Talking "Kumbaya" with Jibba "The Gent"

Today, Jibba “The Gent” dropped a dope new video for his “Kumbaya” single from awhile back. Between the Flip Physics beat and the Brad Vazy directed visuals, this is a dynamite combination and a low-budget triumph. I hit Jibba up for a quick conversation about the video and what he’s been up to.

VTHH: Awhile back, you took the unusual step of asking your fans to decide what your next project would be. Turns out they wanted a new Causin' Effect LP. How is that puppy coming along?

Jibba: I needed some encouragement to take the right step, it seemed like I wasn't fully diving into either project so it was time to make a choice. I'm so happy people picked the Causin' Effect album because it's been nothing but fun. We should be rolling out singles starting in a month.

Vazy and I would have liked to release our newest "Summer Jam" on the fourth of July, but we decided we needed to hit up SkySplitter to take our sound to the next level. I just got back the first draft and boy oh boy, did he make us sound good! This one will be dropped with a video in Mid August. One song a month is the desired schedule until the full album is released.

VTHH: How did this awesome “Kumbaya” video come together?

Jibba: It's funny because the song recently turned a year old, and never really gained much traction as just an audio single. Vazy and I were chillin' and decided to just start filming what we were doing. We used our resources and went with the flow for two days and Vazy whipped up something proper with it. I couldn't be more happy with how it came out.

I had already shot this video once around a huge bonfire with the homies from Hustle and Loyalty Records but unfortunately all that footage was ruined. Maybe we got a little too lit that night. A Bluetooth speaker ended up getting roasted that evening as well. Sorry Joey!

VTHH: What else do you have cooking this summer?

Jibba: All I'm doing is recording and preparing for 656 Fest! Make sure you get there!

Justin Boland
SoBe - Temperate Climates

Despite looking forward to this project, I still managed to sleep. SoBe’s debut joint Temperate Climates dropped back on June 22nd, the day after Solstice. I bought it — I’m really about that life — and despite only being five tracks long, I gotta say, this is in the top 5% of local projects I’ve ever copped. This album is fucking ferocious.

Based on sonics alone, I’m assuming that SoBe is playing guitar on this, and cutting some tasty takes, too. I’m guessing his drum programming comes from a lifetime of soaking in tricky acid-head jazz, somewhere after Spin magazine launched “Electronica,” and before IDM became EDM and sold out to hedge funds. Also, a whooooole lot of J. Dilla.

Kids talk a lot about “vibes” these days, too much, but it’s the essence of what SoBe is doing here. His pockets are deep, and his melodic creativity allows him to really explore the spaces he’s carved out. More importantly, his restraint as a producer keeps it from turning into some kind of noodle-gasm jam session. Temperate Climates is extremely polished, and I get the sense this young man has a future as an executive producer / A&R type.

Speaking of which, the sequencing here is also excellent. Each of these tracks represent very different feels & spaces, but every transition here works. Part of that may be thanks to Loupo, credited as guest producer on two of these cuts. He’s always had a spooky gift for taking even the simplest loops to the next level with carefully sculpted arrangements — as much of a songwriter as a beatmaker. That’s in full effect on “Koosh” and “Coast to Coast.”

Opening jam “North Beach” is another co-production collaboration, this time featuring the tag team of David Chief and Notation. They are both busy sonic architects in their own right. The track is over-flowing with ideas, but it’s never cluttered or rushed. My personal favorite cut, though, would have to be the closer “Reminiscing,” perhaps the most guitar-centric composition on the album. As any old pro will tell you, ballads are harder than rock songs, and SoBe kills this melancholy outro movement.

So: Temperate Climates is both very dope, and worth your money. SoBe’s style is like George Benson and Aphex Twin getting together to make instrumental hip hop. It’s consistently interesting and rewards repeated listening. Go check it out.

One more thing.

Since a lot — too much — of the content on VTHH is geared towards artists and promoters and young heads getting into the business: a word about that name. Building a catalog as “SoBe” is going to be a tough gig, considering it is also a soft drink brand owned by Pepsi. You can buy that shit in a gas station, today, right now.

Calling yourself Sprite or Starbucks would yield about the same results, but I do respect the audacity of taking on Goliath & Leviathan. Assholes with MBAs and expensive ties rule our burning world, and I salute anyone aiming to inflict headaches upon those scum, however small. Just be sure you aren’t inflicting headaches on yourself, too.

Justin Boland

THE FIVE SPOT is a feature where I invite local artists to recommend some of their favorite artists, from Vermont and beyond. The catch is that the fifth track has to be one of their own. For the latest installment, I hit up St. Albans representative & jazzy boom-bap master Dokowala. His words are carefully chosen and his selections are 100% local produce. Enjoy.

