Es-K - "ReCollection"

Es-K’s latest LP is a surprise: somehow, a prolific, polished producer in the middle of years-long hot streak is still audibly improving his tradecraft. “ReCollection” is a tight, ambitious album. It’s also available on Fat Beats, which is kind of a big deal.

Es-K’s latest project stands in clear contrast to his recent releases. Where “Trust The Process” played like an extended mixtape, “ReCollection” is all sharp turns and finished ideas. It’s also a million miles away from the consistent, melodic vibes of “Koans” or “Continuance.” Showcasing a huge variety of styles over 24 tracks, it’s obvious that Es-K wants to make a point about his versatility, here. And while the album is a journey, it’s a carefully tailored ride, too — his transition game has never been more inventive.

Speaking of journeys: Es-K will be in Spain this week, celebrating the album release, doing shows and working on a collaborative album with The Deli and Jansport J. Props to the maestro for keeping it global.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Subtex of Grey Sky Appeal

I reached out for this interview back when I realized Subtex would be playing at the Friends Like These release party in Brattleboro last month. I definitely remembered his group Grey Sky Appeal: they were crushing the orbit between Boston and NYC back when I was busy with World Around Records, and I always respected their raw aesthetic — and, especially, the fact they were all clearly having a blast rapping on every track.

Catching up on his work since was a revelation, though. His recent projects, especially The Book of Ezekiel and his 2019 followup Fine Art, are daring, dirty, urgent, uncompromising hip hop joints. They’re basically EPs, taking an “All Killer, No Filler” approach and featuring some dope underground legends (C-Rayz Walz and Ren Thomas) and tons of talented DJs burning up scratches, both in the margins and on his hooks.

Subtex is currently a Brattleboro resident, but he’s prepping for a move to Philadelphia in the next year. (Which, really, is damn good fit for his style.) He donated some time to rap about his influences, his art, and his legacy. Dig it.

VTHH: I love your commitment to spotlighting DJs and scratch hooks, too rare these days. Were the acts that inspired you to get into rapping turntable-heavy?

Subtex: I’ve always been a fan of scratch hooks and letting a DJ do whatever they want.  It adds a whole other element that I love. I grew up listening to acts like Gang Starr, so DJ Premier was always heavy. I listened to a lot of Beat Minerz as well, so acts like that inspired a certain sound. A great DJ can only add more to a track. 

VTHH: Do you think the New England hip hop circuit has been transforming in recent years into something bigger & more unified, or are things more or less the same from your POV?

Subtex: I think things are constantly developing into something bigger, as certain artist styles develop and mature. Cities and towns continue to connect and build a solid community all over New England. I've seen a lot of different scenes all over the world, and New England definitely has a certain sound that stands alone.

VTHH: As someone who’s been through several scenes now, what advice do you have for young cats trying to build a scene in the sticks? 

Subtex: Create a network which enables you to branch out. That will help you create a good local scene if you can bring people in and have community support. Live shows are a good way to bring the community together and showcase talents. Scenes exist in every form. As long as you’re making music and you enjoy it, you’re good.

VTHH: What keeps you motivated to keep creating? What would you like to add to your legacy at this point?

Subtex: What keeps me motivated to keep creating is life. Life mirrors my music. I’ve always used the art of lyricism to project the art of life, and vise versa. Inspiration exists on so many levels. Music is the baseline, how you project yourself beyond that is motivating to me.

I’d very much like to write a book that coincides with a record. My music is a story, so turning that into a book would take it to another level. I’m known to write rhymes that contain depth, but bringing that depth to a different medium is something I’d like to add to my legacy.

VTHH: Grey Sky Appeal has been on hiatus for a minute now — will there be more GSA material in the future?

Subtex: Grey Sky hasn’t released any new music in the last few years, but we have unheard music in the vaults. Sooner than later we’ll release a new GSA record. At least one more GSA project is a necessity. 

Subtex will be performing in Philadelphia at Slime Beach on Saturday, April 13th, and Boston heads can catch him at The Jeanie Johnston on Saturday, May 24th.

