Live from Mass. Ave.
Virtuoso first came to attention in 1996 with the track …. Omnipotence…. on Brick Record’s Rebel Alliance LP which introduced the world to then unknown Boston artists like Mr. Lif and 7L and Esoteric. He was featured on 7L and Eso’s Direct Records releases, “Protocol” and “Headswell” and the Army of the Pharaohs project before dropping his own “Incinerator” “Orion’s Belt” 12 inch on Brick. Since then, Virtuoso has dropped two more singles, “That’s Why” – which was poorly received by underground heads but gained commercial acceptance in the form of mainstream radio play in the Boston area – on his own Omnipotent label and “Beatdown” featuring Jedi Mind Tricks and T Ruckus on Raptivism.
In the past year, Virtuoso and his people have made an effort to bring Boston’s up and coming hiphop artists to the forefront of the city’s nightlife by rocking shows in prominent clubs in Beantown. His “That’s Why” Release Party at Bill’s Bar on Landsdowne Street featured performances from hometown MCs Iyadonna, D. Auguste, REKS, Mic Stylz, and Skitzofreniks. Virtuoso has also consistently made it into the finals of the annual Boston MC Superbowl Battle. Competition has been no joke in the Boston battles with Apathy, Akrobatik, Esoteric, Alias, Mr. Lif, Sage Francis, Adeem, Jay-Son of Kreators, Checkmark, Ams One of Clokworx and Professor Shuman flexing lyrical skills.
While working on his LP, Virtuoso took some time out for a talk. I met up with him in front of the Middle East on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, the stage for some of the more eclectic hiphop shows in New England. Since he is taller than a bastard, Virtuoso was easy to spot standing on the comer with his partner Snype. We grabbed a bite to eat at McDonalds, then dipped in his older model Lincoln Mark VIII for a quick chat.
Q: Go ahead and introduce yourself
V: Yo, what’s up? Its Virtuoso, emcee extraordinaire.
Q: So what have you been up to since your last release, “That’s Why”?
V: Been finishing up the album. It’s real hot. Like eighteen tracks with interludes. Mixin’ that down. Finishing up some cuts on that. New single with Jedi Mind Tricks. It’s called Beatdown. The whole album, we’re working on distribution fight now but that will be dropping shortly. Maybe in the summer. It might be awhile but it will be worth it. Been working on starting my own company, Omnipotent Records. Producing my stuff and we got some other artists on the scene. People no ones ever heard of but real good talent. New artists on the scene. Throwing a lot of shows at the clubs around here. Trying to bring local artists to the bigger clubs. Trying to bring what’s hot, what’s more underground, into the mainstream clubs.
Q: Is it a challenge in Boston to do that?
V: We’ve been selling out the spots but we’ve been promoting like crazy. At first it was hard. People think there is going to be violence at hiphop shows. The music is positive. It’s not all thuggish. So we haven’t had trouble. It’s going well. We’re getting the biggest clubs in the city.
Q: When did you first come out? On the Rebel Alliance LP, right? What other releases have you been on?
V: Yeah, I came out on the Rebel Alliance LP. That had tracks by me, Mr Lif, 7L and Esoteric, Architects of Intellect, Tony Infamous and that was my first. A song called “Omnipotence”. I was also on “Be Alert”, or the Transformers Song as it is also well known as. After that, another song on the 7L and Esoteric 12 inch, “Protocol”. So that made some noise. I rapped on their next 12 inch as well. That was “Headswell”. On Direct Records. Production by Vinyl Reanimators. Then I was on the Army of the Pharaohs record with Bahamadia . Chief Kamachi, 7L and Esoteric and Jedi Mind Tricks. I just came out on a DJ Vadim record with Mr Lif and Esoteric. Dead Prez “Behind Enemy Lines Remix” featuring me and REKS and a joint on the No More Prisons album, This Is A War from the point of view of a prison guard. What else? I can’t even remember. We’ve got an entire Army of the Pharaohs album coming out.
Q: An entire album?
V: Yeah, entire album. We just got some verses down from Ruck from Helter Skelter. He’s gonna be on it. Bahamadia will probably be on it.
Q: How did you hook up with Jedi Mind Tricks and Bahamadia?
V: Well, I hooked up with them because 7L and Esoteric had been talking to them for awhile. They had similar styles of music. Heard of each other and got in contact. They had this idea for an Army of the Pharaohs record. We were working together a lot at that point so it all went well together.
