GET FAMILIAR: Big Homie Wes
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Every Tuesday night from 10pm to midnight, you can catch Big Homie Wes playing rap and holding court on WJSC 90.7 FM. This cat has a voice for radio, no question, but he’s a got a lot going on outside of that control booth, too: emcee, producer, and a constant collaborator who’s been leaving his mark on the scene. I caught up with him to talk about his own work, running the FM airwaves, and the growing Lamoille County hip hop scene.

VTHH: Your catalog so far has one of the craziest quality control curves I've ever heard; your product has improved a lot in the past 12 months. Where were you learning to do that? Was it mostly self-taught?

Big Homie Wes: Self taught, but within the past year I’ve done more work with other Vermont hip-hop artists than ever before. Escaping from solely working on my own music has given me a lot of fresh ideas and some irreplaceable engineering/mixing experience.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time listening to my favorite albums and comparing them to my own music which has been heartbreaking at times, but helps me steer my sound towards higher quality mixes. 

VTHH: You seem kinda born for the role of A&R / executive producer. Do you see your role as developing everyone in the #STILTZgang circle? 

Big Homie Wes: In one way or another, definitely. I’ve had my hands on tracks both on Faded Vision from the homie Faded Flow that dropped last year, and The Missing Peace by DZY this year. “Sauce on Deck” just dropped this week, that’s a track featuring Colby STILTZ I orchestrated, which is only the tip of the iceberg.

My influence goes further than just #STILTZgang though, I really try to work with every artist that comes to my studio with the intention of creating the best music possible.

VTHH: What do you have cooking for solo material right now?

Big Homie Wes: This past month or so I’ve been working on honing in final mixes on a handful of songs that I’ve been working on since well before Presidential

I have a vision for a full length project, but I want it to be a big step so I’m planning carefully.

VTHH: Now that you're a DJ and tastemaker, what advice do you have for artists thirsty to get a spin? What do you look for in a single?

Big Homie Wes: I’ve had people send me a lot of awesome tracks so far, what I’ve really been looking for though is good mixes with dope lyrical content. 

It has to fit in the mix with classic hip-hop records we all know, and new rap songs. I’m open-minded though, and I’m all about giving local emcees exposure.

VTHH: Was radio important to your musical upbringing?

Big Homie Wes: Pandora Radio, yes. AM/FM, not so much. Any streaming service I’ve used has been more of a playlist but they’ve introduced me to a lot of the music I listen to or have even sampled. 

My motivation to become a radio DJ is more due to my passion for music, hip-hop/rap specifically, plus using the airwaves as a platform to promote the local scene. 

 With streaming and podcasts being such a huge trend, I’ve made a point of promoting my live link and recorded interviews too.

VTHH: The Lamoille County hip hop scene has been making real noise this year -- what do you think is driving that success?

Big Homie Wes: I believe a huge part of that success is artists focusing more heavily on branding. From social media presence, to networking with other artists outside of the area in turn building larger fan bases.

I’m excited to be bringing live hip-hop to Moogs on December 30th, because it’ll create an outlet for the scene here. Often artists in the Lamoille area travel out of state or to Burlington to perform, so it’ll be nice to have a local venue to collaborate with.

In 2019 my goal is to build relationships with more venue owners in the area to continue the momentum.

VTHH: What do you think the Mo-Vegas scene needs next in order to grow?

Big Homie Wes: Consistent hip-hop shows would be the big one on my mind. A local compilation mixtape series featuring artists from the area would be really cool to see, and could spotlight artists who otherwise aren’t plug’d in.

You can stream WJSC 90.7 FM right here. Enjoy.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: Fresh Tracks
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As winter sinks those fangs into us all, there’s been a lot heat coming out. This latest weekly roundup is a bit over-stuffed, but listen, it’s all quality produce. Make some time to take some time, and as ever, turn it up.

Ferragamo Face dropped his first new track in awhile, and naturally enough, it’s wall-to-wall flames. Unfuckwithable flows and he can kill a hook, too — hopefully this is the beginning of a new wave of material.

Here’s another recent flawless banger I missed: NOtation and Asah Mack trading bars over some glossy David Chief production. You can tell they had a blast making this and that counts for a lot in any genre. An album of this would be most appreciated. In the meantime, check out his Ego EP if you haven’t.

A new XP verse is always good news. “Can’t Help U” is a posse cut with two of his young proteges, Alpha and Prophet. Two young hungry artists trying to compete with a vet is a classic recipe, and it definitely works here.

I don’t know what the fuck is in the water down in Windsor, but damn. Too much talent out of one little down, this is getting ridiculous.

“Bossa” is a tasty, polished piece of jazzy boom-bap from THEN WHAt — hell, this would have been “Acid Jazz” two decades ago, and probably released on Ninja Tune, as well. The rapper/producer is currently locked in the lab completing his next LP as Selfish Presley, “No Sleep.”

Finally, Es-K is wrapping a busy & impressive 2018 with a new instrumental LP, Right On Time. He describes it as a collection of his factory seconds and abandoned demos, but it is very damn good just the same. I had this on repeat all day yesterday; it was the right decision.

Justin Boland
Shows, From Here to Christmas
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Tonight, Brooklyn legend Skyzoo will be rocking The Monkey House in Winooski along side an all-star lineup of 802 openers. It’s a big deal. You should go.

It’s also the beginning of a surprisingly busy December, and the rest of this week is especially packed. On Thursday, Dec. 6th, Sidebar will be hosting the Vermont Beat Cypher Vol. 2, which is another VMB Productions jam. The lineup is choice: Dokowala, Crusty Cuts, Flip Physics, Iman, Old Gold and Jarv — who will not be rapping. Learic, however, will. 9 pm. 21+. FREE SHOW.

