OUTSIDE INFLUENCE: Cody Pope
Photo courtesy of  Jackie Spencer

Photo courtesy of Jackie Spencer

Cody Pope is a rapper from New Hampshire who has built himself a cult following through hard work and honest music. Tomorrow night, he’ll be coming through to rock 3rd Thursdays at The Monkey House in Winooski, a venerable hip hop showcase, along with a packed bill of local and national talent. While I’ve always liked what I heard from Pope, I never took a deep dive into his catalog until it was time to do this interview.

Turns out, Cody Pope has serious gravity and serious talent. In fact, I was so distracted by his catalog I almost didn’t finish this interview in time. Every project he makes has an urgent purpose, every song he releases is honed carefully. He took the time to answer some questions about his inspirations, his process and his goals.

VTHH: You have an admirably different approach to bars. Is it safe to say your raps are influenced by a lot of songwriters who never wrote raps?

Cody Pope: First off, thank you for the kind words. In an art form that is saturated with repetition, copycats, redundancy, and lack of effort, it means more than you know to have my lyricism recognized for its own standing ground.

I am absolutely influenced by writers far and wide outside of hip hop. Not even just songwriters but authors in general. Hip Hop is such a beautiful story telling format, if you have an honest story to tell, and can tell it in a way that connects to people opposed to alienating people. I’m heavily inspired by Henry Rollins throughout my life. In addition to that however I’ve gained a lot of perspective and insight into how I can express my life stories from people like Henry Miller, Shinichiro Watanabe, Kevin Smith, Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, and many more as I continue to delve into the history of those who inspired me.

VTHH: What was your introduction to hip hop? Were you sold immediately or did it take time?

Cody Pope: I was very fortunate as a kid when it came to discovering music because I have an older brother and older sister so I was introduced to a ton of music in my youth. My first personal hip hop experience however was ordering from a Columbia Mailing House thing where you pick the stamps and get a zillion CDs for free until your parents get screwed somehow later on. I picked a bunch of CDs including Jay-Z Vol 2 Hard Knock Life, and Blink 182. Those ended up being the first concerts I ever went to as well. Jay Z tour was unreal with how many legendary artists were on the bill, I didn’t even comprehend how legendary it was until I was years older.

Punk Rock and Hip Hop played very important parts of my life growing up, largely due in part to my circles of friends who were already active in music when I was in Junior High. I had friends that rapped incredibly and friends that had raw real punk bands speaking on real shit. It was driven into me that these art forms would follow me on my journey in life.

VTHH: So many of your projects have been tightly thematic -- does that start intentionally or just sort of happen organically? (Or both?)

Cody Pope: Oftentimes I will have an idea or a theme come into my head at a random point and I’ll log it in a note until the time is right. Usually I’ll end up making a song and something about the song will bring me back to one of those ideas and I’ll continue to build in honor of the feelings that made the original theme. I try to write my music like books or movies sometimes where you may not know everything that is gonna happen along the way, but you can dive in based on the theme, aesthetic, or feel of whatever is pulling you in to listen whether it’s artwork, album title, single you heard, etc.

I look at the works of people like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, and it’s so beautiful to me how each piece is so vastly different but they all hold a particularly stellar quality that brings you back to the creator. I hope as time continues that my voice and words will leave an undoubtably strong presence amongst music listeners to where it’s no question who made this song or scribed this story.

VTHH: Finally, most of the readers here are, of course, artists themselves. Having helped build a local scene off house parties and DIY options, what advice do you have for cats in rural circumstances trying to found something they can't find?

Cody Pope: My best advice is to create everything that doesn’t exist around you and connect with those better than you at your weaknesses. My city doesn’t have a vast music scene, so when I got into being a solo hip hop artist I was shooting in the dark often blindly hitting up show promoters and sometimes not getting shit in return. If I did get “lucky” I’d be driving 2-3 hours to play for 12 people and not get paid. Do enough of those however and people start to notice.

So eventually my impatience for the world and results drove me to start making it happen. I hosted art and music exhibitions in my apartment and invited artists whom I was just connecting w online and shit. We all forged a strong community for a while in doing house shows and what not and naturally that work gravitated into something bigger. From people seeing those shows we got asked to book venues, then we started trading shows state to state, then that network expanded so much we could tour multiple states. I counted one time a couple years ago for an EPK I was trying to make and I had already done like 500+ shows from 2013-2017. Some were for 10 people in EBF, some were for 500+ people opening for Pete Rock and CL Smooth.

You gotta make the most of the opportunity you get and make all of it count. My whole mentality is build it if you need it. After the shows we took that same energy and opened a recording studio, then we turned the studio into an artspace as well, then we started hosting more shows, eventually we started doing all our own industry style events like listening parties and pop up shops. We would see this online from like big industry rappers and what not, but nobody on our level was executing like this that we had a visual on.

Catch Cody Pope this Thursday at The Monkey House in Winooski, along with Jarv, Tru Klassik, Peso131, Sed One, Old Growth Souljourner, Corty Booth and North Carolina rapper / teacher C.Shreve. 9 pm show. 18+ $5. 21+ $3.

Justin Boland
Dealer's Choice: Pirate Radio
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For today’s Five Spot, some personal picks. The 802 has been busier than ever before, so there’s no shortage of new material to cover any given day.

First up, Rivan C is a promising young rapper prepping to release a new project, Teenage Apollo Vol. 2, which he describes as “a 90’s contemporary project with a theme of Greek mythology.” That’s definitely not an average rap album, and “Stupid Qpid” ain’t an average single, either. This is a funky, sexy hybrid of house and boom bap that sounds … well, very Es-K, because that’s exactly what it is. Eva Rawlings is doing top notch work on the hook, and Rivan C’s delivery and writing are both sharper than ever. This is a gem.

Freddie Losambe is just plain dope. Our interior lives are an eternal mystery, but from where I’m sitting, this young man excels at everything he does, and he does a great deal. A smart, thoughtful songwriter; a restless multi-instrumental musician; and a talented rapper who’s constantly evolving on the mic. “coldchill” is yet another creative, monumental banger, and motherfuckers need to stop sleeping on Freddie Losambe.

With the debut LP from Omega Jade just around the corner (October 25th on Equal Eyes Records) we’re getting the first taste: “Tricks of the Trade (Petty With a Purpose)” is scathing, honest and often hilarious. It’s also a slickly produced single and one of Omega Jade’s finest songs so far — which indicates her upcoming album, Wounded Healer, is going to be full of surprises. Stay tuned.

Camden Murphy is an artist out of Rhode Island who was introduced to me by Mertz, a rapper / producer / engineer who works at The Bridge Sound & Stage outside Boston. (He’s also a former / future Vermonter who’s been a huge help to me and quite a number of you, too.) As for Camden Murphy, he’s got a hit on his hands here — great message, great hook, great beat and his delivery is tailor suited. If you’re digging this, check out his recent project Island Boy.

Juicebox are a live hip hop band who made the transition from house parties and art openings to actual paying club gigs pretty damn fast. That’s probably because they’re a genuinely interesting outfit full of weirdos, something that Burlington audiences have appreciated ever since crackers first stole Lake Champlain from the natives. Their sound is heavy on jazz, their rhythm section can hold it down and keep it moving — that only sounds easy until you try it — and emcee Zesty Boi is either gonna make it or break it for you. Catch ‘em at Nectars next Wednesday (Oct. 23) and at Higher Ground on Oct. 31st, opening for The Commonheart.

This Five Spot is a half-dozen today, because Tha Truth dropped an oustanding single this past week, “Berst,” with a guest feature from Learic. It’s an absolutely perfect throwback vibe, courtesy of producer JCOE of Windor wrecking crew Maiden Voyage. We’ll have more news about his upcoming solo ventures soon. For now, though? Just turn this up and let it bang. Happy Monday.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: Give The Drummer Some
Photo :  SkySplitterInk  on the kit, courtesy of  Rico James Photography

Photo: SkySplitterInk on the kit, courtesy of Rico James Photography

For this week’s Roundup, it’s all about the producers. This is a mix of new names who deserve far more shine, and mandatory nods to some of the heavyweights who have helped sculpt our humble local scene into something far more serious in the past five years. This is all killer, no filler. Dig it.

