GET FAMILIAR: Stresselbee

Stresselbee has been a central figure in the Brattleboro hip hop scene for many moons now. From his distinguished tours of duty with a kaleidoscope of groups & styles to his increasingly polished solo work, he’s not only prolific, he’s an instigator. The following conversation does little justice to the extent of his catalog and contributions, but we had a great conversation just the same. Dig it.

VTHH: This is easily the laziest question I’ve ever written, but: how would you summarize your long resume in the 802 hip hop scene?

Stresselbee: After freestyling our way through high school, Doppelgänger (Jared Tarbell) and I got together with Swift Gryphin (JD Keiser) to form People of a Mad Theory. That was around 2004-ish, back when we couldn’t count bars and didn’t know which end of a mic to plug in. After messing around for a year or so, we put out our first album, and although it had that home recording sound, and you could tell this WAS our first rodeo, it wasn’t without a certain adolescent charm.

After that we all went in separate directions, JD to California and eventually into the loving arms of Universal Audio (where he is working still) and Jared to start a loose group of rotating beatsmiths and emcees which would become Light Pockets.

I went on to collaborate with Hoarsehed and form Epidemiks, which enjoyed a good run of albums, videos, and shows in the southern Vermont and surrounding area. I also put out an album with The Aardvarcheologist, featuring countless local emcees and artists, called the Vermonster Mash Mixtape. All this time we remained frequent collaborators on all of our separate projects.

VTHH: How did the Friends Like These project emerge from that? Was this a re-union of sorts?

Stresselbee: Doppelganger and I never really stopped working on our own tracks. Over the past six or seven years, we’ve gotten together whenever possible to throw down verses on each other’s production. After letting 20-30 tracks go through the rock tumbler that is time, this winter we took the smoothest and prettiest of the gems and finished them off to make the new album.

Our good friend Drunx, the wasted professor, shot and edited an amazing music video to accompany our first release, “Shades of Gray,” and is releasing the album on his European label Fugazy Entertainment.

VTHH: How did the connection with Drunx happen?

Stresselbee:  I met Drunx in Amsterdam about 10 years ago, through a friend of a friend, and immediately hit it off over a mutual love of all things hip hop and alcoholic. Since then he’s been to Vermont three times to shoot videos for me, the most recent one being Shades of Gray. Its funny, we joke that we see each other more often than my friends down the road. I actually just got back from there, I went over for carnival and to paint his house in exchange for the video. Pretty good deal on my end, it’s good to know people and network when/however possible.

VTHH: The Eyedos guest verse really fits that "Shades of Gray" pocket like a velvet chopping glove. Does your connection with him go way back?

Stresselbee: Yeah, his verse is dope. He actually sent us a verse for this project like 5 years ago, over a completely different beat. We ended up cutting the track, but we later noticed he used the phrase “shades of gray” in his verse, and it was the same tempo as the “Shades” track, so we laid it over the beat and it sounded slick. But when Dos heard it, he thought it was outdated and he could do better so he re-wrote and came back with what’s on there now, and it came out extra sick! The evolution of a song can go unexpectedly.

I’ve been working with Eyedos for several years now, I met him through Doppelgänger and began trading beats and verses with him immediately. When he started up the MET crew I was happy to jump on the bandwagon, even if the hip hop I usually make is more goofy/party type shit and those dudes come with it pretty hard. I love the shit he does for me though, because he always seems to capture the theme or feel or essence of whatever a particular song is grabbing at. He’s like liquid, he becomes the shape of whatever you put him in.

VTHH: As Epidemiks, you guys always seemed to have a blast rapping, and yet stylistically your releases were all over the place. Did you guys just grow up listened to every subgenre at once?

Stresselbee: Haha yeah, between the two of us we pretty much rocked out to every type of music out there. Whatever I listen to, I always hear something that makes me think ”damn, that would sound dope with some boom bap drums and verses over it.

Whether it was 1930’s mills brothers for the smoke rings track, or some acapella “gypsy woman” shit, Freddie King blues, Guns’n’Roses, whatever, nothing is out of the question. I’m always looking for something new or different, where you wouldn’t necessarily think “that’s some hip hop shit” and then we got Tweed in on the production tip, and that dude is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to music. He started tossing beats at us that blew my mind.

VTHH: What was the local scene like for you when you were starting out? Were there local artists in other genres who inspired you?

Stresselbee: We were lucky enough to have a strong following from the beginning. There wasn’t a whole lot of live hip hop going on in southern VT when we started making music. Our first show was the Hip To The Hops #1 up at Magic Mountain ( I think). From that point on, people always showed up and packed the house. We always gave a lot of CDs out and really just tried to get the music in as many hands as possible, and people dug it. Plus our party vibe really made people want to come out and boogie. As for other local artists who inspire me, I’d have to say The Devil Makes Three. I’ve been going to see them live for years, and got to watch them grow from a small VT/Cali band into something much bigger. I know it’s not hip hop, but nothing gets me going like those guys.

VTHH: You've been involved in a lot of really effective low-budget videos over the years. What advice do you have for artists plotting on their own DIY videos for the first time?

Stresselbee: Almost all our videos were shot by Drunx the wasted professor. It pays to know someone in the industry, especially one as talented as him. As for advice, I’d say try to come up with something that’s gonna set your video apart from the 100,000 others that get uploaded everyday. It doesn’t have to be big budget, just different. And don’t be afraid to reach out to people when you see something you like! I saw a paper stop motion video Mellow Music Group put out, and reached out to the artist (Eric Power) on a whim. He ended up doing my video for “Animalude” for an incredible price!

VTHH: That video was crazy good, I am still heated I couldn’t get that some bigger coverage.

Stresselbee:  It’s all good, that track made it on that “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Kids” show or whatever in Texas. It’s on Saturday mornings …. biggest exposure I ever got was on a Saturday morning children’s show out of Austin. Yeah that project was fun as hell to work on, I’ve been cooking up a follow up to that album, kinda part two in the same vein, Vermont spotlight type of shit.

VTHH: Has you definition of "making it in music" changed over the years? It seems like, with Epidemiks at least, you guys really embraced being local and indie.

Stresselbee: I guess to me making it would mean quitting my day job. If I had all the time in the world to focus on hip hop I could really go nuts! But all I ever really wanted was to be heard. I thought I had some clever silly shit to spit that might make a few heads chuckle, but always tried to bring it around by the end and impart some type of message. And I’ll tell ya, the first time I was on stage and the whole front row knew all my lines, like better than even I did, that was the best feeling I’ve ever had. I felt like I had really reached a few people, even if it’s just a bunch of cats from New England, and to me that was “making it” right there.

Justin Boland

I often say that interviews here are “long overdue” — man, seldom has that ever been so true. Yung Breeze has been a force of nature here for years now, but 2018 has seen him making careful, long-term career moves…most especially, the So.802 Records machine and his upcoming solo debut, Sofia Grace.

Breeze is a seasoned operator with a tidal wave of new material on the way, and we had a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it. All will be explained.

VTHH: Do you feel like your whole career so far has been leading up to the album you're working on right now?

VTHH: Absolutely. Everything in my career good or bad, shows, mixtapes, singles, features, etc., showed me what and what not to do with the album, in the process of making the album, what songs will hit, what songs showcase the most multi market skills. And to be able to reminisce on certain things, events and songs that lead me to think, "maybe I should start my own original body of work," makes it so much more fun and easier to do.

VTHH: Were you aware of other local artists in your area when you were starting out?

Yung Breeze: I started off knowing artists like March Davis, f/k/a Neffy, and lived in the same town as Eyedos for years. I didn't start to get put on to other artists until I started taking it more serious, then I started hearing about some of the heavy hitters like Causin Effect, Raw Deff, XP, S.I.N.siZZle, Learic, Rajnii, Bar None The Best, and many more I know I am forgetting.