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Friday, Dec. 7th marks the Grand Opening for AnteGallery, a graf supply store and the latest project from the tireless crew at Anthill Collective. This runs from 5-9 pm — come and celebrate with tons of new art, and DJ Kanga holding down the tables.

On Saturday Dec. 8th, the Swan Dojo team will host another party: their Showcase & Open House Fundraiser. Admission is by donation, and Swan Dojo is fundraising for a bigger, more ambitious 2019 — learn more here. They’ve been a serious asset to the hip hop community and they’re involved in far more than that.

Also Dec. 8th, but far from the 802, Judge Da Beast will be appearing at the Love And Loyalty Weekend 2018, a huge Lo-Life party in Miami that is being presided over by the great Thirstin Howl The 3rd. That’s a good look. Props.

Thursday Dec. 13th marks the debut edition of a new Hip Hop Open Mic at Drink, hosted by Colby Stiltz. More on that soon, but it’s a promising development with a highly qualified host. 18+. FREE SHOW.

Dec. 14th: Charlie Maynes Goodbye Party at Sidebar. Charlie Mayne, a/k/a Chyse Atkins, has already headed out west to seek inevitable fame & fortune. However, the Goodbye Party is apparently still on, and a Friday evening of hip hop at Sidebar is always worth checking out.

Dec. 15th: DJ Buttons and Jibba Ugly B-Day Bash at Sheri’s Place in Springfield. Following the success of Jibba “The Gent”s recent experiment doing a video shoot / concert / meet & greet with New Jersey beast Ren Thomas, the So.802 crew is looking to make it a monthly event. First up is a homestyle birthday party with an ugly sweater contest, and a killer lineup: Dilyrium and Brodie James of 656 Records (Maine, bud) will be performing alongside Selfish Presley and Causin’ Effect. A big Saturday night, in other words. 7-10 pm. FREE SHOW.

That same night, Mister Burns and Maiden Voyage will be rocking at The Snowshoe Lounge & Pub in Montgomery. $5 cover.

On Dec. 20th, 3rd Thursdays at The Monkey House will reconvene with the Joint Manipulation crew hosting. No word on the lineup yet, the rumors are … very interesting indeed. Stay tuned on this one.

The next night - Friday, Dec 21st - it’s time for Maiden Voyage at Windsor Station. Those five words are a reliable recipe for a great night, and they will not need much help packing the venue once again. If you know, you know.

That same evening, Omega Jade will be hosting and performing at HoliDaze, a mix of hip hop and comedy — adult comedy — at Nelly’s Pub & Grill in St. Albans. 9 pm. 21+. FREE SHOW.

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Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: The Week in Singles
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With Winter 2019 well and truly upon us, good music is more important than ever — from recreational to medicinal, you dig? You do. As ever, there’s plenty to choose from at the farm stand this week. What follows is a selection of local artisans and their hand-crafted folk art, all of which bangs at high volumes. Turn it up & let’s begin…

First up, get familiar with Jun Fargo, a hard-working future R&B visionary who rolls with Street Religion and the So.802 Records crew. His latest single, “Wish Upon A Star,” dropped just past midnight, which makes it even more impressive that his track has racked up over four thousand plays since last night. The co-star here is definitely the polished, expert production work from THEN WHAt — expect a lot more material from this winning team soon.

Truth of The Matter” is a throwback to classic projects like the 2000 Rawkus Records EP Hip Hop for Respect — that is, projects that should not have to exist, in a functional society. Rajnii and Omega Jade go in on this one. This is a detailed, searing deconstruction of police murders & American culture, with two of BTV’s bluntest poets swapping bars over a pumping Rico James blapper.

The next release on Equal Eyes Records will be a brand new Teece Luvv project, !PLEH. “My Head” is the first track and lead single — a throwback to the Motown Model of making LPs. I’m looking forward to this project, this cat just keeps improving and he’s getting a lot more confident with his sanging and vocal arrangements, too.

Finally, Yung Breeze has been on a warpath lately and it keeps on escalating. “Call It That” is a self-produced manifesto, urgent and honest and raw. Dude is a threat and he’s going big in 2019. Stay tuned.

Justin Boland
12/6: Vermont Beat Cypher Vol. 2 at Sidebar
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On Thursday, December 6th, VMB Productions is hosting another edition of the Vermont Beat Cypher. Just like the first installment, this is a top shelf affair, with a heavyweight lineup.

The showcase will feature Dokowala, who’s been having a breakout year, alongside DJ / producer / fixer Crusty Cuts, certified head Flip Physics, and … Jarv. He’s a monster emcee, but remember, he also produced everything on Jarvage Vol. 2. On top of that, there will be sets from Iman and Old Gold, both young talents with serious chops and growing catalogs.

With so many choice beatsmiths under one roof, they’re not gonna let just any rapper come do his shit, which is why Learic will be holding down a set. Once the night is over, there’s going to be a proper emcee cypher to close it out, too, so hungry indie cats should stick around.

9 pm show. 21+ FREE.

Justin Boland
Talking Shop with Es-K and Elder Orange
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In last week’s Roundup, I spotlighted a Flip Physics track on the latest Millennium Jazz compilation, Operation Six. Yet he’s not the only 802 producer in that distinguished lineup: Es-K also had a sunny burner, “Gsol,” in the mix. He cooked it up with an assist from Elder Orange, the singer / engineer / producer / multi-instrumentalist behind All My Friends Believe in Ghosts.

I took advantage of that connection for a quick conversation with both artists about living the dream of an actual career in music — the good, the bad and the boring. Enjoy.

VTHH: You're both experienced producers, and you've both already been through so much of the ups and downs artists inevitably face. In recent years, what's been helping you guys stay inspired and stay productive?

