THROWBACK: The Aztext - The Sacred Document

The Aztext dropped their second album, The Sacred Document, in 2007. That was approximately more than a few years ago, which is crazy to contemplate. Now that I am digging into all the work I need to do this summer, I wanted to put some beers back and bump a Green Mountain classic I haven’t heard in many years.

Let’s be clear, there were a lot of movements going on in Vermont at this moment in time. The Loyalists had already dropped two great albums, VT Union was blowing up, Burnt MD was blowing up, Eye Oh You still owned downtown Burlington, JynxINC and High Flow were both working hard, and Voice was looking like the next big thing.

Still, when The Sacred Document dropped, The Aztext absolutely raised the bar. This was a professional piece of work, and not only that, they brought along national-level guest features and held their own against the rappers they worked with. This is a track by track re-assessment from an old, old man.

“We Back” was a cut I first heard live, so having this blasting on the porch this afternoon was a lot like an acid flashback. It’s a great opening track, aggressive, melodic, on point, but once they start tearing into the alphabetical bars at the end, there … it’s a vivid memory still. As a rapper in the audience, you just wanted to flip them off for the rest of the song, then buy them about ten beers after the show. With Nastee on the beats & boards, this is a polished gem.

Lettin’ You Knowis an extremely 2000’s hip hop joint, in retrospect. Dub Sonata is a Bronx head with a dope name and a real gift for boom bap sample chops exactly like this, a bulletproof aesthetic he’s never deviated from. His style is also notable for the low end work; dude always has slick basslines pumping. One Be Lo was a legend among legends in certain underground circles, making his name in Binary Star, then spinning off into an epic solo career that saw him touring constantly.

Hearing “Keepin’ It Live” also gives me flashbacks to that album release show. The vibe is timeless and this is a serious single, the kind of jam that gets a crowd the fuck involved. The back and forth dynamic is money, and it actually improves over the course of the song — that whole closing movement is custom tailored to rock any venue.

“Couldn’t Stand The Pain” is a steal of a beat, courtesy of E Train...this would have been a hit for Fabolous or Joe Budden. A lot of vinyl chopping heads will recognize the sample, and I think most of us can agree this is a flawless flip. Having a solid hook game has been a staple of The Aztext secret sauce since they first opened up the food truck, but the verses are burners here, too. .

“Pay Attention” is back to setting large fires on small stages. It’s a huge, funky tsumami of horns and bass, and it’s one of the best “get hype”-ass hooks they’ve ever done -- simple and clean. That’s thanks to Nastee, once again, knowing how to make every touch just right. Lyrically, this is a Learic at his most comfortable, and he’s also talking a lot more shit than usual here.

“Blues & Jazz” is one of those classic concept tracks these guys love to nerd out with. I mean no disrespect, but a murder of crows is a murder of crows. Huge props on the Big Joe Burrell shout, by the way. The extent to which AZT heads are devoted to respecting their elders in every genre is admirable.

“Adventures Of…” is some more Dan The Automator style lush production from E Train. Get a great loop, flesh it out carefully, and make sure it all cranks: the man is an artist with many styles, but his recipes are always quality. Even Pro has to give him detailed credit here. There’s also detailed storytelling bars from both rappers that, looking back, presaged both GOOD WTHR and The Theorist, as long as we’re being rap nerds.

“Roll Call” is another moment from the album release party I’ll never forget. This may sound insane to younger readers, but at rap shows in Burlington, a lot of people used to dance, instead of nodding awkwardly in a hoodie. Not well, but they did at least dance. When this track came on -- despite being a massive funk breakbeat apocalypse -- everyone actually stopped. It was that heavy. The scratches and hooks are just as electric as the verses. Definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album, and one of their best singles.

From here, my notes get highly disordered, since I was drinking the entire time. I have a long, muppet-scribble rant about how they should have done a whole project of tracks like All I See,” another Dub Sonata heater. Was boom bap purism limiting their reach? Then there’s a weird meditation on when rapping fast becomes fast rap, mostly because I thought Move Into Position was too quick to really follow. I’m getting old as heck, though, and again: cooler full of beers.

