Top 10 Rap Albums of 2018
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Why not, right? After doing the Top 10 Singles list, obviously this was next. In the years to come, I’ll definitely be putting more time into these, and assembling a panel of experts, too. For now, though, you’re stuck with me and my opinions.

Let’s begin.

Rebirth of the Slickest was the best rap album from Vermont this year. While VVS Verbal is a Bucktown USA artist from Flatbush, it was Es-K who produced the entire project — and brought along keyboardist Danny Whitney and DJ / producer / man of taste Crusty Cuts for some proper scratches. This is a serious LP, stacked with features from General Steele, Buckshot, Sadat X and Craig G. There are levels to this, and Es-K is patiently putting in work to reach the top.

Jarvage Vol. 2 was a knockout release. This is a perfectly constructed homage to 90’s rap that transcends being a tribute project. That’s largely because Jarv has become such a beast on the production front: not only are these all throwback bangers with big, beautiful mixes, but the album has been assembled with obsessive loving care. You will be picking out references and jokes in your headphones for weeks to come with this one.

Problem Child has to be one of the best debut albums Vermont has seen so far. Young artist HANKNATIVE poured his soul into this one and worked with a smart, self-critical team of creators to make it shine. And hot damn, does it shine, bud. Somba’s engineering work is impressive, and so is the sheer range of this album, sonically and topically.

Ewe Gross was a mostly instrumental project predicated on sheep puns. Despite that, when Wool See — f/k/a IAME of Oldominion and Sandpeople — steps out front to rap, he’s dropping some of the best verses I’ve heard this year. He can go political without sounding like a boring scold, and he can go personal with the emo journal trappings so many other writers have to lean on. This has never left rotation since I got it.

Uninvited Guest was a lean and mean album from a master at work. True, Raw Deff is technically a 603 artist, but 1) we’ve always claimed him as family, and 2) every guest feature on this album? Is from Vermont. Raw Deff is, without question, one of the most gifted rappers we’ve got, and the scariest part is, he just keeps improving every couple months. The cover art is hilarious, too.

ILLiterature was a real achievement of a project. The crew at JynxINC has been making rap music — lots of it — for a long time now. In recent years, their quality control took a quantum leap and they’ve been securing top-notch features from the underground ever since. When Eyedos dropped his Guerrilla Bars album last year, it was a statement much bigger than Vermont’s borders. (Really, tho.) ILLiterature is cut from the same cloth, and he’s got a posse this time. This is a wall of crushing, cut-throat, boom bap lyricism.

Gangsta Trail Mix was one of the biggest surprises of the year. The homie Mavstar has evolved into a completely different emcee and he did justice to every track here. ILLu, of course, continues to whump out bright, catchy soul chops and cinematic beats. That combination goes a long way here, and I’ve been surprised by how many artists I’ve spoken to in the past week who said this was their favorite local album of the year. Props to the team.

Collision would be ranked a lot higher if it wasn’t such a fucking tease of a project. Sam. can really spit when he wants to; he seldom does that here. It’s not like he has to — dude can really sing, and more importantly, he’s not trying to bar out on this project at all, it’s an artistic statement. As a business card, this is a small, perfect slice of R&B infused rap music from a natural talent. Besides, teasing is good business: just about everyone is looking forward to Television, the debut album from his 99 Neighbors crew, which drops on New Years Day.

Alabaster Samovars gives zero fucks about your opinions or expectations. Their eponymous-ass debut is a weird, uncompromising album built around luxury space jazz beats and one of the most distinctive emcees Vermont has ever heard. That would Philly producer Remington Iron and Burlington (soon Chicago, alas) rapper The Marijuana Pot Man. This LP is a fully-formed universe unto itself; this is bespoke flames.

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Considering the fact that 2018 was the single biggest, busiest year in the Vermont hip hop scene to date, it’s remarkable how few albums came out. Huh. There are a lot of big names conspicuously absent here — which suggests that 2019 might see a lot of long-awaited, heavyweight LPs dropping.

This is both good and necessary, because that, that is the next level for our barely-born 802 “scene.” I’ve been alive long enough to have seen albums declared dead about a dozen times now — and each successive wave of world-changing technology has failed to make good on that threat.

(Hell, I still remember back when our albino intern Miguel first hauled a eight-track tape machine into our lushly carpeted leather control room, ranting about car stereos killing radio, and how the future was disco singles. He was right … for about eighteen months.)

It’s still all about selling records. Nothing is going to push this wave further than a few choice albums blowing up outside of state lines. So, do that. Make great records. Pay for great art. Get someone qualified to mix and master your tracks. Think strategically about how to promote it and release it.

See you next year.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Teece Luvv of Maiden Voyage
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It’s a rainy, ugly Friday, but Teece Luvv is still living his best life. After a string of luxurious side work & collaborations, Teece Luvv is back with a self-produced set of proudly retro future funk and a lot more on the horizon. Today he celebrates the release of !PLEH, his latest album for Equal Eyes Records, and tonight he’ll be rocking a show at Windsor Station with his rap crew, Maiden Voyage. We caught up first thing this morning over a plate of yak gravy poutine and some oolong tea. (Really.) Here’s a transcript.

VTHH: From the early demos to the first releases there was a lot of evolution -- not just the quality, you mutate your sound a lot. Do you feel like you're reaching for something specific, or do you just enjoy exploring?