Elder Orange: My biggest motivator is keeping a steady supply of new music in the ear.  I don't really care about, "new to the world" music so much these days-- but really anything new to me regardless of era/genre has been wicked useful.  I think a lot about the endless expanse of recorded music that’s available to the public ear and how many of those records I haven't listened to or made connection with; it's exhausting, humbling but also super exciting.  Unearthing a new sound, song form, studio technique etc. that I can then apply to my own music or reverse engineer serves me not just from the "crate digging" side of the equation, but more generally just as a music appreciator. The more I listen/feed my head, the more there is to ingest; it's been a self-oscillating mechanism for the last year or so that I'm lucky enough to call the norm at this point.   

Es-K: This is a hard question for me to answer. I think the most simple, to the point answer I have is that it gives me purpose. Making music, completing projects, meeting new people, collaborating, etc — it all just excites me and gives me purpose.

VTHH: What advice do you have for producers looking to collaborate with instrumentalists -- and vice versa? Do you think there is a bare minimum "floor" of musical knowledge a producer should need first?

Es-K: My main advice would be to simply follow your gut. Trust your ear and reach out to people who you vibe with. A personal connection is definitely more important than any sort of music knowledge or skill set. It's also always important to remember that growth always happens outside our comfort zone, so don't ever hesitate to reach out to people who you may think are unaccessable, etc. 

Elder Orange: Yeah, be humble, be honest and just go for it. There is always going to be something new to learn, so why worry about the things you don't have in your wheel house yet? There are projects you might not be ready to take on, but how else will you know what your threshold is if you don't hit it? Ambition will always be in style. 

On the other more practical end of the spectrum I would def. say that knowing the names of the notes on a keyboard, and knowing how to tap out the basic meter/tempo of a tune are tools that will serve you for a lifetime and grow your vocabulary when collaborating with folks.   Is that information a prerequisite for any of it? Nah. But it sweetens the pot, and will make your life easier, open doors and make your projects more efficient.  

VTHH: What projects do you have on the horizon right now?

Es-K: I have a decent handful of stuff around the corner - 2x releases have been submitted and are just in the art and manufacturing stages. One is called Continuance (due out on Ninetofive Records late 2018 / early 2019) and includes a bunch of collaborations with new and old friends alike. The other is called ReCollection (due out on Cold Busted late 2018 / early 2019) and is very mellow, simple, and "lofi". Besides that, my main focuses in terms of projects I'm trying to finish have been a solo album I'm producing for Danny Whitney (local keyboardist extraordinaire), and an instrumental album I started with my dad last year (another amazing piano player).

On top of that, I have a bunch of singles and collaborations that I will be dropping once every 2/3 weeks moving forward. Expect more stuff on Millennium Jazz, Chillhop, Cold Busted, Ninetofive, Bucktown USA, and more. Beyond that, I have been preparing my first real "live" set in which I'll be actually playing my bass and performing parts of the songs live instead of just DJing my beats, hitting filters and delays and what not. Hopefully, that will be more exiting and be the beginning of me doing more live stuff.

Elder Orange: I've got a new solo Elder Orange record, Bricks in the Bathwater, that'll be out in the first quarter of 2019. Gonna be a ripper, bud. 

I'm producing/mixing an EP for a rapper from Island Pond -- Dan Briggs. He's a brilliant dude with a signature sound and a ton of ambition, guessing we'll move towards an official release whenever the snow is deepest in 2019.  

I just put out a new live record with a band I've been playing with for the last two years -- Tighten. It's an entirely improvised guitar/bass/drum trio format leaning hard on the dub/psych-surf end of the spectrum. The other dudes are insanely good — and I'm lucky enough to play bass along side; it's a lot of fun and keeps my fingers nimble. 

I co-own a recording studio/cooperative just outside of Bennington, VT called Akin Studios. I do a ton of engineering, production and mixing.  I'm in the mixing phase with one client, and in the throes of basic tracking with two others with full-length records. Less info to present here since I'm just the back-end guy, but I'll take busy over bored pretty much always.  

I'm also pretty much always in the throes of guitar/bass work for someone regardless of genre-- and always down to collaborate with others in need of quality samples and instrumentals (or just cause collaboration is good for the scene and soul.)  

Justin Boland
Extra Mile Cypher Vol. 1 - "No Hand Outs"

This a treat out of nowhere: the Extra Mile Cypher marks the return of standout new rapper Drive, who is debuting this as the first in a new series. The cypher is pretty much invitation-only, but he also invites people to send him your name and a link to your best song. That’s a good dude, right there.

He made some pretty wise invitations this time around. Things kick off with an intricate verse from Syncro, f/k/a Biozone, followed up by a tight sixteen from Drive. Then Yung Breeze steps it up notch with his usual effortless flow juggling, which leads into another Raw Deff gem — these guys have been batting .500 this year.

The timing for this is right. There’s been a lot of talk about doing a Grind Mode styled 802 cypher, especially after a number of locals made their Grind Mode debuts over the summer. (Props to Mister Burns, Jarv, Jibba “The Gent,” BL Spitz and Ciurleo.) Getting out there first is no guarantee, of course, and there’s plenty of competition ahead.

Which is good, and inevitable. We’ve got a record crop of qualified spitters in Vermont these days, and some professional music video teams as well. It’s a format that always works. Well, as long as you keep the quality control strong…and it’s safe to bet Drive will do exactly that. Props to him, and props to everyone else working on similar projects right now.

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For those trying to brainstorm a shortlist for their next video shoot, a few suggestions in no particular order: Asah Mack, Bitzzzzz, Dolla Day, DZY, Eyedos, Eugenyks, Freddie Losambe, Gruff Lion, IAME, Jazzy The Kid, Juni, Kin, Madscatta, Mavstar, Omega Jade, PreciseMC, Rivan C, Sed One, Teece Luv, The Marijuana Pot Man, and Zesty Boi.