Justin Boland
May 9th: VT Hip Hop Showcase @ Waking Windows

The lineup for the Waking Windows showcase this year is a rock solid roster of 802 talent. It’s also going to be a Four Elements party, featuring the Anthill Collective, the Rhythm Riderz Crew, and Green Mountain scratch technician DJ Kanga on the decks.

If you don’t know what Waking Windows is: you should definitely go check it out in May. Modeled on what SXSW used to be down in Austin, it’s a music festival that takes over every available space in Winooski, including sidewalks and parks, for the purpose of booking more shows than anyone could possibly see. (You may think I’m kidding about that, but nobody’s laughing.)

Props to Mister Burns, who has grown this showcase into a real cultural force, not to mention the unofficial kickoff party for the Summer season of “shows you don’t have to wear jackets to.”

Side Note: Waking Windows is also sponsoring the upcoming Sammus show at Arts Riot, which is a dynamite lineup for a mere $10. That’s next Friday, April 12th. She slays, and so does opening band JUPTR.


Justin Boland
SATURDAY: Es-K Performs at Flynnspace
Art: “Last warm day in November” by   Meryl Lebowitz

Art: “Last warm day in November” by Meryl Lebowitz

Tonight, Es-K will be performing a very special set as part of the New Voices series, which is curated by St. Michael’s professor and local music scene heavy William Ellis. He’ll be tearing through a selection of his favorite compositions alongside some special guest musicians, sitting in to fill out the sound. (And, perhaps, to audition for the live band that will hopefully emerge from all this experimentation and hard work.)

We’re spotlighting Es-K for obvious reasons here, but the headliner is Mal Maiz, a dynamite Afro-Caribbean ensemble led by local musician / magician Maiz Vargas Sandoval. There will also be a set from a Bantu comedian, Abow Ibrahim.

All Ages. 8 pm show. Tickets are still available at $15.

Justin Boland

Memo is a battle rapper from the Boston area these days, but he used to rock shows — and win battles — around BTV as Memaranda, back before adulthood caught up with him. He’s always been funny, down-to-earth and a careful student of the game, so I figured this would be a solid interview. It turned out much better than that: this is a hella informative conversation about battle rap culture, politics and tradecraft.

And a lot of 802 history along the way, too. Dig it.

VTHH: As soon as you came out -- and we're talking "Rap It Up," here -- you had bars on tap and genuinely funny punchlines. Which, frankly, I have always resented you for. Did you always have your sights set on battle rap or did something grab you along the way?

Memo: Right around the time I was recording music and doing shows (about 10 years ago now) S.I.N.siZZle started hosting the King of VT freestyle battle tournaments. I had been freestyling since a youngin’ so I figured I’d give it a try, and I believe I got to the finals of the first tournament he held, eventually losing to Learic. I ended up competing in over a dozen of them, and won at least 5 (pretty sure Learic won all the others). Towards the end of the competitive freestyling run, I started following the art of “written” battle rap after being introduced to it by my buddy/ fellow MC Fullafekt.

After watching a few “classic” battles that were suggested to me, I quickly became addicted to the clever writing and charismatic performances. But at the time, I just couldn’t get in to the idea of rapping with no music behind it. I always felt one of my best traits as an MC was the way I could flow over all different types of beats. Shit, I could kill a fire freestyle over a Beethoven track and transition right into a Garth Brooks and Celine Dion instrumentals. I believe it was around the summer of 2015, when S.I.N. eventually threw the first VT “written” battle event and paired me up as main event against Learic (inevitably).

I remember locking in the matchup about a month before it went down but not actually writing for it until the week of. While I definitely rushed my material and prep, I ended up actually killing it without stumbling at all. The judges voted me the winner, but of course something happened to the footage and none of the battles from the event were ever released. I’m still holding on to a glimpse of hope that one day S.I.N. is gonna find the dude that’s been holding the lost footage hostage and drop our battle out of the blue. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, shortly after that battle with Learic, Tom (Fullafekt) introduced me to the 413 guys in Mass who got me on the winter 2015 tryout card, and the rest is history. 3+ years later, I’m 20 written battles deep and considered by many as a top battle rapper in New England.