First up, two producers that VTHH has legitimately slept on. Kurt Stewart has been at it for a minute, but he’s really distinguished himself in the past year, with a steady stream of strong singles and some dope contributions to the Vermont Hip Hop Collective’s occasional sample contests. Stylistically, his range his huge, and “relapse” is a gorgeous, chilled-out composition.

Coke Kalibay is devoted to big, loud, nasty slappers. His beats always bang, but what really caught my attention is his constant creativity on the melodic front -- dude has a gift. This is another cat who I first caught during a sample contest, and he’s been crazy consistent ever since. All in all, I think it’s time for more sample contests … and more on that soon.

Like many discerning heads around this wide world, I’m a David Chief fan. He has carved out a stadium-sized lane for himself and curated an incredibly talented circle of collaborators, too. “good evening (w/ soft eyez)” is a wild ride, as usual. Chief’s tracks are full of ideas, but he always nails the pocket, the feel, the vibe. These are unusually musical beats, and this cat just keeps improving. Long may he reign.

On the subject of musical masters at work, it’s only right that we turn to SkySplitterInk next. “Erfallte” is typically genre-confounding: is this classical trap? I’ll defer to the experts on that one -- all I know is that it’s dope and I like it. Behind the scenes, of course, the maestro is none other than SkyLab engineer Zach Crawford, who has had his paws on the boards for dozens of local projects in the past year. If you’re looking for a quality recording studio whose engineer understands hip hop? Get in touch with him.

“I can proudly say every song I’ve released I am in love with even to this day,” FATE recently said, and that’s a pretty plausible claim: his catalog is all gems. FATE is an engineer, and his use of VSTs and synth walls is architectural. His beats create space. They’re also heavily informed by the vocabulary of EDM, so some haters have claimed this ain’t entirely hip hop. People talk a lot, though. FATE stays focused on his art.

Es-K has a genuinely international fanbase and he’s working with some of his favorite rappers. It’s hard to imagine a simpler, more authoritative version of “Making It” as a hip hop producer in 2019. Talking about his “tireless work ethic” is an understatement. Saying he crafts some of the best beats the 802 will ever witness is redundant. Es-K is on a separate level now, like the jazz greats of old -- only competing with himself.

Finally, even though I had SKYWISE included in the last Roundup, he’s going in the mix again, because this cat is extremely talented and he’s about to become a lot more visible, too. He is sitting on hours of bangers nobody has heard yet and he’s got multiple album credits on the way this Fall. “Destined” is a beautiful, polished track.

Justin Boland
THE FIVE SPOT: Sed One of Boomslang
Photo :  Sed One  with the  Backline Collective  last year.

Photo: Sed One with the Backline Collective last year.

The Boomslang team have been anchors for hip hop in Montpelier. They’re party-rocking, they’re true-school, they’re high-energy — all that and more, for sure. But they’re also just plain good dudes, and you’d be hard pressed to find a single soul in this state who would speak sideways about producer JL or emcee Sed One.

So with an upcoming solo appearance at The Monkey House’s venerable 3rd Thursdays series, I reached out to my highly credentialed, dreadlocked friend for some local picks. As you might expect, he came through with gusto. Enjoy.

Learic & Es-k - Amen ft. Jarv

The whole Thought Instruments album is a masterpiece, but Amen stands out. Es-K provides the perfect soundscape, imbued with wild, almost tribal samples amidst a jungle of pulsating drums and textures. Nowhere is Rakim’s influence on Learic more apparent than on this track, as he roars into action and delivers 16 bars of fire that are equal parts sermon and lyrical workshop. Learic drops memorable lines faster than you can pick them up, requiring multiple listening sessions to soak it all in. Lines like “Howl like a werewolf reading Ginsberg/ I insert my pen into the mind of a listener/ I make a yell sound like a whisper / travel to hell and back to make a track feel crisper” showcases his deep knowledge, love, and dedication to the art form. Jarv picks up the flow in a seamless transition, spitting a dope verse that showcases his clever rhyme patterning, sense of humor, and ability to flow over any beat with ease and rock mics with the best of them.

Learic and Skysplitter - The Theorist

This album is a bold and expansive project that manages to fuse hip hop, theatre, and literature into a fresh and experimental sound that defies definitions and yet stays true to each of the different genres. Learic’s writing has never been tighter and more natural. The narrative is strong, the characters are believable, and the plot evolves in unexpected ways, guiding the listener through an unexpected tale of mystery and suspense. Skysplitter, as always, is razor sharp and the production is crisp. The beats are thematic and lush, providing the perfect soundtrack for the Learic’s poignant storytelling. The Theorist is my favorite track on the album for so many reasons, mostly because the sinister beat so perfectly showcases the genius of Learic’s vision and for the way the story explodes into clarity halfway through the song.

GOODWTHR - How It Used 2 Be (ft. DJ SKRUFF) produced by JL

“When you imagine back, life was so easy. It's why I teleport when I write, these flows please me.” Pro is one of my favorite MCs, so to hear him on a JL beat is an incredible treat. Pro slays on this track with that straightforward, no nonsense delivery that makes him such a prolific and potent MC. JL delivers a classic old school boom-bap head nodding banger that carries the entire track from start to finish. No surprise, but he definitely raised the bar on this one. Kin comes through with a fiery but fun and nostalgic verse, once again showing just how dope the Aztext family are. This track has been on repeat for weeks at my house for sure.

Old Growth Souljourner - Swing the Hammer

I first met Old Growth Souljourner at the Monkey House and was immediately impressed with his unorthodox reggae-infused flows, heady lyrics, and powerful stage presence. It wasn’t until months later, after we rocked a 30 minute freestyle set as a last minute opening act for Jahdan Blakkamoore, that we decided to combine forces. Old Growth, The Kung Fu Dreadlock, spits dope bars on Swing the Hammer and is an unstoppable force. Always dealing in his immediate reality, this track locks in on and illuminates the struggle to find meaning and purpose in the world. Old Growth and I are currently working on a number of tracks and will be unleashing them on the populace at the Monkey House on October 17th.

Boomslang - Grim Reaper ft. Champagne Dynasty

Grim Reaper was the result of a collaboration with Champagne Dynasty, one of my favorite bands of all time. Some songs write themselves, as if they were always there, just waiting for you to stumble upon them. A chance comment, overheard, provides the spark and the rest just falls into place. JL’s beat slays, Alexis Hurley on the hook and back up vocals destroys, and thanks to some additional and mysterious production assistance and inspiration we were able to craft one of the best Boomslang songs of all time. This group of musicians is my dream team, and working with them was such a gift. Although Boomslang hasn’t been playing many live shows, we are hard at work on another album and looking forward to dropping it next year. Maybe we’ll get Champagne Dynasty back for another track!

Justin Boland
THE FIVE SPOT: Fattie B of Belizbeha
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Our guest selector this week is none other than Fattie B, renaissance mammal. He’s obviously got a couple dozen other accomplishments he’s just as well known for, but this week, he’s “Fattie B of Belizbeha,” friends, because Belizbeha are celebrating their 25th Anniversary at Higher Ground this Saturday, October 5th. A lifelong DJ and natural-born selector, he was of course down to contribute a 5 Spot piece.

Now, since the man is used to letting the music speak for itself, the blurbs may be shorter than usual this week … but this mix absolutely slaps. Enjoy.

"Microphone Fiend" - Konflik

Konflik pays homage to the God MC, Rakim.   Best MC this state has ever known.  Period.

Restructured & mixed by @nasteeluvzyou

Recorded by @skysplitterink at The Sky Lab (BVT) 

"Give Up On Me" - Vader The Villin

Vader The Villin, aka Kolter Hodgson (formerly of Burlington and now in NYC). Super talented visual artist and musical genius.

