DJ Kanga: Live from The Radiator

A Saturday Special for the folks at home: last week’s Equal Eyes Radio session on 105.9 FM The Radiator featured DJ Kanga(nade) selecting and cutting for an impressive two hour set. Fortunately, that performance got recorded and now you can enjoy this on your own schedule, courtesy of Rico James. Dig it.

If you missed last year’s interview with Kanga, it’s a great read and it still gets a lot of traffic in 2019. The man loves what he does.

The Radiator is a local BTV institution run by Big Heavy World, the non-profit guardian angels of the 802 music scene. (Really, tho.) They’ve got a broad selection of flavors on tap and a lot of opportunities for local hip hop artists, too. Also check out Heavy Hittas on Friday nights from 10 pm to 1 am, with DJ Flame selecting deep cuts and reggae flavors, and producer / DJ / superhuman Fattie B’s show Bangers and Mash, which starts at 10 pm every first and third Wednesday.

The next episode of Equal Eyes Radio will be Sunday, Feb. 17th, 10 am to High Noon.

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Justin Boland
VIDEO: Gringo Montega - "I'm Not a Rapper"

Start your Friday off with a short, blistering and nicely produced video from Gringo Montega, one of the masterminds from the So.802 crew. “I’m Not a Rapper” is a quick statement of purpose from an artist who is quite busy toiling in other fields these days. Gringo Montega is a recent name change for the multi-faceted emcee / producer formerly known as Vazy. In addition to some standout solo work (check out “The Field”) he is/was also half of the duo Causin’ Effect alongside Jibba “The Gent.” It would be no exaggeration to call them both underground legends at this point.

The video was shot and edited by THEN WHAt, another multi-faceted veteran from the So.802 crew. This marks his first music video, but he’s been killing it lately with the Bad Cool-Aid series, as well as a recent run of artist interviews. (No Sleep coming soon.)

Now, I’m not here to blow up anyone’s day jobs, but I will repeat: true success is often completely invisible. There are a lot of artists doing big things in these woods, and because they’re doing real projects for real money — in the middle of real adulthood — they’re not putting every moment of that on Facebook and Instagram. After a certain point, there’s just nothing to prove to a bunch of anonymous strangers anymore.

So far in 2019, I’ve had two dozen artists tell me, earnestly, that this is their year, and when they blow up, they’re going to put Vermont on the map for all time. I appreciate the thought, bud, no joke. Just the same, there are far more realistic goals for you to aspire to in the meantime.

Consider: I have nothing else to tell you about Gringo Montega to finish this little post up. He doesn’t have a press kit ready to go for me and he doesn’t even care if I cover this or not. He isn’t hyping up any future projects — those surely exist, but he’s not in any rush. He doesn’t have to be. He’s got an actual fan base that’s going to wait patiently, because he’s been focused for years on making quality music and being himself on every track. Now it’s 2019 and nobody can bite his style. And he doesn’t need rap to save him.

Food for thought. That long road might be worth it.

Justin Boland
SATURDAY: Mikey D of Main Source @ The Monkey House
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This Saturday is going to be another VMB Productions blowout in Winooski, featuring a distinctly old school roster of talent. The headliner is Mikey D, formerly of the groundbreaking New York / Toronto crew, Main Source. Although he is most famous for his 90’s work, his legacy has only grown since — he’s been called “The Best Rapper You Never Heard Of” as recently as 2016. He’ll be joined by DJ Mercury, who will be setting the tone and selecting deep cuts all night.

For anyone tuning in late, VMB is run by Mister Burns, a gentleman who has quietly paved many of the roads we currently take for granted in the 802 “scene.” Since his days with the state champion Lynguistic Civilians, he’s been elevating his game on every front. His shows always feature carefully chosen lineups, and this Saturday is no exception.

First up is Peso131, a rap entertainer from across the Lake in Plattsburgh, NY. The man is a reliable party; born to work the crowd. He’ll be joined by sets from Konflik and Learic, surely two of our best rappers, period, in addition to 2018 breakout success stories Asah Mack and Mavstar. And, of course, Mister Burns will be rocking, too … why wouldn’t you play at your own party?

To top it all off, BTV hip hop legend Melo Grant will be hosting the whole affair.

The Monkey House will be absolutely hopping and the vibe will be quality all night. Somehow, all this fun is only $5 at the door. 18+. 9 pm.