“Life of an MC” is another standout cut, even with the competition. The intro is inspired, veering from a live cypher feel into a beat that Coolio and Kool Keith would both want to buy. It’s also a closely observed song about being a hungry underground emcee. It’s a mystery to me why E Train doesn’t get hired to do scratch breaks more often.

“East Coast Air” fits nicely here, but it’s also a 100% NYC product that just happened to wind up on an iconic 802 LP. This is a speaker-popping Dub Sonata beat that kicks off with Double AB and Rich Mo, who sounds like he recorded his verse in a bathroom. Rich Mo can get away with that kind of shit, though, because that man is a genius.

The Sacred Document wraps up with a killer trilogy -- from Our Kingdom,” a writing workout featuring a brilliant Mac Lethal closer, into “Lookin’ Out My Window,” a melancholy & appealing sad song, and wrapping with Back 2 Basics.” It’s an urgent Touchphonics production, and a perfect closing statement, reprising most of the album’s themes without restating them.

This album was probably better than I remembered. Not sure if I can offer better praise than that. I bought it off Amazon, it’s on Spotify, and you can also cop it from CD Baby.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: SkySplitterInk
L to R: Learic, SkySplitterInk

L to R: Learic, SkySplitterInk

SkySplitterInk is producer, musician and audio engineer who’s been an important part of the Burlington scene for … well, over a decade now, at least. He’s also the winner of our recent VTHH SUMMERSLAM 2019 contest in the Best Producer category, so an interview is long overdue.

If you’ve met him, you know he’s an easygoing, scrupulously honest Yankee type. He is a mentor to many, and he’s been behind the boards for tons (actual tons) of 802 releases. Anyone who has managed to avoid his ambitious & awesome solo LP XIX, not to mention his recent collaboration with Learic, The Theorist, please fix that ASAP.

VTHH: You're one of the most certified heads in our scene, and it's wild how far back your roots go. I first saw you onstage with Somewhere in the Solution, but you started even earlier than that playing in bands, right?

SkySplitterInk: My friends and I started our first band before we even knew how to play instruments (I ended up on guitar and learned drums at the same time). I think we were probably around 13, and just getting into all sorts of teenage trouble, mostly involving small home made explosives and other dumb shit like that. Needless to say, music was a much better outlet. Around 10th grade, we actually started getting okay and we were very into writing our own music and recording it on 4 track cassette. By the time we were seniors, though, a friend introduced us to Cool Edit and let us borrow his computer to record some songs.

From that moment on, I was hooked on recording and using a computer to make music. Of course, like all good early 2000s producers, next came Fruity Loops and the birth of my first hip hop outfit Somewhere in the Solution in 2002. Later joined by Colby Curtis (Flip Physics), Mike Flowers, and Nick Holder (MC Topic) we finally released our first full length Six Years of Secrets in 2008. It was all very amateur for a long time and that’s how I learned, little by little, until I decided with Katie (who is now my wife) to move down to Nashville to solidify my skills. Since then, I went to school for recording and mixing at SAE Institute and Nashville and have been killing mixes ever since.

As far as recording I’m not a purist though, I really think you can make a good record just about anywhere in 2019 if you have good songs, talent, and a good ear. Technology wise, I geek out over Hardware Synthesizers and Plugin FX, especially those by U-He and Burlington’s own SoundToys.  

VTHH: If you were doing a SkySplitterInk live show - no constraints, no budgets to worry about - what would that look like, at this point?

SkySplitterInk: Probably a live band or a couple/few people with loop machines. And I’m glad you ask because I should really make that happen. I will be playing instrumental shows this year but as of yet that’s a solo venture and I will be doing my best to represent the tunes from my new album with as many live parts as possible. For the live shows with Learic for our new concept album The Theorist, I will be playing live drums with backing tracks, the energy is rad.

VTHH: Who are your influences, in terms of the music you make?

SkySplitterInk: This is a tricky thing to narrow down, especially as I think the influences on my sound are different from the influences on my creativity. If I were to think in terms of my newest album XIX, which came out in January on Equal Eyes Records, you will definitely hear a healthy mix of boom bap drums and Floyd-ish atmosphere, and those are definitely both intentional pulls.