Produced by Accent.

"Take My Money" - Smalltalker

Burlington-based band. Really love this.

"Naturally (feat. Fattie B.)” - PRO

Just love the vibe of this track and was so honored to be asked to spit on this buttery groove.

Produced by Rico James & ILLu. Cuts by Touchphonics, DJ Framework, E Train. Mixed & Mastered by Pro.

"BeeDoo (feat. Jennifer Hartswick)” - Fattie B.

My favorite track I've ever made with my favorite saaanger, JENNNNAY.

Recorded in 2003. Beat by Future Methods and Nastee.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: One Last BBQ
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This latest edition of the ROUNDUP column is…well, a whole mess of singles. Back to business as usual, in other words. Coverage here has been video-heavy lately — and that’s a good problem to have. I recall the dry years, many decades ago, when music videos were few and far between around these parts.

Since there’s a ton of material to catch up on, I can be selective, so this list is strictly hot shit, block party killers. Enjoy, and as ever, massive props to the creators & the fans.

Konflik getting serious in the studio again is good news for the human race. Especially since he’s doing that work with Nastee, a truly legendary hip hop producer (and engineer) who has been lacing hits for decades now. “Microphone Fiend,” for the benefit of younger readers who should know better, is a tribute to Rakim, one of the all-time greats. Both the re-fixed beat and his whirlwind verse are a tasteful homage … and a sign of the storm to come.

When Eyedos gets quiet, rappers should be concerned. He’s always going to keep coming back with even better material. Case in point: “Too Nuts,” an absolutely banging old-school track that Eyedos made — and got underground legend Copywrite to spit the opening verse on. Now, there’s tons of cheap jokes to be made, but Pete Nelson puts them all to sleep immediately. Features from big names are often phoned in, but Copy sounds like a hungry honey badger, and Eyedos matches it. This is a huge single.

Chyse Atkins is a top notch rapper, but he’s a multi-dimensional artist, too. His latest single, “no mistake,” is a sharp turn into live-band, slow-motion R&B, spiked with gospel and jazz, and he nails it, too. This is a compelling piece of work that sounds great at high volume past midnight. Clearly, Chyse has a lot of unexplored range and we’ve only seen the beginning for this young artist.

Jun Fargo x March Davis is a great combination. They’ve both been honing a studio-heavy brand of trap-pop, they’re both experienced songwriters who know where to put the right touches, and obviously, “Finesse” bangs. Fargo is melodically inventive but his writing is always rigorously sharp — that dude never deviates a single syllable. That’s craft. March Davis, as ever, is on some effortless mastery ish, cool, confident, breezy and still magnetic. This great combination should happen more often.

Meanwhile, let’s check in with Yung Breeze. He’s always got something new, and in this case, it’s a crushing, driving new posse cut, “Take You Out.” Those drums sizzle and so does the hook. Breeze levitates through the opening stretch, Raw Deff gets off some Def Comedy Jam punches, and D.FRENCH cleans up the inning like a boss. This is another 802 powerhouse that keeps improving every time we hear from them.

How about a total change of pace? HatePH34R is somewhere between Death Grips and Ministry, and if you played this at most BBQs, there would be problems, and fast. Still, as the asshole who savaged this guy’s debut EP back in ‘17, I was blown away by how much more confident and in control he is. I love to see artists prove me wrong, and this EP is definitely that.

Let us now return to rappin’-ass rap music. First up: a swinging, tightly produced Rex Rey remix for “Lights Out,” a cut off Pro’s masterful LP After Dinner Before Dawn that features Framework. The whole Loyalists / Aztext extended family is forming like Voltron these days. Rex Rey is the producer behind Framework’s new project, Windmills — and they do insane work. (Also check out the latest Good Wthr single, “How It Used 2 Be.”

Thought Instruments, the recent Learic & Es-K LP, just keeps providing new singles. “Feast or Famine” is typical Learic, a triple-layered extended metaphor, and the beat is a low-key Es-K smokeshow … the man knows how to do a slow burn. Part of the power of this album is how many singles work on their own, as urgent broadcasts from some pirate radio station, and this cut is lean & mean

One last note: SKYWISE has always been an elite producer/hermit and he’s been unusually busy in recent months. A fellow NEK representative, his style has always been a kaleidoscope of Western, psych-rock, boom-bap and soul influences. And this cut right here? Kind of nails a sweet spot between every single piece of that. What he’s got coming is even better.

Fire up that grill. Plug in that boombox. We are not surrendering to winter quite yet.

Justin Boland
Dealer's Choice: Boston's Finest
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Monday mornings are usually about THE FIVE SPOT, a feature where local artists pick some of their favorite local tracks. But, once in awhile, we’ll be short a feature, and that’s where Dealer’s Choice comes in: I’m just going to pick my own selections. Someone has to man the store.

This week, we’re taking a short bender around Boston. These are some of my favorite rap acts from a city that’s seen a real renaissance in the past five years.

STL GLD is a hip hop band that’s grown around the duo of rapper Moe Pope and producer The Arcitype. They play adventurous, intricate music, but it’s anchored in a musical sensibility that’s all funk. And jazz. Well, and a lot of wild-ass EDM. You never know where they’re going to hit you from next, but you know it will be a polished song, every time. If you get the chance to see this live, jump on it.

Codenine is simply a savage. Always in the pocket, always on point, and always selecting exquisite beats to beat up. His IX project is still in rotation fairly often. “Tommy Jean Jacket” is a $15 single that dropped on City Yard Music, a label / crew that’s behind many of these picks, centered around producer Grubby Pawz.

Estee Nack is a natural-born star, a human being perpetually set to 11. His solo projects and his collaborations have been relentlessly professional for years now. He is murder on both written verses and genuine, off-the-top freestyles. He’s one of the most reliable guest features in Boston, and while I don’t follow dude’s career, I do always check out a joint with his name involved. This is a smooth, funny video, and another Grubby Pawz production. 

“Steel Sharpens Steel” was one of my favorite Boston LPs in recent years. SPNDA’s flow is so impeccably original, and he’s got a cutting rap voice -- let’s say, Sadat X by way of El Da Sensei doing GZA. My point is that it’s very good, and even better, he’s a visual writer with a knack for both storytelling and self-reflection. He is a compelling host who can run an album on his own. It’s dope that “Hitchcock” got a visual, becuase that beat absolutely slams. That’s Grubby Pawz. Again.

Back when I ran a rap blog dedicated to pure, uncut slander, someone sent in a dusty, dirty black and white video for Avenue’s old jam “Ain’t Shit Funny.” It was far too dope to slander and I’ve been checking for his work ever since. His recent project with producer Deon Chase, “Nightfall,” was lush, cinematic street rap, on par with anything out of Detroit and Chicago. I’m guessing Avenue’s next move will be huge.

Justin Boland
656 Fest 2019: A Field Report
Photo: Jibba “The Gent” by  Cemetary Theater

Photo: Jibba “The Gent” by Cemetary Theater

Huge thanks to guest contributor Humble Among.

Day 1: Friday The 13th

A black cat ran in front of my car as I turned down Carson Hill Road in Harmony, Maine. The final stretch to 656 Fest Volume 2. A five hour drive from my home in Southern Vermont.

A year before, during Volume 1, I was coincidentally camping a mere 25 minutes from the festivities, completely unaware of what was going on just down the road. I spent that weekend last year in a KOA campground, smoking weed and listening to episodes of the Desus and Mero podcast. I could’ve been raging with the Vermont homies. For a year now, I’ve heard stories of rap music in the woods, networking and general debauchery. How did I let this slip my attention?

With redemption in mind, I pulled up to the sequel with a ticket provided by the accurately named Jibba “The Gent,” who was welcomed to the fold and given his ceremonial 656 Records chain last year by The 6 Don, Dylan “Kartoon” Ryan. Dylan and his crew planned and executed this festival and deserve major props.