Q: And how did you hook up with 7L and Esoteric? Just around Boston or Cambridge?
V: Uh, yeah. I hooked up with them. I was rapping in my high school and how I met them was through this host at WERS. She was one of the main hosts, Cherry Martinez, She’s actually the host on Hot 97.7 up here and had been on Hot 97 in New York too. She was at my high school. Someone came in my Spanish class and said, ” Cherry Martinez is in the cafeteria and she’s listening to people rap.” So they got me a fake note and that got me out of class and I went down there. She told me she liked me and that she was having a showcase at the Middle East for new artists. I went down there. I freestyled. I hooked up with Mad Soul who produced “Omnipotence” and 7L and Esoteric. Actually, it was God Complex at the time. There was another MC in the group named Karma. He does graphics for Landspeed and Brick and has done a lot of mine too. I didn’t actually talk to them at that point but later I met them. I had been hearing their stuff on the radio already. I was impressed because I didn’t know anyone from Boston was putting out records at the time. I met Mr Lif at a party and he told 7L and Esoteric, “I met this dude. This white dude who raps using all these big words” (laughs) They knew who I was from the show and wanted to talk to me but I left before they got a chance. So he was like, “They want to offer you a spot on this Rebel Alliance Compilation. So then they wanted me to rap on this other song, they gave me this beat. The Transformer – Be Alert beat. From there we were working together a lot. We took a break because everyone was thinking we were a group but my name wasn’t in the group so we stepped away. We still do group stuff but I like to experiment with different sounds beside complex scientific or real grimy underground stuff I like all kinds of stuff I listen to all kinds of music. Rock N Roll. All types of stuff. I’m trying to branch out. I’ll still do Army of the Pharaohs and III be on the Soul Purpose too. Its not all about grimy samples and (bobbing head). Music is about dancing too. There is nothing wrong with making people dance and have a good time. There’s synthesizers. Live instrumentation. All kinds of stuff you can do.
Q: You toured Europe with them too. How did you like that?
V: I did a two week thing in Europe three years ago. It was supposed to be some shows with the Artifacts. In Amsterdam mostly. The next summer we did a whole month long thing with Del the Funky Homosapien and Casual. We did eighteen or nineteen shows in thirty days, That was fresh. Got to see all of Europe. I’ve done stuff in Nashville. Lots of stuff in Philadelphia and Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Q: Haven’t you competed in the Superbowl MC battle up here?
V: Yeah, two of them. I was in the Blaze battle too. I finished fourth.
Q: You like that outlet? That battle outlet?
V: Yeah, battling. It’s cool. To me making records is the most important thing. I think a lot of people view me as a battle MC. I can certainly freestyle about anything. I’ve battle lots of people but to me making records is most important. That’s where success is really gonna come. That’s where you’ve got to move people with messages. Listen to my album. There’s a lot of deep lyrics. A lot of people are only rhyming battle lyrics. That gets really old and boring to me. A lot of underground people want that but that gets old. You can only brag so many times. That’s mostly what battling is. I like to be cocky too and say I’m the man. that just gets old after awhile.
Q: What are your inspirations when you’re writing?
V: It depends if I’m writing stories or messages. It’s always something that has happened to me in
the past. I sit down and write it out and put it in a way that sounds exciting. If it’s battle stuff, I’m
usually thinking about someone I don’t like.
Q: Ever get inspired by hearing a bad record or someone else’s record?
V: All the time. I don’t know, man. People say to me, I never copy anybody. I don’t know anyone who’s never done it, I mean, I don’t sit down and copy someone’s record but you hear something good and it inspires you to make something. Nothing wrong with being inspired by someone else.
Q: How do you think Boston hiphop is perceived by outside communities?
V: Perceived as… I think on the national level. It’s perceived as… the Made Men are real thuggish… That’s the biggest representation from here. They’re good. But I think they put a negative hardcore spin on things. There’s Ed O.G.. I think he is a good representative of things. Definitely one of the biggest people. He’s viewed with respect all over the world. I think on my level, who is close to that next level, who’s done stuff in other parts of the country, I think it is viewed as intellectual type rap. Cambridge and Boston and the places around here are very educated places. There’s a lot of universities around here. I don’t know how people view it but I view it as progressive and intellectual. There is a lot of cleverness in the music and lyrical depth. I would imagine that is how other people would-view it in other parts of the world.
If you hit the Boston area, check for Virtuoso performing on a regular basis in the city’s clubs.