As far as hip hop my favorite albums are things like Outkast’s Aquemini, Blockhead's Downtown Science, Kendrick's GKMC, Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides, Kanye’s Graduation, and Common albums and the quartet of Ace Rock, Atmosphere, Typical Cats and Sage Francis. I am also super into a diverse array of bands like James Blake, Strung Out, The Cure, Converge, Tame Impala, Portishead, The Postal Service, ISIS, The Flaming Lips, Slayer and TOTO (This was a fun list to narrow down).

I also wanna give a shout out to a huge local influence of mine and that’s the legend Es-K, ask anyone who has spent time in the SkyLab what I am usually playing in the downtime between takes, and its his huge catalog.

Justin Boland
VIDEO: Pro - "DadBonics"

Fresh off the surprise release of his debut solo LP, After Dinner Before Dawn, Pro follows up with a surprise single for Fathers Day, “DadBonics.” This is, of course, a flip of the classic Big L track “Ebonics” — and as a side note, if you’re not familiar with that track already, you have should not be rapping at all. Son.

“DadBonics” is both clever and funny, so this is more or less a home run. Obviously, babysitting bars and kid jokes won’t end any other way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this video grows some legs beyond the Green Mountains, either…this is very “viral” stuff, as the suits say. (Also, the ILLu beat is nicely updated & tailored.)

No word on what’s next from the dad rapper extraordinaire, but then again, why should there be? After Dinner Before Dawn just barely dropped, it’s packed of hyper-articulated boom bap and there’s no way you’ve digested all those gems yet. If you haven’t heard it yet, fix that now.

Justin Boland
VTHH SUMMERSLAM 2019: The Main Event

SUMMERSLAM 2019 has been a blast. It was also too fast, extremely flawed, and embarrassingly incomplete. Rappers are always salty about something, but in this case, the critics are completely correct.

Remember, though, this is sports entertainment. The fans need to see blood, and we delivered the goods.

So before I write way too much about our first big PPV event, let’s get straight to the winners, the glory, the triumph.

Here Are Your Champions:


XP has a cult following and they delivered for him. The legendary lyricist has had a long, prolific career and continues to improve his game on every front. Respect Due.

The Runoff: #2 - Jarv, #3 - Learic, #4 - Eugenyks, #5 - Raw Deff.


Humble, hard-working, and seriously talented, SkySplitterInk took this one by a broad margin. This was a field full of worthy talent. The race was close early on, but as voting accelerated, so did his lead. Congratulations.

The Runoff: #2 - THEN WHAt, #3 - Es-K, #4 - Dokowala, #5 - Flip Physics.


The Savvy Row Records team scored big at SUMMERSLAM, securing the belt for their breakout star Blaze Ryan. While they mobilized a big campaign, this category was still a tight, close race. Thanks for keeping it interesting.

The Runoff: #2 - Yung Breeze, #3 - Jibba “The Gent,” #4 - Teece Luvv, #5 - D. FRENCH.


In a heavily contested category, the human dynamo that is Colby Stiltz managed to edge out his competition. That’s probably because he’s more about cooperation, in terms of his daily grind -- and also thanks to a great run of new material & his tireless work running The Cypher Series, a weekly open mic event in downtown BTV. Props.

You can catch him tonight at the Community Benefit Show for Kyle at Drink, along with a host of other 802 talent convening to celebrate the life of Kyle Hoyt. Be there if you can.


First & Foremostest

As the weirdo who spent his evening and morning verifying hella email addresses, I have to say: the real engine behind these results is actual fans. Even with several artists trying their hardest to tip the scales, the majority of these votes came from real people, many of whom I already know. They go to shows, they buy albums, they recommend you to total strangers. Artists are necessary, sort of, but without fans like this, there would be no scene.

Of course, The Internet allows for a bigger reach. Special shouts to the many Jarv fans from around the country, who have all been very interesting to talk to. Also, Vermont has ex-pats all over the world and they still pay close attention to the home front.