VTHH: How did the Street Religion team come together?

Yung Breeze: Big shout out my Brother Samuel Martin, AKA GQ. I was always into rapping and making music, especially the recording and quality aspect of it. Me, GQ, my bro Trugame N.O, my boy RG, who is from Massachusetts, and my bro Zeus, who all do music there together, we put out a small compilation of work that we called the "Cereal & Milk" Series. The name Street Religion and the slogan "Grab A Gun & Pray" has a huge meaning to it deeper than what it looks like, and after playing around with the name in songs, realizing this was bigger than just a name, it was becoming a whole Coalition, and a household name around my area of southern VT (Brattleboro), I noticed I can do more with it.

RG is still doing a lot of music and visuals on his own path right now, Zeus i haven't heard from, I'm still in clear contact with GQ And Trugame N.O, but as far as artists in the group are concerned, the people who represent the brand and label Street Religion consists of Jun Fargo, and Raw Deff. And that falls under the whole So.802 umbrella with Causin Effect & Selfish Presley, which not only helps with SR, but creates a whole machine to work with, and create with each other.

VTHH: What kind of goals does the So.802 team have for 2019?

Yung Breeze: The Coalition - Causin Effect x Raw Deff x Yung Breeze. A lot of crazy singles and hopefully a project with all of us on it. I'm hoping to by the beginning to mid 2019, Causin Effect will have their second project ready to record so I can do all the engineering and mastering behind it, my album Sofia Grace will be done and ready, Selfish Presley will have a whole project out, Raw Deff and Self will be done with The Others 2. And Jun Fargo, who is the harmony glue to all this, should have his project Here & Now 3 finished and ready to go. I think our all around goal though is to get a bit more visual with things, hence why "BAD COOL AID" was created.

VTHH: Looking back, do you feel like there was a turning point in your catalog where everything came together for you?

Yung Breeze: For the most part, everything from when I started doing music even for fun, to taking it serious now, has been consistent,  and as far as my craft, it's been only getting better.  But when I started the Golden Era mixtapes and the "body of work" feeling where every song was able to be played with no skipping, that was when I'm like OK, I can go all in and actually let my creative control take over. And it's honestly got to the point I couldn't tell you how many original songs, remixes, or features I've done. The list is far too long.

VTHH: "Do It For My City" is flames. What was the process like when that came together? Did you guys feel like you'd nailed something special?

Yung Breeze: THE DAY BEFORE, I had met up with Gringo Montega (FKA Vazy) at a club in Keene NH, he was celebrating just getting married to his wife. That night he had told me that him and Jibba “The Gent” had just gotten a studio up and running and that I should pop out to record that next day, which was music to my ears because I have never really had one of those in the studio full fledged no home set up situations. I pulled up the next day, Gringo was in the process of making the beat and I found something that allowed me to do something semi multi market and not keep it just gritty or boom bap, but to expand the beat a bit more.

Everything up to that point was just organic, I got there and laid out my hook and verse that same day, Vazy continued to build around the beat to the sound of the song, and within a day or two, I came back to realize that Jibba blessed the track and it was going to be on Jibba’s album, which then made me feel like I caught the eye of someone who thinks of me as a great addition to their album. Song is super dope and super timeless.

VTHH: Will you revisit the classic boom bap x bars recipe of the Golden Era 3 mixtape anytime soon?

Yung Breeze: The bar heavy east coast feel is the music that I am most comfortable doing, so of course I plan on doing that with a mixtape I'm working on called Election Day 2, which is a follow up to the first Election Day tape. Doing Golden Era 4 is a must, I have so much fun with those tapes, especially when I can explore new bar patterns and ways to tweak my flow. And now that I have most of the multi-market tracks done for the Sofia Grace LP coming soon, I can incorporate the east coast flow in the second half of the album recording process, and will be in the album a lot more dominant than the multi-market music.

VTHH: Is your focus on versatility about challenging yourself as an artist, or is it more of a business strategy? Both?

Yung Breeze: I love music whole-heartedly. Everything about it. Anything that I've ever did with this music to step my game up, or anybody in So802’s game up, was solely for the culture and bettering myself and the VT hip hop community as artists. I noticed that with the versatility, it goes a very long way and I can create a business strategy out of it, but I tend to want to focus more on the making music and having fun part, and letting all of that come, too.

I did a lot of free features and shows before I started charging for it. And the reason why I charge now would be the same reason anyone would charge, but with me it's always been culture first. And I take pride in the multi market artist, versatility aspect, I really love music so anything I can do outside of the realm and the box I'm gonna do.

Justin Boland
Gentleman Monster: Eyedos of JynxINC

Eyedos has been on a killing spree lately. The emcee / producer has been pushing himself these past few years, and his output has been both prolific and ambitious. With the release of the latest JynxINC LP, Devil May Care Too, I wanted to interview the artist about his path — then realized I already did that, earlier this year. So, with apologies to the beast, here is our conversation about underground hip hop and indie hustle.

VTHH: What was your introduction to hip hop?

Eyedos: I was exposed to a plethora of Folk, Hard & Southern Rock very early in my youth.  I was then introduced to Hip Hop music at the tender age of 10, started writing at 12-13 but didn't record until 16 with influences like Wu-Tang Clan, Gravediggaz, Cypress Hill, Canibus, Boogie Down Productions, Busta Rhymes, Nas, Rakim, Kool G Rap, Beastie Boys, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Onyx and Insane Clown Posse.  The first three albums I ever owned as well as listened to front-to-back, would have to be Wu's "Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)", Cypress Hill's "Black Sunday" and Onyx's "Bacdafucup".

VTHH: Your style is so detailed and visual - what is your writing process? Do you need to charge the batteries up or is it always there?

Eyedos: I'm an eclecticist/metaphysicist with a prolific, multi-syllabic, stream-of-consciousness writing style (just wanted to say that because I like how it sounds).  In most cases, I'll jot down a whole list of one-liners and test them out on people for reactions, that's how I come up with some of my best punchlines. Anything new or different to me is a divine afflatus, visiting new places sparks inspiration but I also have a symbiotic relationship with my computer so I find the motivation to make music whether I'm exploring a new city or kicking it in the studio.  Movies, anime and video games inspire my off-the-wall references and cynosural presence and vocal tone. Smoking tree and freestyling before I write also gets the creative juices flowing.

VTHH: Where do you want JynxINC to be in five years?

Eyedos: I want my band to be able to drop an album annually, go on a regional (3+ state) tour at least once a year, release album themed comics, have a music video for every song (official video or otherwise).

VTHH: What was your process assembling a monumental LP like Guerrilla Bars?

Eyedos: I had a couple songs recorded from a year prior to the album's release and it took me another 10-12 months to finish it up.  A few thousand dollars less in my account and a handful of legendary features later, I'd say I was pretty psyched about the outcome. Unlike my next solo project which will have a more predominant selection of my own instrumentals, Guerrilla Bars was built around the influence of other producers, so the production time and beat gathering was the easiest part of the process.

VTHH: Was it difficult corralling an album full of posse cuts for that Minds Eye Tribe LP? Is that something you'd do again?

Eyedos: Rounding up the crew was easy but getting everybody on the same page was another story.  Some of the members were going through drastic changes in their lives like a passing relative, a divorce and even a marriage, hence why the album took over a year to complete.  The super-group consists of a few emcees I know from southern VT as well as a few I met when I moved to Burlington, with the exception of one artist/producer in Toronto and another out of Colorado.

VTHH: As someone who wears a lot of hats -- promoting, producing, engineering and being a prolific artist yourself -- what would like to outsource the most? Are there aspects of the game you'd prefer to never touch again?

Eyedos: Booking agent, web developer and copywriter.  I'll always need help from professionals like these. I've done some booking and am fully capable, it's just so time consuming when trying to juggle that with everything else.