In closing, the cypher I would like to see: Humble x Selfish Presley x Konflik x D.FRENCH over Crusty Cuts. Thanks in advance.

Justin Boland
12/5: Skyzoo at The Monkey House in Winooski
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VMB Productions is bringing a certified legend to Winooski on Wednesday, Dec. 5th: Brooklyn spitter Skyzoo will be bringing Landon Wordswell along for a night of hip hop that will almost definitely sell out the building.

There will also be a potent opening lineup to represent the 802. Jarv, Raw Deff, PreciseMC and Mavstar will be rocking sets alongside Mister Burns. This is gonna be a big one. Carpool and drive safe.

8 pm show. 18+. $12 adv / $15 door. Get Tickets Now.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: The Winter Produce Stand
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In these final few weeks of 2018, things are only accelerating as we lurch towards the singularity that is 2019. Next year is going to be insane, everywhere you turn, and our Green Mountain scene is no exception. What follows is a snack-sized selection of some strong recent releases.

First up, big props to BTV producer and longtime scene stalwart Flip Physics, who scored a spot on the latest Millennium Jazz compilation, Operation Six. Easy to hear why, too - “Rest Easy King Edward” is lush & perfectly executed stuff. If you dig this, the whole compilation is flames…and you can get it on limited edition vinyl, too.

When Tiger Fire Company No. 1 dropped their debut LP East Kingdom back in August, I was slept. Not gonna make that mistake again, bud. They’re keeping it moving with a brand-new followup album, northernplayalisticsubaruuglymusic. (If that seems like a weird title, ask an adult what it means.) It’s a much more aggressive and psychedelic ride, and there’s bars aplenty along the way. This is a hella promising crew.

After a hiatus, HLR’s Modest is finishing 2018 strong. He was the driving force behind the recent Mac Miller Memorial show this month across the river in Woodsville, NH. That neck of the woods doesn’t get much hip hop, but perhaps it should: they raised over two grand for Critters Crusade. He’s also dropped a new single. “Olympus” is some intense autobiography and a nicely crafted cut.

When Humble Among sent this single along, he told me “it’s funky and weird as usual,” and the man ain’t lying. Expect a lot more material, too, since he’s buzzing off a big show at the Stone Church in Brattleboro last Wednesday that featured a surprise appearance from Doc C of Rhythm Ruckus, in addition to a top notch lineup. Things are cooking down south.

Finally, a new beat from a new name: ALXXXNDXR is on that new “Fuck Vowels” wave and his song titles are nx excxptxxn: “$VBXR TXXTH RVTH” is a nicely menacing slab of death metal influenced trap mechanics. If you’re in the mood for that dark shit, friend, you’re in luck, because his whole catalog is worth a dive.

Justin Boland
Yung Breeze - "Sweeze"

A brand new single for Thanksgiving from Yung Breeze of Street Religion / So.802.Sweeze” is a damn catchy low-key banger built over a head-nodder from producer THEN WHAt. This is a strong showcase for his hook writing — and infinitely variable flow patterns. Happy Dopesgiving.

Also, if you managed to miss the dope interview we did Breeze last week, fix that now.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: DJ SVPPLY
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In the past few years, DJ SVPPLY has become ubiquitous — this young man is everywhere, or at least, everywhere in downtown Burlington. He’s got a great ear, a strong promo machine, and not surprisingly, a keen mind for the business side of what he loves to do. His enthusiasm is contagious, and our conversation is packed full of gems. Enjoy.

VTHH: Does being a bartender inform your perspective on DJ'ing? There must be some convergence between those two martial arts.

DJ SVPPLY: Bartending was hugely important in getting me to where I am as a DJ and I say this all the time.  First off, it gave me the connections within the industry to actually get booked (my first ever gig was at a bar I worked at).  By that same token, I made friends with the regulars at the bar and they were some of the first people to come out and see me play. 

I was successful in those first gigs because I knew the bar so well.  I got to watch other DJs and see what songs got the crowd excited and when people started to look at their phones or leave the dance floor.  I used to keep a pen and paper in my back pocket while I was working to write down songs that went over particularly well.

VTHH: Who were the DJ's you were looking up to when you got inspired & got started?

DJ SVPPLY: I am a huge fan of DJ AM, who showed me that you can be creative and tricky as a DJ but still entertain an average club audience.  He had great music selection and kept surprising the crowd over and over.  In my mind he was one of the greatest DJs of all time.  

Jazzy Jeff continues to inspire me with his outside-of-the-box sets and ability to keep up with new music.  He is absolutely a living legend.

Kid Capri had an impact on my DJing style with his extremely rapid-fire sets that shift from song to song at a moments notice.  Although I would never attempt the type of sets he does, I do like to move quickly from song to song at times (especially in a club atmosphere) and I’m a firm believer in the power of playing the intro or a specific part of a song to hits that most nostalgic part of the brain.

As far as turntablism DJs that I look up to, the people that come to mind right away are DJ Craze, J Espinosa, DJ ADMC, DJ Ease and DJ Trayze.  There are a lot more names though.. I’m a big fan of the growing instagram DJ culture where performers put together quick minute long sets.

VTHH: As someone with a lot of front line experience, what advice do you have for new artists looking to book and play shows? 

DJ SVPPLY: I recently saw a spoof article claiming that new survey results showed that actually DJing is the least important part of being a DJ.  Unfortunately, the comedy here is rooted in truth.  For me, networking has been the most important thing in getting booked in Burlington and elsewhere.  I can confidently say that every single gig I have ever played was due to knowing the right person (whether its a bartender, manager or booking person).   Once you get those first couple gigs you have to prove you have some chops or you won’t get booked again but without getting out of the bedroom to meet the people in the scene you won’t even get your shot.  I recommend starting to frequent the bars you want to play at and getting to know the staff and regulars.  Show that you are invested in their bar and not just looking for a quick buck (this will also help you get a head start on the drinking problem you will develop as you continue your dive into the nightlife industry).