In terms of our Green Mountain locals, big hot-spots for enthusiastic fans were Brattleboro (bigtime), Burlington (duh), Montgomery (what?), Rutland (ayup), St. Johnsbury (word!), and most especially, Windsor. Which makes sense: Windsor has always had a bizarrely talented mini-scene, and it’s also the only town that’s got two contenders for Heavyweight Champ: Jarv and XP.

So: these winners were chosen by the people. Is that a good idea, though? Let’s discuss!


Infinite Inside Baseball

The final ballot for SUMMERSLAM is packed full of lessons about why democracy is mostly a mistake. Let’s start there.

For instance, despite securing dozens of nominations for “Best Producer,” XP has never made a beat. I could and should have done better research there, but it wouldn’t have changed the standings (10+ nominations was the baseline). Among the actual producers who did not get included and flat-out should have: Crusty Cuts, David Chief, FATE, Instinct, Jarv (fight me), JL, OldGold, Skywise, Teece Luvv, Wes The Best, and Wool/See.

So to be clear, despite getting a grand total of 44 votes, XP was disqualified from competition. To be even more clear, though, he still would have lost outright to Skysplitter, who took home 53 votes for the SUMMERSLAM Championship.

For another example, emcee / DJ Framework of The Loyalists left the Green Mountains more than a decade ago -- and he’s been making dope rap ever since, as part of Windmills. Despite that, he still secured 21 nominations, just barely making the cut-off to be the Heavyweight Champion of a state he very seldom sees. Is that really a problem? Has he not paid his dues or something?

Eliminating most of the rappers proved less controversial than expected, however. It was a necessary move, and exactly the kind of heel behavior that Mr. McMahon would condone, too.

Still, it’s worth mentioning that a lot of legends and serious talent got 86’d: Asah Mack, Mister Burns, Vazy, Drive, Sasha Travis, Nahte Renmus, LC of Lynguistic Civilians, and Ferragamo Face; all some of the best pure spitters in the 802. So obviously, the methodology here is suspect from the very start.

Five rappers came very close to the Heavyweight division: Dolla Day, D. FRENCH, Humble, Jibba “The Gent,” and of course, Konflik. One big lesson from SUMMERSLAM 2019: everyone respects Konflik, who also received a number of nominations for the Good Citizen category.

Speaking of which, I should also give props to some other near-nominees for Good Citizen of the Year: Big Homie Wes, Cal Rawlings, DJ Kanga, Es-K, Fattie B, Humble, ILLu, Jarv, Jibba “The Gent,” Josh Kerman of Church Street DJs, DJ (& Originator) Melo Grant, Mycelium MC, Princess Nostalgia, Que Beatz of BloodPressureMusic, Rivan C, Steve Shannon / b-boy Wish, THEN WHAt, Yung Breeze and the Bad Art underground show kingpin himself, Zesty Boi.

That is some damn good company to be in, and whatever you are doing to get on that list, please keep it up. It is awesome to see so many generations represented at once, too -- deep roots are important for healthy soil.


Behind the curtain, there was an abundance of attempted shenannigans this week. Attempted. Even adjusting for the duplicates and alts, of which there were plenty, Blaze Ryan still won fair and square. I don’t hold artists responsible for the actions of their fans, and besides this was pretty widespread stuff. It’s all good, though -- I appreciate the chuckles, and with a few doomed exceptions, those same artists also have very real, very enthusiastic fanbases. Or just some relatives who really love them.

All in all, there were almost 100 rappers nominated, but just over 50 producers. We had a little over 150 Nomination round votes, and wound up with 273 Ballot round votes. That’s encouraging. This won’t turn into a monthly thing, I swear -- too much work -- but there will be another PPV event later this year. The format will be different, less stupid and more valuable, and more importantly, it will be awesome.


These events are intended to be fun. Hopefully that much is obvious. There are also real benefits to doing ridiculous shit like this. I know that I’m not the only person discovering new names as a result of SUMMERSLAM, and I’ve seen a lot of new connections get forged first-hand. There’s no way to make everybody happy, but I did earnestly try to piss everybody off, so let me know how I did.

