I first heard D.FRENCH because he approached me looking for critical feedback. That almost never ends well, but he surprised me — dude was actually looking for critical feedback. That’s rare. While I wasn’t feeling the video he sent me (“2Fly2Lit”), it was impossible to miss the careful, seemingly effortless symmetry of his writing. As it turned out, D.FRENCH cooks up serious bars, and these days I’m a straight up fan.

I’m far from alone: D.FRENCH was one of the nominees this year for the Seven Daysies “Best Hip Hop Artist” category. (Remarkably, his brother Isaac French is a nominee for “Best Pop Artist or Group” — more on that in a minute.) It’s a been a long road to his forthcoming debut LP, Highest Lows, and this is a talk about St. Albans rap history, making time for music as a family man with a demanding career, and how to refine yourself as an artist.

VTHH: Do you remember when you first decided to be a rapper?

D.FRENCH: Real shit, I probably wrote my first rap as an attempt to be funny in class back in 5th or 6th grade.  I’ve been a part-time drummer since I was 6, and ever since I made the connection between rhythm & hip-hop to drumming & percussion, I started to mold what my ultimate musical focus would be.  I learned how to beat box back in 5th grade and that helped me with breath control and creating different sounds using my voice. 

Once I got to high school, I started studying the game and following my peers – word to Dolla Day and Eugenyks – and by 2006 I think I finally decided that I wanted to focus my expression and artwork into rapping.  My problem at that point was just life experience, I honestly didn’t have shit to say – so I just focused on writing and spitting in hopes that eventually, I would actually feel what I was putting onto wax.  Fast forward to 2011, I started releasing music under the name D.FRENCH and that was when it first started to click. 

VTHH: You've got a really diverse sound. Who do you consider influences on your style?

D.FRENCH: My family has had a huge influence on my sound because I first started making music with my little brother Isaac.  He’s always been into more of a pop and alternative style, so that has a big influence on my vibe in a lot of my songs.  We formed trio back in 2014 with a homie and we were performing acoustic covers of everything from Michael Jackson to Bob Marley to Snoop Dogg.   When I was coming out of a rough addiction after college, I even had a huge phase where I was only into 90’s Grunge music (haha) and that has always caused me to venture into some darker styles and sounds over the years. 

My core influences from a hip-hop standpoint are Wu-Tang, Outkast, and Biggie Smalls.  I always try to create songs that carry energy and diversity similar to those cats, because their shit is timeless, so I let my music be dictated by how I feel and that leads the way. 

VTHH: How much did your experience as a project manager shape your approach to making an album?

D.FRENCH: That’s actually a great question because I’ve always viewed my 9-5, which is commonly more of a 6-6, as a burden on my ability to create music and promote myself as an artist.  But about a year ago, when I was struggling with depression and finding motivation to even keep going with the music shit, I came to a realization that my job – the early mornings, thousands of e-mails, phone calls, vendors, subcontractors and clients has actually shaped my artwork much more than I ever gave it credit for.  Without the struggle and limited time that I have to create music, I don’t think I ever would have focused with such intensity and streamlined my process the way I needed to in order to get to where I am today. 

When I started working with SkySplitter last October, I realized that my time was going to be limited – so the second half of 2018 I really didn’t release any music.  Instead I wrote, and re-wrote, practiced flows and melodies, delivery and energy and when it came down to doing the sessions – I was so dialed in that the recording process became super smooth and all my energy was on the presentation and execution.  I’ve worked with a couple engineers who helped shape my sound into something I could use as a mold and it really allowed me to execute on my vision for Highest Lows in a way that made it all click.  Thankfully, my job gave me the endurance and the organization to pull it all together on week-nights and weekends. 

VTHH: Why do you think St. Albans has produced so much talent?

D.FRENCH: Firstly, huge shoutout to the A!  I was born and raised in St. Albans and from my earliest memories of the music scene around here, there was always a unity between artists.  Dolla Day introduced me to Jeremy Graziano back in 2006, who was paving the way for real rap well before then, and he provided an outlet for mad cats to get early access to a group of talented artists and professional studio spaces to learn the craft from the jump. 

St. Albans has a nice mix of artists with diverse backgrounds – and when we all came together in the early 2000’s we fed off each other in a huge way.  Joint Manipulation were mentors to me and my homies when we started, just as Graz was to them, and we had to come together as a wave just to make noise in such a rural area.  I would say that was a huge factor in kicking off a lot of the artists who really carved their own sounds and lanes to this day. 

From a producer standpoint, Dokowala, Hardy White, Solution, Instinct and a bunch of other cats have been dedicated and spent thousands of hours learning how to express their personality through music.  Shoutout to all the artists in the Saint who have stuck with it and leveled up! 

VTHH: Finally — do you have any hard-won advice for other artists trying to balance a career, a family and your art?

D.FRENCH: My advice on that, and take it with a grain because I’m still practicing this on the daily, is to make sure the balance is built into the grind. In the past I’ve focused all my energy on work, or family, or music in spurts and I’ve realized over time that you end up playing catch up on the backend, which counteracts the hustle. Maximize your days in a healthy manner so you can execute on work, family and your art every day, and if something takes precedence you adapt and know that your goal in the end is the sum of it all. Peace!

Justin Boland
Humble - Sin Permiso
Photo courtesy of  Rico James .

Photo courtesy of Rico James.

Humble is a real deal farmer and mountain man, so when he drops something new, it is always a surprise. His latest transmission is Sin Permiso, a seven song set of, well, classic Humble. This is dense lyricism, delivered at an almost deadpan pace, over some ethereal, spaced-out boom bap. Dude has his formula down.

That formula is still recorded at home, but Sin Permiso sounds better than his last project with Old Gold, and more like his 2017 album Premonition, which balanced the demo grit with cleaner mixes. I had Premonition on my best-of list of 2017, but 2018’s Humble x Old Gold was up against heavy competition during a breakout year for the Vermont hip hop scene. Humble doesn’t care about any of that.

