- Phoenix Ashby, Tutto Passa
The Burlington hip-hop and EDM scenes are packed with young talent these days, thanks in large part to the Digital Media Lab. The multimedia program founded by lead instructor Jason Raymond at the Burlington Technical Center provides a training area for high school students to learn photography, audio production and all manner of digital production. Having a fully functional studio and audio lab available to young would-be producers has injected new blood into the Vermont music scene. (It's not rocket science, people. Give kids the means to create, and you'll eventually get gold.)
Founded in 2015, the lab has already launched its share of talent, including producer Caleb Lodish, whose album I Expect Nothing in Return was one of 2023's strongest local releases.
The program's latest product is musician and producer Phoenix Ashby. The Burlington High School student released a string of singles in 2022 and 2023, notably a killer collaboration with rapper Hakim XOXO, "Dior on Me." But his EP Tutto Passa is a new high-water mark in a young career.
The record kicks off with the space-disco funk of "Throwbacks." Slapping synth bass and Ashby's heavily processed voice give the song a candy coating, a metallic sheen that in no way detracts from how hard the track hits. When fellow 802 rapper Abullet swaggers in for the first of several cameos on Tutto Passa, the table is well set for him to feast. Which he does with gusto, his staccato flow locking in with Ashby's propulsive beat.
The production gets stripped back on "Fast," as Ashby uses his range and crafts an almost minimalist backing track with a tittering beat and soft, dreamlike synths. The sparse approach leaves room for him to explore as a vocalist, his rhythmic, auto-tuned voice intoning the word "fast" over and over before special guest Ranch God drops his verse. The Burlington-based rapper comes in with a splash, as per usual, tossing out lines such as "Kinda freaky as she drop it like an accident / But the way she pick it up, she clearly passionate."
Ashby leans into the slow burn on "NFL," crafting a moody, R&B-flavored track. Abullet returns with a string of monotone, right-on-the-beat bars before Ashby shows off his own flow, displaying another of his in-studio talents. For a producer still in his teens, he has an impressive toolbox. With the exception of the guest verses, every sound on Tutto Passa comes from Ashby, who also mixed and mastered the EP.
The record ends with "Trance," a jazzy, darkly atmospheric song that lets Ashby and Abullet trade verses over a stop-start beat. The song closes what amounts to an introduction to Ashby as songwriter, producer and musician. The gloves are off, and Tutto Passa represents the arrival of a new talent on the scene. The EP is available now on Spotify.