Justin Boland

The kitchen table is a mess of notebooks, laptops and Infinite Coffee — it’s prep time at HQ for SUMMERSLAM 2019. The official cut-off is coming at noon sharp.

We’ll have the Main Event ready for you as soon as possible after that. After all … this is a slow weekend in America, and OUR FANS DEMAND ACTION.

Huge thanks to everyone who bought a ticket. We’re grateful to be the most trusted name in 802 sports entertainment.

And if you somehow haven’t voted yet, well


Justin Boland

First and foremost, huge thanks to the artists and fans who made this so fun. The results exceeded our expectations. Top 3 Rappers was tightly contested category, as expected, and Top 3 Producers yielded far fewer responses, which was disappointing. We got over 250 votes, but well over a hundred of those were duplicates and repeat submissions from the same locations…so what was that worth?

Remember, though: there is no mercy here. So, for the first annual VTHH SUMMERSLAM, it’s time to make a few shocking announcements.

Good Citizen of the Year

The results of all our extensive polling? A six-way tie. We are blessed to have so many contenders. Despite dozens of other worthy nominations, here are your overall winners … for your final consideration: Brett North, Colby STILTZ, Zach Crawford / Skysplitter, Mister Burns, Omega Jade & Scottie Raymond.

SUMMERSLAM Vermont Producers

Why did this category get fewer nominations than the rappers did? The contrast is stark, bud. We will investigate this mystery in more depth soon. In the meantime, we’ve got a wide-open shoot-out to finally decide who the nicest is. Choose carefully.

..And Now The Big News.


I absolutely promised that everyone nominated would win a spot on the final ballot, and I absolutely lied. This isn’t some kind of backyard talent show. There have been so many submissions in the RAPPER CATEGORY that we’re taking some awesome, hilarious, and inevitable measures. First up: everyone with five or fewer nominations is withdrawn from SUMMERSLAM 2019 competition, effective immediately. Gone.

After all, some rappers are serious, but … most rappers aren’t. The big winners (20+ real nominations) are being broken into a separate category; everyone else is being lumped into the “Intercontinental Class.”

First Up: A Six-Way Lethal Battle Between Our Heavyweight Contenders.

The top 6 are a mile away from their closest contenders. Only one of them can win. This is the final countdown: Eugenyks, Framework, Jarv, Learic, Raw Deff, and XP. Those names were so far ahead of the rest they simply have to exist in their own weight class.

The Intercontinental Class of Contender

Finally, here’s the end of your tour of duty: who is next up? Who is impossible to avoid in 2019? Who is hustling circles around their competitors? After this, you’re all done and we thank you for your service. Voting runs until Saturday morning — after that, things should get weird.

Here’s the official ballot.

Thanks again for your time.

Justin Boland
VTHH SUMMERSLAM '19: Banned on Facebook

The old inbox is blowing up, and that’s some rough timing, because yours truly got a seven day suspension from Facebook. (For posting a .jpg of Charles Manson laughing, in case anyone is curious.) It’s a classic story: huge, unaccountable corporations destroying the hard work of independent creative geniuses like myself.

Although Facebook is a sad, retarded wasteland, it also provides 60% of the traffic this website gets, day after day, month after month. It is truly impressive how much Zuckerborg was able to eat the entire internet. Also, kind of sad.

However, this is the shit future we live in, and there are still a few hours left to GET THOSE NOMINATIONS IN before the HUGE ANNOUNCEMENTS that are coming tonight. So please, share this message far & wide, so that young, hungry artists in 802 know that I’m not ignoring their friendly introductions. Thank you.

Remember, you can always contact me directly from right here.

Oh, and here’s that form again:

Summerslam is coming. NOTHING WILL STOP THE SHOW.

Justin Boland
VTHH SUMMERSLAM 2019: New Names, New Sounds

We’re not even 24 hours into the first annual VTHH SUMMERSLAM and things are already insane. I’ve been suspended from Facebook (“too lit, too viral, too trill”) and we’re past the 200 mark for nomination submissions so far today. We knew this would be big, but we were amazed to find out this would be huge. Huge.