Rap kids today have probably never heard Living Legends, a West Coast indie crew who built a global rep slanging cassette tapes out of their backpacks. (Really.) They’ve always been central to my understanding of Humble’s work -- he’s like a Rasta version of The Grouch, but with far better writing. Remember, I’m not saying these cats were an influence on Humble, and in fact, he’s way more true school than “indie rapper.”

So for casual listeners, opening track “Forge” is the crucible where you decide whether or not this whole aesthetic is for you. It’s definitely the slowest track here -- he launches into double-time bars a track later on “Akhenaten” -- but his sly wordplay and recursive writing style are in full effect.

“Hypatia” is a reprise of Humble’s best bars, especially “I am America.” It’s a detailed and blazingly fast meditation on the divine feminine. It’s also Humble flossing his knowledge of history -- you’ve gotta be an educated monkey to catch this one. He follows that up with “Peas,” a goofy, funky tribute to good food. (And Annie’s Mac and Cheese.)

“Face It” is about a dozen songs at once, but it’s fundamentally an invitation to co-create reality. This cut is Humble at his very best, weaving references and puns and mixing metaphors to potent effect. And if you’re high? Buddy, put that shit on repeat until you can catch all the nuances here.

Sin Permiso wraps with the left-right combo of “Never Confined” and “Beacon.” Both are earnest, hopeful tracks over huge, ambient beats. I cannot help but take them as a two-part manifesto, covering Humble’s green anarchist aesthetic and his recognition that withdrawing from Babylon is not nearly enough to actually fight against it.

I’m into it. This was a good dose. It’s great to see a gifted writer still questioning himself, even when he is at his most comfortable with the pen. It’s also great simply to see new material from Humble, one of the most Vermont talents in Vermont. Recommended for old fans and new listeners alike.

Justin Boland
NEW: Juni and KISH4WN - The Astral Project

After a lot of hype — and mixing — Juni and KISH4WN of Hellafader have dropped their debut LP, The Astral Project. It’s a wild ride: melodic, psychedelic and distinctly different. I described this to a friend last night as “Like if Bone Thugz N Harmony smoked DMT instead.” In reality, though, this album is packed full of weed references, so maybe time is a flat circle, after all.

Back when I interviewed Juni here in February, this project was an EP, and it was right around the corner. The album has clearly benefited from the extra studio time. These are extremely polished, intricate tracks, and the SkySplitterInk mixes bang in high fidelity.

The Astral Project is so cohesive that it’s genuinely hard to suss out a favorite track or an obvious single. The transitions here are smooth and the sound is very consistent, aside from “Inner Demons,” but that’s more like extra spice than a missed step — despite the harder edge, that track definitely belongs here.

I’m looking forward to more material from Hellafader. They’re carving out their own aesthetic, they’re making careful moves, and they’re weird as all hell, too.

(For the artists reading this: take more time. Let your work marinate. It will only be stronger for your efforts. And besides, the gaping maw of Bored People Online is going to forget about you by next week no matter what, so why not hit them with your best possible work?)

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: Summer Radio Jams, Bro

Yesterday, I posted a whole ROUNDUP that was out-of-state artists. So it’s only right I fix that today, with a proper look at some recent singles and collaborations from the native population. 2019 has been crazy busy. The quality control is improving sharply for dozens & dozens of local heads, so competition for attention — and fans in a state with 600k people — is going to be intense by New Years.

First up, Sircho Bangz hustles hard & does real work, and I have definitely slept on giving him due coverage here. His latest, “Ain’t Ready For It,” showcases the high-energy, party-friendly style that’s been winning him a growing fanbase through live shows. (You’ll find that’s a real repeating pattern for successful artists in this music game.) His bars are nimble and his goals are big.

Another contender is Alpha, who is — I shit you not — the actual ninja protege of Windsor rap legend XP. (All Hail The Heavyweight Champion.) And it shows, too. His opening verse here is a calm, confident performance, and this is a seriously knocking beat. ”Art of War” also features Yung Breeze, who of course raps his ass off.

Yung Breeze never stops doing that, either. He also runs a regular FB Live music show, #TheNewRadio. Does he sleep? I could fill up the rest of this post with about half of his recent work, but if I had to pick, Breeze going off alongside St. Albans representative D. FRENCH is bippin’ as fuck. Two of my personal favorites, right here.

Speaking of St. A, Eugenyks of Joint Manipulation has been busy with Bourbon Legends, his new supergroup alongside Eyedos of JynxINC, one of the hardest workers in our scene for years now, and Hoarsehed of Epidemiks. “Family Recipe” is a dope throwback piece. Props to the team. If you’re digging this, check out their other recent single, “Tell-Tale Dark.”

These is no such thing as too much SkySplitterInk. “Aquarious Needles” was a recent submission of his for the regular Sample Challenge that Flip Physics helps run over at the Vermont Hip Hop Artists Collective, a Facebook group that is more or less exactly that. As ever, SkySplitterInk is doing full-blown compositions and this was a cool little short film.

MC Firebomb’s “Float On” is juvenile, profane, and well-written. It’s also downright funky, and shifting feels mid-track will never fail to earn you bonus points. He will be performing this Saturday, June 22nd at the “Freak Power Presents Summer Solstice Social” which sounds, well, Extremely Fucking Vermont. I dig it. The bill is packed with good local rap, too. BYOB & $10 door.

In closing, Omega Jade and Rico James made a track about weed and I was clearly asleep at the wheel, because somehow this never got covered here. Today is about atonement, bro. Atonement and sweet, sweet summer jams, bro.

Big thanks to the creators. Have the best summer you can.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: 3rd Thursdays at The Monkey House

3rd Thursdays has been a bedrock fixture of the 802 scene for years now. It’s a monthly rap showcase at The Monkey House in Winooski, hosted by The Anthill Collective. They’re a graf crew who do fantastic mural work -- and community building. A big part of why 3rd Thursdays keeps improving is their reputation and their network.

