We caught up with Boston rapper Speak! The Rebel. We talk to him about Boston, how he got in the game, his rebel music, and musical inspirations.
You hail from the Metro West area of Boston. There are so many great emcees from Boston doing their thing. What’s the scene like there at the moment?
I think the guys from my area, specifically Natick / Framingham (Metro West) have a little bit of an underdog scrapper mentality. We are directly in between the two major cities and music scenes of the state. Worcester, MA home of sounds similar to Joyner Locus, and Boston, which is home to countless greats.
We don’t have music venues in our area and have always had to trek into either city to be heard. Leaves you with a little bit of an outsider mentality. You have to work 5 times harder than a lot of the locals. Specifically when it comes to getting people to come to see your shows. We take
pride in that for sure.
The scene in the State as a whole is VERY tight knit. Unity is big for a lot of us, we’re all we have here. We dont have the benefit of a lot of major media outlets or radio stations so theres a lot of grinding on behalf
of each other to be heard.
The biggest problem we are facing as a scene right now is obviously COVID 19. Furthermore, the effects that it is going to have on the very few venues that actually book hip hop in the city.
A lot of restaurants and bars have recently closed, or gentrification has turned key spots like The Middle East into condos. At the moment it’s just a wait to see were, when, and how we will be doing live events.
How did you get into the game?
I knew I wanted to be a musician at a really young age, I’d say 8 or 9 years old. I’ve always been obsessed with words and singers and song meanings so right off the bat I knew I wanted to be a writer.
I started off in middle school / high school like most kids in the burbs did at that time as the singer of a band. Was actually a great crash course in recording and booking/ playing shows the hard way.
Handing out flyers and cold calling clubs. Spent from 13-20 doing all of the above. With college for some of the members, this meant the end of the band. I had learned a lot and learned even more so that I did not want to be married to 4 other people in order to make the kind of music I wanted to.
Hip Hop was always my first love and I decided what better
way to combine my love of words with a genre of music I loved. I didn’t need anyone else to perform or record.
It went from parks, cyphers, and basements to VFW Halls, dive bars, and eventually locally headlining for national acts such as KRS One, Sean Price, Pharoah Monch, ILL Bill, and Hopsin. I write every day, I rap every day and I put everything I have into the craft
In July you released your 6th project Vidal Baboon. Tell us about the 10 track album?
This album came together in about 6 weeks from start to finish. It was a rollercoaster of an intense creativity burst. Music and recording, literally being the only thing that I was able to do because I had been diagnosed with COVID.
I started with one song, Wooo! featuring Ferris Electrik. That was supposed to be the cornerstone of a group I’m in called Animal Embassy’s first release. Me being sick coupled with the fact that Ferris had just had a baby girl basically left us dead in the water. We were unable to physically be in the same place at the same time.
I had that single out and decided that it needed to be released. So I built the entire album around having that one song.
Spending months locked away in isolation inspires you a lot. I took the time to reflect both on my personal life and feelings. Check tracks like Hollow Bones, Heartaches & Handgrenades, and For Nothing.
The fight for equal rights and justice is denied to black and brown Americans that was rapidly unfolding around me in May and June. Influenced songs like Porsche Mutt, ACAB, Combat Funk, and Children Of Men. I wanted to sound a little more refined and a little more melodic. I really wanted to accomplish that with this record.
This in a way was a mission on my end to modernize soundwise a bit. I’m just as inspired by Kendrick and Cole as I am by Wu Tang and ILL Bill. I wanted to try and combine those influences into one flavor.
Why did you decide to call it Vidal Baboon?
I’m a single father of a 10-year-old girl. That means you as a man have to learn how to do things like brush and braid hair lol. One day when she was like three or four my mother walked in on me trying to do my daughters hair in ponytails for the first time in my life.
She said I looked like a monkey trying to pick bugs out of its baby. Me always trying to put together words, phrases, and obscure references fired back, “You can call me Vidal Baboon”. It was just one of those funny things that had stuck with me for a few years as an inside family joke.
I try and base my albums off parts of my own personality. My last album, Hood Hippie Shit was about how I grew up. I grew up on the border of some of the hardest projects in the state; Beaver Park, Interfaith, Pearl Harbor, and 2nd Street. A mile to the left of that rich suburban white kids who listened to Pink Floyd and Phish.