VTHH: Having done plenty of both, do you think audiences pay more attention to your writing in a rap battle context than they would at a regular-ass rap show?

Memo: 100%. This is honestly the main reason I haven’t recorded/ performed music in so long. Don’t get me wrong, I loved making music and miss the shit out of it but these days, people don’t even appreciate real hip hop music. Look at guys like Learic, S.I.N. and Lynguistic Civilians who have all done hundreds of shows around New England and hustled for years, but never got the respect they deserved. All everyone wants to hear these days is the mumble rap bullshit. I feel like being lyrical and witty is a downfall these days. Its really sad to be honest.

I guess that’s why I fell in love with “written” battle rap. I’ve always been a creative writer but never felt people fully listened to the metaphors, entendres and similes I would layer in to my writing. At a live hip hop show, people nod their heads and listen to you rap but most people aren’t really listening to what you’re actually saying. At a rap battle event, the whole crowd literally circles around you in silence and listens to every word you and your opponent have to say for 20 minutes straight. There’s honestly no better feeling in the world then getting a huge reaction to a bar/ rhyme scheme that you worked hard to come up with..

On top of that, you get the pleasure of it eventually being released on YouTube a few weeks later where the footage lives forever. One of my battles has 6,000+ views. I don’t think I had a single song with over a thousand views on YouTube or Soundcloud, etc. Either way, reality is that writing for battles takes a lot of time, and being a dad/husband/full time worker, I don’t have time to keep pushing my battle rap career and work on an album at the same time. In a perfect world, I’ll keep rising in the battle rap ranks till I become a household name, at which point people should want to hear and buy my music. Hopefully I can get to this point before I’m 40.


VTHH: Approximately how many gun hands have you had waved in your face, at this point in your career? Does that ever get old, or is it just as much fun, every time?

Memo: Shit, probably hundreds at this point.. And yeah it does get old, but not usually with my opponents. The great thing about this form of battle rap is that you typically get paired against opponents that make sense to battle you. If you watch URL, dudes are pullin’ out imaginary guns left and right, but luckily I usually get paired against fellow scrawny white dudes for the most part, so I’m usually safe from these violent gun hands you speak of.

But nah, in reality, gun bars are awesome if they’re done right and not abused. I pull them out in a satirical manner quite a bit to be honest. There’s just so many good slangs for guns that can be flipped in so many different ways (ratchets, hawks, eagles, cans, biscuits, etc.) Also, one of the greatest parts about battle rap is that people can rap for 20 minutes straight about shooting each other with every type of gun imaginable but end up sharing a drink and spliff right after the battle ends. Out of the hundreds of thousands of “written” battles that have ever taken place around the world, there has never been an actual gun pulled out in a battle (that I know of) and there’s maybe a handful or less cases of hands being thrown – (See Dizaster vs Math Hoffa).

The best part about written battle rap that a lot of new people to the culture don’t understand, is that wins/losses don’t really matter, aside from the occasional inner-league title matches. In a regular battle, you actually want your opponent to do well so that the footage has better replay value. A lot of people don’t even write personal bars, and treat the sport as a competition of who has the better “bars”. I personally always try to get under my opponents skin, but you better believe I’m shaking their hand and buying them a beer after the battle..

VTHH: Do you think the proliferation of battle leagues is a good thing for the scene or does it over-saturate the fanbase?

Memo: I think it’s good for the culture to a certain degree, but can cause some friction on a local level. Obviously in theory, the more leagues there are, the more opportunity for new talent to be seen. At the same time though, it does make it harder for the big leagues (KOTD/GZ and URL) to find talent as there are so many damn leagues to study and pick from. Luckily, I battle for 413 battle league who is the longest running and probably the most respected league in MA. Shoutout TD3 and Vorheez!

When I first moved to Mass a few years ago, there were probably about 40-50 known battlers on the scene that would get cycled around 3-4 different leagues. Now there’s at least 10 New England leagues with a few hundred battlers in the scene. Unfortunately about 90% of them are trash.. Anyway, all in all, having more leagues creates more competition and helps grow the sport and spread awareness so I’m all about it.