The other thing that I’ve found to be particularly important is showing that you have some kind of following.  For me that meant bugging my friends over and over every week to come to my shows.  If you can get even 10 people in there it’s way more likely that the next random person walking by will pop in for a drink.  A busy bar makes the managers happy, and I think it’s no surprise that their bottom line weighs heavier than that dope transition you practiced all day.

That said, BE DOPE TOO!!  That’s how you get more followers and stop having to hit up your friends every week.

VTHH: I heard about MOVE B*TCH being a blast from friends in the NEK, so clearly that worked out well. Are you looking to make that into a series or a residency?

DJ SVPPLY: MOVE B*TCH WAS A SMASH!!  The next one on the books is New Years Eve at Metronome!  It looks like it will be happening again somewhat regularly but I’m not sure what I’m at liberty to say at this moment with no specific dates on the books.

I learned early that when all else fails you can just play 2000s hip hop and it’ll go over well (Burlington LOVES it and I do too).  It was no surprise to me that the place was busy but a line to church street was crazy to see. 

VTHH: We recently had a debate at the studio about whether college students or local, older professionals drive the demand for hip hop in Burlington. It was also proposed that BTV's growing & steady tourism population was clutch. What have you seen downtown in the past couple years? 

DJ SVPPLY: Partly because of the nature of the shows I put on, I am a firm believer in the importance of the college students.  The bread and butter of my schedule consists of weekly residencies.  Local, older professionals come out for a night here and there and tourists will always be in and out but nobody parties as frequently or as hard as the college students (and recent graduates).  When I do events like MOVE B*TCH (2000s hip hop) or Dilla Day (Celebration of J Dilla’s music) I am reaching a wider crowd of young professionals and college graduates who are interested in the theme.  

Unfortunately, I can only be so creative and I can’t do an elaborate theme for each of my 4-5 club dates a week.  That means I need to appeal to the people that come out because its a Wednesday, or because its a Friday and the college students can be counted on for that more than any other demographic.  I also just think its fun to play for that group.  They come to have a good time and keep up with new music usually even faster than I can.

Justin Boland
Catching up with Mavstar

BTV rapper Mavstar has a busy weekend ahead. Still hustling off the success of his Gangsta Trail Mix LP with Equal Eyes Records, he’s rocking back-to-back shows through the snow. First up, on Saturday the 17th, he’ll be appearing at Drink for Hip Hop Night with Wiki Good. That lineup includes dope new spitter Asah Mack alongside Mister Burns and Rycoon.

Then, on Sunday the 18th, he’s gathering another dope crew for Mavstar & Friends at Radio Bean. Colby Stiltz, Basic Brains and Freddie Losambe is an ideal package for a venue like Radio Bean — laid back, heartfelt, honest rap. Earlier this week, I sat down with the Czech Pilsner himself at Dobra Tea to discuss his place in the universe. What follows is a transcript.

VTHH: When I wrote about Gangsta Trail Mix back in September, I said you had "evolved into a whole new artist." Was that accurate or just some music critic wank?

Mavstar: Before I ever approached anything from an MC or a creator standpoint, I've always considered myself a connoisseur of good hip-hop, before I even ever picked up a pen.  I knew if this is something that I'm going to do, then I'm going to come full force and create the dopest music I can possibly come up with to share with the people.  When I came out with my first two joints, it was hard to fully manifest that potential because we all have to start somewhere, but Gangsta Trail Mix is exactly the album I wanted to put out in 2018.  While I can't say I'm not surprised by its success, it fully coincides with the trajectory I want to be going in right now as an artist and it's evidence that I haven't been asleep.

VTHH: The Meltdown came out in 2012, the summer before the world was going to end. What was the scene like back then? Who were you inspired by? 

Mavstar: Prior to recording The Meltdown, I was already good friends with Face One/Chris Morel, who had been putting out a steady stream of music for a while at the time, including the record with the Loose Crew cats out of Minneapolis.  He was essentially my mentor in hip-hop at the start, and we had a lot of conversations about the ins and outs of the craft. 

I was going through some dark times in the early 2010's, so he went out of his way to introduce me to a lot of his MC friends at the now defunct One Pepper Grill.  I think it was called Hot Fire Mondays- a DJ would play beats while MCs would have an old school cypher and pass the mic around.  That's where I meant Rajnii, Humble, Question, Aleck Woog, and a whole slew of other guys integral to the scene.  I didn't even know there was such a thing as the Burlington hip-hop scene prior to that, so that was definitely inspiring.  I also developed a friendly rivalry with guys like Basic Brains and Habit, who were hustling hard at the time, which was dope because we ended up doing songs together in the future. 

One night there were several homies invited to my man Mantone's spot on Manhattan drive- I had never stepped in front of a recording mic before.  For whatever reason I was encouraged to come equipped with a few verses written over industry beats.  I crushed my verses in one or two takes, and those songs are still on my Soundcloud today.  That was the jumpoff for getting started on the Meltdown album, and the rest is history.

VTHH: Were cyphers important to the development of your style? I ask because it seems like you're always up in ‘em.

Mavstar: Rap, as with any other creative pursuit, is something where you only get better with practice.  Sometimes sitting down and writing to an instrumental leads to having a blank page or coming up with a lot of bars you don't feel like using.  The thing with freestyle cyphers is that when you pick up that mic, you better be ready with something, anything, or you end up getting caught with your pants down and missing out on an opportunity to participate in the music. 

Sometimes the best approach to creativity is to force it out.  Just like lifting weights or practicing your musical scales, you're able to utilize that muscle memory when it really counts.

VTHH: Is it true that you have walk several vertical miles to a mountain shrine in order to get a guest verse from Humble?