Teece Luvv: Animals are always evolving, and people forget humans are naturally animals. To quote myself, “You’re the main animal you see on Nat Geo.” I do enjoy exploring, though I think I’ve found “my style,” it happens to cross multiple genres. My brother is 10 years older than me, and my mom is an eighties lady, so I grew up listening to anything from DJ Green Lantern’s In The Lab album to Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face.” I would go to my brothers bass competitions (car audio comps) and then fall asleep to classical music. Shoutout big bro for introducing me to anything from A Tribe Called Quest to The Offspring

VTHH: You've been hella creative on the vocals and production, but as I have mentioned to you in the past: you still have bars. There will be bars-related projects at some point in the future, yes?

Teece Luvv: All in all, yes. Maybe not a full project of just Hip-Hop, but it will be in there. Yer boi’s got flows. On the low (not so low now) I have a 19 track album that’s currently being mastered by JARV. It starts with new wave rock and roll and transitions to rap through my lil’ R&B style of music.

VTHH: Has your songwriting process been consistent or does that morph a lot, too?

Teece Luvv: Process is always the same. It starts by making a beat, or receiving a beat from Teeba, SkySplitterInk or Es-K. Heavy name drops, sorry. Of course I have a bottle of pinot grigio in my right hand, no glass. I replay said track until I become mentally unstable, writing from things I experience in life and in my head. Just kidding. I’m always mentally unstable.

VTHH: The Teece Luvv catalog is varied but ... rather funky. Is this something you'd like to take to the festival circuit? Live bands in coordinated clothing and such?

Teece Luvv: Eric Burdon, The Animals, decked out in suits, all there is to say. Here’s more anyway: a live band is in the works as I’m typing this, and is something I’ve always wanted…to make the new wave more legitimate. Suits necessary. As far as the circuit, I’ll play anywhere. Any festival, grams nursing home, funerals.

VTHH: So when the Maiden Voyage LP drops, are you going to be crooning all over that puppy?

Teece Luvv: Heck yeah, bud. We’ve been on that lately. Some day.

VTHH: You gentlemen will be convening this evening for a show at Windsor Station. That place seems like a second home. Do you guys have personal chairs or stools that nobody else uses?

Teece Luvv: I’m there at least 3 nights a week if that says anything. It’s the spot around here, one of only two. I do have a spot where I stand and observe the scene/music. As far as proclaimed seats, when I die I’ll have 3rd seat from the left, where I’ve sat tasting virgin drinks since I was five.

You can get !PLEH right now via Equal Eyes Records, and see Maiden Voyage live this evening at Windsor Station. Everyone stay safe this weekend.

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Justin Boland
Good Suggestions from the VTHH 2018 Readers Poll
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Since the VTHH 2018 Readers Poll opened — and it’s still going — there have been a lot of excellent ideas submitted. So many, in fact, that I’m going to take some time this evening to do a quick write up.

Not because I think most readers will even be interested; but because I know that a few hard workers out there are very interested, and have the means to do some of this.

First up, thank you for the responses. As things stand, Chittenden County accounts for 54% of the answers, folks who admit they don’t buy local music are at 15% (props for your honesty, I’m not even mad), and about half of you think the music roundups are the most important coverage, with artist interviews at 35%. Now, for some meat.

There is a lot of demand for video content, especially video interviews and some kind of performance series. I am absolutely not doing that, for any of you, because I know all too well how much money and time is involved. Whoever does get involved here has a large potential audience, though. Take a look at the work Noise Ordinance is doing before you get your feet wet.

One thing these responses make clear is that a lot of artists want good management and guidance. While it would be cool to have “A list of all the VT artists with bios and links to their music,” I’m not paying for that and I’m not setting it up, either. There were six different requests for a “music store” feature so independent artists could sell their wares here — get Bandcamp. That’s free, set it up today.

Artists are mentioning wanting help with photography, music videos, distribution, and getting coverage in other media. Those are all good ideas, and I will get to some basic How To material in 2019.

However, I also recall Big Heavy World holding more than a few seminars over the years where artists can do boot camps on subjects like this and talk to expert panels. This is probably a good idea to bring back. Daytime sessions held somewhere other than a bar would go a long way, and there’s a ton of new artists with questions right now.

There is also a lot of talk about getting honest feedback on music. Both from artists who want it for their own work and readers who want to see it applied to mediocre rappers and producers. That’s a completely valid complaint. My writing here is often lazy as hell, too. However, I’m going to continue to err on the side of being blandly benign.

However, I have participated in the past in “Rap Clinics,” which were events where local emcees would come and perform for a panel of judges, for the purpose of hard, unvarnished feedback. It wasn’t a mean-spirited spectacle; the audience was small and almost all other artists. This would probably be a good idea to steal outright. Done right, this would in fact be legendary, and the 802 has enough talented veterans to keep the panel respectable.

Folks who identified themselves as local fans (or other music writers) expressed a desire for curated playlists, the Guided Tour, the Best Of. Once again, more energy than I am going to give this on the regular, and besides, anyone doing that much work should make money off it. Props to Super Select, a quiet brand that’s been doing great work in 2018. Props to 99 Neighbors, doing heavy curation & creation and always partnering with the local arts scene.