Even by their high standards, though, the lineup for the 20th is insane, a jambalaya collection of artists from all over New England. Many of them will be much bigger names in 2020. So for the first ROUNDUP of the summer, let’s take a listen to a few of these cats.

Brooklyn-based Deuce Ellis is a fountain of pure creativity, a rapper, a singer and a polished producer. He’s also got a mercurial style and a huge musical vocabulary, so there’s no telling what kind of set he will bring. That’s a good thing. So while it’s hard to nail down a “classic Deuce” single to sum up his sound, I’m definitely a sucker for an Aloe Blacc feature. Spend some time with his Soundcloud — you won’t regret it.

Portland, Maine artist Graphic Melee is another multi-talented threat — rapper, producer, engineer and house DJ for Monday of the Minds, another hip hop showcase that’s a vital part of the New England hip hop circuit. His style is raw, dark, and as far as this reviewer is concerned, dope as hell. The man will be performing cuts from his upcoming album, which drops July 17th.

Drent hails from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and he’s just released a new project, SHARDS || MIDNIGHT MOORING. He’s part of the ILLWORDS crew, and his bio says “SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS HIP HOP” so expect music with a caps lock message.

Peace Out Pat is an affable weirdo from Maine whose music is … well, a mix of Rob Sonic and Mike Doughty, which is a pretty great combination. He’s also a sharp writer with a sardonic sense of humor, and his catalog is a hot mess — in a good way. Expect a wild set.

Finally, aLunarLanding is another Portland, Maine emcee whose recent EP Notes From the Corner of the Room was a genuinely interesting project. Expect dope beats and lyrics worth listening to.

Again, 3rd Thursdays at The Monkey House is tonight in Winooski. 9 pm show, early cypher, 21+ free and a three dollar cover for anyone in that awkward “18+” demographic.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Blaze Ryan of Savvy Row
Photo courtesy of  Patricia Bubis

Photo courtesy of Patricia Bubis

Blaze Ryan is fast-rising emcee from the Savvy Row crew, who have been building a rep off house parties, underground shows and a strong Soundcloud presence. Ryan is also the VTHH 2019 SUMMERSLAM Intercontinental Champion, a pretty clear signal that his fanbase is growing and his name will be getting harder to miss. He took the time on a busy Wednesday to talk shop about his crew and his goals.

VTHH: What was your first introduction to hip hop -- or at least, rap music?

Blaze Ryan: I was born into the Eminem era where he basically dominated the genre so that was my first exposure to rap but I really didn’t start to appreciate/fall in love with it until I dove into Run-DMC’s catalog when I was around 4 or 5. From there I really fell down the rabbit hole.

VTHH: Who were your biggest influences from there?

Blaze Ryan: Without a doubt, Mac Miller had the biggest influence on me and still does to this day. There have been others who have influenced me such as Kanye, Wayne, OutKast, Cudi, Big L, Biggie, and even a lot of rock bands. None of them had as much of an impact on my life as Mac did, though. That’s a loss that I’ll feel for the rest of my life.

VTHH: Did you grow up in BTV?

Blaze Ryan: No, I was born in Queens, New York and grew up in Long Island. I moved to Vermont when I was about 10 or so.

VTHH: Do you feel like Vermont is open & welcoming to new talent?

Blaze Ryan: I feel like Vermont is unique because of its acceptance for anyone expressing themselves through art. It’s a great environment to hone your craft and spread your talent because the majority of people can appreciate and respect the energy, time, and effort that goes into doing so.

VTHH: How did the Savvy Row team come together?

Blaze Ryan: I had been working with JustBobby for a few months and I had been recording some demos for what would become a rough draft of Demons early last summer. Bob approached me about another young artist (Elias Green) who he had been working with and thought that our three styles together would mesh well. After one lunch meeting with Elias, I was also convinced.

We’ve grown and added some members since, but the root of what makes Savvy work is that we all have different styles while also being willing and able to collaborate to put them together.

VTHH: As a collective, are you guys consciously following a blueprint or just seeing what happens?

Blaze Ryan: In terms of our music, we really have an “anything goes” approach where we are all just down to trying any ideas and seeing what happens. As far as our long term plans for our future as a group and where we want our music to take us, we all have a clear view or “blueprint”  of how we want our brand/sound to be formed.

VTHH: After a deeply personal project like Demons, what are you looking to do next?

Blaze Ryan: SavvyRow is currently working on its debut collaborative project so I’ve been focusing most of my attention on that, but that being said, I’m always writing music and working on future solo projects as well. We’re also trying to play shows as often as we can to showcase our performance. It doesn’t ever really stop for me, I just love to create and that’s what I’ll do until I’m gone. 

Blaze Ryan and the Savvy Row team will be in effect at The Monkey House in Winooski for 3rd Thursdays tomorrow night. The lineup is absolutely, absurdly packed. Be there.

Justin Boland
THROWBACK: The Aztext - The Sacred Document

The Aztext dropped their second album, The Sacred Document, in 2007. That was approximately more than a few years ago, which is crazy to contemplate. Now that I am digging into all the work I need to do this summer, I wanted to put some beers back and bump a Green Mountain classic I haven’t heard in many years.

Let’s be clear, there were a lot of movements going on in Vermont at this moment in time. The Loyalists had already dropped two great albums, VT Union was blowing up, Burnt MD was blowing up, Eye Oh You still owned downtown Burlington, JynxINC and High Flow were both working hard, and Voice was looking like the next big thing.

Still, when The Sacred Document dropped, The Aztext absolutely raised the bar. This was a professional piece of work, and not only that, they brought along national-level guest features and held their own against the rappers they worked with. This is a track by track re-assessment from an old, old man.

“We Back” was a cut I first heard live, so having this blasting on the porch this afternoon was a lot like an acid flashback. It’s a great opening track, aggressive, melodic, on point, but once they start tearing into the alphabetical bars at the end, there … it’s a vivid memory still. As a rapper in the audience, you just wanted to flip them off for the rest of the song, then buy them about ten beers after the show. With Nastee on the beats & boards, this is a polished gem.