Mavstar: Humble is an OG and I've always looked up to that guy and marveled at his freestyle prowess.  We've developed a friendship over the years, and he's always encouraged me to hone my craft.  Despite living in the prehistoric age of technology, he's an accessible dude if you get to know him.  He came through with one of the heaviest verses I've heard from him on that Dungeons and Dragons feature, which I took as a huge compliment.

VTHH: Where do you want to take your sound in 2019?

Mavstar: One thing I've noticed is that the instrumentals I use have a huge influence on the creative direction I take with my songs.  I'm heavily influenced by Wu-Tang Clan, Roc Marciano, Busta Rhymes, Canibus, and a lot of other New York cats, so if I can work with any producers that help me channel that energy, that would be dope.  I've primarily only worked with two producers, so I'm eager to experiment with more sounds to diversify my catalog.  Ultimately, I'd like to come out with more brain melting bars and diabolical rhyme schemes- maybe my style is more diverse than that, but that's what I want to do.  I'd also like to keep going heavy with live shows so I can continue to establish a loyal fan base.  

VTHH: What are the biggest lessons you've learned after playing approximately hella shows?

Mavstar: Everybody starts on the same playing field when it comes to playing live shows, and at the start, that playing field is humbling.  The money or the fame aren't going to come after a couple successful shows, and in fact, you better completely forget about the money and the fame if you want any chance at surviving in this sport. 

You have to be satisfied with very small indicators of success, and get used to that, because that's going to give you the fuel you need to keep going.  Anybody can be hot for a short period of time, but if you can keep at it for 5, 10, 15 years, that's the difference between the guys who only want to stick around for instant gratification and the guys who do this because they LOVE to do this, rain or shine.  We have to be warriors — we don't throw in the towel after just a couple fights.

Justin Boland
Catching up with Jibba "The Gent"
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This Saturday, Jibba “The Gent” will be doing something awesome in Springfield, VT: he’s throwing a concert / video shoot at Sheri’s Place. This promises to be very dope, both because of the lineup and because of the format. The video shoot is for Jibba’s exceptional recent single “Suite Tooth,” which features Raw Deff and New Jersey certified spitter Ren Thomas. (Mr. Thomas has been nice — just ask Pete Rock.)

Also performing: Wool See, Eyedos, and of course, Jibba “The Gent,” all hosted by partymaster DJ Buttons. Best of all, you get to enjoy all this sitting down in a New England diner having a civilized meal, since the $20 admission also covers your supper. Expect to see a lot of the 802 scene in the building representing. Also expect a cash bar.

What follows is a quick conversation with Jibba about the importance of community, friendship and one hell of a lot of hard work. Dig it.

VTHH: Making your video shoot into a proper show and serving food is an inspired idea. What has it been like pulling it all together so far?

Jibba: Kind of scary! It's new and a lot of people don't know what to think of it but, I have a great support system. All of my homies in Bad Cool-Aid (Vazy, Breeze, Raw Deff, Selfish Presley) are helping with the video aspect and Sheri's Place is my Moms’ Restaurant so that's a plus venue wise. DJ Buttons from Maine is also a close friend of mine and is going out of his way to host and blaze the music for us.

My home town community is pulling together and really supporting this idea as well, they are always amazing for me and very supportive of my ideas. It's part of the reason why so many of my ideas come to fruition and I'm still bringing hip hop artists to my small hometown.

VTHH: What are the best lessons you've learned from your previous video projects?

Jibba: Have a game plan. Planning is probably more important then the filming, without it I have wasted a lot of time trying to get things done. Have one main director to keep everybody involved in line. Take suggestions on the fly. Often times those are the best shots. Have fun with it, that will bleed through to the final production and make the viewer enjoy the music and visuals a lot more!

VTHH: Causin' Effect made a big-time return on that recent "Money" single -- is there going to be new material coming from you two?

Jibba: Well, we were headed to Vegas one summer in 2016 and we got lost along the way. It's possible there is some footage and audio recordings of our adventures, but we are still digging to find those files. Those were booze and drug infused times so we tended to hide these files and leave cryptic messages in their place. The hunt is on, and when we release what we find, it will be filled with Fear and Loathing.

VTHH: What's on the horizon for your solo work?

Jibba: Solo-wise, I still have a lot to release. I have singles stock piled and collabos that still haven’t dropped out there. I’ve been in the studio with producers Sky Splitter, Selfish Presley, Vazy and DAH Trump recently. Looking forward to spending more time with Colby Curtis (aka Flip Physics) and the fellas from Equals Eyes as well. You should see a steady stream of monthly or bi-monthly releases from me as time progresses I really need to get up with the Wombat as well.

It all goes down on Saturday, November 17th at Sheri’s Place in Springfield, VT. Doors open at 4 pm, things will wrap up by 10 pm. $20 admission includes a quality hot meal.

Justin Boland
TOMORROW: 3rd Thursdays at The Monkey House
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On Thursday, November 15th, the esteemed Anthill Collective will be convening once again at The Monkey House in Winooski for the latest installment of their 3rd Thursdays series. The goal has always been to build a platform for new artists, and — big picture — to help unify the 802 scene.

So it’s a milestone that the So.802 Studios crew will be headlining this time around. Symbolic, sure, but still a milestone. The lineup here is, to abuse a rasslin’ metaphor, basically the Four Horsemen of Southern Vermont rap — a super-team of seasoned vets.

Gringo Montega (f/k/a Vazy) has been running studios, hosting parties, and booking concerts for like a decade now. Yung Breeze has been repping Street Religion in style through a crushing mixtape run, and he’s putting the final touches on his debut LP. Raw Deff has been a monster for far longer than this website has existed. Selfish Presley, who got interviewed here last month, is another spooky talented student of the studio with a lot of solo work on the way.

