(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Bar None the Best are a hip-hop duo from Barre who've been creating local buzz through high-energy live shows and the video for their single "Welcome to VT (Kick the H)," an observational track about the ongoing opiate epidemic in the 802. Green Mountain Sound is their debut project, an EP offering six tracks of unrepentant, hardcore rap from members J-Hess and M. Rich. It also represents a serious cosign, since every song here is produced by Nastee, one of Vermont's foremost hip-hop veterans and a founding member of the VT Union.
The chemistry between these two emcees is rock solid. Their voices are complementary flavors of thug rasp, and their flow patterns are more or less identical twins. M. Rich tends to focus on being the best rapper alive, mentions being white surprisingly often and harbors some real anger about the success of Macklemore. J-Hess stays grounded in reflective narratives about trying to escape the cycle of violence and drugs. Both are big fans of repeated wordplay schemes and even bigger fans of discharging firearms to solve a wide variety of problems.
Lyrically, Bar None the Best are perhaps too devoted to reproducing the gritty authenticity of the NYC boom-bap they grew up on. Every cliché within easy reach makes an appearance on this short playlist. Do they pack "Glocks with the hollow caps?" Check. Do they "bang with Crips and Bloods?" Yup. Are they "nastier than sex with fags?" Sure, that, too. If it wasn't all so earnest, it would come off as parody. They definitely mean it, though.
For rappers, claiming to be "the greatest to ever do this" is essentially mandatory and always has been. Still, it's hard not to notice that the most compelling verse here is a guest appearance from S.I.N.siZZle on the lushly melodic "So True."
Fortunately, not every track here is rap about rapping. One of the best is "Why Is That?," which flips a classic Boogie Down Productions single into a conspiracy theory rap banger about false flag attacks, total surveillance and "GMOs and chem trails in my entrails."
Throughout the EP, Nastee makes everything shine with his production finesse and sheer experience. This is definitely the best-sounding rap album the Granite City has produced so far. From the gorgeous orchestral washout at the finale of "Welcome to VT" to his monumental mix on the closing cut, "I Love You," the entire project is professionally polished. (Credit is also due to local super-engineer SkysplitterInk, who recorded all the vocal sessions.)
Green Mountain Sound EP is a lean, solid product. It also straddles a strange, schizoid gap between wanting to uplift the community and wanting to shoot people in the face. Life is complicated. It will be interesting to see which side wins out on Bar None the Best's next project. Either way, it will definitely thump hard.
Green Mountain Sound by Bar None the Best is available on CD at local music stores and online at CD Baby, iTunes and Spotify.