On February 22, 2013, Boston lost a legend. Magnus Johnstone was one of those people who lived up to an impossibly huge name. Known to many as the unlikely uncle of Boston hip-hop, his Leccos Lemma show, which began on WMBR (88.1 FM) in 1985, launched the careers of hop-hop legends and legions of lesser knowns alike. He took all comers, and in so doing, made a home for a youth movement that had yet to realize it was an industry and lifestyle in the making. What is perhaps most amazing is that this incredible show was just one of many he created over the years, and all of it was a really just a soundtrack for his painting.
Born in Chicago, IL on July 14, 1952, Magnus was named after his Scottish great grandfather and spent his early years in Detroit, MI and arrived in Duxbury, MA as a pre-teen. He attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, but never being one to tread well established paths, he moved on before graduation to continue his own lifelong education in art, music, literature and mysticism. If Magnus was anything, he was an autodidact with an insatiable appetite for new knowledge, experience, and music. Since music was the fuel for his drawing and painting, he always needed more. He loved few things more than sharing his discoveries with his many devoted radio audiences.
By the time Leccos Lemma launched in 1985, Magnus had already been an active member of the vibrant underground art and music scene Boston for many years. He was deeply involved in the local artist collectives Gallery East and Punkt/Dat and was also an active community member at MITs college station WMBR (88.1 FM). In the early 1980s, Magnus hosted a reggae show called Reggae Mukassa, an African music show called Aliens Corner, and by 1985 was regularly filling in on the urban music show, the Ghetto. Having grown tired of the digital turn in reggae and always seeking new sonic landscapes, rap and electro appealed to him immediately. The enormous positive youth response these tracks got on his guest appearances on the Ghetto convinced him to pitch the station on a rap and electro music show to be called Leccos Lemma. The rest is local legend.
Not only did the Leccos Lemma show provide a launching pad for artists like Guru, EdoG, The Almighty RSO, TDS Mob, the Top Choice Clique, and many more, Magnus was always an assiduous collector. He kept every tape every artist ever sent him. The result of his collection, along with Willie Loco Alexanders tapes of the broadcasts, may be the most complete record of the grassroots emergence of a local hip-hop scene that has ever been documented.
After its first year at WMBR, Leccos Lemma moved to Boston Colleges WZBC (90.3 FM) where it continued until 1988. By this time the urban edge that had originally inspired him had given way to slicker suburban production, and Magnus was already planning his new Arabic and North African music show called Mecca. Just as the golden age of Hip-Hop made rap mainstream, Magnus was already on to the next thing.
In 1990, Magnus was diagnosed with leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant that saved his life in 1994. He continued to paint and do college radio shows throughout this time, and in the late 1990s, hosted the Dub Hop show on WZBC. This show featured rap dub sides, spoken word and sometimes undergraduates and friends reading prose and poetry live over the air -- a recipe that was to remain one of his staples for years to come.
In 2001, Magnus moved to Bucksport, Maine seeking larger space for painting and a slower lifestyle. Since that time, he continued to paint and maintained his life-long love of the Manga comic form, producing a series of 24 complete books, the last of which he finished just before passing. Of course, he also continued to discover music and share it over the local radio airwaves. Almost upon arrival, Magnus became a weekly presence on WERU, a community station in Orland, ME where he hosted DaVibez (an urban music show) and The Matrix, which some people close to him have called his masterwork. During his time in Maine, Magnus worked at the Liros art gallery in Blue Hill. He worked closely with Serge Liros for 11 years restoring paintings, gold leaf frames, making frames, managing the Liros Gallery website, hanging shows and selling art. He had a very vast and indepth knowledge of art. The gallery is planning a retrospective of his work in June, 2013.
Magnus died of cancer in Maine on the afternoon of February 22, 2013. He is survived by his mother, Jessie Petcoff, sisters Margaret and Sidney Johnstone, brothers Andrew and Stuart Johnstone, step brothers James and George Petcoff, and his wife and fellow artist, Mango Johnstone.