VTHH: You and Krypto Man have been successfully networking outside of Vermont for a long damn time. What advice do you have for younger artists?

Eyedos: Surround yourself with people you look up to, ask them if you can do anything for them, regardless of what it is (show them you are a team player and willing to sacrifice a bit of your ego to help them).  Always think about your current Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. What strengths do you have but don’t enjoy doing? Maybe there’s an opportunity to outsource that so you can focus on strengthening a weakness you want to develop or enjoy doing.  Being able to identify a threat will also help you avoid possible disastrous events.

VTHH: What advice do you have for local artists who want to reach outside of their scene?

Eyedos: Go to music venues outside of your state and network with as many promoters, producers, DJ's and artists as possible.  Some artists you look up to are more approachable than you think so don't be afraid to confront them, pitch ideas, book venues or ask for a feature.  Never HESITATE and always NEGOTIATE. People want to see you invest in yourself so take the time to carve your niche, save up money and market your product.  Introduce yourself at every event and be humble, nobody likes a swollen ego.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Alabaster Samovars

Alabaster Samovars debut LP is a remarkable artifact. The duo of producer Remington Iron and rapper The Marijuana Pot Man have nailed an aesthetic that’s all their own. The beats and bars are luxurious and absurd. After a long vetting process, I got to meet the team at a secure location and ask a few questions about one of the best 802 rap albums of the year.

VTHH: How did Alabaster Samovars come to be? What is the origin saga here?

The Marijuana Pot Man: In the long view, I guess it may have begun when my great-grandfather’s family fled the Bolsheviks by train, sustaining themselves precariously on a stolen barrel of caviar. The shorter timeline involves a mutual friend and a shitload of weed.

Remington Iron: A good friend of ours introduced us after becoming friends with Pot Man, knowing that I had a trove of beats and a need of a rapper.  At that point he had one grainy laptop recording uploaded to a personal account in some forgotten corner of the internet - I fell in love with his rapping instantly. In the ensuing weeks, he told me that he wanted to make an album. The only thing he knew for certain about the album at the time was that he wanted it to be called Alabaster Samovars. I, of course, agreed.

After the idea gestated for a couple of months, we spent a couple more months just painting the world - trawling internet radio stations for obscure samples, putting together decadent mood boards, and excitedly crafting the narrative of the album. Only after that went on for a month or two more did I begin making any beats for the project, and only after a year beyond that initial creative session did we begin recording any of it.

All told, it took over three years from that initial conversation to the completion and publication of Alabaster Samovars. Everything about the process and the product fit together beautifully; there was a lavishness of imagination that matched a sort of laissez-faire creative process; I don’t think it was the type of work that could have been pumped out in a week, which is less of a value judgment than it is a categorical aesthetic difference.

VTHH: Did you two hone your skills in silence and secrecy or is there a paper trail of other aliases you've left behind?

TMPM: I’ve listened to rap since I was 12 or 13 and dabbled accordingly, but only in an anonymous and fairly noncommittal way until some years ago when a couple of friends and I realized we were actually kind of good at it and began writing songs. Shoutout to Harangutan, with whom I recorded the loosie that put me on Remi’s radar (which, like everything else on his submarine, is housed in nephrite jade). I didn’t have a rap name for a long time, because I figured I’d think whatever I came up with was dumb a week later, so eventually I, uh, leaned into the punch. Luckily, my current handle is pretty rhymeable.

RI: As far as our specific collaborations are concerned, this is the first and only iteration as of yet. Personally, I came from a live music background, and only started making hip-hop beats in late 2013. As for other aliases - I do have a persona under which I make baile/disco house beats, and am putting together a strange little three-piece saxophone punk outfit right now. I would like to ultimately have an unveiling of the extended Remington Iron universe at some point, crossovers and all, but for now those connections are known only to me and a select few.

VTHH: Do you feel like the Burlington scene has been welcoming? Do you care?

TMPM: Although it’s a bit early to tell, we’ve had some positive reinforcement from the people who have heard our music, mostly within our social circle(s). I’d describe the average reaction as “nonplussed, but impressed.” Some people assume at first that we’re making “woke” rap, which is a misconception I always take great pleasure in correcting.

R.I. I don’t think it would be accurate to ascribe the incredible support we’ve had from our network of friends as coming from a greater Burlington scene. But on the one occasion we did perform in a basement for a crowd that included people who had no idea who we were, I feel that we were well-received. Time will tell.

I care to the extent that I consider Samovars to have been birthed at the very least by our shared experience of Burlington, and I suppose also my expectation of Burlington - if there’s any physical location with a concentration of people who would enjoy Samovars, Burlington is the place. On the whole, the future of Samovars in terms of any widespread listening audience ultimately exists on the internet, which is perhaps a more accurate assessment of the “birthplace” of the project.

VTHH: This next question is a bit philosophical. Given an infinite canvas to brag about, why do all rappers make the same cheap boasts? Is the performative culture of "balling" only a ploy to upsell cheap liquor? Can we trust rappers who don't know Scabal from Stowers?  

R.I. As long as we’re putting on the philosophy hat, I think we should problematize the question. Is the canvas infinite? In possibility, but perhaps not in plausibility. Genre, the anxiety of influence, all of that plays into the scope of what is considered acceptable, good, or pleasing. Everything from systemic factors (read: record labels’ need for profit) to the internal psychology of wanting your music to resonate forces a sort of regression to the center in terms of taste.

I think that’s the case with all art, and it answers the “same” part, but there’s a specific question in rap of why it can feel “cheap.” For one, performative balling is a real and necessary part of contemporary celebrity - it’s not just more accessible, it’s more economical to spill Ace on your Jordans than your bespoke Cleverleys. There’s the question of exposure - not everyone knows about or wants to know about the absolute upper echelons of luxury. Rap also has a funny thing with artistic integrity going on - it’s arguably more real to “sell out” because rap is so overtly and unabashedly about making money. From that angle there’s nothing wrong with gratuitous Ciroc references if they’re giving you a bag every time.

There’s really two things left to do with that sensation, which I’ve often shared. As a listener, I can only continue to engage in rap with good faith - to trust in creative reflexivity, the proof-positive autobiography that results in having written anything by virtue of the fact that you wrote it, and to continue to love rap for all that it is. As an artist, it’s an opportunity to explore the shape of “balling,” the meaning of things like conspicuous consumption under late capitalism, etc. That’s part of the lasting endurance of my love for Pot Man’s writing: it’s perfect pastiche. It addresses and plays with these concepts all while excelling at their deployment.

TMPM: At its foundation, it’s about what someone knows to aspire to; what they know is out there. Most backgrounds, most lifestyles, aren’t going to provide a person with the knowledge base that we put into Samovars, and that’s okay. Most don’t sit around eating Époisses and listening to Swellboy wax poetic about Tsarist ivory billiard balls. There’s an appeal to those more immediately legible tropes like bottles and models, too. It can be satisfying to throw on a song and hear those boxes being checked; those things denote membership within an in-group, right? Our in-group is just a little smaller.

Justin Boland
Talking Turntablism with DJ Kanganade

DJ Kanganade has quietly evolved into a pillar of the BTV hip hop scene. A steady presence at events like the Yo! BTV Raps series and the legendary 3rd Thursdays shows at The Monkey House, he really came into his own with “Corduroy Caviar & The Whiskey Pillow,” a solo turntablism feature off the debut Self Portrait LP, Primal Union. He’s been racking up more album credits these days — most recently on MavStar & ILLu’s Gangsta Trail Mix and an upcoming EP project with producer / engineer / multi-instrumentalist SkySplitterInk.

While I’d intended to talk more about his career, his sheer enthusiasm for what he loves turned this into a clinic on turntablism history, technique and technology. Enjoy the meal.

VTHH: Back when I interviewed Self Portrait, in their origin story you just sort of show up, guns blazing, already a keen disciple of the cut. When did you actually start getting into turntablism?