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Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: Some Blizzard Music For The 802
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Welcome back to another selection of some of 2019’s best new tunes. It’s a mix of familiar names and brand new talent. So far, the new year has confirmed my suspicions that some of this year’s biggest stories will be surprises, flying into the ring with a steel chair outta nowhere. I’m also betting it will be both harder and easier than ever to put these roundups together, thanks to continually improving quality control.

In other words, everyone is getting real good at sounding real dope. Props to the creators and props to the engineers.

THEN WHAt — a/k/a Selfish Presley — and Yung Breeze have a lot in common, including the fact they’re both artists and engineers. And it shows. They’ve been on a prolific run for months now, but “Sinbad” was a serious standout. The vibe is impeccable through the first verse, and it’s clear that Selfish Presley’s upcoming project, No Sleep, will be a monster. What really sends this cut into the stratosphere, though, is that second verse from Yung Breeze, who absolutely snaps.

Bourbon Legends is a new group featuring some of the foremost unsung spitters in the state: Hoarsehed, Eyedos and Eugenyks. Their debut single features brutal & funny verses over some whumping hardcore boom bap, pretty much exactly like it should. It also features a dope chorus by NYC grime lord Ruste Juxx. You can tell there’s a lot of mutual respect in this trio because all three emcees bring their A+ game to the booth here. Whatever comes next … damn.

Rapper TAZE is a new artist on the scene, and “Venom” is a damn impressive debut. She can spit, bud. (She will also be doing so live on Feb. 21st at the next round of 3rd Thursdays at The Monkey House.) This is a straightforward rap workout, flexing some flows to show & prove. It’s also a new front on an emerging Lamoille County wave — those backwoods are buzzing right now.

This new single from Fresh and Flex 45 is a perfect rap demo: sure, the quality is a little rough here, but the performances shine. The hook is genuinely good, and both of these verses are rock solid work from confident emcees. My bet is that 2019 is going to make it clear they’re also songwriters with some real depth to offer. Keep an eye out for these names.

Up next, a new soundscape from producer SkySplitterInk. “Epiphany” was the winner of the second round of the VTHH Sample Challenge, a regular contest that’s being run by Flip Physics. Calling it a big success would understate what’s going on. The contributions so far have been extremely impressive, testifying to a much deeper beat scene than scientists had previously estimated. Here, the maestro kicks off with a groove that hovers between DJ Spinna and Aphex Twin, then brings in one of his trademark, gorgeous guitar lines to ride it all out.

Omega Jade is back with a strong new cut which demonstrates a lot of growth — she sounds more comfortable, and dynamic, in the booth on “The Power Of My Mantra.” Her pen game is getting sharper, too, but that’s always been a strong point for this introspective, poetic emcee. Another constant has been the soulful production of Rico James. In his collaborations with Omega Jade, he’s side-stepped his usual sound to provide lush, left-field beats that create a huge space for her performances. This is not an official group, but it’s still one of the most interesting and consistent duos going right now.

Justin Boland
Feb 14th: Cellar Cypher Series @ Drink
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Everyone in the state respects 3rd Thursdays at The Monkey House, a concert series & community hub created, and cultivated, by the Anthill Collective. That especially includes the #STILTZgang team behind the Cellar Cypher Series, a rap weekly which was evolved into a vital workshop with a rotating cast of old and new BTV rap talent. Their event is on Thursdays, too, but they’ve always taken that third one off.

The next installment marks something new: in addition to the usual open mic space, there will be a one song, “best track” competition where the prize is a slot to perform at the next edition of 3rd Thursdays on Feb. 21st. This will be decided by good old fashioned crowd response. This is both good synergy and a just plain cool idea.

Vermont may be undergoing an overall population decline, but we’re also in an era where there is more unheard talent than ever. Getting them into the ecosystem early means they’ll learn more and mature faster, right? It’s a theory, at least.

As ever, props to Colby Stiltz and Big Homie Wes for putting in the elbow grease to keep this new platform not only going, but growing. 9 pm. 18+ $5, 21+ $3.

Justin Boland
VIDEO: Jun Fargo - "Wish Upon A Star"

Some fresh, crisp new visuals for Jun Fargo’s recent single “Wish Upon A Star,” courtesy of Miles Goad at DVP Cinematography. This track has grown some legs — 10k plays on Soundcloud so far — and this video treatment definitely kicks it up a few levels. Along with producer THEN WHAt, the team made the absolute most of a crisp winter day in Burlington, delivering a colorful, vivid final cut. Dig it.