But there’s no question that it also creates drama within a particular region. For instance, you’ll often see leagues that are right down the road from each other purposely throwing events the same night in spite of each other, or leagues claiming battlers as their own roster members when they were brought up and groomed by another local competing league, and the list goes on. That’s definitely the one thing that I don’t like about battle rap, is the unnecessary drama and politics…but I guess you have that in all facets of life these days.

And yeah, to the second part of your question, there are now so many leagues releasing footage that it’s hard for some people to know which battles to watch. Luckily the real ones know what leagues and battlers to look out for, but if I was just getting in to the sport now, I wouldn’t know where to start. To all new fans though, start with KOTD/URL, any battles with Pat Stay, Rone, Illmaculate, B Magic, Chilla Jones, Danny Meyers, Pass, Charon and Carter Deems to name a few.. And that dude Memo from VT is fire too. Check out his battles with Laugh-N-Stalk, Uno Lavos, CJA, Colly C, T Sawyer and Blackademiks.

VTHH: What advice do you have for kids reading this who will be prepping for their own battle debuts in the next 12 months?

Memo: If you’re not comfortable in your own skin and aren’t good at adapting to different environments, this isn’t for you.If you get easily offended and aren’t very good at taking criticism, this isn’t for you. If you’ve never rapped before, there’s a good chance this isn’t for you, although there are rare occasions of battle rappers who never rapped prior to battling and have thrived in the scene. Blows my mind, but it can be done.

My biggest advice would be to BE YOU. No one wants to see a scrawny white dude rap aggressively about how he could kick your ass in a super gangster voice. I made the mistake early on in my career of occasionally trying to sound like other battle rappers and would spit aggressive, angry sounding bars.. Watching the battles back, I could quickly tell that I looked out of character doing that, so I switched up my formula early on and now I just go up there, be myself and have fun.

I obviously have occasional “I’m gonna kill you” bars but I try to keep even my most threatening material pretty light and say everything with a hint of sarcasm. Obviously, if I grew up in the streets, then people would enjoy me spitting struggle bars and if I was a pimp, people would enjoy me spitting bars about all my hoes but nah, I’m a just a mid thirty year old, married white ass dad with an office job. Let’s be real. Figure out what you do best and stick with that formula. For me, it’s dad jokes, food schemes and 90s references.

Another important thing is to be patient. During my first year or so, I would hear quite often that I was trash, had a bitch voice and an unconfident demeanor, etc. There were definitely many times that I thought about just quitting cause I didn’t have the patience to try to please all the whiny fans. But I stuck with it, made a point to improve every battle and eventually worked my way on to KOTD/GZ and top of the card on pretty much every local event I’m on. I’ll never have a great voice but I try to make up for it with clever writing and references that the battle rap community can relate to. As we all know, you can’t please everyone, but if you’re at least captivating the audience in the room while having fun doing it, then you’re doing something right.

Last advice I have for any new battlers is to not underestimate the importance of prep.. Try to finish writing your material by at least a week before the battle. Go through your rounds every night for a week straight, and record yourself rapping them so you can hear which parts need to be tweaked or re-worded, etc. A bad choke can ruin a battle in the room and kill the replay value of the footage. If you’re going to battle, take it seriously so you’re not wasting the fans time or your own time. Nothing worse than writing your ass off for a month just to put on a forgetful performance.

Justin Boland
FRIDAY: Anomalie @ Club Metronome

Anomalie is staggeringly talented Montreal artist whose music occupies some unique real estate: his compositions are rooted in his background with classical and jazz piano, but they sure hit you like … well, instrumental hip hop. He’ll be making a rare 802 appearance on Friday night at Club Metronome, bringing through a killer live band in support of his latest album, Canal. (Which is perfection.) He is also bringing along Rob Araujo, another producer/composer with serious chops.

Better still, Loupo — certainly one of the spookiest production talents the 802 has to offer — will be opening up, along with special guests Juju + Soph. This is the hottest ticket in BTV, and it will definitely sell out.

All Ages. 8:30 pm show. $13 adv / $15 door.

