Decades after helping put the hip in Boston’s Hip Hop scene, Lowell’s D-Tension is as funny and relevant as ever
By C. J. Berg
“I needed something to rhyme with Mahi Mahi.”
This is the sort of turn any conversation with Steve Perez, aka D-Tension, is inevitable to take.
He scooped up a 2012 New England Music Award for “Best New Age/Techno/Hip Hop Act of the Year” and his appreciation for the honor came complete with his usual self-deprecating wit: “It feels very nice to be recognized…” (Wait for it). “Best New Age/Techno/Hip Hop artist—I’ve created a genre—I’m the Moby and Yanni of Hip Hop.”
There it is.
Anyone familiar with his career is well-familiar with the intelligence behind the beats. Perez finds the humor and humanity in even the most solemn moments in life.
Last year’s “Wack Music for Dope People” covered everything from preventing terrorism (Dunkin’ Donuts is one of his more printable suggestions) to the futility of trying to impress girls with a two-tone Taurus. It’s one of the smartest records of the year.
His next collection, “Rappin to the Radio,” is being released Friday and the advance tracks are red hot.
Perez’s multi-decade career shines in a land where most artists are lucky to remain relevant for even a second record. His first band, The Unforgettables (you know there’s a wink in that one), opened for funk, soul, reggae and ska bands back in Boston before Hip Hop was even allowed to be booked in a club. Somewhere around the year 2000, it all started to change. And D-Tension, Steve’s public persona, was the man around which it all converged.
“I was booking all the big Hip Hop shows on Landsdowne Street for years — at Avalon, and Bill’s Bar and the rest,” he says.
He also moonlighted as the Boston Phoenix Hip Hop beat journalist and produced countless records for other artists through Boston’s Butta Beats Studio, and Lowell’s own Wonka Sound.
People today most readily recognize Perez’s voice as that guy, D-Tension, from WFNX radio. He’s held almost all the shifts over his career there, from evening to morning drive-time, to the weekends where you can still catch him on the air.
The organizers of the 2011 Boston Comedy Festival caught one his shifts on the radio and invited Steve to their “Funniest Media Personality” award night last October. He took home the honors and caught the eye of a booking agent who now schedules him for stand-up gigs around his Hip Hop touring schedule.
“Comedy is much more similar to music than it is to acting,” he says. “The choice of words, and how they flow, makes a difference when you’re delivering a joke.”
Perez’s musical background is immediately evident in his Hip Hop recordings, and it’s something he’s proud to have set him apart.
“The kids today are all recording with Garage Band, and they synthesize their sounds, but they’ve lost their ear for the music,” he says.
D-Tension’s latest collection samples a veritable who’s who of rock, from Hendrix to Morrison to Jagger to Jerry Lee Lewis, and his opening track, “Fire,” kicks it all off (you can guess the lines he’s woven in—they are all classics). Anyone can download the new record for free when it arrives on d-tension.com/.
“The record is written from the point of view of a 41 year old man—I’ve always told stories from my life and experience, and these songs are all the result of going to a show last year and realizing how far off some of these new artists are,” he says.
Yes, there’s the obligatory rap boast track, “I’m Back”, (and, yes, Steven Tyler makes his sample appearance here), but like all of Steve’s records, it’s not really about that.
“A lot of rappers make their entire records about bragging, but I’m not interested in that side of it—maybe one song here and there because it’s fun, but that’s it.”
The focus is always on the stories.
Hear some of D-Tension’s best at the Old Court in Lowell on Friday, April 20, and get ahold of his new collection when it drops the same day.
C.J. Berg is a Lowell freelance writer and a super fan of homegrown music and local bands.