Lettin’ You Knowis an extremely 2000’s hip hop joint, in retrospect. Dub Sonata is a Bronx head with a dope name and a real gift for boom bap sample chops exactly like this, a bulletproof aesthetic he’s never deviated from. His style is also notable for the low end work; dude always has slick basslines pumping. One Be Lo was a legend among legends in certain underground circles, making his name in Binary Star, then spinning off into an epic solo career that saw him touring constantly.

Hearing “Keepin’ It Live” also gives me flashbacks to that album release show. The vibe is timeless and this is a serious single, the kind of jam that gets a crowd the fuck involved. The back and forth dynamic is money, and it actually improves over the course of the song — that whole closing movement is custom tailored to rock any venue.

“Couldn’t Stand The Pain” is a steal of a beat, courtesy of E Train...this would have been a hit for Fabolous or Joe Budden. A lot of vinyl chopping heads will recognize the sample, and I think most of us can agree this is a flawless flip. Having a solid hook game has been a staple of The Aztext secret sauce since they first opened up the food truck, but the verses are burners here, too. .

“Pay Attention” is back to setting large fires on small stages. It’s a huge, funky tsumami of horns and bass, and it’s one of the best “get hype”-ass hooks they’ve ever done -- simple and clean. That’s thanks to Nastee, once again, knowing how to make every touch just right. Lyrically, this is a Learic at his most comfortable, and he’s also talking a lot more shit than usual here.

“Blues & Jazz” is one of those classic concept tracks these guys love to nerd out with. I mean no disrespect, but a murder of crows is a murder of crows. Huge props on the Big Joe Burrell shout, by the way. The extent to which AZT heads are devoted to respecting their elders in every genre is admirable.

“Adventures Of…” is some more Dan The Automator style lush production from E Train. Get a great loop, flesh it out carefully, and make sure it all cranks: the man is an artist with many styles, but his recipes are always quality. Even Pro has to give him detailed credit here. There’s also detailed storytelling bars from both rappers that, looking back, presaged both GOOD WTHR and The Theorist, as long as we’re being rap nerds.

“Roll Call” is another moment from the album release party I’ll never forget. This may sound insane to younger readers, but at rap shows in Burlington, a lot of people used to dance, instead of nodding awkwardly in a hoodie. Not well, but they did at least dance. When this track came on -- despite being a massive funk breakbeat apocalypse -- everyone actually stopped. It was that heavy. The scratches and hooks are just as electric as the verses. Definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album, and one of their best singles.

From here, my notes get highly disordered, since I was drinking the entire time. I have a long, muppet-scribble rant about how they should have done a whole project of tracks like All I See,” another Dub Sonata heater. Was boom bap purism limiting their reach? Then there’s a weird meditation on when rapping fast becomes fast rap, mostly because I thought Move Into Position was too quick to really follow. I’m getting old as heck, though, and again: cooler full of beers.

“Life of an MC” is another standout cut, even with the competition. The intro is inspired, veering from a live cypher feel into a beat that Coolio and Kool Keith would both want to buy. It’s also a closely observed song about being a hungry underground emcee. It’s a mystery to me why E Train doesn’t get hired to do scratch breaks more often.

“East Coast Air” fits nicely here, but it’s also a 100% NYC product that just happened to wind up on an iconic 802 LP. This is a speaker-popping Dub Sonata beat that kicks off with Double AB and Rich Mo, who sounds like he recorded his verse in a bathroom. Rich Mo can get away with that kind of shit, though, because that man is a genius.

The Sacred Document wraps up with a killer trilogy -- from Our Kingdom,” a writing workout featuring a brilliant Mac Lethal closer, into “Lookin’ Out My Window,” a melancholy & appealing sad song, and wrapping with Back 2 Basics.” It’s an urgent Touchphonics production, and a perfect closing statement, reprising most of the album’s themes without restating them.

This album was probably better than I remembered. Not sure if I can offer better praise than that. I bought it off Amazon, it’s on Spotify, and you can also cop it from CD Baby.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: SkySplitterInk
L to R: Learic, SkySplitterInk

L to R: Learic, SkySplitterInk

SkySplitterInk is producer, musician and audio engineer who’s been an important part of the Burlington scene for … well, over a decade now, at least. He’s also the winner of our recent VTHH SUMMERSLAM 2019 contest in the Best Producer category, so an interview is long overdue.

If you’ve met him, you know he’s an easygoing, scrupulously honest Yankee type. He is a mentor to many, and he’s been behind the boards for tons (actual tons) of 802 releases. Anyone who has managed to avoid his ambitious & awesome solo LP XIX, not to mention his recent collaboration with Learic, The Theorist, please fix that ASAP.

VTHH: You're one of the most certified heads in our scene, and it's wild how far back your roots go. I first saw you onstage with Somewhere in the Solution, but you started even earlier than that playing in bands, right?

SkySplitterInk: My friends and I started our first band before we even knew how to play instruments (I ended up on guitar and learned drums at the same time). I think we were probably around 13, and just getting into all sorts of teenage trouble, mostly involving small home made explosives and other dumb shit like that. Needless to say, music was a much better outlet. Around 10th grade, we actually started getting okay and we were very into writing our own music and recording it on 4 track cassette. By the time we were seniors, though, a friend introduced us to Cool Edit and let us borrow his computer to record some songs.

From that moment on, I was hooked on recording and using a computer to make music. Of course, like all good early 2000s producers, next came Fruity Loops and the birth of my first hip hop outfit Somewhere in the Solution in 2002. Later joined by Colby Curtis (Flip Physics), Mike Flowers, and Nick Holder (MC Topic) we finally released our first full length Six Years of Secrets in 2008. It was all very amateur for a long time and that’s how I learned, little by little, until I decided with Katie (who is now my wife) to move down to Nashville to solidify my skills. Since then, I went to school for recording and mixing at SAE Institute and Nashville and have been killing mixes ever since.