DJ A-DOG - Eddie Henderson

“I could listen to this on loop for infinity. Give the whole album a listen. You will learn something, guaranteed. Genius with the blends & loops. - R.I.P. A-DOG”

Es-K - Mentally Slated (Feat. Danny Whitney)

“This track highlights both Es-K & Danny Whitney’s strengths. Fitting for spaceflight. Always gives me goosebumps. Their collaborations are always so killer.”

Cognac Cousins - Fxck The Landlord

“I fuck with this 100% - knocks harder than a landlord on the 5th. Breeze crafted a hell of a beat here too. A man who raps & produces - that’s dangerous. Let me put a beat on that album fellas!”

OldGold - IGotYou Feat. Crusty Cuts

“Usually, I blast this as I speed out of the work parking lot to freedom. The use of multiple records here is unreal. One of my favorite versions of “Emily” is even snuck in there. Seriously fellas - this shit is ridiculous.”

Dokowala - Hawks In Flight

“Not a huge fan of talking about my own work but I remember making this beat. I love sampling the most obscure tracks I can dig up. For sure one of my own favorites.”

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: The Long Weekend

VTHH has been busy lately, but the 802 rap scene has been even busier. Today’s installment of the ROUNDUP series is a mix of some brand new tracks and a few gems I missed on vacation. Let’s get straight to it.

First up, BL SPITZ has been hard at work on his debut album, Mr. Credible, which should be dropping soon. “Dis Wut I Do,” which will be featured on that LP, is a rock solid slice of 90’s NYC-style cocaine rap. “This Will Be A Masterpiece!!” he assures us, “One That Will Get NATIONAL Respect [bicep emoji].” Stay tuned.

I slept on this tightly crafted, spaced-out single from Selfish Presley and Jibba “The Gent” when it dropped. That was a mistake. “Gilligan” is a sweet slice of stoner escapism, with two sharply cut verses to match. Selfish has been his usual non-stop, one-man production pipeline, spinning out beats (as THEN WHAt) and constant videos (as Vego Harris) and cooking up several new projects. Jibba is currently putting the finishing touches on a new Causin’ Effect album, which should be wild.

The biggest mistake I’ve made lately, though, would have to be missing out on a brand new Raw Deff track featuring New Jersey legend Pacewon of the Outsidaz crew. “Gone Crazy” is just as good as you’d expect — both of these men are certified spitters and this beat is relentless. Raw Deff has a new album on the way, “The Impeccable Nobody,” which will drop on August 23rd. Expect to hear a lot more about that soon.

Up next, the latest LP from Equal Eyes Records is a blast of pure boom bap. Loop Junkies, the new project from Ill Effect, is heavy on up-tempo, fast-moving rappin’-ass rap music. Assuming you’re into such fare, well, this is something you should check out ASAP. It bangs.

March Davis has been paying dues forever, and it shows. His product is increasingly polished and professional, and his fanbase has been expanding the whole time. “Hunnidmo” is a flip of Teddy Rose’s hit trap anthem, but this ain’t a remix — it’s his own wave, woozy and heavier on vibes than bars. It also sounds as good as anything on the Billboard charts right now.

Ciurleo and Fre$h have both been hustling heavy in 2019. Obviously, it’s a no-brainer to release a song named after a hugely popular TV show right after a new season of that show drops. Despite an obligatory Demigorgon reference, though, “Stranger Things” is mostly a song about getting very high. There will always be a demand for that, too … especially in Vermont.

Finally, this ain’t exactly a track but it is exceptionally dope: this hour-long mix of Dokowala beats is a perfect soundtrack for getting work done, getting nothing done, or, of course, writing hella raps. It’s also proof that this young man’s archives are pure flames, just like all his recent releases. Dokowala is one of the best in VT right now. Give this a spin today.

Justin Boland
VIDEO: Raw Deff - Break Through

Some nice new visuals — and a brand new single — from Raw Deff. “Break Through” is a dead serious, thoughtful song over some downright nasty Flip Physics chops, and the video is courtesy of non-stop producer & director Vego Harris.

Justin Boland
Photo courtesy of  Rico James

Photo courtesy of Rico James

THE FIVE SPOT is a feature where I invite local artists to recommend some of their favorite artists. The catch is that the fifth track has to be one of yours. For the latest edition, we’ve got Mavstar selecting some deep cuts. Enjoy.