Justin Boland
Teece Luvv - Sunday Flow Practice #8

Teece Luvv is marking two months of steady flames with the latest edition of his Sunday Flow Practice series. As ever, the dude is having a blast rapping over his own funky-ass production, and these videos keep getting better. The Maiden Voyage crew has been having a great run lately — Nahte Remnus dropped the excellent “Dog Years” project last summer, and I’ve heard Jarv is doing aight these days, too.

As for Teece, he’s stayed busy both as an emcee and as … well, a future-soul sex-funk crooner, I guess? It’s good shit no matter how it gets labeled, and he promises there is more on the way. Meanwhile, be ready for more dope raps next Sunday.

Justin Boland
TONIGHT: Cesar Comanche @ The Monkey House

Winooski’s home for hip hop will be hosting a hot ticket tonight: Justus League legend Cesar Comanche will be coming through with fellow North Carolina emcee Ghost Dog to deliver another evening of hip hop revivalism. Those of you who have caught Comanche live before know that’s no joke — the man is a magnetic performer and an earnest disciple of the culture.

They’ll be joined by Bugout of Granite State (he got interviewed here a few days ago) and Mister Burns. Show is 18+, $8 at the door gets you in the building.

Justin Boland
Learic and SkySplitterInk Announce "The Theorist"

Equal Eyes Records have announced their next release and, well … damn, bud. Nice. The teamup of Learic and SkySplitterInk is a perfect match: both of them have grown into masters of their craft, and both of them are thoughtful, multi-talented creators with wide-ranging influences. These are not compliments, but humble facts.

The Theorist, however, proves to be far more than a new rap album. The project is a cinematic story broken into seven chapters, and they’ve got a video on tap for each one. That’s an impressive amount of work. Yesterday they dropped a teaser of sorts — the intstrumental “Opening Credits” leaves us with more questions than answers, for sure, but it also establishes that this is going to be a serious project. It sounds amazing, too, a mashup of giallo drama and the synth orchestration of Vangelis.

Props to DVP Cinematography. The Theorist drops on April 26th.

Justin Boland
OUTSIDE INFLUENCE: Bugout of Granite State

Bugout is a wickedly talented veteran rapper from New Hampshire who made his name as part of the iconic 603 duo, Granite State. If you weren’t around back then, it’s hard to appreciate what a breakout year 2006 was, between Granite State’s The Breaking Point and The Aztext dropping Haven’t You Heard? here in Vermont: both albums were proof that local, indie groups were making professional grade hip hop out here in the woods. The bar was raised.

Granite State was only getting started, though: their next LP, 2008’s The RE:Public, saw their production game elevating even further, complete with guest features from Boston legends Reks and Esoteric, in addition to Evidence himself. After a long hiatus for the usual Actual Life Reasons, Bugout stepped back into the breach with a bulletproof solo outing in 2014, The Unfound Chapter, which proved to be a prelude for the duo’s finest achievement to date: the thoughtful, soulful A Tribe Called 30 LP.

Along the way, Bugout has stayed busy in the margins, like teaming up with DJ Nefarious for the BugNef project — which slaps without mercy — or his recent solo EP, One For The Money. All that backstory leads directly to The Monkey House this Saturday night, where Bugout will be performing alongside headliner Cesar Comanche, NC spitter Ghost Dog, and 802 godfather Mister Burns. We took advantage of the occasion for a quick talk about local roots, DIY hustle, and building a legacy.

VTHH: Looking back on The Breaking Point, it's wild how strong your quality control was right from the start. Was DC The MIDI Alien acting as a studio mentor back then, or were you all learning the ropes together?

Bugout: We were making music for years prior to TBP, but that album release really pulled everything together for us. We all discussed the vision before and during the process  (making slight adjustments when needed). Towards the completion we were all working like a machine, it was beautiful. 

VTHH: So did that process just carry right over into The RE:Public album in 2008, or was there some creative downtime in between those LPs?

Bugout: Yeah, there was really no downtime for us, if we weren’t writing new material we were promoting the album, designing new merch, playing shows, doing interviews and recording guest features. The process is slightly different now as a solo artist, but the idea is the same.