I was directed to General Parking, which was located directly behind the stage. I can hear the familiar voice of controversial Juggalo podcaster Chuck Reeves, as it is the 4:20 Smoke Sesh. He is carnival barking for the crowd to partake in free dabs. This is far more than just a music festival. Over a half dozen different marijuana vendors on deck with a variety of goodies and gimmicks. (I came with the specific intention to buy THC infused lemonades.) I introduced myself to Chuck Reeves and took a dab with the aid of a rapper named Khing Kosher. (I am still a rookie at this dab shit.)

My Vermont Hip Hop brothers are filing in by this point. D. FRENCH and Kasidon of Street Religion are the first performances that I see. I am supposed to perform a song with my homie Ciurleo. He pulls up with a truck full. Modest, HLR Boss David Phair, and the homie Joe all in tow. Jibba, Vazy and Raw Deff all show up while Ciurleo is performing. Vibes are good.

After we are done performing, it’s time to get weird. I pop my trunk and make a drink. Vodka and red bull. I know, I’m an animal. I quickly down that and make another. Now it’s time to find that damn lemonade. 

Rezno and Nine Millz are on stage as I am on the hunt. I am on a mission. These vendors tend to intimidate me because I know they have all this super ganja science knowledge and I’m just over here like, “Is it good shit?” 

I get some food and have more drinks but can’t find any that are THC infused. Granted, I was feeling silly off the drink at this point and not investigating thoroughly. A lot of laughs with the VT homies are had.

Jibba “The Gent” takes the stage as the moon is rising. It’s a special blood/harvest/full moon combo. He performs what is hands down the best set I have ever seen from him. Vazy comes out for some Causin’ Effect action and they close with their new song “All Right”. We need that new Causin’ Effect album, boys.

Next, Grizzy Hendrix, who was sadly losing his voice but provided a very strong performance anyway. His content is conscious without being overbearing. I have to seek more of his work out. He also paints his face, giving the crowd their first taste of a Juggalo rapper (I don’t think Grizzy claims Juggalo). At one point, he jumped into the crowd and put his arm around me and we jumped up and down together while he rapped. It was adorable.

The Sewa Side Squad is a crew from MA that I have been hearing about for the past year. They put on an excellent and gritty hardcore rap show. While watching them perform, I came to the realization that I was on the same Grind Mode Cypher track with two of these dudes, Arichussettes and Putchewin Payne (pronounced “put-chew-in-pain”). The Squad brought out their frontman, Block McCloud, about halfway through their set and continued crushing. 

The Dirtball performed next. A former Kottonmouth King and mushroom enthusiast who has a very fast and super clean delivery. His performance was so tight that it seemed almost studio quality. I was very impressed.

Death metal frontman and one of the hardest working rappers in New England, Dilyrium, hit the stage with his hypeman, Tommie Trichomes. Both are 656 Records artists. They gave us a very high energy performance that has me looking out Dilyrium’s new album, which I hear was recorded and mixed by Block McCloud. 

To close out night one was Cash Money Records signee, Caskey. I was completely unfamiliar with his work but he quickly got my attention and had me dancing. He came out with his right arm in a sling and explained he broke it fighting a guy at the 7-11. He still managed to turn up, even holding the mic with his bad wing at times. Moshing in the crowd as well. I left quickly after he wrapped up his set. Back to the hotel to get some rest for my Grind Mode Cypher debut on Saturday.

Day 2: Saturday The 14th

L to R:  Aly K  live,  Humble Among  with  Gibby Stites .

L to R: Aly K live, Humble Among with Gibby Stites.

I arrived at Freedom Field a little before 1:30 PM. It was raining. It was almost as cold as the night before. A lot of people didn’t look prepared for the weather. One of the parking guys told me that he thought he was the only one of the staff to bring a poncho. (I saw at least one other poncho.) He directed me to an even sweeter parking spot in the first row behind the stage.

I went to the stage to watch MA rapper Aly K perform. I believe she was the only female on the entire bill and wanted to support her. She performed a vulnerable and graceful set in the rain and danced on the slippery stage. Her performance and balance impressed me.

Ciurleo appeared after Aly’s set, along with some of the VT homies. I found Grind Mode Cypher mastermind, Ryan “Lingo” Fletcher, and confirmed the filming location was under a shelter made of tree branches and a couple giant tarps. We walked over and I heard someone say “Gibby” and looked over to see a familiar name printed on a hat. 

“Are you Gibby Stites?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m Humble Among. Nice to meet you!”

Gibby Stites is a name I’ve been seeing around the Underground Hustlin’ Mixtape circles. We were both pretty shocked to find each other filming Grind Mode Cyphers together. Gibby is a super nice guy and a very talented rapper. It was great to meet and talk with him about Juggalo shit (I hardly ever get to do that) and non-Juggalo shit.

This was my first Grind Mode Cypher but not my first cypher taping. I’ve been part of two Unleash The Underground Cyphers and organized my own 420 Cypher this year. Grind Mode is different. They film with multiple cameras for maximum coverage. Standouts among the spitters included a tall hippie rapper named Treetop who had the word “cunt” written in sharpie above his left eye. (“My girlfriend wrote this because I was being a dick last night.”) The earlier mentioned Rezno came with a verse that had me shaking my head at how hard it was. Kudos to both of those gentlemen and everyone involved in the cyphers. A bunch of killers.

There were at least 5 (I suspect 6) Grind Mode Cyphers filmed at 656 Fest but I left to go get some drinks and take a piss. The rain had cleared up a bit and after a proper buzz was achieved, I decided to return to the hunt for THC Lemonade. 

I remembered that the night before, the homie Joe had brandished a bottle that looked like it might be the aforementioned juice beverage. I was too busy laughing at Raw Deff immediately snatching it from him and pocketing it. “That’s mine now.” (Of course he gave it back.) I was told Joe had taken a large dose of edibles. When I saw him next, he was walking up to us with a look of concern on his face. 

He said, “I shouldn’t have ate all of those...” 

I asked him which tent he got the juice from and, after a moment of measuring his options, he pointed to a red one and said: “the red one”.

I went over and, sure enough, they had them out in the open. I bought 10 of them and ran back to the car with my arms full, giggling like a fiend. I nursed two of them while taking occasional gulps of Ketel One, pacing myself. Vermont Hip Hop keeps it professional. 

L to R:  The Hate Street Dialogue , the lemonade secured.

L to R: The Hate Street Dialogue, the lemonade secured.

After a 4:20 dab contest (I regret not entering. The prize was a Championship Belt.), The Hate Street Dialogue took the stage. The East Coast Beast Host himself, Chuck Reeves, handpicked this group for the festival. They are 5 emcees with a very raw performance style reminiscent of $uicideboy$ and City Morgue but not derivative. When all 5 are hitting the same notes together in harmony, it is a magical, adrenaline fueled feeling. The Hate Street Dialogue had the best set of the fest for my money.

The Vermont contingent started to gather around the stage before Cognac Cousins even came out. Yung Breeze almost busted his ass walking out onto that still-slick-as-shit stage. He caught and corrected himself like any true winter worn Vermonter knows how to do. Raw Deff and Yung Breeze have some of the best chemistry I’ve ever seen on stage. They caught the attention of a lot of people. See them if you get the chance.

A rap battle happened and another Championship Belt was awarded. By this point the combination of drinks were definitely effecting me.

The sun sets and HVZE hits the stage. One of 656 Records’ strongest prospects, HVZE is a rapper after my own heart. He has a lot of dark themes in his music and horror movie clips in his videos. That’s my shit. I am hoping that he has a project coming real soon. Check the video for “Japan” here:

Majik Ninja artist Lex The Hex Master was next. Now the Juggalo contingent was in full effect. This was one of my favorite things about 656 Fest; watching the Wicked Shit/Juggalo crowd mix and interact with the Hip Hop/Backpacker crowd. I noticed Sista Hatchet handing out promo. (Sista Hatchet is a well known figure in the Juggalo world. Dressed as an evil nun, she hugs people at shows and spreads good vibes.) She came over and gave D. FRENCH and I each a hug.

