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Sullee forth (continued)

The Sullivans also see that song as a rebuke to all those who would question Sulleeís supposed "street cred." "When they start that ĎWhat do you know about the streets? What do you know about hip-hop? You live in that cushy town of Hingham. Whereís the mean streets of Hingham? What rough spots have you had in your life?í then Sullee will just say, ĎOkay, well, why donít you listen to ĎLife Storyí and then, uh, get back to me,í " Bob says. "As soon as they hear that, it stops all the nonsense. Because thatís all it is, nonsense. How do you know how someone lived his life?"

" ĎStreet credibilityí is the funniest phrase," says Sullee. "Because Ďstreet credibilityí is ... all ... crap. Artists have come out and itís been proven that they really didnít do what they said theyíd done. And people still believe it. ĎOh, Iíve been to jail.í And then you find out they really havenít been to jail; itís documented that theyíve never been arrested! But theyíre still credible?! But when I come out, and I have an album thatís full of truth ... thereís nothing but the truth in any of my songs, but I need street credibility. I need to be around people who have that image, just because I have a house that I live in, that I can call home."

Besides introducing him to hip-hop culture, Bob Sullivanís stint in prison was valuable insofar as it offered his son an object lesson in what not to be. And, letís face it, stories like these make for great material. "I said to [Sullee], ĎI donít have a problem with you writing it, the only thing is, it has to be correct,í " Bob says. "Donít make up stuff about shootiní guns, and all that crazy stuff. Keep it real. You donít have to make up stories and try to act counterfeit."

"The people that are taken seriously are the people that actually make an album that means something," Sullee says. "Every song is true. Every song is something that has to do with my life. If youíre listening to my album, youíre listening to my life." Sullee has no desire to construct an image that will gain him the phony credibility that helps sell records. "A lotta keep-it-real rappers out here frontiní," he sings on "Hip Hop," "the rest of those busters really ainít saying nothiní." Hip-hop is a genre ó and a business ó where image is king, but Sullee wishes it werenít. "I really donít like that, and I really donít agree with that at all. Hip-hop didnít come from image. It came from struggle, and it came from having fun and trying to get people together to do something good."

But he accepts that itís part of the game. For Sullee to make it, heís got to have a hook. An identity. I ask him if heís afraid of being pigeonholed as the "white-suburban-Boston-Irish dude." He admits that sometimes people prejudge, writing him off, presumably, as the bastard child of Vanilla Ice and House of Pain. "Right when I walk on the stage, people get up and walk away because I got a scally cap and a boston shirt on," Sullee says. "My father tries to tell me I canít wear certain things, and Iím like, no, this is me. Iím not changing for nobody. This is how I am, and this is how I talk, and Iím just me. If people canít handle that, thatís on them."

Besides, Sullee says, "Iím already pigeonholed. Me being white in hip-hop, Iím gonna get pigeonholed one way or another. Iíll never get to be an artist that everybody just accepts doing what he does. I wonít be accepted like that; itís just not gonna happen. If I came out and I tried to do the same thing everyone else is doiní? Then Iím Ďtrying to be black.í If I come out trying to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing, and try to put guitars in, because I like guitars? Then Iím ĎKid Rock.í "

As for whether Sulleeís Boston-Irish roots are good for his identity as a musician, Teddy Riley is emphatic. "No," he says. "Itís great. Itís not good, itís great. I think heís gonna open up Boston. I havenít seen anyone yet to really blow up Boston like itís supposed to be, and I think this kid could do it."

As far as Sulleeís concerned, he just does what he does. "I just gotta make music about having fun," he says. "I just do what I do. I have fun, I like girls. Thatís just me. I enjoy women, I enjoy parties, and I enjoy sleeping. I donít mind; if you want to pigeonhole me, put me in ĎPop.í If Iím popular music, then that means Iím doing pretty well."

And thatís just what Bob Sullivan wants: to give his son opportunities that he never had. To help him, at least, stay on the straight and narrow, and, at best, make it big. "We hear things like, ĎOkay, heís a rapper because his fatherís putting up the money,í " Bob says. "Well, his fatherís putting up the money to try to give him an honest shot at it! Iím sure every rapper in the country would like to say, ĎYeah, my family put up the money.í Most canít."

But if heís trying his damnedest to make a new and better life for his son, heís also carried over a few lessons from his old life ó a hard-nosed sense of loyalty thatís sometimes helped him navigate the tougher corners of the record industry. On the intro to Sulleeís song "Gangsta," Bob Sullivan makes a spoken-word cameo, looking back on his days in the South End: "Everybodyís a gangster, everybodyís a tough guy today. Iím from the old school. ĎGangsterí to me was loyalty to your family, loyalty to your friends. Meaning what you say. Doing what you say. A handshake. A handshake was a manís word."

"I can tell you, todayís a joke," Bob says. "Back in the day, you better mean what you say. People held you accountable. You can say and do things today, and no one holds you accountable. Back then, you were held accountable. When they said they were coming for ya, they were coming for ya. You could bet on it. You could sit out front, and theyíd be there. Theyíd be pulling up."

"They didnít drive by," Sullee says.

"They didnít drive by. They got out."

"They drove up to you and said, ĎGoodbye,í " Sullee says, recoiling a tilted index-finger gun. "It was different. And thatís kind of where I learned from. Thatís where I got my street sense from: a old-school type of gangsta, instead of some kid whoís selling crack on the corner and who gets mad when you step on his $100 shoes. These were guys that were real serious. Who didnít wear expensive shoes, ícause it didnít matter what they wore, because everybody knew. Then they went back to their million-dollar houses. I learned a whole different type of gangster."

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Issue Date: December 17 - 23, 2004
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