As far as recording I’m not a purist though, I really think you can make a good record just about anywhere in 2019 if you have good songs, talent, and a good ear. Technology wise, I geek out over Hardware Synthesizers and Plugin FX, especially those by U-He and Burlington’s own SoundToys.  

VTHH: If you were doing a SkySplitterInk live show - no constraints, no budgets to worry about - what would that look like, at this point?

SkySplitterInk: Probably a live band or a couple/few people with loop machines. And I’m glad you ask because I should really make that happen. I will be playing instrumental shows this year but as of yet that’s a solo venture and I will be doing my best to represent the tunes from my new album with as many live parts as possible. For the live shows with Learic for our new concept album The Theorist, I will be playing live drums with backing tracks, the energy is rad.

VTHH: Who are your influences, in terms of the music you make?

SkySplitterInk: This is a tricky thing to narrow down, especially as I think the influences on my sound are different from the influences on my creativity. If I were to think in terms of my newest album XIX, which came out in January on Equal Eyes Records, you will definitely hear a healthy mix of boom bap drums and Floyd-ish atmosphere, and those are definitely both intentional pulls.

As far as hip hop my favorite albums are things like Outkast’s Aquemini, Blockhead's Downtown Science, Kendrick's GKMC, Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides, Kanye’s Graduation, and Common albums and the quartet of Ace Rock, Atmosphere, Typical Cats and Sage Francis. I am also super into a diverse array of bands like James Blake, Strung Out, The Cure, Converge, Tame Impala, Portishead, The Postal Service, ISIS, The Flaming Lips, Slayer and TOTO (This was a fun list to narrow down).

I also wanna give a shout out to a huge local influence of mine and that’s the legend Es-K, ask anyone who has spent time in the SkyLab what I am usually playing in the downtime between takes, and its his huge catalog.

Justin Boland
VIDEO: Pro - "DadBonics"

Fresh off the surprise release of his debut solo LP, After Dinner Before Dawn, Pro follows up with a surprise single for Fathers Day, “DadBonics.” This is, of course, a flip of the classic Big L track “Ebonics” — and as a side note, if you’re not familiar with that track already, you have should not be rapping at all. Son.

“DadBonics” is both clever and funny, so this is more or less a home run. Obviously, babysitting bars and kid jokes won’t end any other way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this video grows some legs beyond the Green Mountains, either…this is very “viral” stuff, as the suits say. (Also, the ILLu beat is nicely updated & tailored.)

No word on what’s next from the dad rapper extraordinaire, but then again, why should there be? After Dinner Before Dawn just barely dropped, it’s packed of hyper-articulated boom bap and there’s no way you’ve digested all those gems yet. If you haven’t heard it yet, fix that now.

Justin Boland
VTHH SUMMERSLAM 2019: The Main Event

SUMMERSLAM 2019 has been a blast. It was also too fast, extremely flawed, and embarrassingly incomplete. Rappers are always salty about something, but in this case, the critics are completely correct.

Remember, though, this is sports entertainment. The fans need to see blood, and we delivered the goods.

So before I write way too much about our first big PPV event, let’s get straight to the winners, the glory, the triumph.

Here Are Your Champions:


XP has a cult following and they delivered for him. The legendary lyricist has had a long, prolific career and continues to improve his game on every front. Respect Due.

The Runoff: #2 - Jarv, #3 - Learic, #4 - Eugenyks, #5 - Raw Deff.


Humble, hard-working, and seriously talented, SkySplitterInk took this one by a broad margin. This was a field full of worthy talent. The race was close early on, but as voting accelerated, so did his lead. Congratulations.

The Runoff: #2 - THEN WHAt, #3 - Es-K, #4 - Dokowala, #5 - Flip Physics.


The Savvy Row Records team scored big at SUMMERSLAM, securing the belt for their breakout star Blaze Ryan. While they mobilized a big campaign, this category was still a tight, close race. Thanks for keeping it interesting.

The Runoff: #2 - Yung Breeze, #3 - Jibba “The Gent,” #4 - Teece Luvv, #5 - D. FRENCH.


In a heavily contested category, the human dynamo that is Colby Stiltz managed to edge out his competition. That’s probably because he’s more about cooperation, in terms of his daily grind -- and also thanks to a great run of new material & his tireless work running The Cypher Series, a weekly open mic event in downtown BTV. Props.

You can catch him tonight at the Community Benefit Show for Kyle at Drink, along with a host of other 802 talent convening to celebrate the life of Kyle Hoyt. Be there if you can.


First & Foremostest

As the weirdo who spent his evening and morning verifying hella email addresses, I have to say: the real engine behind these results is actual fans. Even with several artists trying their hardest to tip the scales, the majority of these votes came from real people, many of whom I already know. They go to shows, they buy albums, they recommend you to total strangers. Artists are necessary, sort of, but without fans like this, there would be no scene.

Of course, The Internet allows for a bigger reach. Special shouts to the many Jarv fans from around the country, who have all been very interesting to talk to. Also, Vermont has ex-pats all over the world and they still pay close attention to the home front.

In terms of our Green Mountain locals, big hot-spots for enthusiastic fans were Brattleboro (bigtime), Burlington (duh), Montgomery (what?), Rutland (ayup), St. Johnsbury (word!), and most especially, Windsor. Which makes sense: Windsor has always had a bizarrely talented mini-scene, and it’s also the only town that’s got two contenders for Heavyweight Champ: Jarv and XP.

So: these winners were chosen by the people. Is that a good idea, though? Let’s discuss!


Infinite Inside Baseball

The final ballot for SUMMERSLAM is packed full of lessons about why democracy is mostly a mistake. Let’s start there.

For instance, despite securing dozens of nominations for “Best Producer,” XP has never made a beat. I could and should have done better research there, but it wouldn’t have changed the standings (10+ nominations was the baseline). Among the actual producers who did not get included and flat-out should have: Crusty Cuts, David Chief, FATE, Instinct, Jarv (fight me), JL, OldGold, Skywise, Teece Luvv, Wes The Best, and Wool/See.