Brodie James performed a set that saw many of his 656 brothers make guest appearances, including Kartoon himself, who dons the new 656 signee Boizee with a brand new “6” chain. A revamp of the old design. (Somewhere, Vazy is asking Jibba for his old one.) Brodie has one of the best albums in New England in 2019. They got the place moving and warmed up for Twiztid. 

Twiztid took a little while to come out. (Facepaint, I assume.) The only hiccup in an otherwise immaculately timed Festival lineup. Everything seemed to be on schedule. I have been a fan of Twiztid since their debut album, Mostasteless. This set is rare in that they were performing without their touring drummer, Drayven

Madrox and Monoxide Child took the stage and performed a mix of songs from all over their discography. I got to hear old school faves “Rock The Dead”, “Bagz” and “We Don’t Die”. Jamie Madrox summed it up by saying, “This place gives me Gathering vibes. It like it. I feel like I’m home and shit. I feel like its 4 o’clock in the morning in some corner of the woods.” 

Unfortunately, I had to get back to Vermont so I missed the 3rd day. I missed my Vermont homies Modest and the Four Horsemen; Sirhco Bangz, Fresh, Flex 45 and Just Cauz (who had the whole fest saying “Early”). 

L to R: The Fans Who Make It Happen.

L to R: The Fans Who Make It Happen.

656 Fest Volume 2 was an event that brought different kinds of people together and had no drama at all (that I saw). Everyone was kind and friendships were forged throughout the weekend. I got to see people “Whoop Whoop!” that I never thought I would even see at a Juggalo show. Seeing New England come together as a single rap family. 

Hashtag #656Fest2020 to help make next year happen, as it seems that the odds are not looking good. Kudos to Kartoon and everyone who volunteered. I know they worked very hard so that we could all have fun. Maybe we could bring it to Vermont next year? #Early

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: Late Pass Jukebox
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Two weeks back, I did the first ROUNDUP in months. Naturally, it fell far short of adequate. I’m already a dinosaur. So before we get back to covering that new new, here are four more quality local videos I missed. And one more that … well, let’s get to it when we get to it.

What follows is a testament to hard work.

First up, the latest visuals from Yungstar are on point, and his flow is sharp as ever. This cat is one of those natural born rapper types, and he’s going to keep turning heads as long as he keeps picking dope beats. Props to CEO and renaissance man Quebeats for directing another slick, low-budget masterpiece. This is a killer single with a big anthem feel, too.

Next up, we turn to Ciurleo, fresh off both an extended tour (August) and 656Fest (last weekend) and still dropping material faster than I can keep track. The THEN WHAt produced beat for “High School Shit” is gorgeous, just the right mix of washed-out keys and boom-bap drums. Despite the juvenile implications of that title, this track remains one of Ciurleo’s most personal, thoughtful songs to date. All in all, his recent output indicates that his upcoming Hunting Season project will be an interesting evolution.

Remember Vego Harris? He’s a creative director / hustler whose Youtube channel documents a relentless work ethic. He made the Ciurleo video you just saw, and he made this one, too: a perfectly down-home, straightforward visual for Omega Jade’s friendly, gently edgy stoner manifesto, “Let’s Chief.” This is every bit as fun and relaxed as the song it’s based on, and a solid business card for Omega Jade, one of 2019’s MVPs with huge plans for the year to come.

D.FRENCH’s video for “Soul Food” is a fast-moving throwback, 90’s as fuck. Which, of course, fits this particular song like a custom tuxedo. His recent project, Highest Lows, is full of tracks with heavy cinematic potential, so hopefully this is the first of many videos off that LP. You can catch D.FRENCH rocking at Nelly’s Pub & Grill in St. Albans this Saturday.

Finally, back when I covered the first two cyphers from ALL VERMONT EVERYTHING 2, I had completely forgotten there was a third installment on the way. That joint has finally arrived; another room full of hungry rappers, this time over a Rico James beat. I have some words.

Last time around, I said some stone cold brilliant shit about how “what was once a private ritual is now a very public template for reaching a bigger audience.” That template is very much “pay to play,” too, because these cyphers are a huge amount of time and labor to shoot and edit. I have no beef with that. To be clear, rappers should pay to play, to be on platforms like this.

But final product like ALL VERMONT EVERYTHING 2 PART 3 here is a cautionary tale about the risks of doing large, trust-based projects like these. As much as this website is all about supporting the scene, it’s also about being blunt. So.

D.FRENCH kicks things off with a well-paced opening verse — he starts simple and begins cutting into chopping schemes, and then really gets cooking. Then Fresh comes in. Fresh is an effortless rapper and his verse is a perfect counterpoint for what D.FRENCH just did, except: it sounds like it was recorded in the biggest bathroom in Las Vegas. Or maybe even Dubai. That reverb is turned up past 10, bud, outright slammed. Too wet, too hot.

But that distraction is nothing compared to Jay Blaze, who sounds like he recorded his 16 by rapping at a laptop mic. Or maybe the Voice Memo app on his phone? There are all kinds of ways to deliver sub-par final stems for a project, but all of them wind up the same way: you sound out of place. Like, “Max B recording hooks from prison” type out of place. It’s not a good look.

And as for why these two QC lapses happened? It doesn’t matter. That’s cold but that’s true. They happened and that’s it. My point here is about how once deposits are in, shoots are scheduled, and everyone is committed, The Show Must Go On.

But critiques don’t matter much, either. Fortunately. Everyone here had a blast doing the shoot and Mister Burns got some sniper punchlines off. There are more projects in the works for 2020 — and, more on that soon. Props to Unleash the Underground and Hustle & Loyalty Records for delivering another one for the record books.

Justin Boland
THE FIVE SPOT: Elias Green of Savvy Row
Special thanks to guest contributor   Elias Green  .

Special thanks to guest contributor Elias Green.

First coming into the Vermont rap scene, I had no idea how many people were out here grinding. It opened my eyes. I'd say even in the last year the whole Hip Hop scene itself has grown. More and more people get connected. More and more artists pop up. Vermont is slowly starting to form its own style, that’s for sure. Can't wait to see what the end of the year produces and what's to come next year!

"Ride" by Chyse has to be the hardest track put out this summer. Definitely a good jam to bump in the car with a sub! Captures that "badass" feel. Everything from the video to the beat itself is crisp and clean. Chyse's flow and wordplay in this track is flawless. If you haven't checked this song you’re missing out.

HAD to go with my man Colby Stiltz for his song "Slide Away." I'll tell you what, this guy is beast. His vibe all the time is super down to earth! The song, I think, captures that in itself. I've got a similar vibe to what he's got going and so I'm super eager to hear what he comes up with next! Also excited to work with him in the future #StiltzGang

First off CONGRATS TO 99 NEIGHBORS for getting signed!! Anyway, "Fake Pods" is another summer favorite of mine. These guys really know how to put a track together. The versatility they have and how they make it work is on point. This track displays just how talented these guys are!

Juni from the HellaFader family dropped a dope song with plenty of eye opening bars! I love the way this dude talks about real world problems, yet still finds a way to add some swagger to the mix. He's really been working on his craft that's for sure!

I had this song written almost a year and a half ago but didn't know what to do with it. Almost trashed it. Glad it didn't. Now yes, while I do talk about about weed in it, that's not the whole vibe of the song. I had a friend tell me one day, every time he listens to this song he takes one less bong rip. Funny, but to me that meant my song was a medicine. Like a prescription for happiness. Even if you don't smoke the song just captures the feeling of being happy and around welcoming company! Enjoy!

Justin Boland
Letters to the Editor, Sort Of
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It’s another beautiful day on the back porch. In the course of getting VTHH re-situated, one of the things I’ve had to catch up on was my own inbox. Which I have mostly ignored over the course of a beautiful summer I spent outside as much as possible. I’m not just old and grumpy: there was more correspondence to dig into than ever. 