Kanga: I started getting into DJing when I was about 14. So what was that, ‘02-‘03?  I had been saving up all summer by mowing lawns to buy an “all-in-one” kit from Gemini.  It came with two direct drive turntables, a slim “battle” style mixer (they don’t even make ones like it anymore), and some cheapo headphones and some actually halfway decent monitors.  All for 500 bucks, quite the deal back in the day, but still the most money I had ever spent at the time.

I remember I was at a gymnastics camp, cross training for breaking (what got me into hip hop in the first place) and I got a call from my mom that this huge, heavy package arrived.  I was so excited that even though the camp was all the way in the islands and I lived in Shelburne, I still made my mom come get me. I had already raided my dad’s record collection and was gracefully given a dope starter set of hip hop singles and LPs from an upperclassman at my high school.

I didn’t know what I was doing for quite some time, just experimenting and trying to emulate the things I was listening to.  My background in percussion helped me recognize rhythms, both in the beats and in scratches. I don’t know when I actually found out about “turntablism” specifically, but I know that when I did it gave me a sense of purpose with my DJing art.  

I never got into it to spin parties or to make money, but just because I was fascinated with how the whole scratching thing worked. So I studied it, all the time. I read articles, watched what little videos there were at the time (YouTube was still a ways away) and listened intently to any scratch CDs or mix tapes I could get my hands on.  Any time I could actually scratch with another DJ, which was rare in BTV, I would study the cuts the other DJ was doing and try to emulate and assimilate their style into my own. Over the years it all developed into my own style, and it’s something I’m still working on to this day.

VTHH: Who were your biggest influences early on?

Kanga: Like most kids growing up, I started out listening to the music my parents listened to.  The only rap CD my dad has ever owned was Tone Loc’s debut album, “Gettin Loc’d After Dark,” and that is my first memory of hip hop. My pops is into jazz, blues and rock, but for some reason he had this one rap record. I think he liked Tone Loc’s voice, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?

Through the years I dabbled into hip hop.  I picked up Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” the week it dropped and was promptly never allowed to listen to it again after my parents heard a skit track titled “Fuk Coolio”.  After that, the ‘rents were a little tight on rap music. For example, I was able to get the Beastie BoysHello Nasty” because it was sans parental advisory and had to buy Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s “E. Eternal 1999” at Walmart because they edited their CDs and it didn’t have the advisory.

Around this time, my dad came home with a CD called “Make Some Noise” by a Chicago funk group Liquid Soul.  It was the stuff I was used to from my Pops expect for one thing, this group had a DJ and they actually heavily featured him as a part of the band.  That was the first time I can remember hearing a DJ not just adding something to a song, but he was an integral part of the band. You could say it was my version of “Rockit”.  

After that, it was all about trying to find different DJs who scratched.  I stumbled upon Rawkus’s “Soundbombing Vol. II” fairly early thanks to one of my younger cousins.  That was my first introduction to the Beat Junkies, which I attribute a lot of my style to. Their DJs like Babu, Rhettmatic, J-Rocc and D-Styles were not only super dope at scratching but could also mix and juggle and do everything else there was with the turntables.  I soon found all the “The World Famous Beat Junkies” mix tapes and Babu’s “Duck Season”. DJ Revolution was the first DJ I ever heard make a complete scratch track, with scratching courses and verses and then incorporate it into his mixes.

Then, I found out about the Invsbl Scratch Piklz. Q-Bert, Mix Master Mike, Apollo and D-Styles were some of the first I had ever heard to do full turntablism production, where they literally built everything from “scratch”.  Q-Bert’s “Wave Twisters” and D-Styles “Phantasmagoria” totally changed the way I looked at turntablism. No longer did I think that I had to be part of a band or group, now I realized that I could produce it all on my own. That’s still something I’m working on.


VTHH: Where do you personally draw the line with technological advancements past, say, the SL-1200? Is your setup computer-augmented?

Kanga: Technology and I are a fickle thing.  I'm a self proclaimed nerd and I love tech and it's advancements in all aspects of our lives but at the same time, when it comes to DJing I'm a purist.  When I first started DJing, the tech wasn’t as crazy as it is now. In fact, CDJ's that could "scratch" hadn't come around yet, the tech known as "Time Code" (read: Serato/Traktor) was just a glimmer in the eye of companies like Rane and Stanton and “controllers” were still something to be hooked up to your game station.

The Technics SL-1200 was kind of old news when I was getting started, although there were other decks pushing the limits of what you could do with an analog turntable.  The Vestax PDX-2000 could play at +/- 60% pitch, forward or backwards. You could also manually adjust the start and stop times of the super strong motor. Other turntables like the Stanton Str8-150 came with a Pitch Lock function that could keep the pitch of a record the same while adjusting its speed.  Today these features sound trivial at best when compared to the myriad of effects that controllers offer, but back then they were crazy new tools to do new things with.

And I think therein lies how I feel about DJ technology.  It has to be used right. A few years ago I went and saw Questlove DJ a set at Lift after The Roots played the BTV waterfront.  I was stoked because I heard he was actually pretty OG and could mix and scratch. While his set was dope, MJ had just passed so he did a crazy tribute all night, I did notice he used "hot cues" almost to a fault.  When juggling records, a DJ usually has to rewind the record (back cueing) in order to keep the loop they are creating going, but a mixer with assignable hot cues, such as Rane's TTM-68, enable the DJ to simply just press a button to cue the track to wherever they desire.

While convenient, and technically faster, I feel that by doing so the DJ loses a certain amount of integrity.  I'd compare it to a race driver driving a car with a computer controlled gear box as apposed to a manual one.  The computer controlled one comes on all the fancy cars and can technically do a better job than you can, but the old cars take more skill and precision to drive and a lot more time to master and driver ends up having a better understanding of the car. That's not to say you can't do crazy things with these cue buttons, just check out some of DJ Craze's recent routines.

I've had an "augmented setup" (I like your term there) since about '14.  I know, super late to the game. I held out for so long, but an increase in more mainstream gigs and the ability to play any music I wanted basically forced me to evolve.  I had been using digital DJing setups for years, since around '08 when I saw the first Stanton Final Scratch which actually predates Rane's Serato. Over the years I had used controllers as well, ranging from simple midi-assignable button pads like the Akai MPD's, to full blown mock turntable controllers like Numarks' N7.  I've also tried the range of CDJ's from ones that install in a cabinet (think “wedding DJs”) to the Pioneer CDJ 2000's.

Through it all, I always come back to the most simple of setups, just a turntable and a mixer.  Recently, I think the dopest tech coming out is all about making it even more simple. It's something that's been coined "Portablism". Portable scratching has always been a dream for turntablists. So many times, they are relegated to their bedrooms for so long that the idea of scratching outside in the sun almost seems scary.  Though there are portable turntables from the past, like the Crosley Suitcase and the Columbia GP3, none of them could really take the vigor of turntablism. Around '05 Dj Q-Bert and Vestax teamed up to create the "QFO" a rather large, albeit portable turntable mixer hybrid built for serious scratching. However, these were expensive to start out with, $800/$1000 depending on the model, and now that Vestax is defunct you're lucky to find one for under $3000 … and that's if you can find one.

Both Numark and Vestax came out with much more affordable portable listening turntables around '10, the PT-01 and the Handy Trax, respectively.  But again, were not made for turntablists to abuse, they were made to sample records while digging. What those companies didn't know is that eager turntablists were finding ways to use these cheaper, more available portables to scratch with.  Some of the first innovations were an external crossfader so you could cut without a mixer and 7" scratch records. Raiden was one of the first companies to make an external fader that could hook up to any audio source but there were a lot of external cords.  It wasn't until people like Jesse Dean Designs and companies like Audio Innovative started getting into it that things got more integrated.