Finally, I was surprised to receive a few messages from brands looking into the local scene. Be advised, that’s real, and that’s happening right now. A big holiday cheers to all the nerds who actually read this. Go forth and conquer.

Go to 3rd Thursdays tonight at    The Monkey House in Winooski   .

Go to 3rd Thursdays tonight at The Monkey House in Winooski.

Justin Boland
12/20: 3rd Thursdays Hip Hop @ The Monkey House
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You’d think this year was already over, the way I’m dropping Top 10 lists and retrospectives: nope. There are a lot of hot tickets between now and 2019, starting with tomorrow’s 3rd Thursdays lineup in Winooski. Safe to say that Anthill Collective has had a triumphant twelve months, making waves way beyond the state borders, pulling off an even bigger & better Above The Radar festival, opening an actual storefront on Shelburne Road, and…oh yeah, running Vermont’s best & only hip hop monthly concert series. Thanks, guys.

The Joint Manipulation crew came through in September and they’re back to host this time around. It’s fitting. They’re rap purists, they’ve got bars for weeks, and they’re bringing along a whole lot of St. Albans talent along for this one. I told you about the Cambrian Explosion that was coming in Burlington this year, and lately, I’ve been ranting about the St. Albans Wave that’s coming. Because it is.

Consider D.FRENCH, who has gone from new name to one of my favorite 802 emcees in the past 24 months. He’s working on a mixtape and if this single is any indication? Flames, verily. He’ll be at The Monkey House tomorrow rocking a set with co-conspirator Saint Money R.O.D. (That beat is from Dok Sterling, aka Dokowala, another St. A disciple who’s been representing big lately: he scored a spot at Es-K’s second Vermont Beat Cypher, and you can catch him at the Super Select 2K18 Party on Dec. 29th at Half Lounge, alongside some of the very best.)

Bulletproof Dolla is another standout talent. He will be playing with Zay of Valid Gang — check out their recent collab track, “LOCKED DOWN” — bringing plug stories & precise bars to the table, like always. I strongly suspect he’s poised for a big 2019, with more projects on the way.

To top it all off, two 3rd Thursdays vets will be there, too: Eyedos and Colby Stiltz. Props to the Anthill team for always over-stuffing the turkey on these shows. As ever, all this talent is still a FREE SHOW. 9pm. 18+.

Justin Boland
Top 10 Rap Singles of 2018
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In the course of wrangling up a big dumb “2018 In Review” piece, I’ve spent a lot of time bumping local music. It’s not enough, though. Know that I’m not an expert. Really establishing a list deserves a panel to hash things out, brackets to argue about details, and days of listening & talking. Who has time for that?

So, here’s a quick and dirty list of my favorites, looking back. Props to everyone hustling hard this year. It was actually difficult to narrow all this down. These are my personal picks, pal. There are more than a few huge, obvious omissions, too. Forgive me in advance. Let’s begin.

Overall, I’d say this was one of the very best rap songs of the year. Jibba “The Gent” built a real hit here. New Jersey rapper Ren Thomas is the spotlight secret weapon, but everyone comes correct, especially Rico James on that beat. Video coming soon.

That whole So.802 camp finished strong. While it’s not the most socially conscious track to come out of Vermont this year, “Murda” was still a standout. The composition helps this one shine, the opening verse leads off at a great pace and the hook is genuinely catchy. All the verses are on point, too — when these cats try to one-up each other, we all win.

When I first heard this cut, it was deep into random Soundcloud autoplay while I was working and DZY’s verse immediately grabbed me. The beat here is great, everyone flexes a different style, and I still bump this at work, just not on accident. 2018 was a year when new heads really impressed me. Either I’m getting soft or they’re getting good.

Speaking of dope new cats: Asah Mack has been on a flawless run this year. I’ve always been impressed with Sasha Travis / NOtation, he just started much further along the growth curve than the average artist does. These two going in over some David Chief raw shit is…well, there should be an album of this. Their styles are a great contrast.

XP is a veteran and a legend. He’s mentored and influenced a lot of talented artists here. His catalog is insane. He’s been a steady presence this year, working with new proteges like Alpha, working with old friends with Raw Deff, but this particular track blew me away. It’s deeply personal and written with a laser engraver. Dig it.

The Aztext crew never left. They scored a hit this summer with “Everyday Sun,” a Rico James banger with a Xenia Dunford hook, but I think my favorite joint this year from the extended crew was this GOOD WTHR single. It’s a beautiful beat and both verses are honed nicely — it takes a lot of experience to make conceptual tracks like this sound this effortless. Looking forward to what AZT fam brings us in 2019.

Eyedos has been relatively quiet in the second half of this year, but that’s only because he works so hard. Besides, the Minds Eye Tribe project ILLiterature was an extra-large statement. This “MET Cypher” was the manifesto, a long burner that kicks off with a killer Sa-Roc verse.

Alabaster Samovars dropped a dope album this year. Their self-titled debut was a polished gem. Producer Remington Iron has all kinds of flavor on deck and rapper The Marijuana Pot Man has some sly, hilarious bars on deck. “Against Nature,” however, was my single favorite slice.

Choosing my favorite Freddie Losambe single was tough. Rather than continue to fret over what was most representative, I went with “Good Health,” a pure take laid over a real nice beat that showcases some of his range and all of his character & heart. Turn this one up. This is medicine, right here.