Truly, for better or worse, the ‘scene’ is growing, and fast. Much of this correspondence is from artists, naturally, because nobody cares more about your career than, well, you. Many of these emails are also from fans, managers, journalists, and weirdo academic types. It’s been fun. If you have questions to ask, shoot here.

What follows is six questions worth answering in public. These are distilled from much longer emails. Some because they’re important questions, some because they’re so frequently asked. 

Why are most of the interviews not in the “Interviews” section?

Stupid, right? This is my go-to example for proving to people that my dumb-ass little website is not worth getting upset over. It’s a mess because I did a very poor job running this, and still do so today.

Most of the “GET FAMILIAR” content will be going up in the Interviews stack from now on, though. Links should be useful. I have a ton of new interview content on the way, so this bad habit will sort itself out.

In related news, the Music stack also needs a serious update, since that’s all mid-2018 vintage right now. Also, the Shows stack has been inconsistent. Overall, while VTHH undoubtedly exists, that is perhaps the best that can be said for it so far.

Are you looking for other writers for VTHH?

Yes and no. Yes, that would be great. Since launching the dot com, I’ve talked to a cool dozen people -- freelancers, other artists, college students, bloggers -- about writing for the site. So far, I’ve encouraged everyone who applied, and so far nobody’s sent me anything. 

I’m not surprised. After all, I’m asking people to work for free, here, and I can’t even pretend the traffic we get amounts to “exposure.” In theory, I’d love to have sharp young writers come onboard and contribute. In practice, I’ll have to pay them. And I should.

So no, I don’t want to deal with editing other writers when you, me and God all know I can barely edit myself. No, I am wary of aspiring “writers” because you motherfuckers can be exhausting. And no, I think any & all of you could do far better with your lives than contributing to … all this.

Ideally, though, I’d like to see you contribute and put that effort into something you own. Or, say, into signing up for the Big Heavy World blog and giving them more hip hop content. Or into DJ’ing a two hour set every week on a local radio station. My coverage here will never do justice to what’s going on. We need more voices. Thank you in advance.

Can I talk to you about sponsorships / advertisements for the site / brand?

As long as you’ll buy me dinner and you’re fine with me saying “No,” then yes, we should absolutely sit down and have that talk. Soon, too. But don’t be disappointed. I detest advertisements, and few sponsors with real value to add have much interest in allowing me to keep swearing & sharing unfiltered opinions here. And there’s no reason they should.

For the record, though, certain local breweries could absolutely change my mind about this.

Do you know that people think you’re an asshole?

Absolutely, and I’ve earned at least half of that. One of the big reasons I’d rather see young writers start their own projects and platforms is to improve the coverage. People treat me as an “authority” only because my name shows up on Google; and the purpose of my project is to help your names show up on Google, too.

I am lazy, stubborn, and often wrong. Unfortunately, I’m the only person so far willing to do this, so: cheers to you and yours, no matter what you think. May we all still be here this time next year to have the same arguments.

Are you interested in a re-design for the site?

I am not. This is simple, clean, and legible. I will never need this project to be anything else. I’ve had some really talented people offer this, for free, but there are better causes you could donate that sweat equity to. This will always be simple and this will always work.

I sent you a message about my new album. You never covered it and never replied. What gives?

I neglected you. I apologize. That’s my fault, not yours. It’s also going to happen a lot when you send people emails about your music, so make it a point to get used to that. I cover less than half of what comes out any given week. Variations on this email happen a lot.

I also get artists who ask me to interview them. That’s bold. I appreciate the assertiveness but … seldom ever jump on that. While I’m always behind on coverage, what I choose to cover is of course a matter of taste -- yours and mine. What I prioritize might be fake, wack or trash to you, especially when I am outright ignoring your work.

Take solace in this: you will be vindicated by time. When Savvy Row told me they were building a movement and a fanbase, I laughed, and I was wrong. They proved that. When Rico James told me he and ILLu were starting a real deal record label, I didn’t believe them. They proved me wrong. When Omega Jade told me she was going to fuck up the local scene on every front, wearing every hat, well … you get the picture here.

Like I’ve said before: make yourself unavoidable and you will start getting media mentions. Even if we’re six months late to the party. Get used to that, too.

Besides, who gives a fuck what music journalists think? BL Spitz has long called me a ‘culture vulture’ but the truth is far worse — we’re more like vampires. Don’t enable us, don’t trust us, and don’t invite us inside.

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Justin Boland
VIDEO: Learic & SkySplitterInk - Tranquil ft. Meighan Kelley
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Lifetimes ago back in April, emcee Learic and producer SkySplitterInk teamed up for The Theorist, an ambitious EP for Equal Eyes Records that was structured like a short film.

Not just thematically: it’s a seven song story, carefully told over bumping beats. It debuted along with a video for the first track, “Opening Credits,” which was more of a teaser than an opening chapter.

This week, the duo dropped that opening chapter, “Tranquil,” which kicks off an ambitious project. With help from DVP Cinematography lens pro Miles Goad, they’re going to gradually turn that musical journey into an actual movie.

“The long-term goal is to edit each video together to form a cohesive short film of the entire story,” Learic explains. “It is quite an endeavor, especially with the complexity and scope increasing with each video,” he says, but the team is not sweating it. “If we execute each video one at a time, we’ll get to where we need to be.”

“The rest of the chapters are going to stretch into next year,” SkySplitterInk says, confirming that “filming starts very soon for the third and fourth episodes.”

As intricate as this project was, both artists emphasize how easily it all came together. “It just really helped to be right in the studio during the whole process so that anything could be on the table,” says Learic, calling the result “a true fusion of music and lyrics.”

“This was definitely a fully SkyLab based project,” SkySplitter confirms, “from beats to writing and recording, all the way to final masters.” By necessity, they had the story plotted out in advance — and arranged musically. “We listened to each beat and what the mood seemed to be calling for,” Learic recalls, “and we came up with an outline.”

“We wrote the whole arc together,” says SkySplitter, “including plot points and events, before he ever started crafting lyrics.”

“It was like a puzzle of how to communicate that part of the story in the number of bars provided,” Learic adds.

As for what’s next, they’ve got broad horizons in mind. “We’ve talked about a possible sequel,” says Learic, “or even like a True Detective style project, with a similar feel in tone but with different characters.”

“Let’s just say both,” SkySplitter laughs, promising a whole other project, “a different sorta collab,” being developed in secret. This is a team that’s just getting started. Stay tuned.

Justin Boland
The Long, Crazy Weekend Ahead
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September is a beautiful month. It’s also the last gasp we get before a crushing winter, so it makes sense that every weekend would be packed from here to October. While the big story in Burlington this weekend is Grace Potter’s big bash, Grand Point North, there’s also some big (nay, huge) things going on for hip hop heads.

First up is Above The Radar, a graffitti art festival on the Burlington waterfront that’s grown into a huge success. Founded and facilitated by the tight-knit Anthill Collective crew, it’s a weekend-long, all-elements hip hop party that attracts world-class graf talent. There will also be celebrations downtown -- a Jump Off Party at Foam Brewers on Friday night and a less official party at Three Needs on Saturday.

You can stop through at 1 King Street at pretty much any point this weekend and see amazing art in progress, so make it a point to swing through whenever opportunity provides. You will be glad you did.

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Not to be outdone, the Heartless Entertainment team is throwing a party at City Hall with a strong lineup on Friday. Hip Hop Takes City Hall will kick off at 8 pm and runs until midnight, with sets from Kingcash, MF Millz, Spade Raw, R.O.D, Y-Dub, Yung Ace, Quebeats, Bitzzzzz, K. Prince, and of course, the brothers BL Spitz and Kingbread. From there, the posse will convene back at Club Metronome to celebrate the release of the new BL Spitz album, Mr. Credible.

In honor of the upcoming BL Spitz run for office, the preferred dress code is a business formal take on hip hop style, so make the man proud.