Nominations close around 5 pm on Thursday, June 13th — tomorrow, in other words — and we’ll be dropping some big announcements that night. Now, some critics have said this is moving too fast, and that’s absolutely true. I promise you, though, next year will be every bit as sloppy and frustrating.

Meanwhile, I’m spending my evening catching up on dozens of new names. Here’s a quick overview of some of the artists VTHH will be featuring this summer.

Wap Bleu caught a wave after opening for Jay Critch last year and his name came up a lot in the past 24 hours — spelled differently every time, too. There’s no finished product yet, but his singles are proof there’s a lot of energy on tap and a talented ear in development.

At first I thought “Sobe” was a nomination for Somba, but SoBe is a whole separate animal. The entire catalog on his Soundcloud there is worth a dive, this is calculated, playful stuff, and full of melodic ideas. I will be keeping a close eye out for this cat in the future.

The team at Savvy Row Records got a number of shouts, but none more than Blaze Ryan, who released his solo debut Demons back in May. This is introspective, lyrical rap — and this also a work in progress, a young team worth checking back on.

Instinct is an 802 producer who has been working with Dokowala for awhile now, been prolific for years now, and keeps his mixing and design game on point, too. Despite all that, I’ve still been sleeping. So while he’s not strictly a new name, the man deserves some shine and he’s gotten a number of nominations. Also, “Libations” bangs.

Kurt Stewart has come up under a few names, all of which were familiar. That’s because this young fellow distinguished himself with some excellent entries in the regular, Flip Physics hosted, VTHH Sample Challenge. Turns out, he’s been on a long streak of dirty, tasty work. Again, I was slept.

And again, there will always be more. I apologize in advance. This is just a quick mix — VTHH SUMMERSLAM has introduced a huge new wave of talent, and proven a lot of older, senior citizen type heads haven’t been forgotten. Props to the creators and hustlers.

In closing, seriously, all jokes aside, I am suspended for a week over on Facebook there, so please keep sharing The Nomination Link so we can get some numbers & awareness. NOTHING WILL STOP THE SHOW.

Justin Boland
Announcing The First Annual VTHH SUMMERSLAM

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the first annual Vermont Hip Hop SUMMERSLAM. Please refrain from throwing objects into the ring.

In the wake of the Seven Daysies discussion, there have been more calls than ever for a proper “VT Hip Hop Awards,” something serious, something scientific, something professional, to finally settle the never-ending arguments.

This is definitely not that. It is, however, an attempt at making mistakes now so that we can, collectively, pull off a real deal “VT Hip Hop Awards” at the end of 2019.

We’re keeping it simple for this inaugural SUMMERSLAM: nominate three rappers, three producers, and one Good Citizen of the Year. (Apologies to the DJs.) The “Good Citizen” category is an honorary nod to whoever is earning respect and contributing to the community. You can submit your nominations right here, right now, through the embedded form:

Q: What Happens Next?

A: Nominations close in 48 hours. From there, every single nominee is on the ballot.

Q: “Email Verification” sounds ominous. Why do you need that?

A: Because of ballot-stuffing dicknose losers, that is why. I don’t have anything to sell you (and most of you are broke anyway) so your email is strictly being used to build a verification list so that every vote counted, counts.

Q: What if I don’t feel comfortable sharing that?

A: You would give away your social security number for fifty cents off on a taco, I don’t believe you at all.

Q: What do the winners receive?

A: All winners and runners-up get their names mentioned on this website at no charge, plus bragging rights.

Q: Are votes secret?

A: Absolutely. I will be releasing numbers on total votes and show off some graphs about turnout, but nothing will ever be linked back to you.

Justin Boland

The THROWBACK series is devoted to spotlighting worthy projects that never got much coverage, here or elsewhere. I interviewed SVPPLY last year — it was a good, informative talk — and he’s just secured a Seven Daysie Awards nomination for Best Club DJ. Which makes sense, since he gigs constantly, books huge events, and is generally the sort of gentleman I can call a “local tastemaker” without feeling like I’m an asshole hack. Dude is really out here.