XP - In All Honest

"In All Honest" opens with a melancholy and sorrowful vocal sample, perhaps evoking memories of old times. This leads the listener to the intro of what turns out to be a very smooth and laid back instrumental. In the first verse, XP divulges memories of a veteran in the game who's been through it all, perhaps elaborating on that same vibe hinted at in the opening. Meticulous rhyme schemes and effortless flow are pervasive throughout. This is followed by a crisp and matter-of-factly delivered hook that constitutes a very iconic element of the track. Verse two continues on the same theme, and you can hear XP emphasizing his disdain for rappers who are maybe less worthy of holding a mic. Awesome track.

Raw Deff feat Yung Breeze - Come On

Boom - right from the jump this track opens with electricity surging and a tasteful explosion, and we go right into the high-energy, two part hook. "Big Def's up in this bitch- kickin' the door down-" it's no mystery that Raw Deff has entered the building, and he's clinically insane on this track. Classic Deff bodies his verse, and Yung Breeze comes in equally unhinged, and clearly right at home on this style of beat. Did I mention that the beat is diabolical? Definitely a track that makes me want to start robbing people — or at least commit a couple misdemeanors. When in Rome, right?

Humble- 8mm

On this joint, after a brief intro that sounds to me like a mariachi band, we get the instrumental that utilizes the playful and energetic melodic percussion. What I like about Humble is that he never tells you what he wants you to think- he's more apt to paint a lyrical picture and leave the listener to connect the dots. There are different elements of narrative going on, coalescing together to create meaning. This track is an homage to the 8mm motion picture format.

Basic Brains- Redesign (Angelic)

I'm just a big fan of that melodic percussion sound. The instrumental goes heavy outdoors-wilderness vibe on this one. Basic Brains raps about self knowledge based on experience interacting with the outside world, reminiscing back to simpler times when we were kids. The theme here is redesigning who we are to reconcile the loss of freedom that goes along with growing up. At least, that's my interpretation - the campfire crackling in the outro invites the listener to reflect.

Mavstar- What's Been Goin' On

This is my favorite track off the Gangsta Trail Mix record that I put out last year with ILLu. Sometimes a simple guitar riff is all you need for the basis of an instrumental, and DJ Kanga's masterful scratching during the intro adds a nice touch. The verses are nice, multi-syllabic rhymes permeate throughout, and I have a kind of unpredictable flow. My favorite part of this track is the hook section. It came out so crisp and polished; SkySplitter did a great job shepherding me through the recording process of that part — I have to admit I'm not that great of a singer in real life.

Justin Boland
Photo by  Kuf Knotz

Photo by Kuf Knotz

The OUTSIDE INFLUENCE series is dedicated to spotlighting artists and organizers around the larger New England scene. For the latest episode, we’re headed to Portland, Maine, where emcee / producer / DJ Graphic Melee has been holding down Monday of the Minds: A Community Hip Hop Showcase as the house DJ. It’s a bi-monthly event that’s become known for strong lineups & a good time. In the process, it’s also become a hub for a growing NE underground circuit that helps touring talent string extra dates together.

All of that is very cool, but it’s important to emphasize that Graphic Melee is dope at what he does. And he does a great deal. Since he’s gearing up for a busy summer — and about to drop a new album, Deeper — it was the perfect time to pick his brain about the eternal hustle.

VTHH: In 2019, you're a triple threat and then some, as an emcee, producer, DJ, and engineer. Do you wear so many hats out of necessity, or were you drawn to all of these disciplines just as much?

Graphic Melee: Definitely a mix of both. I've always wanted to pursue each of these disciplines, and was getting my start or already pretty involved in everything by the time I was a teenager. I've been singing / rapping as long as I can remember. I've been playing different instruments and writing music since I could reach a piano. And started recording music, making beats, and getting into DJing when I was 15. I was really heavily influenced by artists that could play all the instruments in their recordings, artists that were emcees and producers or producers and DJs, and artists that recorded their own music.

I came from a very DIY music scene, and by the time I started focusing on making solo hip-hop as Graphic Melee I was in a place where I felt that I had to be self reliant with my ability to make music. So at that point being able to combine the abilities I had cultivated became a necessity.

VTHH: Where were you living when you first connected with hip hop? Did you know you were doomed to pursue this the minute you heard it?

Graphic Melee: I was 4 years old. My mom and I were staying with my aunt and my cousin in Pennsylvania for a bit. My cousin Jamie was always like a big brother to me. He was the definition of everything cool, a huge Hip-Hop fan, and a big influence in my life even years after his death. I remember our mom's would leave and he'd put a tape recorder against the tv to record the audio from music videos with us rapping along in the background. Rapping with these tapes and videos in that living room was probably my first experience performing and learning raps. I'd heard and loved Hip-Hop my whole life before that moment, but that was the first time I felt like I was taking part in it.

