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
VIDEO: DJ Kanganade x SkySplitter - "Triage"

The tag team of DJ Kanganade and SkySplitterInk have just dropped a proper video for their single “Triage.” Filmed by the Church Street DJs team in some fairly iconic BTV locations, this is a fun, flashy and distinctly old-school treatment that suits the song. It’s awesome to see the non-rap elements getting represented like this, too.

No word on a DJ Kanganade solo album, but friends, I do hope that puppy is percolating in a studio somewhere. However, Equal Eyes Records recently announced that their next project will be XIX, a new LP from BTV producer, multi-instrumentalist, and ace recording engineer SkySplitter. He’s got chops that span many genres, from synth-trap luxury to future-funk R&B to EDM-infused rap bangers, so expect XIX to be a wild ride.

Expect more ill stratch tracks courtesy of DJ Kanganade, too. As the liner notes promise:

Shoutout to Colby Stiltz, MC Topic, Basic Brains, Mertz and Jibba the Gent for putting SkySplitter in the lyrics so Kanga could go all DJ Premier on “Sunken Treasure” 

XIX drops on Equal Eyes Records Friday, January 25th.

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Justin Boland
THE FIVE SPOT: Omega Jade
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Special thanks to guest writer Omega Jade.

New opportunities are all a part of the new year. With that being said, I have been given the opportunity to bring to you something new. Introducing The Five Spot, a series for Vermont Hip Hop News. Yay me! OK, so let’s get down to business. I’m going to give you my favorite songs done by local MCs and why I consider them a favorite. One of those will include one of my released songs. Are you ready? Doesn’t matter. Here we go:

D. French- Like Stockton

This one surprised me. He has a conscious message with a flow that says swag. It was a feel good track to me. What comes to mind is a lot of self determination. Specifically in the hook, we only got one option. Because lets be real. In a lot of situations, that’s all we really have. I look forward to hearing more from him. Thank you for your contribution to the community.

Joint Manipulation (ft. Learic)- Real Hip Hop

Oh my Lord! I fell in love with this track the first time I heard it. From the beat to the lyrics. This songs brings you into a state of nostalgia because it makes you miss the days of real Hip Hop. I am actually listening to it now as I write this. Learic brings some spiritual bars that has me believing that he’s more of a shaman MC. When he says, you hear the organ in the background cuz church is in session; I felt that shit. And JM has a style that really reminds me of Immortal Technique, if he had a brother rhyming with him. They are raw. They are real. And you hear that in this song. Its always a blessing to hear MCs who know how to bring the real spirit of Hip Hop. Thank you so much for what you do.

Flex45- Flex45 Mash up

Now this one was very different than what I normally hear around here. I love that so much. He compiled multiple beats to rhyme his own verses to. Beats like 3peat-Lil Wayne, Southern Hospitality-Ludacris, Elevators-OutKast and even Rap God-Eminem. And there’s more! It is fire! His transition is flawless. He showed how versatile his flow, style and cadence is. First thing I thought of when hearing this, Papoose on Five Fingers of Death with Sway. He nailed it. If you don’t know who Flex45 is, you would be wise to learn. Thank you for your originality and contribution. Check it out.

Bitzzzzz- Chalked

You know I have to represent the female MCs in Vermont. Especially since there’s only a few of us. This track starts out with strong, powerful lyrics from the start. With a delivery that is comparable to Missy Elliot and a message that is just too real. You can tell her lyrics come straight from the heart. And the message is clear. The world is cold and you can’t always trust those you think that are for you. I look forward to doing a feature with her in the future. Because us women got to stick together. Thank you Bitzzzzz AKA Tonya Mitchell for your contribution.

Last but not least: Me.

Omega Jade – United States of Dope Men (Prod by Rico James)

This is just a piece of the story I have to tell. Its a personal look at my own issues with drugs, the crack epidemic, and the opiate crisis. It was inspired by a discussion I had recently about foster kids being fed drugs to be compliant. I was that foster child. I also lived in California during the crack epidemic. And with what is going on in Vermont and the opiate crisis, I felt a need to make it all connect. So why not write about it. It’s a favorite of my music simply because I hear what I have overcome. It also helps that I did a slight diss to Rick Ross. Because what’s Hip Hop without a diss track? No matter how small it may be. And so with all of that, I invite you to take a listen.

Well that’s all I got. But I want to take the time to say, Thank you Vermont Hip Hop News for asking me to do this. I hope we can work together again in the future. Peace.

