Surveying New Releases From Vermont's Ever-Expanding Hip-Hop Scene | Album Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Surveying New Releases From Vermont's Ever-Expanding Hip-Hop Scene

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Published November 15, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.


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Local hip-hop stars 99 Neighbors ended an era with their sold-out farewell show at the Higher Ground Ballroom last month, and now the 802 rap scene finds itself at a turning point. Established names are aiming higher than ever, and new artists are desperate to make a mark in a packed, competitive field. What follows is a mix of releases from new names and familiar faces stepping out solo.

Nahte Renmus, FUNK.95

(Self-released, digital, cassette, CD)

Rapper/producer Nahte (pronounced like "latte") Renmus emerged from Windsor's legendary Maiden Voyage crew, alongside Teece Luvv and Jarv. Renmus and Jarv now call New York City home, which seems almost inevitable. From the very beginning, their crew has pledged allegiance to a very specific brand of hip-hop purism. Waking up every day in the birthplace of the culture has clearly raised the stakes, because FUNK.95 is light-years past Renmus' earlier catalog.

That catalog, to be clear, is damn fine work. But it's never been as urgent, consistent or undeniable as his latest offering. Every track here is a head-bobbing gem. Renmus is a student of the genre, and his style is a whirlwind of influences. But fans of Edan or Del the Funky Homosapien are especially advised to check this out ASAP. FUNK.95 is a blend of '80s, '90s and Def Jux-era sounds, which would be tediously referential if it weren't all so effortlessly brand new.

Key Track: "Stovepipe" featuring Kool Keith. Why: This is timeless, funky-ass boom bap with Kool Keith bringing his A game for the feature. That's respect. Where: Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music

Tyler Serrani, intro2mimicry

(Self-released, digital)

The new generation of Vermont hip-hop talent is multifaceted, made up of artists who are comfortable exploring other genres. Few are as proficient or as ambitious as West Rutland rapper/singer-songwriter Tyler Serrani. On intro2mimicry, he delivers a knockout set. His free-range creativity has sometimes been too scattered on earlier releases, but every track here is honed razor sharp — and the sequencing is flawless.

This is a concept album about mimesis, or imitation — here explored as a process of human beings creating their individual personalities by imitating other humans. It's rare to hear a young artist so self-aware about their artistry.

Serrani got his start during the Great Lockdown of 2020 and quickly won over a fan base with his SoundCloud demos. He is unusually gifted, blessed with a voice for pop hits and a knack for vividly detailed songwriting. That last part is what makes his work so captivating. The topics he explores are universal, but how he approaches them is endlessly surprising. Much like Bilé or Maari, this is an artist destined for a far bigger place than Vermont. Get hip now.

Key Track: "attention" featuring Topia. Why: On a project full of genre mashup fever dreams, this is just an unabashed, Gorillaz-style pop hit. Where: Spotify, Apple Music

Cersia, when i come home

(Self-released, digital)

Cersia broke onto the scene with last year's LP The Old Radio. His sophomore release, when i come home, hugely improves (and expands) his post-Eminem melodic rap formula. Where his debut was demo-grade rough around the edges, this latest album is a far more polished product. It's also a gloriously awkward hot mess. Both the overall tone and the actual mixing are all over the map, but it's an undeniably compelling ride through a whip-smart, hungry young mind.

Cersia's shortcomings are easy to set aside when there is so much he does right. The clever ad-libs, the ever-changing flow patterns, the huge range of his production, the relentless drive to make every four bars into something special — it all represents several tons of hard, necessary work. Cersia understands the recording studio as an instrument. This may not be the undeniable breakthrough project he needs, but when i come home makes it clear that project is coming.

Key Track: "beauty" featuring Phixel. Why: If any single track can embody the wide range of the album, it's this one. Where: Apple Music, Spotify

Ranch God, candy, coffee, cigarettes

(Self-released, digital)

The artist formerly known as Lil Ranch has recently graduated to Ranch God. This is a fitting move for someone who is such a force of nature, effortlessly creative, charismatic and funny as hell. He's been stealing the show with features and singles for years now, and it's finally time for his solo debut. Despite the name, candy, coffee, cigarettes turns out to be a surprisingly raw, personal album with as many ballads as bangers.

Less surprising is the fact that it all sounds incredible, a psychedelic wash of huge, crisply articulated mixes. Ranch God draws on a massive roster of collaborators to make it happen, and the final product is nothing short of monumental. This album clearly establishes Ranch God at the forefront of the current scene.

Key Track: "SUM CYPHER Bonus (Ft Hakim XOXO, FrostyDaYoungin)." Why: The sheer joy of this track is electric, with three young artists celebrating their success over a wild Caleb Lodish beat. This is the sound of 2023. Where: SoundCloud

Topia, No U in Topia

(NEW FOCUS, digital)

Topia is one of the most fascinating creators to emerge from the Make Music Club, a crucial talent incubator run by Jason Raymond at the Burlington Technical Center. His style is firmly rooted in modern emo rap. Topia won't spit a 16 at you, he just levitates out of the booth and into the music, pushing the limits of studio technology to create something more than human. It doesn't always work on his debut, No U in Topia, but when it hits, it's downright intoxicating.

Much like the outstanding Caleb Lodish album I Expect Nothing in Return, this is a guest-packed tour through the current Burlington movement, with features from Hakim XOXO, Flywlkr, SYIERR, Ryder Jam, and ... oh, there's Lodish, too. Even if the experimental style doesn't grab you, this album will be remembered as vital local history, documenting this moment.

Key Track: "sober." Why: This closing cut is a perfectly calibrated finishing move. It's the strongest song on the album, and he carries it solo. Where: SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Music

sepol mas, Voicemails From Vermont

(Self-released, digital)

Young rapper sepol mas specializes in lush, jazzy beats and rhymes that are as introspective as they are intricate. His latest project, Voicemails From Vermont, doesn't deviate from the formula of his earlier releases, but in terms of performances and production, it's a big step up.

There's been a lot of auto-tune and hyper-pop in this week's roundup, but truly, old heads have nothing to complain about. With artists such as Rivan, Fāb, Robscure, Cam Barnes and FOZ., classic hip-hop lyricism is alive and well around these parts. The densely recursive musings of sepol mas are part of that movement. His success is further proof that in a culture based on flipping fads and clichés, your best bet is still being yourself.

Key Track: "mama sayin." Why: Few MCs anywhere would drop such a candid, human and funny song about living with their mom. Where: SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Music

The original print version of this article was headlined "Quick Hits"

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