…damn, that’s almost a Top 10, huh? I can’t let this go without giving Yung Breeze a shout. He’s been stacking bars and singles from all kinds of subgenres this year, and promises that what’s to come is even better. Still, this is my favorite track he’s dropped this year — a sermon of a performance split into two monster verses.

Shout out to some close contenders: Mavstar, Juni, Drive, Teece Luvv, D.FRENCH, and Bulletproof Dolla. Also, big thanks to BL Spitz for giving VTHH a shout on his single “KULTURE VULTURE.” Appreciate the support!

Justin Boland
Happy National Maple Syrup Day

There’s only one right thing to post on National Maple Syrup day, you know? Time to revisit this classic Jibba “The Gent” video, which features Jun Fargo, Yung Breeze and Vazy, who is lacing verses as Gringo Montega these days. THEN WHAt on the beat, too: this is a very So.802 affair.

Justin Boland
The VTHH 2018 Reader Poll
Photo from   Above The Radar   2018, courtesy of   Anthill Collective

Photo from Above The Radar 2018, courtesy of Anthill Collective

It’s been about a year here on the dot com, so it’s time for something new: the first ever VTHH Reader Poll. It is quite short and simple: three questions and a suggestion box.

I can confirm it has been a great run on this end. “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt,” as Kurt once put it. All the beef, the threats, the bullshit: necessary community building. There’s still so much work to do, too. Thank you all.

Justin Boland
VIDEO: Sasha Travis - "What It Is"

Earlier this week, rapper/one man wave Sasha Travis dropped a new video for “What It Is,” the opening track off his recent Ego EP. Which was excellent. This cool, grainy throwback was directed by Matthew Vinci for VinciVisuals. The beat is courtesy of David Chief — who got interviewed here back in September.

Expect a lot more material from this whole crew in 2019.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: Ice Cold Cuts
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We’ve survived another week, and to celebrate, here’s a selection of recent releases worth your time. It’s been a busy December, and this weekend has a lot of promising shows coming — check the lineup here. If you’re in Burlington tonight, check out Maine emcee B. Aull at Sidebar; if you’re near Brattleboro, there’s DJ Lucas & Friends at the Stone Church. Time for some tunes.

First up, we’ve got R.O.D. — which stands for Real Ova Deceit. He’s been prolific and hard-working, especially during the second half of 2018, dropping a slew of videos and singles. His output has been improving fast, and on this latest cut, “Animal,” he’s catching a killer wave. Everything works here, this slaps. Props.

Yung Breeze has been dropping almost too many gems lately. Almost. “Song Cry” is his ‘BreezeMix’ take on the Jay-Z classic. Since that Just Blaze instrumental is one of the most blapping rap ballads of all time, Breeze opts to just flex bars over this one. It’s another strong piece of work, and more proof that he’s in the studio building a monster.

Up next, a new track from BL Spitz — who is scheduled to battle Yung Breeze onstage at some point in 2019. “BARZ PLEASE” is cold, non-stop wordplay & threats over some dark, funky Face One production. His label, Heartless Ent., is currently doing a radio promo campaign for “After The Storm,” a single they haven’t released yet. Check his Facebook for more details.

Finally, a slice of summer from SynCro, the interesting & hyperactive emcee formerly known as BioZone. “I’m Back” is precise flows over a stripped down funk breakbeat. I dig it. More like this, please. And welcome back.

PSA: DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE. DO NOT. THANK YOU.







Justin Boland
Catching Up with Colby Stiltz
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Tonight at Drink Bar in Burlington, the debut edition of The Cellar Cypher Series will be kicking off, hosted by Big Homie Wes and Colby Stiltz. This is an idea that Stiltz had been juggling for months now and it’s awesome to see it happen. The time is right and the talent pool is deeper than ever.

Mr. Stiltz has had a tumultuous couple of years, and still got a staggering amount of work done along the way. I caught up for a quick conversation that turned into a short history lesson on STILTZgang. Along the way, we’re about talking keeping scenes alive, re-starting your career, and learning every day. Dig it.

VTHH: It's great to see BTV getting a hip hop weekly -- what inspired you to make that happen?

Colby Stiltz: I believe a weekly hip-hop event is a necessity for any growing scene. I grew up on the Maine Hip-hop scene and we had one every week which eventually turned into the brand "Rap Night."

Locally, it’s important to network, practice the craft, and most importantly have something to look forward to each week. It’s great for new comers that have never touched a mic and for artists that have been doing it for years.

I look forward to building this event into a great weekly gathering, and even more so, I look forward to meeting a ton of new hip-hoppers in the area.

VTHH: "Human" is very Colby Stiltz, but also still a big change for you. What has the process been like working with Jer Coons?

Colby Stiltz: "Human" is a change to my authentic self. I covered up alot of emotion with drugs and alcohol for a long time. Even getting clean but still using marijuana had me rapping and acting like someone I wasn't. Getting completely sober, and working with Jer has been amazing. He is an incredible musician and singer. We both love this melodic instrument based hip-hop that we've been doing.

I go in the studio with lyrics and an idea and we build live instrumentation based around that. Usually we start on the piano, then he'll pick up a bass guitar, then sit down at the drums, and finally we'll add vocals. We have alot of new material, about 10 other songs together. “Excited” is an understatement.

VTHH: What have you been learning as a club DJ in the past year? Has that experience surprised you?