Omega Jade will be performing at Comedy With a Splash of Color on Friday, January 11th at the Revelry Theater in Burlington.

Justin Boland
99 Neighbors - "Television"
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Seven short, cold days into 2019 and I’m already way behind on coverage. There is a lot on the way this week, including a new regular series, but first, well…this is the only place to start.

A year ago, 99 Neighbors didn’t quite exist yet — all the players were in place, but the name was still a work in progress. Their sound has been almost impossibly good since this movement kicked off in 2017 with Sam. & Somba’s The South Cove EP. That was a face-melter of a debut. Jordan Adams of Seven Days called it “astounding,” and that’s a pretty fair assessment.

That was happening right around the same time that Hank Collins got a Daysie Awards nomination for “Best Hip Hop Artist” — that wound up going to Lynguistic Civilians for the 7th consecutive time, but it definitely put him on everyone’s radar. His single “Mimosas” clocking over 80,000 plays on Soundcloud also turned a few heads.

By the time the 99 Neighbors crew came together, Collins — now HANKNATIVE — and Sam. were both just about finished with two strong solo projects. Sam.’s Collision EP dropped a month before Problem Child, and both were among the very best projects of 2018. So 99 Neighbors debut LP arrives, finally, with a lot of hype and lot of promise.

Television is very fucking good. You should listen to it, if only to appreciate the state of the art. I won’t belabor it past that. There are other points to be made here.

Although VTHH definitely has readers who are local fans, most of our readers are local artists. Almost all of them would very much like to be where 99 Neighbors are today. So it’s important to outline precisely why they are not.

First up, this is a crew with serious assets. Sam. and HANKNATIVE are both natural talents, but damn near any rapper alive thinks of themselves as exactly that, so let’s look past them. (But, maybe consider that you could improve in the booth.)

As a producer and engineer, Somba is doing professional work, every session. He really knows his shit, he has a great ear and he puts in billions of hours for his crew. Odds are pretty good you don’t have a Somba.

That counts for a lot. Not having to pay for endless studio time to tinker and experiment; not having to pay for beats; not having to pay for mixing and mastering. That’s a situation anyone in the business would envy, and a big advantage. In the case of 99 Neighbors, the advantage extends even further. Their crew of artists and photographers and musicians is, strategically speaking, a force multiplier.

Especially when you cultivate a culture of honesty. Although it can be difficult at first to create situations where blunt feedback is possible, once you get that going, it becomes a virtuous circle. You set yourself up to win long-term. In contrast, bullshitting your friends about their mediocre music requires constant maintenance. Your call.

Are you really winning? Do you have a process for re-assessing where your career is at — and where you want it to go? How do you measure your success? How do you learn from your failure?

Here’s something else to consider: 99 Neighbors don’t release demos. They don’t leak rough mixes. They cook every meal until it is finished, and so should you. It’s easy for new artists to feel like that kind of transparency is “fan engagement,” but that’s not what your fans want. They want your best work. Only give them that.

Finally, it is obvious that 99 Neighbors not only practice their live show heavy, they also put a lot of thought into their sets. Much like having a fanbase or selling out shows, this is not something you can fake. Artists either do the work or they don’t. Any adult can tell the difference 20 seconds into your first song.

Reality is inherently unfair: while doing the work is no guarantee of success, not doing the work is an effective guarantee of failure. Choose wisely.

Enough of all that, though. Just enjoy the music. 99 Neighbors will be playing at Higher Ground — the big room this time — on Friday, January 11th. If you want tickets, you should get them ASAP.

Cheers to a dope young crew doing it right.

Justin Boland
2018: Everything Happens At Once
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This was originally a long recap of a long year; all of that has been scrapped. Instead, this is a look at How and Why 2018 was the busiest, best year that Vermont’s hip hop scene has experienced so far. Along the way, there’s a playlist of twelve tracks I was bumping at the time.

This is both very long and completely unnecessary. Enjoy.

JANUARY

Back in January, this website didn’t even exist yet. Since then, I’ve managed to rack up over 150 posts here, which reached twelve thousand unique visitors. Which is cool. I did not expect to be breaking 10k the first year. Curiously, more than half of that traffic is coming from outside of Vermont.

One thing about having real web analytics instead of Facebook numbers is that it makes it easy to see who’s got a real fanbase and who’s … well, I hope you’re fooling yourselves, because you’re not fooling me.