Justin Boland
Feb. 19th - Blackalicious @ Arts Riot
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There’s a real hot ticket coming through BTV on a Tuesday night: west coast legends Blackalicious will be swinging through to crush a headline set at Arts Riot. Now, I had assumed that Chief Xcel and Gift of Gab were mostly famous to … well, a certain older demographic, including dinosaurs like myself. It turns out, though, that Harry Potter recently made these cats famous again, which is proof we’re living through profoundly strange times.

So this was going to sell out anyway, but props to Arts Riot for sweetening the deal with some top notch local talent. Loupo & Crusty Cuts will be getting things started, and that is a powerful tag team. They’re both ace DJs and dope producers, so expect anything. Up next, Jarv is probably the single most appropriate possible choice to compliment a rapper as precise & agile as Gift of Gab. He’s been having a strong year and he’s about to hit some east coast dates with The Palmer Squares, too.

All in all, this looks like a guaranteed good time, and on a weeknight, too.

8:30 pm show. $18 adv / $20 door. ALL AGES.

Justin Boland
Es-K - "Continuance"
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As the Buffalo, NY philosopher Conway always reminds us, “there are levels to this shit.” To attain the level that Es-K is on right now requires a lot of time and a lot of thought — this is a young man who carefully studies not only the artform, but his own process. Due to the improvements and corrections he’s been making over the years, he’s pulled off something rare: balancing a prolific output with demanding quality control.

With Continuance, we find Es-K developing several threads of his recent career at once. The first is his ongoing collaborations, with producers and musicians alike. His work has always featured a few choice cuts, but here, those experiments get bumped up to center stage. There are a lot of guests, yet it’s still a seamless ride. Everyone gets the vibe & everyone nails it, too, including some 802 guests like keyboard funk virtuoso Danny Whitney, producer Flip Physics, lo-fi laureate David Chief, and of course, longtime collaborator Loupo.

The other thread getting continued on this LP is Es-K’s explorations into … well, back in the 90’s, biologists called it Acid Jazz. The low end is fat but never slamming, the mixes are deep and lush, and every track develops like a song instead of looping like a beat. This is carefully produced headphone food, and it sounds even better on a big system.

So while Es-K’s DNA is still infused with boom bap, it’s a wild contrast to hold his recent work up against, say, the jazzy dust of Here and Now or his epic Spontaneous Grooves series. It’s been a huge evolution to witness. Wherever this cat is headed in the next five years, it’s going to be dope.

If you’d like to get Continuance on vinyl, head over to Qcrates to learn how.

Justin Boland
OUTSIDE INFLUENCE: Everett Gibbons
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New Hampshire’s Everett Gibbons has been a patient, positive force in his local scene for years now. He organizes, manages, books, promotes, networks and hustles — all the dance moves any indie artist needs to know. During that time, he’s also honed himself into a damn fine rapper, as his recent Pomagranite Music project will attest.

That title is no typo: it’s a play on the granite state, New Hampshire, and the MA of Massachusetts. It’s also the name of the team he’s assembled for the next phase of his career. For the first installment of the Outside Influence series, I reached out to Gibbons to talk shop about work and about goals. Enjoy.

VTHH: Your life and career seems to have straddled the border between NH and MA -- is there a lot of bleed between those scenes?

Everett Gibbons: My hometown, Pelham, NH doesn’t have a highway access. It’s right on the state line and is stuck in the middle of Nashua, Hudson, Salem NH, and Dracut, Lowell, Methuen, and Lawrence MA. New Hampshire has Rap-Night, shout out IBI, DJ Myth and Shup. They have weekly shows on Sunday nights bringing in dope national, and local acts to Manchester. On the southern side of the line, I feel most MA artists gravitate towards the Boston, Cambridge and Worcester areas. There’s a lot of dope artists right now in Lowell, MA, too.  I’ve tried to be the common denominator with my music and shows, and have definitely brought more awareness to the dope artists from both scenes. 

VTHH: What advice do you have for New England artists trying to build a scene where they're at?

Everett Gibbons: Just be authentic. Know your influences. Pay artists for their time. Don’t get ripped off by venues. Understand mostly nothing is free. You have to be social. Don't expect people to care. and never listen to the h8rs, bruh. If you build it, they will come. 

VTHH: When you were getting started, who were the regional acts you looked up to? 

Everett Gibbons: Keeping it in New England; I'd say Decap, World Around Records (Hump Jones, Louis Mackey, Dr. Quandary), Guru from Gangstarr, Brady Watt, Della Kinetic & others I'm surely forgetting. Those people had a pretty crazy impact on me creatively, especially when i was just starting out. 

VTHH: As someone who's run a lot of shows and seen a lot of sets, what are the most common mistakes you see artists making with their live shows?