As far as knowing that's what I would pursue, It wasn't until around 2010, with a few albums worth of material I never released and after some motivation from long time collaborators Ant The Symbol and The Honorable Sleaze, that I realized I needed to focus on making Hip-Hop.

VTHH: Was it difficult at first making the transition from Virginia to Maine?

Graphic Melee: Not really. I was living in Boston for the second time for about 3 years before I moved up to Maine. So it wasn't too big of a change. I was already coming up to Maine one or two times a year before I moved here.

VTHH: Was Monday of the Minds always bi-weekly, or did that schedule evolve relative to turnout and headaches?

Graphic Melee: It's always been every 2nd and 4th Monday. I've worked on other events with Stay On Mars (co-creator of Monday of the Minds) and we've seen that that timing just works well with an event like MOTM.

VTHH: What is the most important ingredient for keeping a hip hop performance series running long-term?

Graphic Melee: Creating a format that keeps things fresh and keeps the audience engaged is always important. With MOTM, I have new beats I've produced ready for the freestyle cyphers most nights. I run a Hip-Hop history blog, and spin music related to the Hip-Hop history of the date in my MOTM DJ sets. And the open mic section before the main acts is like a testing ground for a lot of local artists with new material.

VTHH: You've got a strong discography, and it seems like your recent projects have all been very coherent, thematic albums. What can people expect from your next LP, Deeper?

Graphic Melee: Raw Hip-Hop. I created everything on Deeper to be performed live. It's a more personal album with a heavy, stripped down production style giving me more freedom vocally. I look at Deeper like an abstract road map for surviving life's struggles told through different stories and perspectives.

Justin Boland

Alpha is a standout young rapper from Windsor, VT — which is getting to be an old story now. Also home to fan favorites XP and Jarv, the small town has raised a lot of talent over a short span of time. His style is earnest, East Coast bars, often with nicely articulated multi schemes, 90’s as fuck. He’s been building a bigger rep in 2019 off a string of solid singles, most recently the knockout “Art of War” with Yung Breeze.

Alpha also placed strong in the first annual VTHH SUMMERSLAM 2019, with real, live, dedicated fans from around the state. So it was definitely past time to talk shop with the man behind the myth. As you might expect, he turns out to be humble, honest and focused.

VTHH: You've been making much more calculated moves than most rappers your age, and your quality control game has been on point. Who mentored you on the game?

Alpha: Yung Breeze was the first one to really record, mix and master my music where I felt confident enough to put it out there. He was also the first one to do a real show with me, and try to bring me into the social part of it all. I went through a lot of rough patches in life with dropping out of school, struggling with a job and no car, losing my dad, financial issues, etc. XP for the past couple of years has been my most solid mentor and continues to stay that way because of our similarities in the choice of beats and lyrics we use, we’re not a group and never will consider ourselves a group, but we been makin' a pretty good team.

VTHH: What was your local scene like when you were starting out?

Alpha: Well, I'm only 19, so the scene when I was first starting out was basically the same as it is now. Marshal (XP) has always been my favorite artist in VT since I was young, and before I met him I already thought this so I promise: no favoritism. Yung Breeze was, like I said, the first to really take me serious so he was a big impact on the scene for me and still is. The people who stood out to me growing up and in my process of who I've become music wise are ; XP, Yung Breeze, Raw Deff, Jibba “The Gent” and Eyedos.

VTHH: When do you feel like the formula clicked for you? Have you been plotting on this for awhile, or was it a recent thing?

Alpha: I posted my first track on Soundcloud 3 years ago, I was in school and I had a lot of attention and fans at that point from my peers. It was really easy to see people in assemblies, lunch, in the halls or the classrooms and show them my music. When I dropped out I realized a lot of those people are still there, but a lot of them have fallen off the face of the earth. I have a pretty decent following in VT and NH but nowhere compared to my goal.

I have now FULLY UNDERSTOOD as I get older and more mature that I need to invest in my music such as buying beats, graphics, promotion ads, putting my music on Tunecore and even spending a couple hundred for features I've always hoped to have. If anyone has a goal you want to reach in the entertainment industry, you need to invest in yourself, PERIOD.

VTHH: As a young artist coming up in the scene, do you feel like people are accessible and open or has it been a slog for you?

Alpha: I'm not saying I'm great because I know I still have a lot of work to do, but I think the older artists and/or fans in VT and NH see potential in me, so they support me, and I'm more than grateful for every one of you. If someone supports me, I support them, I'm a firm believer in giving respect before you can receive it.