It will not surprise anyone to learn that artists like Es-K and Jarv have serious juice. You’ve heard of 99 Neighbors by now, too. Overall, the most popular interviews this year were Pro of the Aztext, HANKNATIVE, DJ SVPPLY, Fattie B, Selfish Presley, and Yung Breeze each of those had over 400 unique readers this year. The most popular post was the Top 10 Albums list, which is predictable and sad.

Vermont Hip Hop Dot Com is a one man operation and it will remain that way, but obviously I owe a profound debt to the hundreds of artists who are covered here. Special thanks to Rico James, whose photography is frequently featured here, and Garrett Heaney, who designed the site’s clean layout & look.

The VTHH Reader Survey is still live for the rest of the week, and I’ve collected some of the best ideas here. There is a lot more work to be done covering the scene. Become the media. It’s easier than you think.

FEBRUARY

We’ve got a generation of young artists coming up taking a lot of opportunities for granted. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s also the result of decades of hard work, plus a couple of lucky breaks.

First off, Burlington is a college town that loves alcohol, and this supports a ton of venues. Those venues are mostly run by open-minded liberals who are happy to book rap shows. Even after two late-night shootings right downtown, one of them fatal, nobody is associating “rap shows” with “potential violence” around here. Artists in many US cities aren’t that lucky.

Better still, we’ve also got a lot of competent, hard-working bookers and promoters. There’s nothing like a Leedz Edutainment style monopoly in Burlington, it’s a diverse ecosystem. New artists have a lot of opportunities to get onstage without having to buy their way in.

February, despite being a short, frozen month, was packed with awesome shows. DJ SVPPLY and company celebrated Dilla Day at Sidebar, Slaughterhouse legend Joell Ortiz played Social Club and Lounge, and the Perceptionists rocked a sold out Monkey House. Art rap luminary Milo came through Arts Riot, which has been making space for hip hop ever since they opened.

There’s also been remarkable work at the margins, with DIY house shows (props to BadArt and Zesty Boi), dinner hip hop shows down at Sherri’s Place in Springfield,  and a string of outstanding shows by Red Handed Records, a local music collective turned tastemaker x promoter. The Switchback Taproom hosted a late afternoon show by Mister Burns and Jarv — a treat for the working stiffs, and something that should happen more often. Finally, Swan Dojo hosted Building Blocks 2, their second blowout “block party,” charity fundraiser and breakdancing competition.

This is not a complete list and it’s not intended to be. The point is that these opportunities get created by artists and fans just like you. The point is that you’re got a much bigger network of opportunities — and mentors — than you probably realize right now. Reach out.

MARCH

March marked the first release from Equal Eyes Records, one of 2018’s most important developments. We’ve seen plenty of small imprints before, but a label on this scale is something new: they’re dropping releases every month, they’re reaching outside their circle & crew, and most importantly, they’ve got physical products onto store shelves and into the hands of the fans.

There are levels to this shit,” as Conway always reminds us, and Equal Eyes Records is the first time Vermont has seen a hip hop label operating on this level. Their debut was Tired of Waiting for Rappers Vol. 1, an instrumental collaboration featuring label co-founders ILLu and Rico James. Since then, they’ve racked up eight more releases, most recently Teece Luvv’s funky and personal LP !PLEH.

They’ve built a distinct brand, which is essential. Record labels aren’t a public service, after all, these operations rise or fall on the strength of not just their product, but their vibe. Nobody is checking out Rhymesayers for new trap records just like nobody expects Griselda to sign Talib Kweli anytime soon.

That means there’s still room in the pond for other labels, if anyone reading this is feeling frisky. It’s demanding, it’s expensive, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

APRIL

One of the reasons that young artists have so many opportunities here is Mister Burns. He is a humble beast and a non-stop worker, and from his Lynguistic Civilians days to his solo career, he’s always been spotlighting -- and mentoring -- new talent. This year he celebrated his 1000th show at Foam Brewing, along with his new live band lineup, The Hounds. Since his 2016 album Raised Right, he’s been drawing on his experience and his network to pave a tour circuit for independent hip hop in New England.

This is going to be important long-term infrastructure. This will create new opportunities outside of “blowing up” and working with the existing label machines. Mister Burns and Jarv have been running laps on this circuit and reaching tons of new fans in the process.

In April, Mister Burns embarked on the Preceding the Warmth Tour, which had Brooklyn legend Masta Ace headlining. It’s one thing to open for a famous rapper, it’s another to buy a verse from them — but going on tour with them, well, that’s a whole separate level of co-sign. That is heavy. That is official as fuck.