VTHH: What was it like trying to promote a dope rap album in New Hampshire in the late 2000s? Were there venues and spaces for that around you or did you mostly have to travel elsewhere?

Bugout: There were a lot of trips to Kinko’s. We would design and print all our own flyers and run around putting them up everywhere. Back then Def Rock had a residency at The Muddy River (now Thirsty Moose) in Portsmouth and we’d always go there to rock, but we were mostly traveling out of state for shows. As the buzz grew local promoters became more receptive.

VTHH: Do you feel like the 603 scene has witnessed a renaissance in recent years? From this side of the border, it seems busier than ever.

Bugout: A lot of doors have been opened in the last few years. Artists are building strong relationships with venues, promoters are staying active, and opportunities like Rap Night are giving newer artists a chance to grow.  Social media and the monthly Think Tank (currently hosted by Cody Pope at Vatican Life) is helping a lot as well. 

VTHH: Do you feel like the overall New England scene is getting more cohesive and active, too?

Bugout: The scene will always be around, but as the trends change, you’ll experience the crowds getting smaller. It happens. If you can ride those waves and stay tight with the hardcore Hip Hop kids you’ll make it through. 

VTHH: Were you looking up to existing rappers, producers, graf heads and DJs in the 603 when you get started, or was the scene pretty sparse?

Bugout: There wasn’t a lot of OGs to look up to around here back then. Def Rock moved up here from MA and really helped us early on. By the time we dropped TBP though, we had built solid relationships with artists from all over. 

VTHH: BugNef was a crazy strong album, to me, all killer no filler. Are there more collaborations with DJ Nefarious on the horizon?

Bugout: Thank you! It’s funny we get asked this all the time. Nef and I have been talking here and there about dropping a follow-up album but it’ll probably be slated for 2020. We’re both busy building our own brands at the moment but there’s no doubt we will be working together again. forever.

VTHH: Your catalog so far spans a huge range of sounds. Where do you want to take your music in the future? Are there things you still feel you need to accomplish?

Bugout: Inspiration is everywhere and sometimes I get caught up on a vibe that just takes me way out. The producers I’ve been working with, from Statik, Nef, Bza, Self Serv, and Neuromancer, is all ends of the spectrum, but what pulls it all together is message, and the real connection and love for the music we all have. I never been afraid to take chances but I think for artists like myself you have to really dial-in your overall image to make it feel cohesive. As far as the future goes, I’m really just trying to get as big as possible without sacrificing my core beliefs and go down in history as one of the greatest lyricists to ever do it. 

Gnothi seauton.

Bugout will be rocking alongside Justus League legend Cesar Comanche at The Monkey House on Saturday, March 30th. Doors are at 8:30 pm. Show is 18+, entry is $8 for a slamming Saturday night.

Justin Boland
TONIGHT: "Friends Like These" Release Party

Tonight at the Stone Church in Brattleboro, some guaranteed entertainment. Friends Like These is a new album from the Light Pockets team of Stresselbee and Doppelganger, who have been plugged into a talented & diverse southern VT rap scene for over a decade now. That’s largely thanks to their work with the Epidemiks crew (which includes Hoarsehed, part of the new Bourbon Legends supergroup), and even before then as People of a Mad Theory. For the release party, they’ll be handing out copies at the door, in addition to giving you a strong lineup of creative rap, all for a ten spot.

The biggest news on the bill is probably Jarv, but don’t sleep on Subtex, a veteran of the Boston-based crew Grey Sky Appeal. He’s touring in support of his recent release Fine Art, a murderously tight EP of dirty bangers and classic scratch hooks. (And features from C Rayz Walz and Ren Thomas.) Rounding out the evening is MC Firebomb, Jay Birdface and Ar$enal, as well as a parade of special and surprise guests — a proper night out, in other words.

Talking about his latest LP, Stresselbee is animated and proud. “Doppelganger and I never really stopped working on our own tracks,” he explains, “and over the past six or seven years, we got together whenever possible to throw down verses on each other’s production. After letting 20-30 tracks go through the rock tumbler that is time, this winter we took the smoothest and prettiest of the gems and finished them off to make the new album.”