Hence you get the music that inspired me the most coming up. With Vidal, I wanted to be a fuckin beast on the mic and also an artist. Vidal. Baboon. Beast of an artist.
You recently dropped the video to Porsche Mutt. Will you be releasing any more singles from the album?
There’s going to be at least two or three more videos in some way shape or fashion coming out in the next 6 or 7 months. The title track has been popular with people. It’s important to me to show off something personal that flashes the reggae sounds I love Hollow Bones.
Maybe a quick one verse short video of ACAB. Which for me is important because I want to piss off as many Trump people as humanly possible as well as the whole “Blue Lives Matter” crowd. I am unapologetically political in my music and in using my platform.
I know a lot of things I say piss people off and I’m at peace with it. I didn’t intend to be liked or accepted by everyone. My only goal is to solicit feeling. If I made you pissed at my politics so be it.
I’m pissed that innocent Black people are being killed in the streets of America on a daily basis. That there is a system of ugly and deep rooted
racisim that reigns over fellow Americans for the last 400 years.
Some of your music has a reggae tinge to it. Tell us about your musical influences?
Well, as you can tell by my early rants I am clearly a fan of political music with a message. I have an older cousin who was more like a big brother growing up. He was a drummer in a really big reggae band in the area “Fear Nuttin Band”.
As an impressionable teen, he was a god to me. He flooded me with reggae and funk standards that I fell in love with. I’m a roots fanatic
Peter Tosh, Bob Marley (THE SONGS THAT ARENT ON LEGEND) Buju Banton, Capelton, Sizzla, Morgan Heritage, and on and on and on.
I was fascinated with late 70s/early 80s music most of my life so naturally, that includes Hip Hop, Roots Reggae, and Hardcore Punk. All three genres blend together at various points. The Clash, playing punk songs, then roots reggae. Then early Hip Hop combined with Psychadelic Rock and Hardcore Hip Hop the outcome is my schizophrenic musical choices.
Basically the social / politically conscious threads of all those genres mixed
with my ever-moving quest for meaning and some kind of spirituality lead me there.
Explain your style?
Frantic. In your face. HEAVY and HARD. Bands like Rage Against the Machine and The Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang. Ghostface had that high pitched metal delivery in a sense. Take all of that…and then add in hooks that I sing myself without autotune just to be a show-off lol.
In 2009 you dropped your first project. Tell us about your past releases and where people can go and hear/purchase them?
The first serious release that I had that I didn’t want to die when people listened to was 2009’s Suburban Nightmare. That was a culmination of songs that had really worked and that I felt people would dig. I had been rapping two or three years at that point and finally decided that I needed to have something to show for it.
I dropped a couple of EP’s from 2010-2014 that turned into my second release Street Fight tha Shiite in 2011.
Spent four years out of rap due to a tragic illness that left my mother a quadruple amputee and me being her sole carer.
2018 I came back to reclaim my dreams and dropped Hood Hippie S#!+ as an I’M BACK album.
You can currently find my back catalog on my personal music site: www. speaktherebel.bandcamp.com
What’s next for Speak! The Rebel?
Records, Records, Records, and more Records. My goal is to be able to drop at least two or three projects a year. Typically thinking two EPs and another album.
I have a lot of time to make up for and I have a lot of things to say. This is my passion, this is my craft and I want to keep showing and proving and improving. Recently I taught myself how to mix and master my own material so that I can be in full control of my own releases.
I was signed to Canadian based label “Crate Baptist Recordings” last year. So, I will be having several exclusive songs and projects released by the label. I also am making it a mission to only work with LOCAL producers and get as many of them as I can heard.
There’s a very distinct soulful yet hard and unapologetic sound coming out of the North East, including Canada.
Tell us your socials
Thanks for taking the time out to do the interview. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I’d like to add that I think its incredible the job that indie news directers and bloggers such as yourself do to allow us to have avenues to be heard. It’s very rare that someone asks me how I feel about my own music, or what was my inspiration. So THANK YOU for the amazing work you do at File Under Hip Hop.
Also I want to leave with this: No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police. I encourage everyone to read and fight to honour the principals and demands for justice and reform written in the Contract With Black America. https://contractwithblackamerica.us/
Interview by Jai Boo