OG Swaggerdick wants to bring personality back to Boston's hip-hop scene.
I’m looking at the above featured image and trying to wrap my mind around the fact that OG Swaggerdick is wearing a Stone Cold Steve Austin jacket over a D-Generation X jersey. Anyone who recalls the social and political ramifications of Wrestlemania XIV knows that the epic 1998 showdown between Stone Cold and Shawn Michaels (and Mike Tyson) is the most important match in professional wrestling history, and so the juxtaposition of these polar opposites in OG’s outfit is striking. Did he support Austin and Michaels in equal measure? Is the jacket over the jersey symbolic of Austin’s triumph? Am I reading too deep into all of this? Perhaps, but from listening to OG’s enthralling debut mixtape Game Boy Colored it’s evident he’s a wrestling enthusiast, plus Wrestlemania XIV did go down in Boston. So the pairing of items doesn’t feel unintentional, but I don’t totally get it. Then again, maybe that’s sort of the point.
OG is one of a handful of up and coming Boston rappers who have united in the last two years to make up what is becoming the city’s most exciting hip-hop scene in recent memory. Traditionally, Boston has been a place that subscribes to an outdated notion of what rap music is supposed to sound like—poe-faced, reductive boom-bap, indistinctive and indebted to New York. So when OG and his peers (Michael Christmas, Cousin Stizz in particular) all claim a shared love for Lil B is what brought them together, it’s kind of mind-boggling. It’s especially so considering how different each of their music is—theirs is an attitudinal alliance rather than a stylistic one, allowing their individuality to shine in a city that classically has defined itself in terms to New York, rather than celebrating what makes its rappers unique. Christmas’s sound falls somewhere between the everyman charm of Curren$y and the technique of Earl Sweatshirt. Stizz is more of the traditional street rapper. And the 22-year-old OG Swaggerdick is, well, he’s something else.
Born Marquise Jones, he grew up in Dorchester, one of the city’s largest working class neighborhoods. His father worked as part of the promotions team for Benzino’s rap group Made Men (Remember the guys who allegedly stabbed Paul Pierce 11 times back in 2000? His dad rolled with those guys.) He went to culinary college. There are lots of interesting parts of Marquise’s life story, though none of them seem like obvious indicators as to how he became the outlandish personality that I encounter at his Game Boy Colored mixtape release party —if you can even call it that.
The event takes place in a car on the MBTA’s Green Line, where OG proceeds to play his mixtape out of a portable speaker and engage with after work commuters who certainly didn’t sign up for any of this. Understandably, the reactions range from the amused to the annoyed. OG’s public transportation shenanigans have been well documented on his incredible Vine account, which is part Johnny Knoxville part Tyler, the Creator. The train only makes it a few stops before he grows restless and takes the party to the streets, emerging from underground to an early evening downtown Boston. In the span of five minutes he gets himself thrown out of a Burger King, McDonalds, and a movie theater. These sorts of gags are nothing new for OG. As part of a teenage jerking crew, he and his friends filmed themselves running around the city playing in traffic, opening taxi doors and engaging in general misbehavior. None of it’s WorldStar level deviance, but at times it rides the line between good clean fun and poor taste.
Later in the week, I meet OG at a Harvard Square recording studio where Michael Christmas is in the process of recording a guest verse. He’s still very much a jokester, but without the audience he opens up a bit more about himself. He credits his father’s homecoming after serving a bid behind bars as a moment that shaped him. “When my dad went to jail I wasn’t able to be myself, because I was told not to say anything about what he was in jail for. So I just stayed to myself and felt like I couldn’t talk to nobody,” he says. “Once he was out I just felt like I could just do whatever I wanted.”
That newfound personal freedom coupled with his explorations of Myspace and Internet rap became the foundation of OG Swaggerdick’s eccentric persona. Inspired by the ride of A$AP Rocky, Odd Future, and, naturally, Lil B, he began pursuing music shortly after attending Le Cordon Bleu College and now, Game Boy Colored arrives as his proper coming out party. The mixtape is a strange and captivating listen. He raps about selling drugs to Sanaa Lathan. The interludes feel like inside jokes that maybe only he’s in on. Music critics appear spitting guest verses. At face value, it’s a challenging piece of music to digest, but as an extension of him it makes more sense, and it’s actually pretty fun. OG isn’t a rapper as much as he’s an entertainer, and making music is a medium via which he entertains. “I just want to show kids, especially from the hood, that they can be whoever they want and to do what the fuck they want and to keep it good.”
Later that night he performs a brief set downtown at Good Life Boston alongside his cohorts as part of a Summer Emcee showcase. The turnout is modest, but the turn up is not. As OG performs his Game Boy Colored standout, the auto-tune drenched “D.O.L.L.A.R.” his small gathering of supporters collectively lose their shit in celebration of an oddball in a city that doesn’t encourage oddball behavior. OG and Christmas and Stizz’s movement is still in its early stages, transitioning from an intimate group of friends into a legitimate local scene. Perhaps soon it will become something even bigger than that. Somehow it’s all starting to make sense.
Neil Martinez-Belkin is a writer living in Boston. He's on Twitter - @Neil_MB