Colby Stiltz: Being a DJ is awesome. It has been a big surprise, in that if I knew I'd be doing this well?? I would have been doing it years ago! I get to continue to perform/entertain people with music and it's a lot of fun.

I've known how to use turn tables and mixer for years (Thanks Dakota and TJ) but my Ego as a rapper wouldn't allow me to step into that role. After getting sober (about 1 year ago now) D JAY BARON took me under his wing, let me shadow him at events, and taught me all the skills I have now. And I'm still learning more and more on a regular basis, about DJ’ing, sound engineering in general, and the business of it all. I couldn't be happier.

VTHH: How did the STILTZgang crew come together? They've been having a strong year.

Colby Stiltz: First of all STILTZ has nothing to do with me.... Its an acronym for Stepping Towards Infinite Love Through Zen. It's about doing what you love, and what inspires you... Whatever makes you feel connected to the love that we has humans are made from. (Pretty deep, I know.) Also it's an analogy for being on a higher plane of existence using ones’ "stiltz" to grow above the things in the world designed to bring us down.

The STILTZgang came together in a very organic way. A 16 year old, now Faded Flow, emailed me to express his gratitude for a performance that he saw me at opening for Immortal Technique. He told me I motivated him and that he was into rapping but had very few resources. I listened to his underdeveloped style and was impressed by his honesty. Rapping about being in high school, and misunderstood by his peers and teachers.

We began talking weekly via phone as I would send him beats and critiqued his songs. Then DZY came into the picture by hitting me up when he visited Orlando shortly after I started talking with Faded. He said he wanted to "meet me" — which seemed very weird to me — but I said Fuck It, and we met up. We hung around Orlando, listening to new music I was recording for "Down To Earth" at the time, and we also peeped his Soundcloud. I was VERY impressed by one song in particular (Epard In My Chest) and told him to focus on that.

As we talked more, I learned he actually knew Faded Flow, and they lived in the same town, although they were very different in age and circle of friends. From there, they connected in Morrisville and DZY would pick Faded Flow up in school to go record — and he got school credit for it, too. It was totally legit, set up through the school, and all came together nicely.

Wes “The Best” now dubbed Big Homie Wes was their friend. He was making music out in Colorado after going away to college, and moved back to VT to get involved with what we were doing. A year later, I moved back to VT and we really got started as we brought their other homie "The Big Scrilla" (singer/rapper) on board as well as DJ/producer Jeremie Mali aka "Jay Attick". We made music, filmed videos, started a friendship, and supported each other.

From there STILTZgang turned into the friend base/fan base, you know? It extended to the other artists and producers we worked with, and the crew that come to our live events. There's people that are STILTZgang and don’t even know it. It's not so much a group name as it is a vibe. I’m very happy with where things are going and with the progress we all have made personally. Also I heard there might be a STILTZgang mixtape coming soon.

Whoa... I think that's the first time I've ever typed all that out. Sorry for the long response.

Remember, The Cellar Cypher Series kicks off tonight in the basement of Drink Bar on St. Paul. It will run every Thursday except for Anthill Collective’s 3rd Thursdays shows. Bring beats and come early. 21+ $3 / 18+ $5



Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Big Homie Wes
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Every Tuesday night from 10pm to midnight, you can catch Big Homie Wes playing rap and holding court on WJSC 90.7 FM. This cat has a voice for radio, no question, but he’s a got a lot going on outside of that control booth, too: emcee, producer, and a constant collaborator who’s been leaving his mark on the scene. I caught up with him to talk about his own work, running the FM airwaves, and the growing Lamoille County hip hop scene.

VTHH: Your catalog so far has one of the craziest quality control curves I've ever heard; your product has improved a lot in the past 12 months. Where were you learning to do that? Was it mostly self-taught?

Big Homie Wes: Self taught, but within the past year I’ve done more work with other Vermont hip-hop artists than ever before. Escaping from solely working on my own music has given me a lot of fresh ideas and some irreplaceable engineering/mixing experience.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time listening to my favorite albums and comparing them to my own music which has been heartbreaking at times, but helps me steer my sound towards higher quality mixes. 

VTHH: You seem kinda born for the role of A&R / executive producer. Do you see your role as developing everyone in the #STILTZgang circle? 

Big Homie Wes: In one way or another, definitely. I’ve had my hands on tracks both on Faded Vision from the homie Faded Flow that dropped last year, and The Missing Peace by DZY this year. “Sauce on Deck” just dropped this week, that’s a track featuring Colby STILTZ I orchestrated, which is only the tip of the iceberg.

My influence goes further than just #STILTZgang though, I really try to work with every artist that comes to my studio with the intention of creating the best music possible.

VTHH: What do you have cooking for solo material right now?

Big Homie Wes: This past month or so I’ve been working on honing in final mixes on a handful of songs that I’ve been working on since well before Presidential

I have a vision for a full length project, but I want it to be a big step so I’m planning carefully.

VTHH: Now that you're a DJ and tastemaker, what advice do you have for artists thirsty to get a spin? What do you look for in a single?

Big Homie Wes: I’ve had people send me a lot of awesome tracks so far, what I’ve really been looking for though is good mixes with dope lyrical content. 

It has to fit in the mix with classic hip-hop records we all know, and new rap songs. I’m open-minded though, and I’m all about giving local emcees exposure.