So to be clear, despite getting a grand total of 44 votes, XP was disqualified from competition. To be even more clear, though, he still would have lost outright to Skysplitter, who took home 53 votes for the SUMMERSLAM Championship.

For another example, emcee / DJ Framework of The Loyalists left the Green Mountains more than a decade ago -- and he’s been making dope rap ever since, as part of Windmills. Despite that, he still secured 21 nominations, just barely making the cut-off to be the Heavyweight Champion of a state he very seldom sees. Is that really a problem? Has he not paid his dues or something?

Eliminating most of the rappers proved less controversial than expected, however. It was a necessary move, and exactly the kind of heel behavior that Mr. McMahon would condone, too.

Still, it’s worth mentioning that a lot of legends and serious talent got 86’d: Asah Mack, Mister Burns, Vazy, Drive, Sasha Travis, Nahte Renmus, LC of Lynguistic Civilians, and Ferragamo Face; all some of the best pure spitters in the 802. So obviously, the methodology here is suspect from the very start.

Five rappers came very close to the Heavyweight division: Dolla Day, D. FRENCH, Humble, Jibba “The Gent,” and of course, Konflik. One big lesson from SUMMERSLAM 2019: everyone respects Konflik, who also received a number of nominations for the Good Citizen category.

Speaking of which, I should also give props to some other near-nominees for Good Citizen of the Year: Big Homie Wes, Cal Rawlings, DJ Kanga, Es-K, Fattie B, Humble, ILLu, Jarv, Jibba “The Gent,” Josh Kerman of Church Street DJs, DJ (& Originator) Melo Grant, Mycelium MC, Princess Nostalgia, Que Beatz of BloodPressureMusic, Rivan C, Steve Shannon / b-boy Wish, THEN WHAt, Yung Breeze and the Bad Art underground show kingpin himself, Zesty Boi.

That is some damn good company to be in, and whatever you are doing to get on that list, please keep it up. It is awesome to see so many generations represented at once, too -- deep roots are important for healthy soil.


Behind the curtain, there was an abundance of attempted shenannigans this week. Attempted. Even adjusting for the duplicates and alts, of which there were plenty, Blaze Ryan still won fair and square. I don’t hold artists responsible for the actions of their fans, and besides this was pretty widespread stuff. It’s all good, though -- I appreciate the chuckles, and with a few doomed exceptions, those same artists also have very real, very enthusiastic fanbases. Or just some relatives who really love them.

All in all, there were almost 100 rappers nominated, but just over 50 producers. We had a little over 150 Nomination round votes, and wound up with 273 Ballot round votes. That’s encouraging. This won’t turn into a monthly thing, I swear -- too much work -- but there will be another PPV event later this year. The format will be different, less stupid and more valuable, and more importantly, it will be awesome.


These events are intended to be fun. Hopefully that much is obvious. There are also real benefits to doing ridiculous shit like this. I know that I’m not the only person discovering new names as a result of SUMMERSLAM, and I’ve seen a lot of new connections get forged first-hand. There’s no way to make everybody happy, but I did earnestly try to piss everybody off, so let me know how I did.

Justin Boland

The kitchen table is a mess of notebooks, laptops and Infinite Coffee — it’s prep time at HQ for SUMMERSLAM 2019. The official cut-off is coming at noon sharp.

We’ll have the Main Event ready for you as soon as possible after that. After all … this is a slow weekend in America, and OUR FANS DEMAND ACTION.

Huge thanks to everyone who bought a ticket. We’re grateful to be the most trusted name in 802 sports entertainment.

And if you somehow haven’t voted yet, well


Justin Boland

First and foremost, huge thanks to the artists and fans who made this so fun. The results exceeded our expectations. Top 3 Rappers was tightly contested category, as expected, and Top 3 Producers yielded far fewer responses, which was disappointing. We got over 250 votes, but well over a hundred of those were duplicates and repeat submissions from the same locations…so what was that worth?

Remember, though: there is no mercy here. So, for the first annual VTHH SUMMERSLAM, it’s time to make a few shocking announcements.

Good Citizen of the Year

The results of all our extensive polling? A six-way tie. We are blessed to have so many contenders. Despite dozens of other worthy nominations, here are your overall winners … for your final consideration: Brett North, Colby STILTZ, Zach Crawford / Skysplitter, Mister Burns, Omega Jade & Scottie Raymond.

SUMMERSLAM Vermont Producers

Why did this category get fewer nominations than the rappers did? The contrast is stark, bud. We will investigate this mystery in more depth soon. In the meantime, we’ve got a wide-open shoot-out to finally decide who the nicest is. Choose carefully.

..And Now The Big News.


I absolutely promised that everyone nominated would win a spot on the final ballot, and I absolutely lied. This isn’t some kind of backyard talent show. There have been so many submissions in the RAPPER CATEGORY that we’re taking some awesome, hilarious, and inevitable measures. First up: everyone with five or fewer nominations is withdrawn from SUMMERSLAM 2019 competition, effective immediately. Gone.

After all, some rappers are serious, but … most rappers aren’t. The big winners (20+ real nominations) are being broken into a separate category; everyone else is being lumped into the “Intercontinental Class.”

First Up: A Six-Way Lethal Battle Between Our Heavyweight Contenders.

The top 6 are a mile away from their closest contenders. Only one of them can win. This is the final countdown: Eugenyks, Framework, Jarv, Learic, Raw Deff, and XP. Those names were so far ahead of the rest they simply have to exist in their own weight class.

The Intercontinental Class of Contender

Finally, here’s the end of your tour of duty: who is next up? Who is impossible to avoid in 2019? Who is hustling circles around their competitors? After this, you’re all done and we thank you for your service. Voting runs until Saturday morning — after that, things should get weird.

Here’s the official ballot.

Thanks again for your time.