VTHH: Do you think of yourself as a Vermont artist or a New England artist?

Alpha: I think of myself as a Vermont artist currently because of my following, I don’t have fans from all over New England but that actually is one of my main goals, to change the status of a "Vermont Artist" into a "New England Artist" To get known in the rest of the U.S, all us VT artists definitely need to venture out on the level of NE rappers such as Termanology, Millyz, Joyner Lucas, etc.

VTHH: In terms of the overall sound, what is your plan for the debut LP you're working on?

Alpha: My first debut album, "Brain On Budz," is going to be a lot of fun to make. I am thinking about every song in depth with a very strict beat selection and all I'm gonna say is there’s some great plans in the works with SkySplitter. I also have other local producers , such as THEN WHAt, Loupo, and Mr GoodBarz in the potential producers I will buy beats from for this project, which this is the first time some of them are hearing this. Don't worry , I'll be in touch with you fellas soon!

Justin Boland
Wax ft. Jarv - "I GOT IT"

Welp. That happened. In rappity-rap circles around the world, Wax is a well-known name who got internet famous off hilarious, nicely written verses. That wave brought him all the way to Def Jam Records, where Wax learned the hard way he didn’t want shit to do with Def Jam Records. Now happily indie, he’s working on another LP and the lead single happens to feature 802 rapper/producer/sketchball Jarv.

It also happens to bang, so, turn it up.

Justin Boland

I first heard D.FRENCH because he approached me looking for critical feedback. That almost never ends well, but he surprised me — dude was actually looking for critical feedback. That’s rare. While I wasn’t feeling the video he sent me (“2Fly2Lit”), it was impossible to miss the careful, seemingly effortless symmetry of his writing. As it turned out, D.FRENCH cooks up serious bars, and these days I’m a straight up fan.

I’m far from alone: D.FRENCH was one of the nominees this year for the Seven Daysies “Best Hip Hop Artist” category. (Remarkably, his brother Isaac French is a nominee for “Best Pop Artist or Group” — more on that in a minute.) It’s a been a long road to his forthcoming debut LP, Highest Lows, and this is a talk about St. Albans rap history, making time for music as a family man with a demanding career, and how to refine yourself as an artist.

VTHH: Do you remember when you first decided to be a rapper?

D.FRENCH: Real shit, I probably wrote my first rap as an attempt to be funny in class back in 5th or 6th grade.  I’ve been a part-time drummer since I was 6, and ever since I made the connection between rhythm & hip-hop to drumming & percussion, I started to mold what my ultimate musical focus would be.  I learned how to beat box back in 5th grade and that helped me with breath control and creating different sounds using my voice. 

Once I got to high school, I started studying the game and following my peers – word to Dolla Day and Eugenyks – and by 2006 I think I finally decided that I wanted to focus my expression and artwork into rapping.  My problem at that point was just life experience, I honestly didn’t have shit to say – so I just focused on writing and spitting in hopes that eventually, I would actually feel what I was putting onto wax.  Fast forward to 2011, I started releasing music under the name D.FRENCH and that was when it first started to click. 

VTHH: You've got a really diverse sound. Who do you consider influences on your style?

D.FRENCH: My family has had a huge influence on my sound because I first started making music with my little brother Isaac.  He’s always been into more of a pop and alternative style, so that has a big influence on my vibe in a lot of my songs.  We formed trio back in 2014 with a homie and we were performing acoustic covers of everything from Michael Jackson to Bob Marley to Snoop Dogg.   When I was coming out of a rough addiction after college, I even had a huge phase where I was only into 90’s Grunge music (haha) and that has always caused me to venture into some darker styles and sounds over the years. 

My core influences from a hip-hop standpoint are Wu-Tang, Outkast, and Biggie Smalls.  I always try to create songs that carry energy and diversity similar to those cats, because their shit is timeless, so I let my music be dictated by how I feel and that leads the way. 

VTHH: How much did your experience as a project manager shape your approach to making an album?

D.FRENCH: That’s actually a great question because I’ve always viewed my 9-5, which is commonly more of a 6-6, as a burden on my ability to create music and promote myself as an artist.  But about a year ago, when I was struggling with depression and finding motivation to even keep going with the music shit, I came to a realization that my job – the early mornings, thousands of e-mails, phone calls, vendors, subcontractors and clients has actually shaped my artwork much more than I ever gave it credit for.  Without the struggle and limited time that I have to create music, I don’t think I ever would have focused with such intensity and streamlined my process the way I needed to in order to get to where I am today. 