There’s a full interview with Stresselbee in the works, but in classic VTHH fashion, I am far behind deadline. In the meantime, go experience some beautiful noise down by the Southeast border.

The ALL AGES party at Stone Church begins at 9pm, but before then, the Light Pockets crew will be doing a free in-store appearance 3 pm this afternoon with Jarv at Turn It Up! Records in downtown Brattleboro (85 Main Street).

Justin Boland
VIDEO: Light Pockets - "Shades of Gray"

Damn, this is a nice video. Light Pockets are the duo of Stresselbee and Doppelganger, who teamed up with Machete Ish artist/producer/mad genius Eyedos for “Shades of Gray,” a laid-back cut with a family feel. The visuals are a perfect compliment, carefully paced and framed, and it looks completely different from most of the rap videos out there — ethereal & greener than green.

This track is from the forthcoming LP “Friends Like These…” and there’s going to be a big release show this Saturday (March 16th, bud) at the Stone Church in Brattleboro. In addition to the Epidemiks extended family, there will be sets from Subtex (Grey Sky Appeal), Ar$enal, and 802 super-spitter Jarv. All Ages, and $10 gets you both admission and a copy of the album, which is a dope touch.

Justin Boland
VIDEO: Cognac Cousins - "Fxck The Landlord"

Brand new visuals from the endlessly prolific Vego Harris — this time the debut of a new group that’s been working in secret, Cognac Cousins. That’s the duo of Yung Breeze and Raw Deff, both standout spitters and longtime friends. No word yet on what we can expect, or when, but there’s clearly a project incoming and that’s good news for everyone.

Justin Boland
Yes, Really: Slick Rick @ Sugarbush on Saturday

With a poster like that, well, you can see why people were unsure if this shit was for real. It doesn’t help that the Facebook page for this is just titled “Hip Hop Event” — and the instructions to “Call Dino for tickets” are also a classic red flag. Those tickets also happen to be $110.

All in all, the vibe here is pretty Shrinedom, and adding Mr. Cheeks to the bill is weird as hell. But this concert is very real — at least, real enough for Seven Days, and they’ve got paid fact-checkers. (Something that will never happen here at VTHH; rest easy, rappers.)

Of course, if you’re not a wealthy tourist bumping rails of Montreal’s finest in some condo right now, there are more affordable options for your Saturday night. First and foremost, there will be ALL VERMONT EVERYTHING, a concert & cypher shoot at Babes Bar in Bethel, really one of the nicer venues in the state these days.

Speaking of damn nice venues: if you’re in the Stowe area on Saturday night, head on over to Rusty Nail Stage to catch NY live-band hip-hop powerhouse Sophistafunk, who have Mister Burns & The Hounds opening. That’s a flawless lineup, and this will be a satisfying Saturday night.

Whatever you wind up doing: don’t drink and drive. Thanks.

Justin Boland
VIDEO: Yung Breeze - "Do What I Do"

Yung video auteur Vego Harris has been on a hot streak lately. Especially this past week, which saw new music videos drop from Raw Deff, Ciurleo, Raw Deff again, and now he’s back with this slick, effective treatment for Yung Breeze. “Do What I Do” is a single off Breeze’s latest mixtape, Election Day: Term 2, which is a packed wall of bars with a distinctly throwback feel.

The prolific style shifter promised to flood the market in 2019, and he’s been doing exactly that. Which is fitting, since he sits at the intersection of two busy crews, So.802 and Street Religion, which has been expanding into New Hampshire. That’s going to be a theme for every team doing serious work this year, as a more unified New England underground emerges and our talent pool continues to improve.

This summer is going to be insane. Props to the creators.

Justin Boland
VIDEO: March Davis - "Bread & Butter"

VT/LA artist March Davis is yet another shining example of how little this website actually matters. This is a point I will never stop making because every month, there’s a dozen new kids jumping into the scene who think a website is, somehow, going to put them on. Such concerns should be beneath you. Blogs are worth less than nothing in 2019.