Everett Gibbons: Not knowing how to hold or enunciate into a performance mic properly. Rapping over full volume lyric tracks. Forgetting their flash drive so they play soundcloud off their phone. When an artist leaves after their set, instead of taking time to interact with people. I could go all day. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, another artist comes along to remind you how far you've come. 

VTHH: With most of the artists I interview, I'm basically doing original research. You've gotten a ton of press by comparison. Are you actively your own publicist or does that happen organically for you?

Everett Gibbons: I'm pretty active on Instagram, Soundcloud and other social media, but honestly I'm lucky to have the people i do behind me.  Both of my sisters, Emylee and Alyson have gotten me great press as well as my buddy Aidan. The organic side of press is pretty amazing, though. When random people reach out saying they're interested in what I’m doing, it gives me a little feeling of affirmation, which is a nice reminder of why I do what I do. I wouldn’t be anywhere without the whole Pomagranite team, so shoutout to Della, BryllCharlie Mixwelh, Joey Roxitt, Aidan, West, my family, and everybody else who fucks with us. 

VTHH: What are you working on for 2019?

Everett Gibbons: 2019 is gonna be dedicated to building with the the team, and really trying to raise the bar for ourselves. We all have solo hustles but we're trying to reach the point where we can tour and spread our music out of the direct region. You can expect The Treatment to be released on February 14th. It’s a group project that we made down in Florida. We made like 9 songs in 4 full days and trimmed the fat to 6 tracks that we all really mess with. We're trying to incorporate travel into our music, grabbing vibes from places we visit, and letting the music be influenced by the location. You can expect new music/visuals from Pomagranite practically every month in 2019. 

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Juni of Hella Fader
L to R: Juni and KISH4WN

L to R: Juni and KISH4WN

We first covered young emcee Juni back in October, and he’s been on an impressive run of singles ever since. He’s got a fresh, playful rapping style, paired with intricate bars. He’s also got a real appreciation for quality control: his catalog bumps in high-fidelity stereo panorama. Now that he’s begun work with a new group — make that a familyHella Fader, featuring Moose and KISH4WN, it was time to catch up with this humble & hilarious “rapping dad.”

VTHH: From where I'm sitting, it seems like you really found your sound. Do you think last year was a turning point for you? 

Juni: I definitely feel like 2018 was a huge turnaround for me. I received more support than I ever had to pursue my dream in making music from my family and friends, so I decided to fully immerse myself into polishing my style and releasing something for the public to hear. I personally think I still have a ways to go before I really have tightened up my sound, but I know that I’m learning fast and making strides.

VTHH: What was your introduction to hip hop? Did you want to be a rapper from the beginning?

Juni: Growing up in the Boston area in the late 90s, early 2000’s, hip hop was always prominent in my life, but I remember my mom always playing all types of stuff when I was a kid like Biggie, Tribe Called Quest, and a lot more, that was my first real taste of hip hop. I actually didn’t want to be a rapper until way later. I can recall the exact moment I decided I wanted to be a rapper and that’s when I heard the Capital Steez song Doggybag about 7 years ago. The lyricism and wordplay in that song really hit me for some reason and made me fall in love with art that is hip hop! Since then I’ve been working on getting better with every track I write.

VTHH: You've got a unique, complex style -- what other artists would you consider influences, at this point?

Juni: I have definitely taken a lot of notes from multiple different artists to try and come up with my own unique sounds. Huge influences for me would be like Mac Miller - R.I.P., Logic, Method Man, Tobe Nwigwe, and most of the Pro Era/Beast Coast crew.

VTHH: How did you connect with the rest of the Hella Fader crew?

Juni: I actually met the family through my good friend Warren. He knew that I loved rapping, and he knew both Moose and Kish4wn were dope lyricists, so he brought them to my job one day and we all cyphered and from there, we stayed homies. After a while we all started chilling more and one day the idea just came up that we should create not just a group, but a family. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Warren introducing us I don’t know if we would've ever met and started this awesome movement. 

VTHH: What are you cooking up for 2019?

Juni: 2019 is definitely gonna bring some craziness! Kish4wn and I have our first EP coming out in Spring called The Astral Project. We were supposed to release it on New Years, but unfortunately we ran into a couple snags. We’ve managed to work out what we needed to, and are now working on finishing production. Also, we have a few music videos that we plan to release later in the year as well as multiple singles. I will also be featured in the upcoming Unleash the Underground cypher, which I’m super excited about. Any other info on new projects and drop dates can always be found in my Instagram and Facebook posts.

