Room 906 of the Photonics Center filled up surprisingly quickly this past Friday. Boston University Hip-Hop is popular, but the large turnout for something as simple as a listening party is unusual. Despite the gathering crowd, the buzz in the room was awkward, nervous.
“People, especially newcomers, are really unsure about it,” said BUHH President Blair Lineham. “At our weekly cyphers, there’s a tendency for newcomers to stay in the back of the crowd, away from the action.”
He was referring to the freestyle sessions, or cyphers, held by BUHH every Wednesday in front of the George Sherman Union. While some might find the group and its culture intimidating, BUHH has exploded in popularity since its inception two years ago. Admittedly, the predominantly male, predominantly upperclassman group can be loud and abrasive; their regular conversation is mostly made up of stories and inside jokes told at twice the normal volume, followed by a lot of bro-hugging and punching of shoulders.
On Friday, at the early listening party for the club’s first mixtape, The Ill Rhettoric, most of the members were already present before anyone else arrived. While the guests quickly sat in the large semi-circle of chairs, the members of BUHH remained standing in the back of the room, occasionally taking breaks from chatting and general tomfoolery to dance around the room or spit a verse along with the recording. As much as BUHH might seem like that group of friends that is too insular to accept any newcomers, it is that sense of camaraderie that is responsible for the group’s constant growth.
“We’re trying to give people a different perspective on hip-hop, and that’s what we tried to put on the mixtape,” said Randall Spence, a School of Management senior. “There aren’t any lyrics about guns or drugs or hoes. It’s about the music.”
Jake Cox, who graduated from the School of Management this past semester (“Class of 2013 and a half,” joked Spence), made it very clear what the draw of the club is.
“We’re a family, and we’re inclusive,” Cox said. “It’s about bringing a community of like-minded people together.”
As much as the mixtape does have vague recurring themes, Lineham couldn’t have put it better. The release, made available on Bandcamp on Monday, is an eclectic mix of nasally indie rap, yelled verses à la Eminem and hip-hop melodies as soulful as they are tongue-in-cheek.
“It was recorded in two weeks — in a makeshift setup in Warren Towers!” Lineham said.
As to the matter of raw talent, what the songs lack in production value or coherent flow, they make up for in flow. The lyrics were admittedly hard to hear at first, but after Lineham took a few trips to hurriedly tweak the soundboard like a flustered Scotty aboard a crashing Enterprise, the mixtape’s mids began to shine through. Without exaggeration, it must be said that these guys are poets. While the lyrics can be as rough and raw as the rest of the production, when The Ill Rhettoric hits moments of boisterous clarity, it hits them hard.
The single “Bounce” is the best example of this and is clearly BUHH’s favorite track. Before it even started, the amoebic crowd in the back of the room began to yell and dance with excitement. They knew all the words, but the ones who rapped loudest and with the most zeal were clearly the members who cut the track. Near the end of the song, a voice cried out, in a tone of impending catastrophe, “Randall! You’re gonna miss your verse!” Spence quickly clambered into the throbbing mass, joining the revelry with as much urgency as the voice that called him in.
As much as their first mixtape is a culminating achievement, BU Hip-Hop doesn’t look at it that way. What’s important is to make music and have fun. To them, listening isn’t nearly as important as singing along.