When I started working with SkySplitter last October, I realized that my time was going to be limited – so the second half of 2018 I really didn’t release any music.  Instead I wrote, and re-wrote, practiced flows and melodies, delivery and energy and when it came down to doing the sessions – I was so dialed in that the recording process became super smooth and all my energy was on the presentation and execution.  I’ve worked with a couple engineers who helped shape my sound into something I could use as a mold and it really allowed me to execute on my vision for Highest Lows in a way that made it all click.  Thankfully, my job gave me the endurance and the organization to pull it all together on week-nights and weekends. 

VTHH: Why do you think St. Albans has produced so much talent?

D.FRENCH: Firstly, huge shoutout to the A!  I was born and raised in St. Albans and from my earliest memories of the music scene around here, there was always a unity between artists.  Dolla Day introduced me to Jeremy Graziano back in 2006, who was paving the way for real rap well before then, and he provided an outlet for mad cats to get early access to a group of talented artists and professional studio spaces to learn the craft from the jump. 

St. Albans has a nice mix of artists with diverse backgrounds – and when we all came together in the early 2000’s we fed off each other in a huge way.  Joint Manipulation were mentors to me and my homies when we started, just as Graz was to them, and we had to come together as a wave just to make noise in such a rural area.  I would say that was a huge factor in kicking off a lot of the artists who really carved their own sounds and lanes to this day. 

From a producer standpoint, Dokowala, Hardy White, Solution, Instinct and a bunch of other cats have been dedicated and spent thousands of hours learning how to express their personality through music.  Shoutout to all the artists in the Saint who have stuck with it and leveled up! 

VTHH: Finally — do you have any hard-won advice for other artists trying to balance a career, a family and your art?

D.FRENCH: My advice on that, and take it with a grain because I’m still practicing this on the daily, is to make sure the balance is built into the grind. In the past I’ve focused all my energy on work, or family, or music in spurts and I’ve realized over time that you end up playing catch up on the backend, which counteracts the hustle. Maximize your days in a healthy manner so you can execute on work, family and your art every day, and if something takes precedence you adapt and know that your goal in the end is the sum of it all. Peace!

Justin Boland
Humble - Sin Permiso
Photo courtesy of  Rico James .

Photo courtesy of Rico James.

Humble is a real deal farmer and mountain man, so when he drops something new, it is always a surprise. His latest transmission is Sin Permiso, a seven song set of, well, classic Humble. This is dense lyricism, delivered at an almost deadpan pace, over some ethereal, spaced-out boom bap. Dude has his formula down.

That formula is still recorded at home, but Sin Permiso sounds better than his last project with Old Gold, and more like his 2017 album Premonition, which balanced the demo grit with cleaner mixes. I had Premonition on my best-of list of 2017, but 2018’s Humble x Old Gold was up against heavy competition during a breakout year for the Vermont hip hop scene. Humble doesn’t care about any of that.

Rap kids today have probably never heard Living Legends, a West Coast indie crew who built a global rep slanging cassette tapes out of their backpacks. (Really.) They’ve always been central to my understanding of Humble’s work -- he’s like a Rasta version of The Grouch, but with far better writing. Remember, I’m not saying these cats were an influence on Humble, and in fact, he’s way more true school than “indie rapper.”

So for casual listeners, opening track “Forge” is the crucible where you decide whether or not this whole aesthetic is for you. It’s definitely the slowest track here -- he launches into double-time bars a track later on “Akhenaten” -- but his sly wordplay and recursive writing style are in full effect.

“Hypatia” is a reprise of Humble’s best bars, especially “I am America.” It’s a detailed and blazingly fast meditation on the divine feminine. It’s also Humble flossing his knowledge of history -- you’ve gotta be an educated monkey to catch this one. He follows that up with “Peas,” a goofy, funky tribute to good food. (And Annie’s Mac and Cheese.)

“Face It” is about a dozen songs at once, but it’s fundamentally an invitation to co-create reality. This cut is Humble at his very best, weaving references and puns and mixing metaphors to potent effect. And if you’re high? Buddy, put that shit on repeat until you can catch all the nuances here.

Sin Permiso wraps with the left-right combo of “Never Confined” and “Beacon.” Both are earnest, hopeful tracks over huge, ambient beats. I cannot help but take them as a two-part manifesto, covering Humble’s green anarchist aesthetic and his recognition that withdrawing from Babylon is not nearly enough to actually fight against it.

I’m into it. This was a good dose. It’s great to see a gifted writer still questioning himself, even when he is at his most comfortable with the pen. It’s also great simply to see new material from Humble, one of the most Vermont talents in Vermont. Recommended for old fans and new listeners alike.