He’s also been bringing big names to Vermont (like Skyzoo and Sadat X!) and putting in work for the local scene, like the Waking Windows Hip Hop Showcase, which was a huge success.

What can you learn from this? Always show up & always do the work, for starters. Anyone can book a show, but you’re only getting invited back if you’re bringing in bodies and money. And remember, if you don’t practice your set -- you don’t have one. Pay your dues.

MAY

Over the past two years, I’ve been involved in far, far too many conversations about who was going to be the first to “make it” here in our humble state. Almost all of them were focused on rappers, which completely overlooks the fact we’ve already got Es-K, our very own superproducer. He’s been racking up points, month after month, for years now, and repping Vermont the whole time.

Producers succeed quietly. Part of that is because artists tend to be dipshits who think album credits are optional. (Pro tip: be a professional.) Most of that, though, is the nature of their work — magicians behind the scenes, facilitating and finalizing long-term projects. Es-K isn’t just making solid gold beats, he is an accomplished executive producer with a serious resume.

2018 was an incredible year for our spooky talented instrumental scene. It’s fitting that Es-K himself has been helping to showcase that, too. His Vermont Beat Cypher series has been impeccably done so far, working in collaboration with VMB Productions to deliver two flawless lineups of 802 talent. It’s been a roll call of our very finest: Crusty Cuts, David Chief, Dokowala, Flip Physics, Iman, Jarv, Loupo, Notation, Old Gold, and Somba.

(I have also enjoyed the work of ALXXXNDXR, Elder Orange, SkySplitterInk, Keegan Kilgore and the dark EDM-bap of FATE.)

So while all this means that the standards are high, it also means there’s a big community for new producers to plug into and learn from. For fans, if you’re unfamiliar with any of these names, you’ve got good times ahead. And finally, for emcees, it means there is no excuse for wack beats in 2019. Pay the producer.

JUNE

The month of June saw two huge events going down at the Swan Dojo, a performance / practice space for dancers on Church Street. The first was Building Blocks 3, and the second was a performance by Brand Nubian legend Sadat X. The common thread here is Steve “Wish” Shannon, b-boy for life, dance instructor, and community asset.

A member of the Rhythm Riderz Crew, Mr. Shannon is a good example of the multi-layered hustle it takes to make it in a state as small as Vermont, stitching together part time gigs and temporary positions, juggling hats, job descriptions and small businesses. This is what people do up here, this is how you build a life in the woods.

He’s also been a reliable source of real, blunt, honest feedback. This is true for me, and it’s true for dozens of other artists and hustlers I know. Having a good sounding board for ideas is an invaluable resource.

So while you probably don’t have the same specific set of skills Mr. Shannon does, you can be equally valuable to your friends: just be honest with them. No critic gets the final say. No single take is completely correct. Just the same, you were born the way you were born for a reason — if you’re not feeling it, say so. The world will be a better place tomorrow.

JULY

On July 27th, 99 Neighbors sold out a triumphant gig at Arts Riot: their Open House set the tone for the success story to come. I’ve been listening to rap crews insisting they’re “a movement” for so many decades now that I didn’t appreciate, at first, that 99 Neighbors was telling me the truth.

They have top-notch beats, art and videos because all those awesome artists are part of 99 Neighbors, too. Their internal process involves a lot of voices and a lot of ideas, and it shows in their final product. Their big Arts Riot debut was a feast for the senses, and their new LP, Television, is exactly the same.  This is urgent, exciting music.

So while Sam. and HANKNATIVE are the undeniable gravitational center, and born performers besides, their whole team truly deserves credit. Big props to their manager Cal Rawlings, too. The run that 99 Neighbors had this year is the stuff of legend, a mix of solid strategy and big ambition.

There is no secret sauce in the music business. All these blueprints are open books. Study the artists you respect and think about the logic behind the moves they made. Then get out there and do the work.

AUGUST

This August was dominated by the 5th Annual A-Dog Day, the biggest and most ambitious celebration yet. The extent of Andy’s legacy is nothing less than amazing. Our scene is inter-generational, strongly supportive of one another, and generally just inspirational as heck.

This year, it was all about the youngbloods, and it couldn’t have been any other way. DJ Kanganade and Crusty Cuts were on the tables, Jarv and 99 Neighbors and A2VT all delivered killer performances, and the evening saw some serious veterans come through, too — especially headliners Smif-n-Wessun. That is heavy. That is official as fuck.