Justin Boland
Feb. 7th: Dilla Day 2019 @ Sidebar
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The team at Sidebar is celebrating Dilla Day once again, and that is good news for your earholes. Their Dilly Day event last year was a big success, and the lineup for 2019 is crispy as heck: Crusty Cuts, Loupo, Moochie and of course, DJ SVPPLY, who did an (awesome) interview with VTHH late last year. As for Loupo, he’s been quiet since October’s Throwaway EP but promises there’s some new heat on the horizon.

The festivities will start at 10 pm sharp, and there is no cover at all. Dig it.

Justin Boland
March 9th: ALL VERMONT EVERYTHING
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March is shaping up to be a crazy month. On Friday the 8th, ATL breakout star J.I.D will be rocking Higher Ground — that party is already sold out. The next night, something huge is happening at Babes Bar in Bethel: ALL VERMONT EVERYTHING, a cypher video shoot and live show, the first of its kind and kind of a big deal.

Naturally, anything this ambitious is a collaboration. “HLR” is Hustle & Loyalty Records — recently rebranded for the new year — and “UTU” is Unleash The Underground, an impressive new platform based out of Connecticut. It’s run by rapper / entrepreneur Jynx, a hard worker and a downright humble guy, quick to credit his collaborators and partners.

So far, his cypher series videos have racked up just over 50,000 views for the artists he’s featured. That’s juice, and that’s also a recipe for long term growth. He’ll be working with the Kings Series Music Group video team to film the 13th and 14th installments in Bethel, which feature a parade of 802 talent. (Seriously, props to whoever put that lineup together — Vermont is very well represented here.)

In addition, DJ Mike “Philly” Fulton will be holding down the decks, and there will be solo sets from some of the performers, along with some CT artists who are making the trek up north to network & build. This is going to be a wild night, and $5 is a bargain.

Justin Boland
TONIGHT: Hip Hop at The Lamp Shop #3
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Quite an interesting lineup convening this evening at Light Club Lamp Shop, a dope venue that’s been hosting a lot of hip hop in recent months. This latest venture is organized by the Root Radio team from 105.9 The Radiator. They’re on every Friday night, occupying the rather prime real estate of 8 pm to 10 pm, and their focus — much like this website — is promoting local music. (You can also stream their show & hundreds of others on Big Heavy World.)

First up, the show will feature a new artist, TAZE. Not only is she new to me, she’s new enough to not have anything recorded yet, so this set will actually be a world exclusive. That alone should be enough, but there’s also going to be a set from Big Homie Wes, whose smart, strong hustle in 2018 has made him one of the most visible artists in the scene. He has also released a couple real bangers.

Rounding out the bill is Mavstar, whose Gangsta Trail Mix LP was one of last years biggest surprises, and Hella Fader, a group featuring Juni, Moose, and KISH4WN. All three of them share chopping, melodic flows and a taste for banging, futuristic beats — I’m definitely looking forward to whatever they’re cooking up in the lab.

All in all, this is a great opportunity to get a sneak peek at what 2019 has to bring. It’s also a great excuse to hang out with your neighbors instead of spending another night staring at a screen. Doors @ 9:30, Music @ 10, $5 cover. This will be an All Ages show.

Justin Boland
SkySplitterInk - "XIX"
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SkySplitterInk has been a serious asset to our scene — and community — for a long time now. He’s a producer, an emcee, a multi-instrumentalist, but even that is just the beginning. He’s a professional recording engineer who paid dues as a sound guy, as many of them do. Behind the console, he’s racked up a massive portfolio of credits — here’s a partial reckoning. He’s also an educator who’s been helping a whole generation of BTV talent hone their chops.

His new album XIX, which dropped yesterday on Equal Eyes Records, is a lean beast. The LP is proof that he’s one of the foremost producers in a talented scene.

The difference isn’t just the musicianship, which is impeccable. What really makes XIX cook is the fact that SkySplitterInk has his own distinct artistic vision: every track here is impressively cohesive, and the tracklist itself is perfection. This is a journey, constructed by a highly experienced engineer. Along the way, he’s jamming with Loupo and tagging in 802 superweapon DJ Kanga in for some damn nice cuts & scratches.

SkySplitterInk’s sound is driven by a refined, almost classical, melodic ear. That gets rounded out by his endless creativity in the rhythm section — you can tell he plays the drums. Not only does everything bump, it shifts around a lot. He’s got that 6th sense for how to keep introducing new ideas without ever interrupting the pulse of his songs. That’s a couple steps beyond just being a solid producer; that’s some Quincy Jones meets Aphex Twin shit.