Justin Boland
VTHH SUMMERSLAM '19: Banned on Facebook

The old inbox is blowing up, and that’s some rough timing, because yours truly got a seven day suspension from Facebook. (For posting a .jpg of Charles Manson laughing, in case anyone is curious.) It’s a classic story: huge, unaccountable corporations destroying the hard work of independent creative geniuses like myself.

Although Facebook is a sad, retarded wasteland, it also provides 60% of the traffic this website gets, day after day, month after month. It is truly impressive how much Zuckerborg was able to eat the entire internet. Also, kind of sad.

However, this is the shit future we live in, and there are still a few hours left to GET THOSE NOMINATIONS IN before the HUGE ANNOUNCEMENTS that are coming tonight. So please, share this message far & wide, so that young, hungry artists in 802 know that I’m not ignoring their friendly introductions. Thank you.

Remember, you can always contact me directly from right here.

Oh, and here’s that form again:

Summerslam is coming. NOTHING WILL STOP THE SHOW.

Justin Boland
VTHH SUMMERSLAM 2019: New Names, New Sounds

We’re not even 24 hours into the first annual VTHH SUMMERSLAM and things are already insane. I’ve been suspended from Facebook (“too lit, too viral, too trill”) and we’re past the 200 mark for nomination submissions so far today. We knew this would be big, but we were amazed to find out this would be huge. Huge.

Nominations close around 5 pm on Thursday, June 13th — tomorrow, in other words — and we’ll be dropping some big announcements that night. Now, some critics have said this is moving too fast, and that’s absolutely true. I promise you, though, next year will be every bit as sloppy and frustrating.

Meanwhile, I’m spending my evening catching up on dozens of new names. Here’s a quick overview of some of the artists VTHH will be featuring this summer.

Wap Bleu caught a wave after opening for Jay Critch last year and his name came up a lot in the past 24 hours — spelled differently every time, too. There’s no finished product yet, but his singles are proof there’s a lot of energy on tap and a talented ear in development.

At first I thought “Sobe” was a nomination for Somba, but SoBe is a whole separate animal. The entire catalog on his Soundcloud there is worth a dive, this is calculated, playful stuff, and full of melodic ideas. I will be keeping a close eye out for this cat in the future.

The team at Savvy Row Records got a number of shouts, but none more than Blaze Ryan, who released his solo debut Demons back in May. This is introspective, lyrical rap — and this also a work in progress, a young team worth checking back on.

Instinct is an 802 producer who has been working with Dokowala for awhile now, been prolific for years now, and keeps his mixing and design game on point, too. Despite all that, I’ve still been sleeping. So while he’s not strictly a new name, the man deserves some shine and he’s gotten a number of nominations. Also, “Libations” bangs.

Kurt Stewart has come up under a few names, all of which were familiar. That’s because this young fellow distinguished himself with some excellent entries in the regular, Flip Physics hosted, VTHH Sample Challenge. Turns out, he’s been on a long streak of dirty, tasty work. Again, I was slept.

And again, there will always be more. I apologize in advance. This is just a quick mix — VTHH SUMMERSLAM has introduced a huge new wave of talent, and proven a lot of older, senior citizen type heads haven’t been forgotten. Props to the creators and hustlers.

In closing, seriously, all jokes aside, I am suspended for a week over on Facebook there, so please keep sharing The Nomination Link so we can get some numbers & awareness. NOTHING WILL STOP THE SHOW.

Justin Boland
Announcing The First Annual VTHH SUMMERSLAM

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the first annual Vermont Hip Hop SUMMERSLAM. Please refrain from throwing objects into the ring.

In the wake of the Seven Daysies discussion, there have been more calls than ever for a proper “VT Hip Hop Awards,” something serious, something scientific, something professional, to finally settle the never-ending arguments.

This is definitely not that. It is, however, an attempt at making mistakes now so that we can, collectively, pull off a real deal “VT Hip Hop Awards” at the end of 2019.

We’re keeping it simple for this inaugural SUMMERSLAM: nominate three rappers, three producers, and one Good Citizen of the Year. (Apologies to the DJs.) The “Good Citizen” category is an honorary nod to whoever is earning respect and contributing to the community. You can submit your nominations right here, right now, through the embedded form:

Q: What Happens Next?

A: Nominations close in 48 hours. From there, every single nominee is on the ballot.

Q: “Email Verification” sounds ominous. Why do you need that?

A: Because of ballot-stuffing dicknose losers, that is why. I don’t have anything to sell you (and most of you are broke anyway) so your email is strictly being used to build a verification list so that every vote counted, counts.

Q: What if I don’t feel comfortable sharing that?

A: You would give away your social security number for fifty cents off on a taco, I don’t believe you at all.

Q: What do the winners receive?

A: All winners and runners-up get their names mentioned on this website at no charge, plus bragging rights.

Q: Are votes secret?

A: Absolutely. I will be releasing numbers on total votes and show off some graphs about turnout, but nothing will ever be linked back to you.

Justin Boland

The THROWBACK series is devoted to spotlighting worthy projects that never got much coverage, here or elsewhere. I interviewed SVPPLY last year — it was a good, informative talk — and he’s just secured a Seven Daysie Awards nomination for Best Club DJ. Which makes sense, since he gigs constantly, books huge events, and is generally the sort of gentleman I can call a “local tastemaker” without feeling like I’m an asshole hack. Dude is really out here.

As it turns out, dude is also really nice on the beats. Has been for some time, too: BVFFALO came out in September 2015, and it’s a superb set of chilled-out soul chops that sound thick & lush. I don’t mean “set” as a slight. This is a rock solid instrumental hip hop album, to be clear — but you can definitely hear the sequencing logic and impatient ear of an experienced, creative DJ at work here, too.

It’s a smooth, cohesive ride, and that’s by design. As the man himself explained it to me awhile back: “The concept is thinking of sampling the way native Americans thought about buffalo and using every part … for most of those songs, every instrument is from a different record, and patched together to form a whole different song.

