Every couple months I sit down with a pot of coffee and patrol the perimeter. Vermont is a small state — damn, is it ever small — but our hip hop scene is still a machine with hundreds of moving parts. I do not even pretend to keep track of them all, but I do try on occasion.
This time around, I was surprised to find out that “Rappers from Vermont” is now a category on Wikipedia — all thanks to exactly one artist: Nothing,Nowhere. How this came to pass is most instructive.
For starters, this is the first time his name has ever appeared on this website. Nothing,Nowhere is a rapper and producer. He has never done local shows, never networked with important artists in BTV, never been mentioned in Seven Days. He has broken a million plays on Soundcloud multiple times, and he’s currently off on his second, or maybe fourth, European tour.
Yet those accomplishments — which are huge — are not the reason that this young man is on Wikipedia. That would be a music critic named Jon Caramanica. He writes for a paper called The New York Times, and he’s been making people famous overnight for decades. Almost a year ago, he did exactly that for Nothing,Nowhere, dropping a detailed profile complete with a photo shoot in a State Park.
Coverage moves in cycles because writers have deadlines. The opening salvo was a short, press-release style blurb in Billboard magazine in August 2017 — then in October, Nothing,Nowhere got mentioned in both NYT and, even more importantly, Rolling Stone. He had a great hook — a new music video featuring the lead singer of superstar emo band Dashboard Confessional. That in turn promoted his next project, Reaper.
Vermont has proven to be a great hook for him, too. When Billboard first covered him, he was a “New England artist” — but after NYT’s re-branding, all of his recent coverage places him squarely in Vermont; the adopted home of a Massachusetts transplant who came here for college.
So: hopefully one of your takeaways, here, is how little your local music scene matters, outside of your local music scene. This is true in Boston and this is especially true in Burlington, which is barely even a “city” in the first place. In a state with less than one million people, what are you really going to conquer? The entire potential audience for your rap music is probably less than ten thousand Vermonters. Far less.
I won’t speculate about who will be the next breakout artist from Vermont to warrant a Wikipedia article — and in fact, I’d wager that won’t happen for another year. Here’s why: take a gander at Wikipedia’s notability guidelines. Stakes is high. The reason that Nothing,Nowhere got placement in Billboard is because Nothing,Nowhere was already on a record label owned by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy. Nobody actually gets famous overnight. There is a system, here.
So, there are ways I could be wrong, but none of them involve how hard you work this year, or how dope your next album is. Jarv could get a write up in SPIN magazine. 99 Neighbors could get signed to a (real, actual) record label — hell, so could a cool two dozen other 802 acts. But it’s wild how, despite all the promise of the internet destroying the gatekeepers, it’s still a bunch of assholes in New York and Los Angeles who truly make you famous.
Conduct yourselves accordingly. If you really want to “make it,” you’re going to have to do what Jamell NYT did: leave. If you really want to put in work for the Vermont Hip Hop scene, I have to assume that’s because, like Nothing,Nowhere, you love the mountains and you love the view. Cheers.