VTHH: Was radio important to your musical upbringing?

Big Homie Wes: Pandora Radio, yes. AM/FM, not so much. Any streaming service I’ve used has been more of a playlist but they’ve introduced me to a lot of the music I listen to or have even sampled. 

My motivation to become a radio DJ is more due to my passion for music, hip-hop/rap specifically, plus using the airwaves as a platform to promote the local scene. 

 With streaming and podcasts being such a huge trend, I’ve made a point of promoting my live link and recorded interviews too.

VTHH: The Lamoille County hip hop scene has been making real noise this year -- what do you think is driving that success?

Big Homie Wes: I believe a huge part of that success is artists focusing more heavily on branding. From social media presence, to networking with other artists outside of the area in turn building larger fan bases.

I’m excited to be bringing live hip-hop to Moogs on December 30th, because it’ll create an outlet for the scene here. Often artists in the Lamoille area travel out of state or to Burlington to perform, so it’ll be nice to have a local venue to collaborate with.

In 2019 my goal is to build relationships with more venue owners in the area to continue the momentum.

VTHH: What do you think the Mo-Vegas scene needs next in order to grow?

Big Homie Wes: Consistent hip-hop shows would be the big one on my mind. A local compilation mixtape series featuring artists from the area would be really cool to see, and could spotlight artists who otherwise aren’t plug’d in.

You can stream WJSC 90.7 FM right here. Enjoy.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: Fresh Tracks
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As winter sinks those fangs into us all, there’s been a lot heat coming out. This latest weekly roundup is a bit over-stuffed, but listen, it’s all quality produce. Make some time to take some time, and as ever, turn it up.

Ferragamo Face dropped his first new track in awhile, and naturally enough, it’s wall-to-wall flames. Unfuckwithable flows and he can kill a hook, too — hopefully this is the beginning of a new wave of material.

Here’s another recent flawless banger I missed: NOtation and Asah Mack trading bars over some glossy David Chief production. You can tell they had a blast making this and that counts for a lot in any genre. An album of this would be most appreciated. In the meantime, check out his Ego EP if you haven’t.

A new XP verse is always good news. “Can’t Help U” is a posse cut with two of his young proteges, Alpha and Prophet. Two young hungry artists trying to compete with a vet is a classic recipe, and it definitely works here.

I don’t know what the fuck is in the water down in Windsor, but damn. Too much talent out of one little down, this is getting ridiculous.

“Bossa” is a tasty, polished piece of jazzy boom-bap from THEN WHAt — hell, this would have been “Acid Jazz” two decades ago, and probably released on Ninja Tune, as well. The rapper/producer is currently locked in the lab completing his next LP as Selfish Presley, “No Sleep.”

Finally, Es-K is wrapping a busy & impressive 2018 with a new instrumental LP, Right On Time. He describes it as a collection of his factory seconds and abandoned demos, but it is very damn good just the same. I had this on repeat all day yesterday; it was the right decision.

Justin Boland
Shows, From Here to Christmas
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Tonight, Brooklyn legend Skyzoo will be rocking The Monkey House in Winooski along side an all-star lineup of 802 openers. It’s a big deal. You should go.

It’s also the beginning of a surprisingly busy December, and the rest of this week is especially packed. On Thursday, Dec. 6th, Sidebar will be hosting the Vermont Beat Cypher Vol. 2, which is another VMB Productions jam. The lineup is choice: Dokowala, Crusty Cuts, Flip Physics, Iman, Old Gold and Jarv — who will not be rapping. Learic, however, will. 9 pm. 21+. FREE SHOW.

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Friday, Dec. 7th marks the Grand Opening for AnteGallery, a graf supply store and the latest project from the tireless crew at Anthill Collective. This runs from 5-9 pm — come and celebrate with tons of new art, and DJ Kanga holding down the tables.

On Saturday Dec. 8th, the Swan Dojo team will host another party: their Showcase & Open House Fundraiser. Admission is by donation, and Swan Dojo is fundraising for a bigger, more ambitious 2019 — learn more here. They’ve been a serious asset to the hip hop community and they’re involved in far more than that.

Also Dec. 8th, but far from the 802, Judge Da Beast will be appearing at the Love And Loyalty Weekend 2018, a huge Lo-Life party in Miami that is being presided over by the great Thirstin Howl The 3rd. That’s a good look. Props.

Thursday Dec. 13th marks the debut edition of a new Hip Hop Open Mic at Drink, hosted by Colby Stiltz. More on that soon, but it’s a promising development with a highly qualified host. 18+. FREE SHOW.

Dec. 14th: Charlie Maynes Goodbye Party at Sidebar. Charlie Mayne, a/k/a Chyse Atkins, has already headed out west to seek inevitable fame & fortune. However, the Goodbye Party is apparently still on, and a Friday evening of hip hop at Sidebar is always worth checking out.

Dec. 15th: DJ Buttons and Jibba Ugly B-Day Bash at Sheri’s Place in Springfield. Following the success of Jibba “The Gent”s recent experiment doing a video shoot / concert / meet & greet with New Jersey beast Ren Thomas, the So.802 crew is looking to make it a monthly event. First up is a homestyle birthday party with an ugly sweater contest, and a killer lineup: Dilyrium and Brodie James of 656 Records (Maine, bud) will be performing alongside Selfish Presley and Causin’ Effect. A big Saturday night, in other words. 7-10 pm. FREE SHOW.