Loaf Muzik, one of NYC’s most exciting (and talented) new crews, was rapping at the Andy Williams Memorial Skatepark for a crowd of local hip hop heads and skateboarders. That’s not even one of the biggest highlights, just a moment that really sticks with me, months later. It was a sunny day that will, I believe, have an impact for years to come, in ways we can’t predict.

Contemplating the long, complex thread of friendships and mutual respect which made all that possible, well, it should give you pause. Life is incredible and life is fragile, and both facts are too easy to forget. Our traditions make us remember.

SEPTEMBER

September was dominated, yet again, by Above The Radar, the waterfront graffitti art festival hosted by Anthill Collective. This was a huge year for that crew, which saw them traveling and working more than ever, in addition to opening the AnteGallery down on Shelburne Road.

The biggest failure of this website, to my eyes, is the over-representation of rap music in the coverage. I don’t know if I’ve named more than five DJs, breakdancers or graf artists here this year. Changing that is a priority in 2019.

In addition to bringing world-class artists to Vermont, in addition to wrangling sponsors and responsibilities, in addition to taking on a new small business, Anthill Collective has also been the steady hand behind the 3rd Thursdays series at The Monkey House. Our longest-running hip hop monthly has been ground zero for culture-building and artist networking, here and beyond. Huge props a patient and generous team.

One more thing: September also brought the birthday of Brett North, BTV super-fan and scene photographer. Mr. North has been an essential asset for all of us, improving his lens game and helping new artists document & advance their careers. Big props to this hard worker. Tip the photographer.

OCTOBER

Fittingly, the first hip hop artist to “make it” is someone most Vermont artists had never even heard of. Nothing, Nowhere is a hella emo emcee and producer from Massachusetts who has adopted Vermont as his home. (Which is not a knock on the lad; most of you were born somewhere else. We’re all flatlanders to somebody here.)

One of the most popular articles on the site this year was my piece on who would be “Wikipedia Famous” next. My wager was that it would take awhile before that happened, and at least so far, I’ve been right. 2019 will be a real test for that theory, though, and I expect to see Jarv, Jamell NYT and 99 Neighbors make big enough moves to be contenders.

No need to repeat what I already wrote, but I do need to say this: beef gets attention, but attention is fleeting. In the end, 100% of the shit we talk is meaningless. None of it will advance your actual career a single centimeter. Only the work matters.

NOVEMBER

This website basically exists because nobody else was doing this. That’s how all platforms get created: someone decided to start doing the work.

This year, we’ve seen some excellent new experiments come together, and all of them will be a big factor in the year to come. Props to the team at Super Select for curating excellent playlists & content. Props to Big Homie Wes “The Best” for his Straight Outta Johnson show on WJSC — he’s a natural host and he’s been a real advocate for the local scene, bringing artists into the studio for interviews. Props to Colby Stiltz for working with Wes to create the Cellar Cypher Series — a hip hop weekly in downtown Burlington.

Another promising prospect: the Extra Mile Cypher series. Drive is a young emcee from Lamoille county who has been a standout human being this year, both as a rap talent and as a smart, honest kid who’s hungry to learn. His new cypher series, currently two installments deep, is a clever move, and he’s chosen lineups that compliment his style.

A lot has been written about the importance of online video, so it’s important to remember most of that is bullshit. The metrics are fraud, your “engagement” is mostly autoplays that register somewhere between a distraction and an irritation, and your content monetizes about as well as a song on Spotify. However, despite all that, human beings really do love to watch video, and I guarantee these cypher videos are reaching far outside the Green Mountain state.

There are more platforms on the way in 2019, too. A few I know about, many that will surprise me. Now is the time to make big moves.

DECEMBER

Why are Vermont hip hop releases sounding better than ever? In a word, SkySplitterInk. In two words, that’s Zach Crawford, one of the best, and most prolific, recording & mixing engineers in the state these days. He has also been a mentor and coach to well over a hundred of us in the past decade — the scene owes a lot to this man.

He’s moving his SkyLab studios to a new location this year, where he’s sure to continue racking up an impressive, diverse resume. And that’s the biggest thread here: it takes years to really see the results of the work you’re putting in every day. Do it anyway.

There are no shortcuts to any of this. Overnight success stories are myths.

While the internet has made it easier than ever to get your work out there, standards are just as demanding as ever. You need great art and you need great sound quality. Odds are pretty good you’re not qualified to do either one of those things. Hire professionals to get professional results.

Oh, and: Be Excellent To Each Other. I’m real proud of everyone.

