2018 Won't Let Me Chill


As much as I’d like to just stay on vacation until 2019, there’s too much going on this week to stop. This is just a quick tour of the highlights, of which there are plenty. It’s also, accidentally, a meditation on what next year is going to bring us as this 802 scene finally hits critical mass. Cheers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Or just make your diss track really good.

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

Justin Boland