As it turns out, dude is also really nice on the beats. Has been for some time, too: BVFFALO came out in September 2015, and it’s a superb set of chilled-out soul chops that sound thick & lush. I don’t mean “set” as a slight. This is a rock solid instrumental hip hop album, to be clear — but you can definitely hear the sequencing logic and impatient ear of an experienced, creative DJ at work here, too.

It’s a smooth, cohesive ride, and that’s by design. As the man himself explained it to me awhile back: “The concept is thinking of sampling the way native Americans thought about buffalo and using every part … for most of those songs, every instrument is from a different record, and patched together to form a whole different song.

Soul heads and sample hawks will definitely recognize a lot of these sources, but that takes nothing away from the project, because there are a lot of great flips and cuts here. Even with the constraints of the concept, BVFFALO is more than the sum of its parts. The album is fast-moving, so while it’s hard to cite any particular favorite track, every slice is where it belongs.

It’s also an ideal soundtrack for porch beers on a beautiful day.

Give it a spin, keep supporting local music, and enjoy your summer as much as possible. This will all be gone too soon.

Previous Installments:

Rhythm Ruckus - Being Geniuses Together

OldGold - Preservation

Loupo - W K N D

Raw Deff - Rhyme Travel

Justin Boland
Five (Dope) New Albums I Missed

In 2018, I took the summer off from doing weekly coverage and damn, was that a mistake. Last year was the first time that so much happened during those beautiful months I spent in the river that I was was stuck playing catch-up for the rest of the year. (And if you reckon I never came close to catching up, I’d be inclined to agree.)

In 2019, things are moving even faster. We’re more than a month out from Summer Solstice and there’s been a flood of newsworthy releases since mud season. Here’s a roundup featuring five of my favorites. There’s a lot more to cover, but for now, give these puppies a spin.

Selfish Presley - No Sleep

We were promised a wavy, vibed-out artistic statement and No Sleep delivers the goods. Selfish Presley is in his own wide open lane here, and his production game is better than ever. The album is short, sharply cut, and packed with ideas. Props to the director.

Pro - After Dinner, Before Dawn

Out of nowhere, Pro dropped his debut solo album on BTV hip hop label Equal Eyes Records, and it’s the crown jewel of their catalog so far. This is a marathon of bangers from a lifelong fan and full time rap dad. Pro is one third of The Aztext, one of the 802’s most successful rap groups. He brings along an all-star cast of characters for this LP, including Konflik, Framework, Fattie B, and of course, AZT fam Kin and Tha Truth. This is a grand slam touchdown, a home run from half court.

Learic and Skysplitterink - The Theorist

The other Aztext emcee has been equally busy this year. Learic is already known for tight, cerebral concept tracks, but The Theorist represents a whole new level. It’s also proof he’s continuing to grow as an artist, even after a long career underground. The album is a continuous narrative, framed like a film, and the production is huge. If you need to read more, here’s my full review. Cheers.

Teece Luvv - Sunday Flow Practice Vol. 1

This is my personal favorite album of 2019 so far. It’s an off-hand, throwback good time, with few fucks given. It’s also all bars — creative, funny, musical bars. Teece Luvv really killed this set. Jarv does aight here, too. Speaking of Maiden Voyage, they should make ol’ Nahte Renmus do a Sunday Flow Practice series next. Then drop that self-produced group album. Whalam.

Dokowala - Hot Waves - Second Volume

St. Albans artist Dokowala dropped another smooth set of live-chopped, jazzy instrumental work, just in time to start bumping it with the windows open and the grill warming up. Hot Waves is quick but extremely cohesive, and Dokowala has taken the same smart approach with his releases so far: find a vibe and nail it to the barn wall. His next expedition will be just as tasty, and just as different.

Flip Physics - From The Archives: Volume 1

Or maybe six picks: as a bonus chaser, the Flip Physics compilation From The Archives, Volume 1 is an old school tour of a BTV beat head’s personal stash. Flip Physics has been a hustling hard for the local scene, from his constant collaboration work to his moderation of the regular Sample Challenge contests over at the Vermont Hip-Hop Artists Collective. Volume 1 has proven to be a great soundtrack for spring cleaning — highly recommended.