That same night, Mister Burns and Maiden Voyage will be rocking at The Snowshoe Lounge & Pub in Montgomery. $5 cover.

On Dec. 20th, 3rd Thursdays at The Monkey House will reconvene with the Joint Manipulation crew hosting. No word on the lineup yet, the rumors are … very interesting indeed. Stay tuned on this one.

The next night - Friday, Dec 21st - it’s time for Maiden Voyage at Windsor Station. Those five words are a reliable recipe for a great night, and they will not need much help packing the venue once again. If you know, you know.

That same evening, Omega Jade will be hosting and performing at HoliDaze, a mix of hip hop and comedy — adult comedy — at Nelly’s Pub & Grill in St. Albans. 9 pm. 21+. FREE SHOW.

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Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: The Week in Singles
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With Winter 2019 well and truly upon us, good music is more important than ever — from recreational to medicinal, you dig? You do. As ever, there’s plenty to choose from at the farm stand this week. What follows is a selection of local artisans and their hand-crafted folk art, all of which bangs at high volumes. Turn it up & let’s begin…

First up, get familiar with Jun Fargo, a hard-working future R&B visionary who rolls with Street Religion and the So.802 Records crew. His latest single, “Wish Upon A Star,” dropped just past midnight, which makes it even more impressive that his track has racked up over four thousand plays since last night. The co-star here is definitely the polished, expert production work from THEN WHAt — expect a lot more material from this winning team soon.

Truth of The Matter” is a throwback to classic projects like the 2000 Rawkus Records EP Hip Hop for Respect — that is, projects that should not have to exist, in a functional society. Rajnii and Omega Jade go in on this one. This is a detailed, searing deconstruction of police murders & American culture, with two of BTV’s bluntest poets swapping bars over a pumping Rico James blapper.

The next release on Equal Eyes Records will be a brand new Teece Luvv project, !PLEH. “My Head” is the first track and lead single — a throwback to the Motown Model of making LPs. I’m looking forward to this project, this cat just keeps improving and he’s getting a lot more confident with his sanging and vocal arrangements, too.

Finally, Yung Breeze has been on a warpath lately and it keeps on escalating. “Call It That” is a self-produced manifesto, urgent and honest and raw. Dude is a threat and he’s going big in 2019. Stay tuned.

Justin Boland
12/6: Vermont Beat Cypher Vol. 2 at Sidebar
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On Thursday, December 6th, VMB Productions is hosting another edition of the Vermont Beat Cypher. Just like the first installment, this is a top shelf affair, with a heavyweight lineup.

The showcase will feature Dokowala, who’s been having a breakout year, alongside DJ / producer / fixer Crusty Cuts, certified head Flip Physics, and … Jarv. He’s a monster emcee, but remember, he also produced everything on Jarvage Vol. 2. On top of that, there will be sets from Iman and Old Gold, both young talents with serious chops and growing catalogs.

With so many choice beatsmiths under one roof, they’re not gonna let just any rapper come do his shit, which is why Learic will be holding down a set. Once the night is over, there’s going to be a proper emcee cypher to close it out, too, so hungry indie cats should stick around.

9 pm show. 21+ FREE.

Justin Boland
Talking Shop with Es-K and Elder Orange
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In last week’s Roundup, I spotlighted a Flip Physics track on the latest Millennium Jazz compilation, Operation Six. Yet he’s not the only 802 producer in that distinguished lineup: Es-K also had a sunny burner, “Gsol,” in the mix. He cooked it up with an assist from Elder Orange, the singer / engineer / producer / multi-instrumentalist behind All My Friends Believe in Ghosts.

I took advantage of that connection for a quick conversation with both artists about living the dream of an actual career in music — the good, the bad and the boring. Enjoy.

VTHH: You're both experienced producers, and you've both already been through so much of the ups and downs artists inevitably face. In recent years, what's been helping you guys stay inspired and stay productive?

Elder Orange: My biggest motivator is keeping a steady supply of new music in the ear.  I don't really care about, "new to the world" music so much these days-- but really anything new to me regardless of era/genre has been wicked useful.  I think a lot about the endless expanse of recorded music that’s available to the public ear and how many of those records I haven't listened to or made connection with; it's exhausting, humbling but also super exciting.  Unearthing a new sound, song form, studio technique etc. that I can then apply to my own music or reverse engineer serves me not just from the "crate digging" side of the equation, but more generally just as a music appreciator. The more I listen/feed my head, the more there is to ingest; it's been a self-oscillating mechanism for the last year or so that I'm lucky enough to call the norm at this point.   

Es-K: This is a hard question for me to answer. I think the most simple, to the point answer I have is that it gives me purpose. Making music, completing projects, meeting new people, collaborating, etc — it all just excites me and gives me purpose.

VTHH: What advice do you have for producers looking to collaborate with instrumentalists -- and vice versa? Do you think there is a bare minimum "floor" of musical knowledge a producer should need first?

Es-K: My main advice would be to simply follow your gut. Trust your ear and reach out to people who you vibe with. A personal connection is definitely more important than any sort of music knowledge or skill set. It's also always important to remember that growth always happens outside our comfort zone, so don't ever hesitate to reach out to people who you may think are unaccessable, etc. 