This is a project that could grow some serious legs, and deserves it, too. These tracks ain’t loops, they’re compositions. There’s a lot of demand for quality instrumental hip hop these days, whether for workouts and study sessions or good old licensing money. (Ads for cars and liquor have to bang out now, it’s Federal law since 2002.) And besides, the closing cut “Tragic Hero” is a movie theme waiting to happen.

Props to SkySplitterInk for an incredibly professional, mature album. He’s really raised the bar with this one.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: The Frozen Sounds of 2019
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2019, as expected, has been off to a busy, competitive start. This is good news for pretty much everyone.

GOOD WTHR dropped their latest single on New Years Day, which saw a number of local releases drop. It’s a bright, bluesy banger with a real nice pocket and, of course, a catchy hook. This duo keeps getting more musical as their catalog expands, and it’s been a treat to watch. That beat is courtesy of German producer Whatson, who’s been working with the AZT fam for many years now. Here’s to many more.

Up next, brand new Asah Mack. This young spitter is spooky consistent, and “Winter” is another dose of pure energy. His beat selection remains impeccable — seriously, his whole SoundCloud is a feat of quality control. (I could do another Rap Coach riff about how important this approach is, but we all know that song by now, right?) Whatever he’s got in the works, it’s going to be formidable. Catch him at Sidebar on Feb. 15th.

Dolla Day just released a new one-off, “Vice Bity Vibes,” and even with the rough sound quality, I loved it. This is a ferocious performance and some nicely cut bars. Dolla Day is a promising talent, and I’m hopeful to see big things in 2019. He’s also a core part of the St. Albans Wave I keep warning you about — it might not sound serious, bud, but it will be. There’s a lot of talent up there, and it’s a very different flavor from the BTV scene.

Hermit samurai master XP has been on a quietly prolific run in recent years, cranking out tightly produced singles. His engineering skills have improved considerably since the early home studio days, and whenever his next LP drops, it’s going to be some top notch product. “Forgiven” is a deeply personal cut and one hell of a ride. “Every second I waste could be another record I make.” Saying that this dude is an elite writer is redundant at this point. All Hail.

Whenever mountain prophet and small farmer Humble drops a new project, it’s generally a surprise attack. His latest LP, Humble X Old Gold, was no exception, manifesting on New Years Day outta nowhere. As with his previous projects, it’s definitely got a home studio feel, but he’s also definitely one of the sharpest songwriters in the state, and this project is full of gems. “Where does that leave me?,” a short, funky, old-school joyride alongside accomplice Jarv, is one of my favorites.

Speaking of the jazzy, refined 802 producer Old Gold, he’s the first winner of a beat contest that’s running over at the Vermont Hip-Hop Artists Collective group on Zuckerborg. (There’s another one going right now - deadline is Jan. 28th.) Organized by Beat Theory Crew member Flip Physics, the contest got a ton of impressive submissions, and choosing a winner was damn hard.

The Vermont hip hop production scene is strong, and growing stronger. Rappers, there is no excuse for wack beats in 2019.

Justin Boland
THE FIVE SPOT: Drive
Photo:  Drive  (and  DJ Mike “Philly” Fulton! ) courtesy of   Brett North Photography

Photo: Drive (and DJ Mike “Philly” Fulton!) courtesy of Brett North Photography

Editor: The Five Spot is a new series where I’m asking local artists to select some of their favorite local tracks, and talk about why. The catch is that the fifth song has to be their own. The first-ever installment was by Omega Jade — her picks are excellent — and next up is promising Lamoille county emcee Drive. Dig it.

There is no order with this list, if you are offended by it then don’t read it.

Jarv - “Move”

This is not only one of my favorite VT hip hop tracks, but one of my favorite tracks in general. It’s one of those songs I play just about every time I feel unmotivated or want to get hyped about a studio session. It’s smooth, catchy, clever, and real. Can there be a better combination? I’ve never not been impressed by a Jarv song, but this one in particular has stuck with me for a multitude of reasons. For one, you can really tell (especially if you follow this dude on social media) that Jarv truly puts in the work that he speaks of which is a quality that is quite rare these days. Listening to this track and seeing the sheer amount of effort that Jarv puts in day to day is truly motivational, as a young artist it’s the type of quality that I hope one day to attain through the moves that I make.