Happy 2019. Don’t tell people this is your year. Show them.

Justin Boland
2018 Won't Let Me Chill
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As much as I’d like to just stay on vacation until 2019, there’s too much going on this week to stop. This is just a quick tour of the highlights, of which there are plenty. It’s also, accidentally, a meditation on what next year is going to bring us as this 802 scene finally hits critical mass. Cheers.

First up, an absolute knockout of a video from Chyse Atkins. “Look what you started” is a collaboration between DVP Cinematography and Pivot Media, and it’s a slick, professional showcase for a slick, professional single. Atkins is a natural talent, and naturally enough, he’s already left Vermont, too. He’s out in LA working to make bigger things happen — and clearly, that shouldn’t be too hard.

The music business is not a talent show, but having talent sure helps. Mr. Atkins has a skillset that’s in great demand right now. He’s old enough to have a work ethic and young enough to still be a product worth betting on at the national level. If you’re reading this and feel like you’re in approximately the same boat: consider leaving the Green Mountains to at least give that a shot. (Worst case scenario, you’ll be calling your parents from rehab, jail, or Pauly Shore’s house.)

Vermont’s hip hop scene is real, growing, exciting and surprisingly full of talent. It’s also a tiny, tiny fishbowl. Never forget that second part.

Up next: 99 Neighbors dropping a leak off their upcoming debut LP, Television, which drops on New Years Day. (After that, of course, we begin the march towards their Higher Ground show on January 11th, which may already be sold out as I write this.) “Redrum” is a fitting title for this dark, minimalist monument of non-stop bars. Everyone does superb work here and the video treatment is clever & effective stuff.

These guys are doing everything right, and fast, too. 99 Neighbors was the biggest story of 2018, period. Anyone that offends is fucking delusional, too — it’s not like this was a close contest, bud. There are a lot of solid teams making good moves right now, but none of them on this level. Part of that is proximity to Burlington, sure, but most of that is undeniable talent, long-term planning and just plain hard work.

Expect to see this crew continue to raise the bar for everyone in 2019. Because they will.

Colby Stiltz made a real splash with “Human,” and he’s already got a followup video out: “BODHI” is a dad rap classic and a great video. Colby’s recent work with producer / every-instrumentalist Jer Coons is certainly “alternative rap” material, but that doesn’t mean it’s niche — this is material with the potential to resonate way beyond the Green Mountains.

Mr. Stiltz has been grinding for a long, long time now. He’s had an especially busy 2018, hosting a string of “indie networking festival” shows that jumpstarted all kinds of connections and projects. That culminated in the launch of the Cellar Cypher Series, a weekly hip hop open mic in downtown BTV that he’s hosting alongside his STILTZgang affiliate, Wes The Best.

The issue of mentorship has come up a lot in my discussions this year with artists, promoters and community heads. Such arrangements already exist, of course: XP has been tutoring rappers for years now, SkySplitterInk is an excellent teacher and coach, Mister Burns is everyone’s cool older brother, and producer THEN WHAt has a real gift for helping to refine and reframe the artists that he works with. But how could we distribute the benefits of these informal networks better? Something to think about next year, bud.

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Finally, some beef. That’s what Christmas is all about, right? Word.

Last week, Raw Deff released a track called “IDC,” which was a pretty straightforward “Fuck Wack Rappers” cut featuring verses from XP and Alpha. Heartless Ent founder and publicist BL Spitz took it to be a subliminal diss, and responded with the cleverly titled “IDC MORE.” Raw Deff has since retaliated with “Poor Stevie,” and it’s a serious escalation. Rather than fire back with another sixteen, Raw Deff goes in for three minutes, blending old school storytelling flows with multisyllable insults.

This is one of the best diss tracks I’ve heard locally. It’s certain to further enflame the feud between Heartless Ent and Street Religion, which will — hopefully — get aired out in a live emcee battle event at some point in 2019. “Keep it on wax,” as the old heads say.

Diss tracks are a lot like school shootings — they tend to result in copycat attacks. Yet as much as rappers love this shit, we also under-estimate how boring it is for pretty much everyone else. Facebook is an engine for conflict, but just because you’ve got a 100 comment argument blowing up your timeline, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna be immortalizing your .gif-fights here. Expect coverage to skew towards actual achievements. Aspire to accomplish actual achievements.

Or just make your diss track really good.

Let’s all find ourselves in a better f’ing place this time next year, personally and professionally. Amen.

Justin Boland