Elder Orange: Yeah, be humble, be honest and just go for it. There is always going to be something new to learn, so why worry about the things you don't have in your wheel house yet? There are projects you might not be ready to take on, but how else will you know what your threshold is if you don't hit it? Ambition will always be in style. 

On the other more practical end of the spectrum I would def. say that knowing the names of the notes on a keyboard, and knowing how to tap out the basic meter/tempo of a tune are tools that will serve you for a lifetime and grow your vocabulary when collaborating with folks.   Is that information a prerequisite for any of it? Nah. But it sweetens the pot, and will make your life easier, open doors and make your projects more efficient.  

VTHH: What projects do you have on the horizon right now?

Es-K: I have a decent handful of stuff around the corner - 2x releases have been submitted and are just in the art and manufacturing stages. One is called Continuance (due out on Ninetofive Records late 2018 / early 2019) and includes a bunch of collaborations with new and old friends alike. The other is called ReCollection (due out on Cold Busted late 2018 / early 2019) and is very mellow, simple, and "lofi". Besides that, my main focuses in terms of projects I'm trying to finish have been a solo album I'm producing for Danny Whitney (local keyboardist extraordinaire), and an instrumental album I started with my dad last year (another amazing piano player).

On top of that, I have a bunch of singles and collaborations that I will be dropping once every 2/3 weeks moving forward. Expect more stuff on Millennium Jazz, Chillhop, Cold Busted, Ninetofive, Bucktown USA, and more. Beyond that, I have been preparing my first real "live" set in which I'll be actually playing my bass and performing parts of the songs live instead of just DJing my beats, hitting filters and delays and what not. Hopefully, that will be more exiting and be the beginning of me doing more live stuff.

Elder Orange: I've got a new solo Elder Orange record, Bricks in the Bathwater, that'll be out in the first quarter of 2019. Gonna be a ripper, bud. 

I'm producing/mixing an EP for a rapper from Island Pond -- Dan Briggs. He's a brilliant dude with a signature sound and a ton of ambition, guessing we'll move towards an official release whenever the snow is deepest in 2019.  

I just put out a new live record with a band I've been playing with for the last two years -- Tighten. It's an entirely improvised guitar/bass/drum trio format leaning hard on the dub/psych-surf end of the spectrum. The other dudes are insanely good — and I'm lucky enough to play bass along side; it's a lot of fun and keeps my fingers nimble. 

I co-own a recording studio/cooperative just outside of Bennington, VT called Akin Studios. I do a ton of engineering, production and mixing.  I'm in the mixing phase with one client, and in the throes of basic tracking with two others with full-length records. Less info to present here since I'm just the back-end guy, but I'll take busy over bored pretty much always.  

I'm also pretty much always in the throes of guitar/bass work for someone regardless of genre-- and always down to collaborate with others in need of quality samples and instrumentals (or just cause collaboration is good for the scene and soul.)  

Justin Boland
Extra Mile Cypher Vol. 1 - "No Hand Outs"

This a treat out of nowhere: the Extra Mile Cypher marks the return of standout new rapper Drive, who is debuting this as the first in a new series. The cypher is pretty much invitation-only, but he also invites people to send him your name and a link to your best song. That’s a good dude, right there.

He made some pretty wise invitations this time around. Things kick off with an intricate verse from Syncro, f/k/a Biozone, followed up by a tight sixteen from Drive. Then Yung Breeze steps it up notch with his usual effortless flow juggling, which leads into another Raw Deff gem — these guys have been batting .500 this year.

The timing for this is right. There’s been a lot of talk about doing a Grind Mode styled 802 cypher, especially after a number of locals made their Grind Mode debuts over the summer. (Props to Mister Burns, Jarv, Jibba “The Gent,” BL Spitz and Ciurleo.) Getting out there first is no guarantee, of course, and there’s plenty of competition ahead.

Which is good, and inevitable. We’ve got a record crop of qualified spitters in Vermont these days, and some professional music video teams as well. It’s a format that always works. Well, as long as you keep the quality control strong…and it’s safe to bet Drive will do exactly that. Props to him, and props to everyone else working on similar projects right now.

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For those trying to brainstorm a shortlist for their next video shoot, a few suggestions in no particular order: Asah Mack, Bitzzzzz, Dolla Day, DZY, Eyedos, Eugenyks, Freddie Losambe, Gruff Lion, IAME, Jazzy The Kid, Juni, Kin, Madscatta, Mavstar, Omega Jade, PreciseMC, Rivan C, Sed One, Teece Luv, The Marijuana Pot Man, and Zesty Boi.

In closing, the cypher I would like to see: Humble x Selfish Presley x Konflik x D.FRENCH over Crusty Cuts. Thanks in advance.

Justin Boland
12/5: Skyzoo at The Monkey House in Winooski
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VMB Productions is bringing a certified legend to Winooski on Wednesday, Dec. 5th: Brooklyn spitter Skyzoo will be bringing Landon Wordswell along for a night of hip hop that will almost definitely sell out the building.

There will also be a potent opening lineup to represent the 802. Jarv, Raw Deff, PreciseMC and Mavstar will be rocking sets alongside Mister Burns. This is gonna be a big one. Carpool and drive safe.

8 pm show. 18+. $12 adv / $15 door. Get Tickets Now.

Justin Boland