SkySplitterInk - “Force Field Ahead ft. Humble, Question the MC, and Rajnii”

This track is almost indescribably good, but I’ll do my best. Every single artist who participated on this cut absolutely brought their A game. From the producing, mixing, and mastering to the soulful, advice filled verses, this song has cemented itself into my Top 5 VT Hip-Hop tracks so far. Everyone on this track is someone I look up to. Ever since I first saw Humble and Question freestyle at my first Monkey House show, they have been huge inspirations to me musically as well as for life in general. I’ve spent a lot of time with Question (I mean he is my uncle) but no times have been as great as the ones of recent memory, specifically when I started to delve into the Hip Hop scene. He constantly is providing me with advice, history, and life stories much like he does with his music. SkySplitterInk is the person I most respect in all of VT Hip-Hop due to his kind attitude towards everyone, monster work ethic, and the pristine quality of everything he works on. I do not know much of Rajnii’s body of work but he absolutely did his thing on this as well. Thank you all for this gem of a track.

Raw Deff x XP - “Love and Hate”

When I first played this off of the absolutely phenomenal Uninvited Guest project by Raw Deff, my jaw literally dropped. Chills ran through my body as I knew I had stumbled across something amazing, this might be the most relatable song I’ve ever heard from an artists standpoint. Not to mention Deff & XP are two of the best artists I’ve heard, and that’s not just locally. These dudes are creating gold with every track but this one hit home for me. Crisp and precise verses topped by a beautiful hook make this song something I bump on repeat no matter my mood.

Yung Breeze - “Call It That”

Yung Breeze has THE most versatile catalog I have heard, period. If you want bars he has them, if you want to get hype he has tracks for that, if you want to vibe he has tracks for that, and if you want to get taken back to the golden era of Hip Hop he can take you there as well. So it was very difficult to pick my favorite Breeze track, but this is the one that came out on top and I know he has a lot more quality work coming. This man is the definition of grinding for what he loves, so he gets nothing but the utmost respect from me. This track in particular is in my opinion a solid showcase of Breeze’s style. He says what he wants, he says what he feels, and he does it all with clever wordplay as well as his standard effortless delivery and flow. I highly suggest you check this man’s catalog as well as everyone else on this list.

Drive - “On That”

Now normally I would not include myself on this list, as I don’t see myself anywhere near the top 5 tracks in VT Hip Hop…yet. This is not my favorite track I’ve made, but it is my favorite that I have released, as well as the one that I have gotten the best response on. I made this track for a one take competition and it really was a step in the right direction for the style that I have been trying to attain throughout my short career. I pride myself on wordplay, lyricism, and realness all of which were touched in this track thus making it my favorite release so far. It was also extremely fun to create, from working with SkySplitter and watching him work his magic to the filming process with my close friend Liam Lenel. It’s truly amazing creating something from scratch with friends and it’s something I really hope to do more of throughout 2019.

Justin Boland
THROWBACK: OldGold - "Preservation"
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I’ve been a fan of OldGold since I first heard his work on Humble’s 2017 LP, Premonition. (They just teamed up again for a 21 track winter solstice project, Humble x Old Gold.) However, it wasn’t until this morning that I bought OldGold’s 2016 instrumental LP, Preservation. That represents a serious oversight on my part.

Several spins later, and, well…I’ll probably be bumping this tomorrow, too. Preservation is a finely tailored project, overflowing with ideas and sounds. OldGold is almost showing off, flipping between subgenres and killing them softly. With frequent help from BTV mastermind Crusty Cuts, he not only gets everything right, he makes it his own — all of these tracks add up to a single statement.

Everything here swings, as jazzy as it is funky, and that looseness often disguises what a precise producer OldGold is. His handiwork is a matter of microchops, careful mixing, and an educated ear. Keeping everything in key is important, but he also excels at sequencing drums. Dude can do the Dilla thing as well as any cracker alive, but he’s got a much bigger vocabulary of rhythmic ideas to draw from and that is why Preservation stands out.

The album was released on Chicago imprint Blvnt Records, who also released the excellent Es-K x Loupo collaboration, Sanctuary. Props to 802 producers making national moves. Also, if you love instrumental hip hop, buy both of those albums and thank me later.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Raw Deff
Photo courtesy of   Brett North Photography

Photo courtesy of Brett North Photography

Raw Deff has been a standout spitter for years now, but 2018 saw him stepping it up on several important levels. There’s been a string of killer singles and guest verses, increasingly high profile shows — most recently, opening up for Jarren Benton in Manchester, NH — and he’s been working closely with the newly reunited So.802 crew, who are prepping for a huge 2019.

Here, though, we’re mostly looking back at some of the long, intertwined rap history shared by Vermont and New Hampshire. We’re also talking shop about songwriting, performance and influences. Enjoy.