Soul heads and sample hawks will definitely recognize a lot of these sources, but that takes nothing away from the project, because there are a lot of great flips and cuts here. Even with the constraints of the concept, BVFFALO is more than the sum of its parts. The album is fast-moving, so while it’s hard to cite any particular favorite track, every slice is where it belongs.

It’s also an ideal soundtrack for porch beers on a beautiful day.

Give it a spin, keep supporting local music, and enjoy your summer as much as possible. This will all be gone too soon.

Previous Installments:

Rhythm Ruckus - Being Geniuses Together

OldGold - Preservation

Loupo - W K N D

Raw Deff - Rhyme Travel

Justin Boland
Five (Dope) New Albums I Missed

In 2018, I took the summer off from doing weekly coverage and damn, was that a mistake. Last year was the first time that so much happened during those beautiful months I spent in the river that I was was stuck playing catch-up for the rest of the year. (And if you reckon I never came close to catching up, I’d be inclined to agree.)

In 2019, things are moving even faster. We’re more than a month out from Summer Solstice and there’s been a flood of newsworthy releases since mud season. Here’s a roundup featuring five of my favorites. There’s a lot more to cover, but for now, give these puppies a spin.

Selfish Presley - No Sleep

We were promised a wavy, vibed-out artistic statement and No Sleep delivers the goods. Selfish Presley is in his own wide open lane here, and his production game is better than ever. The album is short, sharply cut, and packed with ideas. Props to the director.

Pro - After Dinner, Before Dawn

Out of nowhere, Pro dropped his debut solo album on BTV hip hop label Equal Eyes Records, and it’s the crown jewel of their catalog so far. This is a marathon of bangers from a lifelong fan and full time rap dad. Pro is one third of The Aztext, one of the 802’s most successful rap groups. He brings along an all-star cast of characters for this LP, including Konflik, Framework, Fattie B, and of course, AZT fam Kin and Tha Truth. This is a grand slam touchdown, a home run from half court.

Learic and Skysplitterink - The Theorist

The other Aztext emcee has been equally busy this year. Learic is already known for tight, cerebral concept tracks, but The Theorist represents a whole new level. It’s also proof he’s continuing to grow as an artist, even after a long career underground. The album is a continuous narrative, framed like a film, and the production is huge. If you need to read more, here’s my full review. Cheers.

Teece Luvv - Sunday Flow Practice Vol. 1

This is my personal favorite album of 2019 so far. It’s an off-hand, throwback good time, with few fucks given. It’s also all bars — creative, funny, musical bars. Teece Luvv really killed this set. Jarv does aight here, too. Speaking of Maiden Voyage, they should make ol’ Nahte Renmus do a Sunday Flow Practice series next. Then drop that self-produced group album. Whalam.

Dokowala - Hot Waves - Second Volume

St. Albans artist Dokowala dropped another smooth set of live-chopped, jazzy instrumental work, just in time to start bumping it with the windows open and the grill warming up. Hot Waves is quick but extremely cohesive, and Dokowala has taken the same smart approach with his releases so far: find a vibe and nail it to the barn wall. His next expedition will be just as tasty, and just as different.

Flip Physics - From The Archives: Volume 1

Or maybe six picks: as a bonus chaser, the Flip Physics compilation From The Archives, Volume 1 is an old school tour of a BTV beat head’s personal stash. Flip Physics has been a hustling hard for the local scene, from his constant collaboration work to his moderation of the regular Sample Challenge contests over at the Vermont Hip-Hop Artists Collective. Volume 1 has proven to be a great soundtrack for spring cleaning — highly recommended.

In closing, shouts to Big Homie Wes. If you haven’t checked out his February EP / movie Contraband, fix that.

Justin Boland
Let's All Argue About the Daysie Awards Again: 2019 Edition

It’s that time of year again. The Seven Daysies are a long-standing tradition that, due to a total lack of any competition, have become a proxy for.actual Vermont Grammy Awards. And although I’ve referred to it in years past as “a Burlington-centric, inherently imperfect, flat-out popularity contest” — it’s also a genuine measure of clout.

This year’s list of nominations is a lot like any other year: a few inevitable nods, a few surprises, and the obligatory “wait, who the hell is that?” contender.

Jarv, Learic and 99 Neighbors are pretty much the entire horse race for 2019. No offense intended, here, but I’m a realist. Jarv won last year, Learic is the single most respected rapper in our scene, and 99 Neighbors are, well, blowing the fuck up. Still, the rest of the nomination slate is quite interesting.

A2VT have been expanding both their lineup and their reach — they got featured on and their most recent music video, the triumphant “Wave Your Flag,” has just broken 100,000 views. That’s huge, and it’s obvious they’re just getting started, too.

The inclusion of D. FRENCH surprised me. I’m a straight up fan of his pen game, don’t get me wrong, but I just didn’t expect him to have that kind of reach until after he drops his debut album “The Highest Lows.” I was quite wrong. Furthermore, his brother, Isaac French, got a nomination for the Best Pop Artist or Group category. Props to a talented family from St. Albans.

Finally, a lot of people were asking who DIGGS was, despite the fact I’ve covered them here already. I’m not offended; I know most of you only read this stuff when it’s about you. Despite the fact they’ve been an intermittent presence at live shows, doing full-band live hip hop will always win you an audience in BTV, so I’m less surprised to see them here than most of y’all haters were.

So: were there people who deserved to be on that list who aren’t? Not really, no. You need to run a campaign to win a campaign, and no part of this game is a talent show.

On second thought, scratch that. Last year there were two big winners: Jarv and Loupo, who won for Best Electronic Artist or Group. That’s not exactly a Best Hip Hop Producer category, but it was at least close. That category is gone, which is unfortunate. Hopefully it gets resurrected next year — or better yet, we get that Best Hip Hop Producer category. There is definitely a deep enough talent pool here to justify that.

So props to everyone who got the nod, and good luck to the contestants. Voting starts on June 10th and we’ll find out who won in August. Democracy takes time and, generally, satisfies exactly nobody. It’s a system that works!

Justin Boland