(Side Note: that interview is now the #3 most popular post this website has ever seen, and is probably getting read by someone right now. That’s juice.)

So there’s a lot of hits between these four, a lot of bangers. There’s also a lot of other young talent on the bill, and that commitment to excellence is probably the key to the longevity of 3rd Thursdays.

Growing & cultivating a music scene is active-ass work. The many artist interviews collected here are a testament to the fact that indie artists connect with other indie artists at shows. This is a guiding principle, not a law of physics, but damn, it happens a lot.

Many of the younger artists playing tomorrow have been paying their dues already — it would be unfair to say, for instance, that Corty Booth or Stormyweather were making their “debut” in Winooski. Both of them have been hard-working soldiers in recent years, honing their sets and jumping on every opportunity they get.

On the same note, props to Rivan C and Real Ova Deceit, both of whom are taking the best approach a new artist can take: carving out their own lanes and distributing good, finished product. They may still be refining their own sound, but they sure don’t sound like anyone else, either. Expect dope sets.

As ever, the show kicks off at 9 pm with an open cypher, which should be especially popping this time. Somehow, all of this awesome music remains free.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Ash Diggs of DIGGS
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On Saturday, November 17th, young BTV funk-rap band DIGGS will be playing Nectars. They’re opening for the cosmic soul heavies Lady Moon & The Eclipse, part of an ongoing hot streak of packed local shows. The 802 has had a few rappers with backup bands in recent years — Lynguistic Civilians went through a few lineups, MC B-Free still rocks with his Ice Coast crew, and most recently Mister Burns has been gigging with The Hounds.

Still, a big-band unit like DIGGS is something new. They’ve only released demos so far, but their buzz is growing fast as they hone their sound one sweaty dancefloor at a time. I caught up with rapper / frontman Ash Diggs to talk shop about how DIGGS makes it all work.

VTHH: How does such an enormous band come together? What is the origin story, here?

Ash Diggs: I moved to Burlington September '17 and through some mutual friends met Dan Maurice. Dan was in a band whose time together was coming to an end, I really enjoyed their style and he immediately struck me as a supremely talented guy. Though I didn't have much of a musical background, I'd been writing songs for years and reached out to Dan about making some music together. While I would've considered just jamming with him a few times to be a success, Dan went into Nick Fury Forming The Avengers mode.

Having been around the scene for a while and hungry to build something unique in sound and scale, Dan began reaching out. One by one he reached out to high school friends, college friends, and even posted on Facebook for horn section members. By the end of this process we ended up with Zeb Carney (Bass, Guitar), Anna Kronk (Trumpet), Michael Gordon (Keys), Deb Kraft (Trombone), Austin Pine (Drums), Julia Spelman (Vocals), and Dan (Vocals, Lead Guitar) and myself (Vocals, Songwriter). Everyone in the group is incredibly talented and works their ass off and with a little bit of luck, all the puzzle pieces fit quite well.

VTHH: Does the whole team hash out arrangements together or is there a house composer in the crew?

Ash Diggs: Every song we perform as a group is created by the group. Basically, we build from the ground up with everyone present. If someone has a specific verse or riff they've been working on, we'll take that and each member will expand upon it. Otherwise, we'll often just begin playing something to loosen up and once that wave gets going we'll ride it for a while until finding something that everyone is really rocking with. From there I'll begin writing usually right there in the moment. It's a pretty organic and collaborative process, one that I think contributed to the bond this band has developed with each other. 

VTHH: When can we expect a proper debut project from DIGGS?

Ash Diggs: We've released two songs on our Soundcloud which were recorded at Pine Street Studios, but right now we're just focusing on playing as many shows as possible and writing better and better songs. Every new track feels better than the last, from lyrics to arrangement to execution, so we're not in a rush to put out a project when we're still scratching the surface of our potential. We haven't ruled out the possibility in any way, but we're constantly reaching a larger and larger audience with the sheer amount of shows we play, so we don't plan on slowing down any time soon. 

DIGGS will be playing Nectars on Saturday, November 17th. 9 pm show. $7. 21+

Justin Boland
TONIGHT: "Hip Hop Lamp Shop"
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Tonight at the Light Club Lamp Shop in Burlington, the Red Handed Records team will be hosting another quality rap show. The lineup this time around features Jarv, Princess Nostalgia, Zesty Boi and The GoonZ. (I don’t know anything about The GoonZ, but they damn well better be entertaining.)

This is going to be an All Ages show — increasingly rare for the Queen City — and admission is a mere $3. Big ups to Red Handed Records for the work they’re doing.

Justin Boland
Shows, From Here to December
 Photo from the 2018  Above The Radar  wall, courtesy of  Anthill Collective .

Photo from the 2018 Above The Radar wall, courtesy of Anthill Collective.

November is going to be absolutely packed. Things kick off immediately, too. Tomorrow night, there’s a very strong lineup at Charlie-O’s, with Konflik, Mister Burns and Mavstar in the house. A free feast in one of America’s best dive bars — you can’t beat that.

Unless you’re Jarv, of course. Folks further south should go check him out at Windsor Station that same Friday night. The show will be something special: he’s going to be performing his latest LP / mixtape, Jarvage Vol. 2, front to back.

The next night, he’s taking that same show to Sweet Melissa’s in Montpelier. Kinda rare for our normally quiet capital city to be getting this much hip hop in one weekend, so make the most of it.

Also on Saturday Night, there’s the Hip Hop Show at Spanky’s Dive, a DIY performance space and local arts hub in Springfield, VT. Or as Spanky himself puts it, a “BYOB Bar / Man Cave.” The line up is headlined by Jibba “The Gent” and Yung Breeze, in addition to performances by Humble Among, HatePH34R, and the impeccably named Sheet Eater.