VTHH: I first realized you were flames grade material when I saw that "40 Bars of Raw" video, but when I investigated, man, you already had a deep catalog. When do you feel like you started hitting the standards you heard in your head growing up?

Raw Deff: I mean, it seems like every year I look back and listen to my last project and feel like I’m already better than I was then. I think I reached a point of contentment with myself as an artist in 2016. Extraordinary Failure was the one that I really took seriously through the whole process of making it. If somebody who’s never heard of me asks me where to start in my catalog of music, I’d point them in that direction.

VTHH: I still think Uninvited Guest was one the best rap LPs of 2018. What was the process when you assembled that?

Raw Deff: The process for that project was pretty much just trying to find a perfect balance of substance and ignorance. I always tried to have a record for everybody on all my projects but at this point, I realized I just want to make the same kind of music I would listen to myself. Although I felt as if I kinda did that with Uninvited Guest unintentionally. But, I’d rather do it organically than forcefully so it worked out well.

VTHH: What is your process for writing verses? Are you an obsessive editor?

Raw Deff: When I write, usually the beat dictates everything. The mood, the tone, the cadence...is all a compliment to the beat (not sure if that’s a good or bad technique) but that’s just how I’ve done it for so long. Every now and then I’ll write in silence then surf through my beats and find which one it matches best with. I’ll usually write my rhyme, give it a day or two, go back and tweak a few things, depending if it’s gonna help in the recording process, then call it a wrap. (Pun intended.)

VTHH: When you started rhyming, where were you getting feedback and finding community? Were there locals doing hip hop yet?

Raw Deff: Yeah, I usually got decent feedback, I’ve been writing since I was 10 or so, I started publicly rapping in front of my friends around the age of 15. It was always positive feedback from them, but in retrospect that’s not really who I was looking for a reaction from. I didn’t know of too many locals who actually made records, just a few kids would rap in cyphers at parties with me. As far as cats that were actually recording, all I really knew was Breadtruck Productions. Then of course when XP came into the picture, he fucked up all my confidence in being the illest around. I wanted to quit after I first heard him.

VTHH: Amen to that. It looks like you managed to work things out with XP since you first heard him, though. How did the Hellrazors project with him come together? Is there more in the vault?

Raw Deff: Yeah, XP and I have put out a couple full length projects in the past. The first tape we did came about through mutual acquaintances. We linked up to record a song, found out we had similar interests, and within a few months we laid down roughly 20 records. We “released” our first project in 2012 then we dropped a follow up mixtape 2 Hell & Back in 2015.

Since then, we’ve just been focusing on our solo stuff with a few features from each other here and there but we’re still close. Music aside, that’s one of my best friends. And yes, there’s definitely music in the vault and new material on the way. Expect more this year.

VTHH: Who are you feeling in New England these days? Do you have local cats in rotation on your stereo?

Raw Deff: There’s a lot of dope talent in New England. Some are deservedly getting their shine. The ones that are are almost exclusively from Mass. Such as...Reks, Joyner, Millyz, Termanology, Slaine, Esoteric, Jaysaun, Krumbsnatcha, Edo G. I definitely gotta shout out the 656 Records crew up in Maine, all of them get busy.

Still, most days though, I find myself playing the same albums I grew up on from the 90’s. I definitely dig a lot of local cats too. As far as local musicians (VT & NH) that I keep in rotation...XP is always in there, The Aztext, Yung Breeze, Wombaticus Rex, Mike Wing, Maiden Voyage, Granite State, Drive, Jibba the Gent (just to name a few) there’s plenty more. There’s a lot of dope dudes around here at the moment. I expect to see a surplus in really good music come out of VT from here on out.

VTHH: You had a dope run of shows in 2018 -- do you have any favorites, in terms of crowds or venues?

Raw Deff: A versatile crowd is always a great crowd. To make fans out of people who not only don’t know who you are, but don’t listen to that genre of music on the regular, is always a dope feeling. My favorite show(s) this year was probably 656fest up in Maine this past summer. In terms of venues, the more intimate spots are dope because it makes the experience more personal on behalf of the audience. The bigger venues are fun just to wild out and be more physically expressive. Just to name a few, I’ve always loved The Shaskeen in Manchester NH. The Monkey House in Winooski is a great spot and always brings in a well educated hip hop crowd. And Higher Ground for the fact that it’s where I’ve seen some of the best shows I’ve ever been to. Hopefully I can scratch that venue off my bucket list in the very near future.

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Justin Boland