Justin Boland
NEW: Juni and KISH4WN - The Astral Project

After a lot of hype — and mixing — Juni and KISH4WN of Hellafader have dropped their debut LP, The Astral Project. It’s a wild ride: melodic, psychedelic and distinctly different. I described this to a friend last night as “Like if Bone Thugz N Harmony smoked DMT instead.” In reality, though, this album is packed full of weed references, so maybe time is a flat circle, after all.

Back when I interviewed Juni here in February, this project was an EP, and it was right around the corner. The album has clearly benefited from the extra studio time. These are extremely polished, intricate tracks, and the SkySplitterInk mixes bang in high fidelity.

The Astral Project is so cohesive that it’s genuinely hard to suss out a favorite track or an obvious single. The transitions here are smooth and the sound is very consistent, aside from “Inner Demons,” but that’s more like extra spice than a missed step — despite the harder edge, that track definitely belongs here.

I’m looking forward to more material from Hellafader. They’re carving out their own aesthetic, they’re making careful moves, and they’re weird as all hell, too.

(For the artists reading this: take more time. Let your work marinate. It will only be stronger for your efforts. And besides, the gaping maw of Bored People Online is going to forget about you by next week no matter what, so why not hit them with your best possible work?)

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: Summer Radio Jams, Bro

Yesterday, I posted a whole ROUNDUP that was out-of-state artists. So it’s only right I fix that today, with a proper look at some recent singles and collaborations from the native population. 2019 has been crazy busy. The quality control is improving sharply for dozens & dozens of local heads, so competition for attention — and fans in a state with 600k people — is going to be intense by New Years.

First up, Sircho Bangz hustles hard & does real work, and I have definitely slept on giving him due coverage here. His latest, “Ain’t Ready For It,” showcases the high-energy, party-friendly style that’s been winning him a growing fanbase through live shows. (You’ll find that’s a real repeating pattern for successful artists in this music game.) His bars are nimble and his goals are big.

Another contender is Alpha, who is — I shit you not — the actual ninja protege of Windsor rap legend XP. (All Hail The Heavyweight Champion.) And it shows, too. His opening verse here is a calm, confident performance, and this is a seriously knocking beat. ”Art of War” also features Yung Breeze, who of course raps his ass off.

Yung Breeze never stops doing that, either. He also runs a regular FB Live music show, #TheNewRadio. Does he sleep? I could fill up the rest of this post with about half of his recent work, but if I had to pick, Breeze going off alongside St. Albans representative D. FRENCH is bippin’ as fuck. Two of my personal favorites, right here.

Speaking of St. A, Eugenyks of Joint Manipulation has been busy with Bourbon Legends, his new supergroup alongside Eyedos of JynxINC, one of the hardest workers in our scene for years now, and Hoarsehed of Epidemiks. “Family Recipe” is a dope throwback piece. Props to the team. If you’re digging this, check out their other recent single, “Tell-Tale Dark.”

These is no such thing as too much SkySplitterInk. “Aquarious Needles” was a recent submission of his for the regular Sample Challenge that Flip Physics helps run over at the Vermont Hip Hop Artists Collective, a Facebook group that is more or less exactly that. As ever, SkySplitterInk is doing full-blown compositions and this was a cool little short film.

MC Firebomb’s “Float On” is juvenile, profane, and well-written. It’s also downright funky, and shifting feels mid-track will never fail to earn you bonus points. He will be performing this Saturday, June 22nd at the “Freak Power Presents Summer Solstice Social” which sounds, well, Extremely Fucking Vermont. I dig it. The bill is packed with good local rap, too. BYOB & $10 door.

In closing, Omega Jade and Rico James made a track about weed and I was clearly asleep at the wheel, because somehow this never got covered here. Today is about atonement, bro. Atonement and sweet, sweet summer jams, bro.

Big thanks to the creators. Have the best summer you can.

Justin Boland
ROUNDUP: 3rd Thursdays at The Monkey House

3rd Thursdays has been a bedrock fixture of the 802 scene for years now. It’s a monthly rap showcase at The Monkey House in Winooski, hosted by The Anthill Collective. They’re a graf crew who do fantastic mural work -- and community building. A big part of why 3rd Thursdays keeps improving is their reputation and their network.

Even by their high standards, though, the lineup for the 20th is insane, a jambalaya collection of artists from all over New England. Many of them will be much bigger names in 2020. So for the first ROUNDUP of the summer, let’s take a listen to a few of these cats.