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Finally, up in Harmony, Maine, the epic 656 Fest will be hosting a packed weekend of acts from New England and beyond. This marks their second year and hot damn — for a regional, rural party, the 656 team went huge: Slaine, Caskey, Twiztid, Ces Cru, Termanology and Ren Thomas will all be playing. This is a serious festival.  

There’s also a heavy lineup of local talent playing: Jibba “The Gent,” who is signed to 656, will be rocking a spotlight set at 8 pm on Friday. He’ll be joined over the weekend by Kasidon, D.FRENCH, Ciurleo, Cognac Cousins, Modest and SirchoBangz. Props to everyone making the pilgrimage — not that they’re exactly roughing it. Sure, it’s in the woods, but there will be a ton of entertainment, and food, and all manner of unholy powerful marijuana products. Props to the 656 team for doing it right.

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Wherever you do it, however you do it, thank you for your support. Our artists depend on the fans. The scene is expanding because the fanbase is expanding: thank you all.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: The Fall 2019 Collection
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Catching up on the local scene used to be … well, a lot quicker, bud. Burlington has never been quite so full, and there are lil’ micro-scenes popping off in almost all 14 counties. (Is there Essex County hip hop? Shoot me a message if so.)

This is all very good. The sound spectrum in these mountains is more diverse than ever, and better still, most of these crews are extending their DIY hustle to include finding venues to promote their own shows.

The rap music business is like pro wrestling is most aspects, and here’s an important one: you have to constantly recruit new fans. Not just for your own crew — for rap music, period. You have to create an abundance of opportunities for younger heads to have their first proper Rap Show Experience. Some of those fans will become artists in their own right, and the circle of life continues.

So for today’s roundup, let’s take another look at some new names and some fresh local produce.

First up, KP K12, aka K Prince, has been improving like crazy in the past year. “Hard Work and Dedication” is his most focused, effective songwriting yet, tearing through a personal & heartfelt verse. In an era of opiate rap, it’s also dope to see a rap single that explicitly advocates working hard and living a good life. Befitting such a strong track, KP gave this the DVP Cinematography treatment. Miles Goad is a serious talent behind the lens, and as always, this looks fantastic.

FMG Mack has been crafting quality trap projects for awhile now, and he’s got it dialed in cold for “Dangerous,” his new single/video with prolific director Vego Harris. And check out those numbers — this puppy is about to break 60k views. He’s got a new project on the way, too: after Locally Worldwide drops next month, FMG Mack might have a whole new career on his hands. Stay tuned.

Elias Green is part of the Savvy Row crew, who have managed to make a lot of noise in 2019. They’ve built a real deal fanbase through passionate live shows and strong projects with an off-kilter sense of fun. Rapper Blaze Ryan snagged the Intercontinental Championship at VTHH SUMMERSLAM 2019, and they’ve got some big gigs coming up this fall. “Green Vibes,” a verdant video by Nick Plouffe, is an introduction to Green’s melodic, endearingly goofy style. Also, he smokes weed.

Marvelous Kevo has been busy and hungry in 2019, and this Quebeats directed video for “Millennium Magic” is one of his strongest efforts so far. A high energy video for a catchy track, everything here works. Kevo is another artist with a sharp learning curve, making huge strides in sound quality and songwriting. He’s always had a natural flow — and some cutting rhyme schemes in the mix, too — and he stays cooking in the studio, so 2020 should almost definitely be a breakout year for the Marvelous one.

Finally, we turn to Fresh, who recently dropped a dope, gritty video for the debut single off his forthcoming album, Dougie. “Time is Money” features Philly legend Reef The Lost Cauze, who gives it all on his guest verse here. That’s respect. The song itself is a dark, banging piece of work, with a beat that balances modern trap with throwback boom bap. If the rest of this album is polished as this single, that project could make some real waves on the East Coast.

Justin Boland
The Return of ALL VERMONT EVERYTHING
Photo:  Konflik , courtesy of   Brett North Photography  . Happy Birthday, Brett!

Photo: Konflik, courtesy of Brett North Photography. Happy Birthday, Brett!

The cypher circle has always been one of the foundations of emcee culture, but in the past decade, it’s also become a powerful promotional tool. Thanks largely to the global success of the Grind Mode brand, what was once a private ritual is now a very public template for reaching a bigger audience. Unleash The Underground is a cypher series run by CT rapper/hustler Jason “JYNX” Wrigley, and he’s put in an astonishing amount of work for the New England scene. For his Vermont expeditions, he’s been partnering with Hustle & Loyalty Records for groundwork and promo — another team that’s all about elbow grease and making moves.

In fact, when this whole crew convened at Babes Bar in Bethel at the end of July, it was actually for the second time this year — round one was back in March. That’s a testament to the explosion of the 802 scene in recent years: there’s just a shit-ton of talent these days. The latest cypher tracks feature a fair few familiar faces, but they also introduce a lot of that new blood. Let’s dig in.

First up is Vol. 18, which features Jibba “The Gent” rocking the feature verse over a wavy THEN WHAt banger. SirchoBangz kicks things off with a venomously on-point manifesto celebrating his long, busy year, and passes the mic off seamlessly to Just Cauz, who delivers the goods in style. These two have chemistry, and it’s because they’ve done work before — check out “Like Me” and “Whatchu Need,” both Vego Harris videos.

Up next is Kasidon, a recent Street Religion recruit, whose verse is all fire and grit. He hit the ground running this year: after dropping The Genesis Tape, he’s already wrapping up another mixtape, From Underneath — and working on a sequel to Genesis. Dude is hungry and he’s got a killer flow, so expect to hear his name a lot for the rest of 2019.

Certified pizza monster and tireless hustler Ciurleo crashes the party with a comedic 16 — dude is after your snacks, your girl and your grandma, so watch out, bud. Fresh off tour, he’s putting the finishing touches on his next project, Hunting Season, which is entirely produced by THEN WHAt, and there will be singles aplenty before then. The man truly never stops moving.

J Solo represents Green Mountain Boys Productions, an upstart crew outta Rutland who have been working (and networking) hard in 2019. He, too, has ambitions on your bloodline: “I’m just old enough to fuck your sister and your momma,” he raps, continuing the unofficial theme of this cypher. Boasts aside, he’s got bars for days and a great, original style. Much like the Savvy Row team up in BTV, this crew is a threat we have yet to see the full extent of.

Rycoon is making a return appearance here, and he left the elf ears at home this time. He’s continuing to hone his flow and his bars, and he’s still bringing that high energy style. Then Worpaint, a ginger wookie with an imposing mane, comes in with an off-kilter flow that leans heavy on pauses, which is a great damn way to grab the viewer’s attention when you’re rapping at the end of a long lineup. He’s an experienced vet and a recent transplant to the Green Mountains, who is, clearly, finding a home here.

Jibba “The Gent” bats last, in his full rap dad glory. Currently cranking on a new Causin’ Effect album with longtime friend & collaborator Vazy, “The Gent” is poised to be completely unavoidable for the rest of the year, and he serves notice here.

Speaking of Vazy, he’s the producer behind Vol. 19, which stars BTV legend — and one of Vermont’s best rappers of all time — Konflik. This second cypher is another mix of scene legends and new names, starting with Highh Def, who grabbed my attention with a killer single/video recently (check out “Floetic” if you missed it). Yung spitter Biozone makes his second UTU appearance (he was going by ‘Syncro’ way back then). Dude is a flow pattern technician and his verse here is all multisyllable schemes. Also, that ‘Thupreme’ shirt is dope and hilarious.

When Question The MC takes the stage, you know you’re dealing with a pro. His gravity is effortless, as ever, and he’s been quietly busy prepping a new round of material, including a solo LP and a project with rapper/farmer and freestyle legend Humble. G Da Louisville Slugger is another experienced pro with natural charisma: he’s been putting in work longer than most and he always entertains.

After two verses of grown man rap, things take a turn for the weird with the arrival of Humble Among, who beats the shit out of himself on camera and gets off some creepy, funny punchlines along the way. His style may be an acquired taste, but he’s also one of the most original voices in the 802, and he’s got a ton of new art on tap, including his Halloween Tape 2,which promises to be a minor masterpiece of horrorcore insanity.