JDD custom makes parts for the portable scene.  Everything from platter stabilizers, to crossfaders, target lights, start/stop button, even super-pitch and upgraded tonearms.  Audio Innovative who makes the ever popular and versatile "Inno-fader"  specifically designed their newest iteration to be used in the Portablist scene.  Dj Q-Bert's Thud Rumble record label puts out 7" scratch wax almost exclusively now because the scene has taken off so much.

I think DJ's will always push the level of tech because, like me, most of them are nerds, which is to say they are very interested and invested in furthering their art.  Though sometimes it can go off in the wrong direction like the now infamous "sync" button or even Pioneer's new "Scratch Pad" I know that people will continue to find things to innovate with.  Hell, maybe someday I'll get the cybernetic implant so I can just flick my wrists in the air and scratch on virtual turntables … we'll just have to wait and see.


VTHH: Growing up, discovering scratch records and the world of breaks vinyl opened up a whole new Universe for me. Do you have any go-to favorites?

Kanga: It's funny we transition from DJ tech talk to break / scratch records.  While they may not seem related to most, old school DJs consider scratch records some of the most cheater tech there is.  They believe that if you want to use the classic "Ahhhh" and "Fresh" samples, you need to have a copy of Fab Five Freddy's "Change the Beat" single.  I however, was brought up in the age of scratch records and I love them. From the quirky art work and album names to various styles and arrangements, I can't get enough of them.

My first one I can recall was from the upperclassman who gave me a little starter stack of records before I even owned turntables.  It was one of DJ Rectangle's "Ultimate Battle Weapons" but I'll never be able to recall which one.  Back then, I didn't really understand scratching a given sample, I would just scratch whatever the needle happened to land on. So scratch sentences, arrangements of sound of effects put one after the other, were largely lost on me at first.  I have old tape recordings of me just playing scratch sentences in some of my mixes because I thought that what you did with them.

For a long time, I never understood why someone would want doubles.  Most scratch records advertised that you would want two and every now and then a scratch record would come with doubles.  I didn't understand juggling and thought it was a marketing ploy, or they were saying you would use the record so much it would get worn out, hence needing a back up.

Through the years I studied and got learned on how scratch records work and how to utilize them.  One of my most memorable naive young DJ moments was getting the courage to go into Flex Records/L Burners and ask if they had any of the records "with the little marker lines on them" that I had seen scratch DJs using.  Big Dog or C-Low politely replied, "Pretty sure you put those markers on yourself, dude..." I was little embarrassed, but I was stoked to get home and start marking up my records.

Turntablists basically read the record like a clock.  They use marks such as a sticker, marker, or even the label itself to tell where a sound is according to a clock face. For example, a turntablist would know that when the marker got to 12:00 it was going to play a certain sound, "ahhhhh" and when it got to 6:00 it would play "freshhh".

Soon I started buying up all the break records I could.  Some of my early favorites are DJ Babu's "Super Duck Breaks", A-Trak's "Gangsta Breaks" and of course Q-Bert's "Super Seal".  That last record on the list revolutionized scratch records. Q-bert figured out how to make "sealed," loops so that on every revolution the sounds would land in the same places.  So on track one for instance, the sound "Beep, ahhhhh" would play over and over. If a DJ marked the beginning of the "beep" sound at 12:00, they would know every time the mark came to 12 it would play the sound.  This enabled DJs to quickly drop the needle on the desired sound in quick transition mixes. The looped nature of the tracks means that is impossible for the needle to skip a sound because the record plays the same thing in the same position on every rotation.  While some turntablists originally called the skipless tech cheating, most scratch records put out today at least feature one or two such closed loops. The skipless format exploded once portablism took off.

Some of those most interesting scratch records being put out right now don't adhere to this formula at all.  Records like Knick Knack's "Sound Craftsmen" series are set to turn the turntablist world upside down. Though they have been available for quite some time now, turntablists are still figuring out how to use them.  Instead of the classic DJ sounds and cuts, these records feature real instrument sounds. Not only that, they are arranged in correct keys. This allows a turntablist to literally compose music from the ground up. Using something like a Roland RC-50 looping station, a DJ could create like turntable production and actually construct a beat using nothing but scratches.  I think this is pretty much the epitome of where a turntablist could go with scratch records.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Fattie B (Belizbeha / Eye Oh You)
25th 12.jpg

I have often called Fattie B "the elder statesman of Vermont hip hop" here, but perhaps that's unfair -- it makes it sound like he's John McCain or something. Nay. Fattie B is still putting in hard work, still doing his damn job, and he's as sharp as ever. (Possibly sharper.) He's an accomplished businessman who's still so into hip hop he actually geeks out about it. Regularly.

He's also still the same humble, self-depreciating dynamo that's been making friends and connections around the country & beyond. DJ, graphic artist, cultural sponge and perpetual momentum entrepreneur -- that's about half of his resume, too.

That all started with Belizbeha, a world-class trip hop outfit who will be reuniting for a huge celebration on Burlington's beautiful waterfront June 9th. Here we're talking 802 hip hop history, the meat grinder of the music business, and the current scene.  

VTHH: It's 1990. You're dressed to impress, still coping with the shock of Compact Disc technology, and looking forward to Die Hard 2. What was your sense of a "hip hop scene" in Vermont then? Were people rapping onstage in Burlington?

Fattie B: The scene then was just starting to take off. I remember in '91 I was in an emcee contest at Club Metronome. I came in second to a guy/girl duo from St. Mike's. That was my first time on a stage (although I used to rhyme over instrumentals when I DJ'd at house parties prior to that in and around Burlington).

VTHH: How long had you been rapping when you made the connection with Belizbeha? Did you get on the mic by necessity or by accident?

Fattie B: I was at a party in '92 and was rapping on the mic when Jeremy Skaller (Belizbeha's keyboard player) heard me and invited me to a tryout for a new band he wanted to assemble. His vision was a combo of The Brand New Heavies, Digable Planets and Stevie Wonder-ish vibes. At that time, I was in a duo with my good friend Geoff Garrow (whose emcee name was G-Wiz) and we were called Da Numbskullz.  We had 2 full albums that were mostly our rhymes on others instrumentals and were 75% about weed. Jeremy loved the back and forth Run-DMC style rhymes Geoff and I did, and the band was started.

I always loved hip-hop, even when I was young and lived in rural Bristol VT.  My early years were shaped by KRS-One, Rakim, Heavy D, Big Daddy Kane, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, MC Lyte. I wrote songs and recorded them in my parents basement and always wanted to prove myself. I took it as a challenge to make people see that a white kid could have flow and be seen as legit, not a stereotype or gimmick.

VTHH: What was it like laying down tracks for Charlie's Dream? Had you done recording sessions before that?

Fattie B: My only recording experience prior to Belizbeha was in makeshift studios in my (or some buddies') houses. When we did the sessions for Belizbeha's first album, it was so cool to lay multiple tracks and have an input in the sequencing and creative process. I also loved dropping in samples within the rhyme scheme. Often for that album, we would get drunk and go to bed just to wake up at 3:30-4 am so my voice was deeper and raspy.

I knew when we were recording that album that it was something special that would change my life's path. It was a universal sound that a wide spectrum of people loved. From a six year old kid to a 70 year old Granny, it wasn't like a lot of rap music coming out then - and that's what we wanted. A new, un-catagorizable genre and style.


VTHH: At what point did it all click for the band -- do you recall a point where everyone realized that Belizbeha was about to get very big and fast and weird?

Fattie B: Right after Charlie's Dream (the first album) came out, we started touring and the press was insane. Billboard magazine labelled us "the next big thing" and we had labels knocking. When we recorded the 2nd album (Void Where Inhibited) with Yoko Ono's producer Rob Stevens, it got out of hand. We began working with Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston publicist Susan Blonde, and that sent us into another stratosphere. We were the first unsigned band she ever worked with and we went from playing 300-400 person venues to doing 2500-5000 person gigs. We opened for Kool & the Gang at the House of Blues in LA when their music was seeing a comeback (due to it's use in movies at the time) and I got drunk that night with Ed McMahon and Peewee Herman. We were road warriors - playing over 200 shows a year for 6 straight years (in a time before cell phones, internet and Facebook).

