BTV rapper Mavstar has a busy weekend ahead. Still hustling off the success of his Gangsta Trail Mix LP with Equal Eyes Records, he’s rocking back-to-back shows through the snow. First up, on Saturday the 17th, he’ll be appearing at Drink for Hip Hop Night with Wiki Good. That lineup includes dope new spitter Asah Mack alongside Mister Burns and Rycoon.
Then, on Sunday the 18th, he’s gathering another dope crew for Mavstar & Friends at Radio Bean. Colby Stiltz, Basic Brains and Freddie Losambe is an ideal package for a venue like Radio Bean — laid back, heartfelt, honest rap. Earlier this week, I sat down with the Czech Pilsner himself at Dobra Tea to discuss his place in the universe. What follows is a transcript.
VTHH: When I wrote about Gangsta Trail Mix back in September, I said you had "evolved into a whole new artist." Was that accurate or just some music critic wank?
Mavstar: Before I ever approached anything from an MC or a creator standpoint, I've always considered myself a connoisseur of good hip-hop, before I even ever picked up a pen. I knew if this is something that I'm going to do, then I'm going to come full force and create the dopest music I can possibly come up with to share with the people. When I came out with my first two joints, it was hard to fully manifest that potential because we all have to start somewhere, but Gangsta Trail Mix is exactly the album I wanted to put out in 2018. While I can't say I'm not surprised by its success, it fully coincides with the trajectory I want to be going in right now as an artist and it's evidence that I haven't been asleep.
VTHH: The Meltdown came out in 2012, the summer before the world was going to end. What was the scene like back then? Who were you inspired by?
Mavstar: Prior to recording The Meltdown, I was already good friends with Face One/Chris Morel, who had been putting out a steady stream of music for a while at the time, including the record with the Loose Crew cats out of Minneapolis. He was essentially my mentor in hip-hop at the start, and we had a lot of conversations about the ins and outs of the craft.
I was going through some dark times in the early 2010's, so he went out of his way to introduce me to a lot of his MC friends at the now defunct One Pepper Grill. I think it was called Hot Fire Mondays- a DJ would play beats while MCs would have an old school cypher and pass the mic around. That's where I meant Rajnii, Humble, Question, Aleck Woog, and a whole slew of other guys integral to the scene. I didn't even know there was such a thing as the Burlington hip-hop scene prior to that, so that was definitely inspiring. I also developed a friendly rivalry with guys like Basic Brains and Habit, who were hustling hard at the time, which was dope because we ended up doing songs together in the future.
One night there were several homies invited to my man Mantone's spot on Manhattan drive- I had never stepped in front of a recording mic before. For whatever reason I was encouraged to come equipped with a few verses written over industry beats. I crushed my verses in one or two takes, and those songs are still on my Soundcloud today. That was the jumpoff for getting started on the Meltdown album, and the rest is history.
VTHH: Were cyphers important to the development of your style? I ask because it seems like you're always up in ‘em.
Mavstar: Rap, as with any other creative pursuit, is something where you only get better with practice. Sometimes sitting down and writing to an instrumental leads to having a blank page or coming up with a lot of bars you don't feel like using. The thing with freestyle cyphers is that when you pick up that mic, you better be ready with something, anything, or you end up getting caught with your pants down and missing out on an opportunity to participate in the music.
Sometimes the best approach to creativity is to force it out. Just like lifting weights or practicing your musical scales, you're able to utilize that muscle memory when it really counts.
VTHH: Is it true that you have walk several vertical miles to a mountain shrine in order to get a guest verse from Humble?
Mavstar: Humble is an OG and I've always looked up to that guy and marveled at his freestyle prowess. We've developed a friendship over the years, and he's always encouraged me to hone my craft. Despite living in the prehistoric age of technology, he's an accessible dude if you get to know him. He came through with one of the heaviest verses I've heard from him on that Dungeons and Dragons feature, which I took as a huge compliment.
VTHH: Where do you want to take your sound in 2019?
Mavstar: One thing I've noticed is that the instrumentals I use have a huge influence on the creative direction I take with my songs. I'm heavily influenced by Wu-Tang Clan, Roc Marciano, Busta Rhymes, Canibus, and a lot of other New York cats, so if I can work with any producers that help me channel that energy, that would be dope. I've primarily only worked with two producers, so I'm eager to experiment with more sounds to diversify my catalog. Ultimately, I'd like to come out with more brain melting bars and diabolical rhyme schemes- maybe my style is more diverse than that, but that's what I want to do. I'd also like to keep going heavy with live shows so I can continue to establish a loyal fan base.
VTHH: What are the biggest lessons you've learned after playing approximately hella shows?
Mavstar: Everybody starts on the same playing field when it comes to playing live shows, and at the start, that playing field is humbling. The money or the fame aren't going to come after a couple successful shows, and in fact, you better completely forget about the money and the fame if you want any chance at surviving in this sport.
You have to be satisfied with very small indicators of success, and get used to that, because that's going to give you the fuel you need to keep going. Anybody can be hot for a short period of time, but if you can keep at it for 5, 10, 15 years, that's the difference between the guys who only want to stick around for instant gratification and the guys who do this because they LOVE to do this, rain or shine. We have to be warriors — we don't throw in the towel after just a couple fights.