Seeing Humble off the mountain is always a shock, but yet: there he is. His verse is an urgent third eye broadcast — “awareness is the antidote and care is the cure” — and that jacket is dope, too. It’s a perfect setup for Konflik’s closing verse, and, no surprises here, the man absolutely kills it. No said date, but Konflik has been working in the studio with Nastee for awhile now, so there is definitely something big on the way.

All in all, this was a dope potluck dinner and a great mix of voices and styles. Props to the creators & props to the hustlers.

Justin Boland
TONIGHT: Cypher Series w/ Chyse x David Chief
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Tonight in downtown Burlington, the Cypher Series is making a return — with one of the best rappers in the state headlining. Oh, and one of the best producers, too. This is a hot ticket.

The Cypher Series was originally a weekly event, and it was essentially a community service being run by rap dad (and business, man) Colby Stiltz. He’s been hustling in these mountains for a long time now, long enough to go through multiple re-brands, huge life changes and mentor one of the most promising young crews around, STILTZgang.

Once the time commitment of hosting those weekly shows started to burn him out, though, he wisely took a step back to re-strategize. The result: monthly Cyphers with top notch headliners, and much stronger turnouts, too. For September, the spooky talented Chyse will be doing a showcase set and lo-fi master David Chief will be playing beats all night.

As ever, anyone is welcome to show up and rock. Bring your own beats, or hop onboard for a high energy cypher. All in all, an entertaining Thursday night is yours for a paltry three bucks. You can’t beat that.

Justin Boland
Brett North's Birthday Bash @ Swan Dojo
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Brett North has become a fixture of the BTV music scene, both as a super-fan and as a tireless event photographer who’s been hugely improving his lens game along the way. Although he’s also a certified metal head, the 802 hip hop scene owes Brett a lot — I can’t even keep track of how many artists are using his photos these days.

With his birthday coming up, it’s only right to throw this young man a proper party. Swan Dojo will be hosting the celebration this Friday, September 6th. Since it’s a BYOB party (beer and wine only, mind) this is, of course, a 21+ event. But for the undisputed King of Long Island Ice Teas, how could it be any other way?

$5 at the door gets you in for a great lineup: Killa Twaun is headlining, alongside Saliyah, Omega Jade, Bitzzzzz, Four Horsemen, the GMB Productions crew, Mavstar, D.FRENCH, Daniel Laurent, and Bradford area workhorse Ciurleo. DJ Ron Stoppable will be holding down the decks all night.

It all gets started at 9pm sharp. Come and party with a local legend.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: Way Too Many Updates, Again
Photo by Shane Kaseta

Photo by Shane Kaseta

What can I say? It’s too beautiful outside. It’s also been an insanely busy two weeks for Vermont Hip Hop itself since the last post here, so my guilt has finally overcome my lust for life. What follows is a quick rundown of the 10,000 details that have been popping off since August got started.

The Big Story, of course, has been 99 Neighbors. This talented, motivated young crew got signed to Nice Work, a new imprint on Warner Records run by Chance the Rapper’s manager, Pat Corcoran. That’s a lot of names to drop, and they deserve every bit of it, including the Billboard article. They also played Lollapalooza last weekend — twice. They also dropped a brand new single/video to celebrate all this momentous achievement, “Fake Pods.” It’s really damn good, and funny, too.

Expect more music — and news — from 99 Neighbors soon. Meanwhile, you can catch them at Made in America, August 31st in Philly, and the Otis Mountain Get Down, September 6th in Elizabethtown, NY. Real place, I swear, and a great festival in a great location, too.

The team at Equal Eyes Records has stayed busy as hell. They’re a few days out from releasing one of their most anticipated projects so far, Thought Instruments, a collaboration LP between producer’s producer Es-K and emcee’s emcee Learic. I got to hear an advance copy and it exceeded my high expectations; this is one of the best 802 albums of 2019 so far. Drops August 9th, you can pre-order that puppy now.

There will be a proper album release party for Thought Instruments on Wednesday, August 21st at Orlando’s Bar and Lounge — located downtown at the former Magnolia Bistro, the restaurant that got 86’d for online mistakes last year. Konflik and Jarv will also be in the building so expect a wild-ass show. 9 pm show. $5 cover, $10 cover + album on CD. That’s a bargain, bud.

Equal Eyes also dropped a surprise single from rapper / producer / crooner / dapper golfer & tastemaker Teece Luvv. Check out “Breakdown,” a collaboration with Teeba of Harsh Armadillo. I have it on good authority there might be a new Teece project on the way, too.

Out in the hinterlands of the New England touring circuit, the latest VMB Productions crusade is going strong, night after night. The It’s All Fun And Games Tour features Mister Burns, Jarv, Dillon and Eyenine and while they’re in Brooklyn tonight, they’ll be making some more appearances here in the Green Mountains soon. First up, they’ll be rocking The Showshoe up in Montgomery, VT (great, great venue) on Saturday, August 10th, then hitting up legendary Montpelier dive bar Charlie O’s World Famous on Friday, August 16th.

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ArtsRiot landed a hell of a show: West Coast underground legends Hieroglyphics are on a reunion tour and they’ll be stopping through Burlington on Wednesday, August 28th. Tickets, understandably, are $25, but the show is All Ages. (There will also be local support from Mister Burns and Es-K.) Expect a memorable set and expect that to sell out soon.

In related underground legends news, New Jersey emcee and Outsidaz founding member Pacewon will be packing ‘em in at The Cellar. He’s got an unusually strong lineup of local openers, too: Mavstar, D.FRENCH, the Savvy Row crew and even St. Albans mic crushers Joint Manipulation. Pacewon is coming through as the headliner for the Fullblast Summer Tour 6, which has been ripping around the country with some 802 talent, like Fourth Degree and Fresh & Bangs paying dues on the road. Props to ‘em.

The party starts in about 48 hours, too: doors open this Thursday night at 9 pm. 18+, $10 adv, $15 door.

Up next: a short, on-point new video from Yung Breeze. Director Vego Harris never stops moving and neither does Breeze, so naturally this combination works every time. Breeze just dropped the (dope) Cognac Cousins mixtape with NH phenom Raw Deff, and he’s putting the final polish on his solo LP, Sophia Grace.

The Cognac Cousins duo have a big gig coming up next month: 656 Fest, a hip hop festival going down up in Maine from Sept. 14-16th. Headliners include Havoc of Mobb Deep & Big Noyd, Slaine, Termanology, and Millyz — which is a lot more than you’d expect from “a festival in Maine,” right? To top it all off, Juggalo favorites Twiztid will be doing a special drums-free stop on their summer. (For those somehow unfamiliar, they are the Phish heir apparent to the Grateful Dead sized subculture that the Insane Clown Posse has given mankind. In other words, a big deal.)

There will also be a lot of 802 talent representing that weekend: Jibba “The Gent,” D.FRENCH, Ciurleo, Modest and SIRCHOBANGZ. Props to the crew; there will probably be a whole Vermont compound at the campsite.

BTV beatsmith Flip Physics has been running an ongoing “Sample Challenge” style producer battle at the Vermont Hip Hop Artists Collective group. He keeps it going because he understands the value of competition, having honed his own chops in larger sample competitions.

Flip Physics took first place this week in the latest Vinyl Frontier Beat Battle, beating out fifty other entries with this carefully chopped, constantly moving wall of boom bap funk. Props to a master at work, and expect to hear a lot of singles with his name in the credits, both in VT and far beyond, as 2019 marches on.

Finally, an unexpected development: some dope, catchy country rap, outta nowhere. Highh Def (no typo) has a versatile flow, a surprisingly solid sanging voice, and love for his stepmom. This is an artist with a great deal of potential. The video itself is another Vego Harris guerrilla art production that really sells the material. He’s always looking to work and worth getting in touch with.

Justin Boland