Brooklyn-based Deuce Ellis is a fountain of pure creativity, a rapper, a singer and a polished producer. He’s also got a mercurial style and a huge musical vocabulary, so there’s no telling what kind of set he will bring. That’s a good thing. So while it’s hard to nail down a “classic Deuce” single to sum up his sound, I’m definitely a sucker for an Aloe Blacc feature. Spend some time with his Soundcloud — you won’t regret it.

Portland, Maine artist Graphic Melee is another multi-talented threat — rapper, producer, engineer and house DJ for Monday of the Minds, another hip hop showcase that’s a vital part of the New England hip hop circuit. His style is raw, dark, and as far as this reviewer is concerned, dope as hell. The man will be performing cuts from his upcoming album, which drops July 17th.

Drent hails from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and he’s just released a new project, SHARDS || MIDNIGHT MOORING. He’s part of the ILLWORDS crew, and his bio says “SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS HIP HOP” so expect music with a caps lock message.

Peace Out Pat is an affable weirdo from Maine whose music is … well, a mix of Rob Sonic and Mike Doughty, which is a pretty great combination. He’s also a sharp writer with a sardonic sense of humor, and his catalog is a hot mess — in a good way. Expect a wild set.

Finally, aLunarLanding is another Portland, Maine emcee whose recent EP Notes From the Corner of the Room was a genuinely interesting project. Expect dope beats and lyrics worth listening to.

Again, 3rd Thursdays at The Monkey House is tonight in Winooski. 9 pm show, early cypher, 21+ free and a three dollar cover for anyone in that awkward “18+” demographic.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Blaze Ryan of Savvy Row
Photo courtesy of  Patricia Bubis

Photo courtesy of Patricia Bubis

Blaze Ryan is fast-rising emcee from the Savvy Row crew, who have been building a rep off house parties, underground shows and a strong Soundcloud presence. Ryan is also the VTHH 2019 SUMMERSLAM Intercontinental Champion, a pretty clear signal that his fanbase is growing and his name will be getting harder to miss. He took the time on a busy Wednesday to talk shop about his crew and his goals.

VTHH: What was your first introduction to hip hop -- or at least, rap music?

Blaze Ryan: I was born into the Eminem era where he basically dominated the genre so that was my first exposure to rap but I really didn’t start to appreciate/fall in love with it until I dove into Run-DMC’s catalog when I was around 4 or 5. From there I really fell down the rabbit hole.

VTHH: Who were your biggest influences from there?

Blaze Ryan: Without a doubt, Mac Miller had the biggest influence on me and still does to this day. There have been others who have influenced me such as Kanye, Wayne, OutKast, Cudi, Big L, Biggie, and even a lot of rock bands. None of them had as much of an impact on my life as Mac did, though. That’s a loss that I’ll feel for the rest of my life.

VTHH: Did you grow up in BTV?

Blaze Ryan: No, I was born in Queens, New York and grew up in Long Island. I moved to Vermont when I was about 10 or so.

VTHH: Do you feel like Vermont is open & welcoming to new talent?

Blaze Ryan: I feel like Vermont is unique because of its acceptance for anyone expressing themselves through art. It’s a great environment to hone your craft and spread your talent because the majority of people can appreciate and respect the energy, time, and effort that goes into doing so.

VTHH: How did the Savvy Row team come together?

Blaze Ryan: I had been working with JustBobby for a few months and I had been recording some demos for what would become a rough draft of Demons early last summer. Bob approached me about another young artist (Elias Green) who he had been working with and thought that our three styles together would mesh well. After one lunch meeting with Elias, I was also convinced.

We’ve grown and added some members since, but the root of what makes Savvy work is that we all have different styles while also being willing and able to collaborate to put them together.

VTHH: As a collective, are you guys consciously following a blueprint or just seeing what happens?

Blaze Ryan: In terms of our music, we really have an “anything goes” approach where we are all just down to trying any ideas and seeing what happens. As far as our long term plans for our future as a group and where we want our music to take us, we all have a clear view or “blueprint”  of how we want our brand/sound to be formed.

VTHH: After a deeply personal project like Demons, what are you looking to do next?

Blaze Ryan: SavvyRow is currently working on its debut collaborative project so I’ve been focusing most of my attention on that, but that being said, I’m always writing music and working on future solo projects as well. We’re also trying to play shows as often as we can to showcase our performance. It doesn’t ever really stop for me, I just love to create and that’s what I’ll do until I’m gone. 

Blaze Ryan and the Savvy Row team will be in effect at The Monkey House in Winooski for 3rd Thursdays tomorrow night. The lineup is absolutely, absurdly packed. Be there.

Justin Boland
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