PBS actually shot a documentary about us (one of the first music related reality shows) that never aired because we broke up right before we were going to get signed. I have the edit of it if you'd like watch it... it's hard for me to watch, honestly. Mainly because it's crazy that we begin it so hopeful and at the end we all are angry, beaten down and dejected.

VTHH: What was the spark that made the upcoming reunion show possible? Were you the catalyst for that?

Fattie B: When we got together 4 years ago and played at the Waterfront tent for the 2014 Jazz Festival, we came within a few hundred of setting the record for crowd size at that venue at a Discover Jazz event (2nd only to Jimmy Cliff).  The entire band couldn't believe the energy that night from that huge crowd - in fact, it was the only show I ever played that I can honestly say I felt a physical "energy" from the crowd when it surged that "moved me backwards."

We all wanted to experience that energy once more, and when Discover Jazz asked us to come back and play again, we had to say yes.  We had reunited and sold out 2 nights at the Rusty Nail in Stowe 2 years ago, but all of us wanted to play that Waterfront Tent again. And with Madaila and Dwight & Nicole on the bill too, we are hopeful to break the attendance record.

VTHH: In the past year, I've heard a number of people hoping that The Beat Biters would make a comeback -- any chance of that?

Fattie B: You know, I'd really love to... Konflik and I have been talking about doing a re-vamp of Eye Oh You (as a tribute to A-Dog) but kind of a live 'Beat Biters' type of off-shoot with just me, Konflik, a drummer and a stand up bass player.  We are trying to find a funky, jazzy, hip-hop influenced stand up bass player, so send one our way if you know of any…

VTHH: How do you feel about where the 802 hip hop scene is at now?

Fattie B: I am a huge fan of Jarv.  He is a talent that I believe will only keep getting better. I'd love to collab with him someday. And I need to check out 99 Neighbors...been hearing great things about those cats. I am also a giant fan of Learic (always have been) and a have a ton of respect for Mister Burns and his grind.  That dude does not stop... reminds me of us Belizbeha when we first darted touring - just go out there and get heard. Also, tons of respect for Learic and my man Konflik, who will be rhyming with us at the show on June 9th. Oh, and Vader The Villin! He is from Vermont but now lives in NYC. He is killing it and I’m a huge fan of his music and graphic art.

VTHH: For awhile, you were the foremost A&R in the state, thanks to all your excellent local compilations. Do you have any advice for the enterprising young bucks trying to get local labels off the ground in 2018?

Fattie B: If you are going to make them, do them for the music, not to make any money off of them or to garner attention for yourself. Do one just to put shine on some of the talent that exists here - that's why I did the HOP series and the L-Burners comp.  So much 'bedroom' talent now, there needs to be more venues to cop a package that's all-inclusive. And stop hating on others just because their style if different. If it's talented and well-made, it's still good.


Justin Boland
L to R: Pro, Learic. Photo by Brent Harrewyn.

L to R: Pro, Learic. Photo by Brent Harrewyn.

Pro is a hard-working, genuine Vermonter. He's a busy dad, a career man, and doomed to rap for the rest of his life because he truly loves the artform. His rapid, precise flow gained acclaim with The Aztext, one of the more successful rap groups BTV has ever seen, alongside emcee Learic and DJ Big Kat.

With the AZT on ice and Learic on a solo streak that's taken out of Vermont and back again, Pro's been pouring his heart into GOOD WTHR, his new group with emcee Kin. Formed in the aftermath of DJ BP aka Ryan Morin's passing, they are honoring their friend and delivering an incredible run of new material so far in 2018. We caught up to talk shop, reminisce on what is now ancient history, and take a look ahead.

VTHH: What was your first introduction to hip hop? Who were you idolizing early on?

PRO: I credit House of Pain’s “Jump Around” for being the track that really helped me fall in love with hip hop. I remember where I was when I first heard it (my cousin’s house in Hamilton, NY) and that it only took me a few listens to feel like I had it memorized. Once I heard those drums, Everlasts' energy and that patented Muggs scream…I was hooked.

In no particular order, my favorite rappers early on were Everlast, B Real, Method Man and Nas.  I was the nerd that followed MCs wherever they appeared, so if Nas showed up as a feature, for example – I’d buy the album. That helped me uncover a ton of new music and rapidly expanded my horizons.

VTHH: Were you part of any rap crews before Aztext came together?

PRO: No. I recorded a lot of music as a solo artist (Prolific) and did several shows as such.  Many of the producers who contributed to The Aztext albums started as producers for my solo projects.


VTHH: How did you wind up connecting with Learic and Big Kat?

PRO: I met Big Kat when I was 17. He was releasing mixtapes in Burlington that were almost exclusively Dance Hall remixes over hip hop beats. I was a fan and we started recording tracks together under the label Big Kat Productions. Big Kat was also the DJ at all of my solo shows.

Learic and I became friends in high school, and spent a lot of our time freestyling together. In fact, the first track that I ever recorded in a professional studio was with Grandtheft (of Team Canada) in Montreal. Learic was visiting from Brooklyn, so naturally he was a feature.

Years later, we were both opening for The Loyalists as solo artists and we performed that one track together. After the show a handful of people asked if we were a group, and they were all disappointed to find out we weren’t.  

As impulsive as it sounds, that night we decided to re-locate to Burlington (him from NYC and me from Rhode Island) to get a spot in Burlington and start working on an album together. Our group was originally going to be called Abbott and Costello.


VTHH: What were the biggest lessons you learned from your debut LP, Haven't You Heard? Do you have any hard-won advice for young heads working on their first album?

PRO: I learned a ton following the release of Haven’t You Heard?, although this many years later it’s hard to say when I fully learned and implemented each lesson!

Just because you record a track, doesn’t mean it has to be on the album. I’ll keep you in suspense, but suffice it to say that if we were to re-release Haven’t You Heard? today, it would not have been 16 tracks.

You only get one shot at a first impression, so make it a good one.  There is no rush, aside from the excitement of sharing your music. Temper that excitement and take your time - especially during the recording process.

Don’t buy features. In addition to doing very little to legitimize your project, it can actually have the opposite effect. Spend that same money on proper mixing, mastering and most importantly, promotion.

VTHH: That is surprising to hear now, especially since The Aztext landed so many top notch features. When The Sacred Document dropped, I remember everyone being stunned with how legit that LP was. What was the process behind that album? Where were you recording then?

PRO: Me and Learic were roommates through the production of both Haven’t You Heard? and The Sacred Document, and we worked out of an in-home studio.

So the process for both records was very similar, except that everyone involved was that much more practiced in their craft. We were blessed with a network of incredible producers, too. That really worked in our favor because when producer A heard the beat Producer B sent us… their inner need to compete meant they had to send us something even better!

As far as songwriting, me and Learic work at much different speeds when it comes to writing verses. So, we’d almost always start writing the concept and hook collaboratively, and once those components were nailed down, we could go away and write on verses at our own pace.

VTHH: The Aztext managed to have a big impact in Europe, which is wild. Did you guys strategically aim to do that or was it mostly happy accidents?

PRO: I’d say it was a combination of the two, because it started as a happy accident and became more intentional.  We were establishing ourselves as a group at the height of the MySpace boom. And while I will forever be torn on how much MySpace helped vs. hurt, it did turn music into a global community.  We started getting beats emailed to us from all over the world, and if it was dope, we used it! Some of those producers went on to put out albums of their own that they pushed heavily in their countries, which expanded our listenership a great deal.

