’s hip-hop community have shaped a local music scene that communicates messages of hope for future generations.

Note to contributors: We need your help to finish processing this collection! If you see something incorrect or misspelled–names and spellings of individuals and performing groups, for example–we want to fix it.  Please email carolyn.goldstein@umb.edu with the details and our team will make the corrections as soon as we can. Thank you!

Logo for National Endownment for the Humanities

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations in this program do not necessarily express those of the National Endowment of the Humanities.

If you have questions about the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, please contact an archivist at UMass Boston, connect with the project on Facebook, or click here to explore the collections and learn how you can contribute materials.


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.

University Archives & Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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