In closing, shouts to Big Homie Wes. If you haven’t checked out his February EP / movie Contraband, fix that.

Justin Boland
Let's All Argue About the Daysie Awards Again: 2019 Edition

It’s that time of year again. The Seven Daysies are a long-standing tradition that, due to a total lack of any competition, have become a proxy for.actual Vermont Grammy Awards. And although I’ve referred to it in years past as “a Burlington-centric, inherently imperfect, flat-out popularity contest” — it’s also a genuine measure of clout.

This year’s list of nominations is a lot like any other year: a few inevitable nods, a few surprises, and the obligatory “wait, who the hell is that?” contender.

Jarv, Learic and 99 Neighbors are pretty much the entire horse race for 2019. No offense intended, here, but I’m a realist. Jarv won last year, Learic is the single most respected rapper in our scene, and 99 Neighbors are, well, blowing the fuck up. Still, the rest of the nomination slate is quite interesting.

A2VT have been expanding both their lineup and their reach — they got featured on and their most recent music video, the triumphant “Wave Your Flag,” has just broken 100,000 views. That’s huge, and it’s obvious they’re just getting started, too.

The inclusion of D. FRENCH surprised me. I’m a straight up fan of his pen game, don’t get me wrong, but I just didn’t expect him to have that kind of reach until after he drops his debut album “The Highest Lows.” I was quite wrong. Furthermore, his brother, Isaac French, got a nomination for the Best Pop Artist or Group category. Props to a talented family from St. Albans.

Finally, a lot of people were asking who DIGGS was, despite the fact I’ve covered them here already. I’m not offended; I know most of you only read this stuff when it’s about you. Despite the fact they’ve been an intermittent presence at live shows, doing full-band live hip hop will always win you an audience in BTV, so I’m less surprised to see them here than most of y’all haters were.

So: were there people who deserved to be on that list who aren’t? Not really, no. You need to run a campaign to win a campaign, and no part of this game is a talent show.

On second thought, scratch that. Last year there were two big winners: Jarv and Loupo, who won for Best Electronic Artist or Group. That’s not exactly a Best Hip Hop Producer category, but it was at least close. That category is gone, which is unfortunate. Hopefully it gets resurrected next year — or better yet, we get that Best Hip Hop Producer category. There is definitely a deep enough talent pool here to justify that.

So props to everyone who got the nod, and good luck to the contestants. Voting starts on June 10th and we’ll find out who won in August. Democracy takes time and, generally, satisfies exactly nobody. It’s a system that works!

Justin Boland
99 Neighbors is Playing at Lollapalooza - and More
Holy shit, bud, what?

Holy shit, bud, what?

99 Neighbors, as expected, are have a Big Damn Year following the January 1st release of their debut LP, Television. (It was very good.) Since then, they’ve had their single “Champion” featured on the hit TV show Keeping Up With The Kardashians, they’ve signed a booking deal with Paradigm Talent Agency, and they’re playing Lollapalooza. Twice.

As they say on television, though, THAT’S NOT ALL!!!

Here’s a current rundown of their summer schedule, which itself is only a peek at what they’re currently cooking up.

6/27: Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI

7/20-7/21: Mad Decent Block Party Festival at Gillette Stadium in Boston, MA

08/01: Lollapalooza and official after party in Chicago, IL

08/31: Made In America in Philadelphia, PA

09/06: Otis Mountain Get Down in Elizabethtown, NY

09/14-09/15: Music Midtown in Atlanta, GA

Finally, the crew dropped a great single just when I was starting my vacation. In case you missed it…fix that.

Justin Boland
RIP Kyle Hoyt, Promoter, Mentor & Friend

RIP to a legend, a hard worker and most of all, a good man. Kyle Hoyt was a steady source of inspiration, encouragement, good ideas and honest feedback. He will be dearly missed.

Seven Days has an excellent memorial writeup for anyone unfamiliar.

There’s going to be more news about this on the horizon, but in the meantime, a great way to honor his memory would be to help out younger artists, go to some local shows — and stay hydrated.

Justin Boland
Es-K - "ReCollection"

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

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

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

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Subtex of Grey Sky Appeal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Justin Boland