A solid project, on the other hand, remains solid gold. March Davis had a long-ass road to the release of Del Mar, his breakout 2018 EP that even got a mention in The Source — one of the few hip hop websites that still matters, post-Zuckerborg & post-Spotify. This was around the same time that RESPECT called him “Vermont’s Great Hope.

He’s been moving at a blistering pace ever since, too, cranking out singles and videos and building a following. “Bread & Butter” is one of the best from his recent run, exemplifying the smooth, photogenic hybrid R&B product he’s evolved into.

As slick as all of this looks in 2019, though, March Davis paid a lot of dues in the Green Mountains — back when he went by “Neffy.” He cut his teeth doing his own production, recording, booking & promotion in Bennington and beyond. Something From Nothing, right? There is no other path to a fanbase, and all that work is mandatory.

So don’t focus on being the biggest or the best — focus on getting your life in order. Focus on being your best self. In closing, here’s March Davis and Yung Breeze flexing over some THEN WHAt production, talking about just that.

Justin Boland
THROWBACK: Rhythm Ruckus - "Being Geniuses Together"

Rhythm Ruckus were/are a rap duo from Saxtons River, a village tucked into the town of Rockingham down in Windsor County. They had a hell of a run leading up to “Being Geniuses Together,” which wound up being their final LP. At least for now.

Consisting of Scribe1 and Doc C — formerly Dr. Caucasian — they rapped their asses off, played tons of shows, and recorded pro grade tracks with major league guest rappers from Breez Evahflowin to Kool G Rap. You can get the whole story from Scribe1 himself, who took the time to write the best Letter to the Editor that VTHH has received so far: read that here. “I invented Vermont rap and I'm not seeing the love necessary” will suffice for now.

The album itself is lean, mean rap purist shit. BGT is all chopped, smoky loops and hella obscure vocal samples, a packed aesthetic that favors fast-moving songs. It also captures the vibe of their crushing live shows, especially the back-to-back attack of “Shadow & Fog” into “Soft Language” — two of the best cuts on no-fat tracklist. It’s easy to hear what these beats would do at high volumes in confined spaces.

Both rappers give approximately 110% on BGT, which is inevitable: that’s the whole point of Rhythm Ruckus. “A well-timed, studied attack," as Doc C puts it on the hook to “VTHG.” (Which unpacks to “Vermont Home Grown.”) These are two educated heads, bringing a diverse vocabulary of flow patterns that adapts to every beat. It’s distinctly East Coast, as much Mobb Deep as Def Jux, but you can tell they both came up listening to everything.

There are also genuinely good hooks here, something which never fails to surprise me on rap LPs. “Everybody Does It!” chops some 80’s New Wave jawn into a driving, radio-ready single that doesn’t sound remotely “crossover” or “pop.” Which is impressive. It’s the invisible 5th Element of behind-the-scenes calculations and quality control that always separated Rhythm Ruckus from the herd.

As a swan song, Being Geniuses Together couldn’t be a better artifact. It captures the crew at the top of their game and it definitely stands as one of the best 802 rap albums from any era. It also stands as, well … pretty much all the credentials they need to talk as much shit as they like. Let’s put it that way.

So: a toast to some legends. Bump the album, get familiar, know the name. Cheers.

“All these albums were self produced/recorded. All the beats were made by guys from Vermont.

Listen to these. Take time to review them on your site. Let people know a dynasty was born, ruled and collapsed 150 miles south of you.

Peace. “


Justin Boland
Saturday, March 2nd: BUILDING BLOCKS 4

APOLOGIES FOR THE CAPS LOCK AND ALL, BUT IT’S A BIG DEAL. With a surprise announcement and minimal lead time, the next edition of the Building Blocks hip hop community celebration / battle has been announced, and it’s gonna be this Saturday. As in tomorrow. There’s not a lot of details yet outside the flyer, but I’ll update this as we get ‘em.

Still, when the Rhythm Riderz Crew say it’s gonna be a dope party: it’s gonna be a dope party. We know this now. Bring food and clothing and expect a great time.

Photo: courtesy of Rico James

Photo: courtesy of Rico James

Justin Boland