We were doing a lot of shows back then and many of the bigger artists we opened for gave us the same advice: Tour in Europe.  They’d go on and on about how that classic underground hip hop sound was more appreciated outside of North America, and thought we’d fit in nicely.  So, we weren’t blind to the opportunity that existed, but what drove us initially was really dope music. Then, that turned into friendships and trusted collaboration partners.


VTHH: So that takes us to right around when the "Who Cares If We're Dope?" series was going, right? That was such a great run, and a consistently surprising one, too -- were you feeling boxed into boom-bap?

PRO: Who Cares if We’re Dope? remains my personal favorite Aztext release.  We were a few years removed from the self-imposed pressure of following up The Sacred Document and able to move at a more relaxed pace.

The project wasn’t necessarily a reaction to feeling boxed into boom-bap so much as it was us, trying to showcase the producer’s signature sound in tandem with our own.  For other projects, someone might send us 5 beats - of which we selected only the 1 or 2 that fit our sound.  During the mini-series, we wanted to respect and highlight the producer’s signature sound and stretch our comfort zone.  For example, Touchphonics is an established label owner and DJ in Drum & Bass, E Train’s sound had become slightly more west coast influenced after 10 years in the Bay, Dub Sonata was producing for a modern rock band called Like Diamonds, etc.

Learic and I both share an extremely deep love for music of all genres.  The concept of co-branding a project as The Aztext + The Producer meant an opportunity to work in genres we otherwise might not have explored on a solo Aztext record.  We never took it quite as far as we’d like, but that was the intention, and one I’d like to re-explore.

VTHH: How did the "I Make Records" video come together?

PRO: The ‘I Make Records’ video was truly a family affair.  It started with Touchphonics lacing us with that beat! Once that track was mixed, we were certain it needed a video.

Brent Harrewyn shot, directed and edited the video. Brent is a longtime friend of ours. When he was in college, Devon and I acted in several of his short films and he was always open to doing a video for us in return.  Years later, even though he was extremely busy and getting paid well outside of our price range, he was happy to help.

The dancers were a combination of The Rhythm Riderz Crew who we’ve always had a good relationship with and big respect for; and a local dance class courtesy of a friend/dance instructor Rose Bedard.  The shoot turned into a straight up dance party. It was such a great moment in time.

Once we had the producer, general concept and dancers, we just needed a location.  A friend of ours owned Rasputin’s and was happy to open the doors for us for a day… and who can forget Steez?! Fattie B was always something of a mentor to us. We spent a lot of time in Steez both as patrons, or just asking him questions over the years, so we were so excited to shoot in there.

VTHH: How has your songwriting process evolved over the years? Do you have any advice for young writers?

PRO: I’ve had two major evolutions in my songwriting process, and they both service as advice for young writers.

The first is that I do not work on songs that I don't connect with personally. I get sent a lot of beats and collaboration requests, and most of them are great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a fit for me.  If I hear something and am moved emotionally, I write to it; if not, I politely decline.

The other thing that’s changed is that I’ve grown completely comfortable being me, and my writing reflects that. This is a lesson that I wish I had learned earlier when I burned a lot of useless energy wondering how others would react to a given song/verse.  As advice to young writers - anyone can write a dope punchline, but there is only one you.


VTHH: That definitely shines through with the GOOD WTHR material. What do you think set you free? What changed?

PRO: I think it’s just a function of growing up.  I have an awesome wife and two beautiful children. When I am making music these days, I think of it as a journal that my children will ‘read’ years later, and am conscious of what lessons/takeaways I want to impart to them specifically.

That’s not to say that every track has to reveal some major life lesson, but it is to say that every lyric has to be rooted in my truth and defensible under that microscope.

My grandfather was an artist, a pianist and published author. When he was alive I loved asking him about his motivations for specific works, and now that he’s gone I appreciate speculating what drove his projects.  In the event my children (or theirs) share a similar curiosity in our family, they can analyze my music.

I also used my grandfather's art as a way to cope with his death. Here is a track that I made using sampled piano that he played (at age 89 with arthritis), audio from an interview I did with him, and me speaking words that he wrote in a poem called Maverick. So essentially, 100% his art to power my own artistic creation.

VTHH: Looking back, what are some of your favorite shows you've played?

PRO: There were so many that it’s really hard to choose, but here are two stand outs…

We opened up for Snoop twice in Killington.  The shows were wild on so many levels, but the craziest part was that the audience assumed we were on tour with Snoop. What that did to their psyche in terms of responding to our music was very powerful. When we said jump – they jumped. When we did a call and response – it came back at full volume.  For one night, we felt a glimpse into what it must feel like to be Atmosphere. The energy it provided was unforgettable.

The first time we performed with Brother Ali, he actually made his way out from back stage and stood front and center during our set. After the show, he was extremely complimentary of our energy and told us it was one of the better live shows he’d seen in a while.  A compliment that powerful would be huge coming from anyone, but when it comes from someone as talented (especially in the live show department) as Ali… it’s still surreal in retrospect.

VTHH: Do you have more projects on the way in 2018?

PRO: Yes.  GOOD WTHR will release a lot of music this year. We plan to release individual songs as singles opposed to saving up for an ‘album’ release, in addition to working on some focused EPs.  We just recorded our first track for a collab EP with SkySplitterInk.

Outside of that, Learic and I recorded an Aztext track over a ridiculous beat courtesy of Rico James.  Where we take it is still TBD (new album? single release?), but I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of The Aztext.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Jibba "The Gent"
Jibba Banner.jpg

Jibba "The Gent" is rap entrepreneur from southern Vermont who is hard working, outgoing -- and increasingly successful. Here, we're talking shop about ... well, everything. Enjoy.

VTHH: What was your introduction to rap? Were you hooked immediately?

Jibba: My introduction to rap came from MTV in the early 90's. I remember artists like Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill, Snoop Dogg, B.I.G., Tupac, Queen Latifah, Onyx, LL Cool J, and Wu-Tang Clan being in heavy rotation. The baggy clothes, the attitudes, the gangster shit, the late night top ten count downs … growing up in Vermont, I had NEVER seen anything like it. Yeah, I was hooked immediately. As soon as I got one of those Columbia House ads with CD's for a penny each, I would be buying 10-15 CD's a month!

I remember my first actual album I absolutely loved was Warren G's Regulate G Funk Era album. From the skits to the smooth melodies and funky west coast production, I was a huge fan. I knew it word for word, cover to cover, probably still do. That album not only got me hooked on hip-hop, it got me focused on West Coast hip-hop.

VTHH: Did you have outlets and venues for your work, early on, or did you have to create your own scene?

Jibba: Ehh, not so much in Southern Vermont. I really started from the ground up out here. There was nobody really mentoring me and my friends that were vital to creating a scene there, but we did have acts to look up to. Like Rhythm Ruckus, I never did meet those guys, but I followed them closely in the days of Myspace. Also, the VT Union crew was super cool. I met Dakota first, then S.I.N.sizzle and DJ A-Dog, we worked a few shows together back in the early 2000's. It was really nice to get that love from up North, I always looked at them as the ones running the Vermont hip-hop scene. Them and The Aztext, though I never got to meet any of them until these last couple of years.


VTHH: What do you think the most important change was, in terms of finally bridging that gap between the two Vermonts?

Jibba: For me, it was as simple as communication. Just reaching out to who I saw as the players up North. Once we started talking, I realized just how great these people are. Dakota, S.I.N.sizzle, Nastee, Learic, etc. I really look up to these artists and they were willing to work together on projects or shows or whatever. It was a really cool feeling to know that these artists are also really great people. The same goes for the old Vermont Hip Hop blog: all I had to do was reach out. I think it's important to say because a lot of people might be nervous to send an email or message through because of some preconceived notion. Communication seems to be the key to life!

VTHH: From the outside looking in, it seemed like 2017 was your best year ever, in terms of impact and reach. Does it seem that way to you? What keeps you motivated?