The 3rd Thursdays Extravaganza is coming earlier than usual this month, since November started on a Thursday. So, on November 15th at The Monkey House, the Anthill Collective will once again convene the most important, longest-running hip hop showcase in the state. These are always dope, but this month’s edition is especially strong, headlined by the So.802 Records crew of Selfish Presley, Raw Deff, Yung Breeze, and Gringo Montega (f/k/a Vazy). There’s also a cast a new names: Rivan C, Corty Booth, Real Ova Deceit, Stormyweather and Syncro.

Closer downtown, you can catch Zesty Boi performing at Radio Bean that same Thursday night. He will be celebrating the release of his funky new LP, TINY ALLIGATORS.

The next night, catch Es-K at Half Lounge on Nov. 16th doing an early beat set as part of the Phases series, curated by the crew at Church Street DJs.

Saturday, November 17th will see events popping off all across the map. Let’s start down south, where there are two dope & interesting shows going down. First up, Jibba “The Gent” will be hosting a performance — and music video shoot! — at Sherri’s Place in Springfield, VT. The music video is for his recent banger, “Suite Tooth,” featuring Ren Thomas and Raw Deff, who will also be there. This is a very cool idea, and it all kicks off at 4 pm. Tickets are $20, and this includes a meal. Which is also a very cool idea.

Just over the border in Woodsville, NH, HLR will be hosting The Mac Miller Memorial Show, a tribute to the young talent who accidentally overdosed earlier this year. Obviously that has a lot of resonance in a state being torn up by the ongoing opioid / heroin epidemic. There will be a big roster of 802 talent paying tribute. All in all, sounds like a great night.

Finally, up in BTV, Drink is the place to be once again. The collective at Red Handed Records is hosting another hip hop night, this time featuring MA collective Wiki Good. Vermont will be well-represented, too. In addition to Mavstar and Mister Burns, you’ll get to catch Asah Mack and Rycoon, both talented young artists. It’s great to have a new promoter doing quality rap shows.

Moving on, Mavstar and Friends at Radio Bean should be an excellent Sunday evening. The lineup is top-notch: Freddie Losambe, who was just featured, will be performing along side local celeb Colby Stiltz. Not only that, but Basic Brains will making a return to the stage, too. His 2017 album Dunce Cap was superb, low-key headphone food and the dude has a smooth, refined style.

On Wednesday, Nov. 21st, Brattleboro will have a heavy lineup performing for the Thanksgiving Eve Hip Hop Showcase at the Stone Church, a gorgeous venue. Stresselbee, Eyedos, Humble Among, Subtex and Jarv will be in the building alongside MC Firebomb and Ar$enal. All Ages, too.

On Friday, Nov. 23, another edition of Omega Jade’s highly successful The Rhyme And Unreason Show will return to the Light Club Lamp Shop. Tarzan Jenkins and Rajnii with both be there, along with the utterly unfiltered mind of Eyedos, so this will be a hella memorable evening — come through.

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Finally, there’s a few notable events coming up on the horizon — and that horizon will be here very soon. First, on December 5th, VMB Productions is bringing legendary NYC lyricist Skyzoo to The Monkey House. That’s wild. Be there.

On December 30th, there’s going to be a big rap show in…Lamoille County. Yep, Mo-Vegas will be hosting a hip hop night at Moog’s Place. It’s going to be a STILTZgang affair, too. Expect Big Homie Wes, DZY, and Faded Flow — as well as Drive, Corty Booth, Ciurleo, The Big Scrilla, and of course, Colby Stiltz.

Last but not least, on January 11th of next year, 99 Neighbors is going to headline the ballroom at Higher Ground. As far as I know, that’s a first — no local rap act has ever done that. Let me know if I’m wrong.

Expect a lot more firsts from that crew in 2019. Expect a lot more everything, really: lots of other new acts are blowing up, extremely talented OG’s are making comebacks, almost every county in the state has their own mini-scene, and Equal Eyes Records has gone from startup to institution. Cheers to everyone putting in work.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: New Sounds, New Names
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Time once again to spotlight some new names here, artists who have been unduly slept on. This month we’ve got three talented young emcees growing serious catalogs, and one group from the NEK dropping their debut album…four months ago. Maybe a better name for this series would be “The Late Pass” — either way, let’s get to it.

First up, a new project from Freddie Losambe. “Safe Spaces” is charming and funky stuff. Losambe is a thoughtful and earnest writer. He’s deeply personal, endlessly creative, and very dope. He’s also been at it for awhile, so if you dig this, his whole catalog is worth diving into. His Year of Singles Project documents a lot of artistic and technical growth, and the Dismal EP was especially good headphone food.

Up next, Rivan C, a young man of many talents and an earnest practitioner of conscious rap. Not a lot of heads are citing both J. Cole and Gil Scott-Heron as influences these days — and not a lot of rappers have websites this nice, either. Clearly this cat is off to a good start. You can also check him out live on November 15th for 3rd Thursdays at the Monkey House in Winooski, which promises to be another great one.

Tiger Fire Company No. 1 is hella decent rap name, first of all. They’re a young crew from the NEK — the Vermont of Vermont, for anyone unfamiliar — and their debut, “East Kingdom,” is a tribute to those mountains. Tonally, it’s all over the place, but there is a lot of talent and promise on tap here. Props for putting Lyndon on the map, too.

Finally, let’s cruise over to Morrisville to check in with STILTZgang affiliate DZY. He dropped “Werewolf Stench” less than an hour after I finished up the roundup of Halloween projects, and it’s a pity, because this track is pretty hot, bud. DZY goes in here, and at some length, too. If you’re digging this, check out his recent EP, The Missing Peace. STILTZgang is shaping up to be a solid unit — props to Colby Stiltz for having the vision, but props especially to these young cats taking their craft seriously.

If you missed it, check out the New Sounds from October.

Justin Boland