- Courtesy of Kin
- Ryan Morin
Where to begin?
If the local music community had a flag, it would be flying at half-mast this week. The Burlington music scene, and, in particular, the hip-hop scene, has been in mourning since Sunday, April 3, when Ryan Morin, aka DJ BP, died. His unexpected passing was a profound shock to anyone who knew him. This being Burlington, that was pretty much everyone.
Morin, 35, was a gifted DJ, likely best known musically for his time manning the turntables with the seminal local hip-hop group the Aztext. He also spun with an early incarnation of the Lynguistic Civilians. Most recently, he performed as a rapper with UnKommon — see Justin Boland's review of their latest album.
But Morin was more than just a great DJ and devout hip-hop aficionado. He was a genuinely loved and admired man. To wit, the days following his death might have been the only time in the past year my Facebook feed wasn't dominated by Bernie posts and pictures of my friends' kids. It was all memories and pictures of Morin. I doubt I'm alone there. But the truly incredible thing was how many disparate corners of Burlington life those posts came from. That doesn't happen if you haven't affected a lot of people positively. And Morin clearly did.
This is a music column, so we're going to focus on BP's musical legacy. But the reach and impact he had on those around him in the greater Burlington community can't be overlooked or overstated. Further, his gregarious personality and goofy charm extended to his musical relationships, too. As his UnKommon partner Kin recently told me, "You've never seen so many tough guys crying and hugging each other as you have since Ryan died. There's a lot of sad rappers in this town right now."
Kin knew Morin longer than any other local rapper. The two grew up together in rural Vermont and bonded over a shared love of hip-hop. They were kindred souls in a part of the world where finding others interested in rap can be difficult.
"We introduced each other to hip-hop," said Kin. If you listen closely to that UnKommon record, you can hear their connection.
Before he died, Morin was working on a new project with his old Aztext partners, Learic and Pro, and Kin and Truth. Until recently, that project didn't have a name. When it's completed, it will be released under the Aztext banner and will include songwriter Jamie Bright, aka Silent Mind, and Morin's brother, drummer Ross Lincoln. By the way, Morin and Lincoln's father is Rick Lincoln, drummer for the Wards, who are considered to be Burlington's first punk band. Morin came by his talent honestly.
"The Aztext are no longer a group," Learic told me. "We're a family."
As he did with UnKommon, Morin raps on the forthcoming Aztext record. And, according to Pro and Learic, his verses are astonishing.
"To be honest with you, we had no idea how good he was," said Learic. "But he was writing some real, deep stuff."
"Everyone thinks of him as a DJ," added Pro. "And I think it was easy to overlook how good a rapper he was just because he was always making jokes and being goofy. But he could really rap."
In 2014, I caught Morin at a rap battle at Club Metronome. And hearing Pro and Learic say how proficient he'd since become on the mic was a surprise to me, too. That night Morin ... well, he fell flat on his face. There's no other way to put it. Not that you would have known it by the way he reacted after losing his battle. Morin bounded off the stage, all smiles, seeming thrilled simply to have been a part of it.
"He was fearless," said Learic, who won the battle that night — because Learic almost always wins in a rap battle.
Morin was also deeply curious and a musical sponge. His brother recalled being frequently embarrassed when Morin would hear a song he didn't know and stop whatever he was doing to pull out his phone and Shazam it.
"At dinner, at a bar, in stores, in the middle of a conversation, it didn't matter. He'd have his phone up in the air like an idiot," Ross Lincoln said with a chuckle.
"And he'd usually work those songs into his DJ sets," added Pro.
"One of the things I always loved about him was that he was OK with admitting when he didn't know something," said Learic. "Most people will pretend they know something even if they don't. But he just wanted to know everything he could about music, and he wanted to share that with everyone."
That's certainly reflected in the way Morin's passing has been observed in Burlington. Last Friday at Nectar's, Learic and MCB-Free played a tribute show to Morin and the recently deceased Sean Stem. According to B-Free, the place was packed from start to finish. The two rappers, who were backed by the Ice Coast Band, had been planning the show for weeks. But when Stem and Morin passed in such quick succession, they briefly considered canceling. Instead, they played the show in honor of their fallen friends.
Last Sunday there was a public memorial gathering at the Windjammer, where Morin's favorite meal, lasagna, was served. Morin worked at the Windjammer for nearly a decade and considered the staff there, past and present, to be like a second family. That gathering was followed by a musical celebration at the American Legion in Colchester, which Learic said was especially fitting.
As for the new Aztext record, there's no firm release date yet. According to Truth, the group will take its time to make sure the album is done right.
"We're going to do it as if he was still here," he said. "It kind of reminds me of the Busta Rhymes intro on the 'Scenario' remix."
He's referencing the 1992 posse cut by A Tribe Called Quest. Famously, rapper Kid Hood died three days after recording his verse for that song. Here's Busta's intro:
"Here in 1992 we present the fabulous 'What's the Scenario' remix. Whereas there are seven MCs, six which are in physical form and one which is in spiritual essence."
And he goes by the name of BP.
A peek at what was on my iPod, turntable, eight-track player, etc., this week.
UnKommon, Back in the Building
The Lynguistic Civilians, A Hard Act to Follow
The Aztext, The Sacred Document
The Aztext, Haven't You Heard?
UnKommon, Real Hip Hop