Jibba: I think that's true as a solo artist, it's the year I really started working on myself as an act. I finally learned a bit about the business side of music and was able to apply it. I started investing in myself and have seen great results so far, I'm finally peeking over these Green Mountains into other markets and gaining some attention by striking while the irons hot.


VTHH: Dropping "The Broccoli Tree" has been a real breakthrough for you. What was the process behind that LP? Was it a long time coming?

Jibba: Phew! That one was a long time coming! I have been working on solo music for years and just kind of stockpiling it, doing test releases and performances locally. I had a really great run as one half of Causin' Effect, so I was really putting my all into the group effort and holding back from running as a solo act. The whole group thing slash studio venture from 2016 wasn't feeling right for me though, so I walked away from it. It actually ended kind of bitterly, I'm sure a lot of VT locals remember the social media drama for awhile...

In 2017, I really made a deal with myself to either stop making music all together or drop this music I've been holding onto. Give it a good push outside of Vermont and see what happens. Well, it has snowballed into some new ventures, collaborations, growth in my network and some great new features for my next album, which will be coming much quicker then The Broccoli Tree did.

VTHH: Do you think the next LP will be a 2018 thing? What has made the process easier this time around?

Jibba: Yes, 2018 for sure. I'm being a little more selfish this year. I really enjoy helping others, to the point I will put my own interests second, a lot. So this year I have been really focused on my own music. I still have been taking collabs, but people may tell you I'm pretty slow with them. I will be the first to admit I'm being selfish and putting my own music first. Opportunities come and go quick, so sometimes I strike while the irons hot and projects get pushed back. Well this next album is unapologetically put first, above all. I'm in a really good zone for solo music, I want to capitalize.

VTHH: What advice do you have for artists looking to do their first music video? You've got more experience in this department than most around here.

Jibba: Honestly, I've really lucked out with being friends with some super talented people. Like, Matthew Dean Russell, Matt Graham and Nick Deistler. It's also been great getting to know another great talent in Miles Goad of DVP Cinematography. Without these folks, my videos would never have been as great as they have been. I do have some advice beyond that, though.

My first bit of advice would be to plan ahead. Write a script, include scenes with places to shoot at. It doesn't have to be a certified Hollywood script but having an idea of what you want before it comes down to hitting that record button will really go a long way in saving time and also the outcome of the video will look more professional.

My second bit of advice might seem tough or out of reach to some but, get sponsorship! If you're going to wear a certain brand of clothes anyway, why not reach out to that brand? You would be surprised with the amount of clothing lines that will send you some threads to promote in your video. You could also ask for monetary sponsorship from local businesses looking to branch out and promote their brand in your video. Which is huge for your video budget. Just remember what would mesh well with your videos content. For example, a family restaurant may not want to sponsor a video promoting violence, drinking and blowing ungodly amounts of herbs. Find the right sponsors for your content.

My last bit of advice is to be creative. Think outside the box of just rapping into the camera with your homies behind you. I mean, that's cool and all, and works for some of us sometimes, but if you really are looking to stand out I suggest putting some thought into your video. That's pretty much what I've learned through trial and error. Plan ahead, get sponsorship before shooting the video and think outside the box.

VTHH: I've seen you play mentor for a lot of local artists online. Do you find yourself doing that locally now, too? Do you see a new scene coming together down south?

Jibba: I would really love to see the scene unite down south, it is a goal of mine for sure. If not people working together for a common goal in our area, at the very least help set people up with the tools to make the dream a profession instead of a hobby. I get really tired of wasted talent. It bothers me more then it should probably. I've actually branched out to helping young artists in different states with the business side of music. It's pretty fulfilling to watch someone take advice and run with it, watching them succeed and get wins. I like it just about as much as recording a song I'm proud of. I've been testing the waters of artist development inside the HLR camp, it's been fun and rewarding helping these guys put the work in to advance their careers. It seems I've naturally found a future in the music industry beyond just writing tunes, so that's exciting.

Justin Boland
GET FAMILIAR: Self Portrait
Photography by  Colette Kulig

Photography by Colette Kulig

Self Portrait are days away from dropping their second album, Primal Union. This is a classic rap lineup with a lead emcee, a rapper/producer and a real live DJ tearing it up onstage. The new album showcases features from some of the hardest working people in Vermont hip hop, like Anthill Collective maestro Eskae, who juggles a couple hundred hats any given month. He shares a cut with SkySplitter, a prolific producer and one hell of a recording engineer, too.

These lads are embedded, in other words, a central hub of the new hot shit, and a home team a lot of folks are rooting for.

Primal Union is a big step for the Self Portrait crew, but they've been on the rise for awhile because they stay busy. Last year they were featured on the latest A-Dog Day compilation, the kind of honor that doesn't come lightly. Ringtone rap might be making money now, but albums still matter, and Primal Union is a professional product.

I got to talk with two thirds of the team about their sordid past, their violent beefs, and the upcoming HBO documentary. Dig it.

Thirtyseven: How did your crew come together?

RICO JAMES: Me and Trono met in 2007 while living in Plattsburgh, NY. I had just graduated with an art degree and Trono was still attending the college at the time. We hit it off immediately and started designing a clothing company, and writing rhymes together. This was before I even started making beats. I ended up moving to the west coast for a few years, so we continued to create long distance. I started making beats while living out west, so it was only right that we jumped back into the music when I moved back east to Burlington.

I met DJ Kanga through a mutual friend here in town, and we clicked immediately through our shared love of hip hop. I was blown away when I saw him scratch the first time. Right after we hung out, I hit up Trono and told him we gotta link up with this dude and get to work. I was amazed that Kanga hadn't been snatched up yet by another group. Dude is an unbelievable DJ. I sent him some of our tunes, while simultaneously reaching out to some people trying to book a show. We booked our first show in Sept. of 2013, and have been rockin' together ever since.

Thirtyseven: Has your songwriting process changed over the years?

TRONO: The songwriting has changed as my style and Rico's style has changed. Rico has taken a lesser role in rhyming, but when he does, his flow is on point and his one liners are hilarious. He has come a long way building a confidence you can find in his verses.

I have tried to develop my skills by being more concise. My thoughts need to convey the point that I want while also becoming one with the beat. I allow - encourage - beats to take me over, to lead me down the path. Emotions and what the instrumental pulls out of you are what need to be put into words. I need to explore that however possible with pin point exactness when translated onto paper. Its a ever growing process, forcing me to learn myself and to learn from others. 

RICO JAMES: The process for the group as a whole is pretty simple. My main focus is the beats. I make the beats for the crew, so we start by sending a batch of beats to Trono. He picks and chooses the ones he likes and can get into and starts writing. I give Trono complete freedom to write whatever he feels. He usually comes up with the concepts and I just step in lyrically wherever it is needed. Trono is the lyricist of the crew. He is the true writer. I like writing rhymes for fun, but he is the true talent with the pen. After we get our songs all layed out, we send rough mixes to Kanga to add his magic. 



Thirtyseven: How did you wind up with such an awesome cover? 

TRONO: We discovered the artist, Evan Book, through another VT hip hopper that goes by Mycelium MC. He put us on to his work and I knew it would be a perfect fit for our album art. We had the album name, Primal Union, picked out for about a year and knew that was going to be the next album name. We had the concept that we wanted, with the cavemen in a cave listening to records by a fire, have Trono eating another emcee, etc... We through it out to Evan Book, told him the basic idea, and he absolutely killed it. His style works perfectly with what we wanted and had imagined for the album. He is a super talented artist, and everybody should hit him up on FB and check out his work.

Thirtyseven: Approximately how rich and famous do you plan on becoming on Feb. 24th?

TRONO: As rich and famous as I was the day before. 

RICO JAMES: I'm hoping for a crispy $20. Will hit those dollar bins hard.

Photography by  Colette Kulig

Photography by Colette Kulig



Justin Boland