(Self-released, CD, digital download)
For a time, the mere existence of a hip-hop scene in Vermont was news to some, despite the fact that the genre’s local roots run decades deep. The misplaced sense of novelty and attendant hype surrounding homegrown hip-hop have faded in recent years, but the quality has not. In the last month alone, records by the Lynguistic Civilians and Humpasaur Jones have reaffirmed hip-hop’s place in the larger Vermont mix. Completing the trifecta, the Aztext are set to release their latest, Four, reemerging from pseudo-retirement to remind us they’re still a force.
Four finds MCs Pro and Learic in an interesting place, artistically speaking. Formed in 2005 and cousins of another seminal Vermont hip-hop group, the Loyalists, the Aztext have graduated from the kids-most-likely-to-succeed to some of local rap’s elder statesmen. They are also, well, elder. Careers and families have necessarily cut into the amount of time the duo can record and perform. The record’s defining theme is reconciling grown-up responsibilities with the ambition of youth. Yet this is not a hip-hop version of dad-rock (dad-hop?). Backed by a consortium of able producers — all overseen by executive producer Dub Sonata — the Aztext’s nuanced riffs on getting older bump and sizzle with vitality and signature wit.
The record opens in classically bombastic boom-bap fashion on “Press It Onto Wax.” The track has an old- school feel but addresses a decidedly modern topic: the rise of MP3s in a genre that still prizes vinyl. That dichotomy is mirrored by the art on the CD itself, which is made to look like a record, courtesy of local artist, DJ and MC Fattie B.
Over a sped-up loop of the piano line from Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks,” “All I Know” finds the duo pondering their legacy and the impact they’ve had on a new generation of local MCs. It also finds them singing — or rap-singing, anyway. While their monotone crooning leaves something to be desired, lyrically it’s a warm, thoughtful cut.
That sense of self-reflection continues throughout the record, from the electro-tinged title track to Pro’s dissection of his daily grind on “Just Bein’ Me” to Learic’s clever, amusing take on being the old guy at the party on “Drunk.” Though the subject matter has changed, the two display the same sly wordplay and acrobatic flow they have for the better part of a decade.
The album closes on “Escape,” which features guest vocals from the Lynguistic Civilians’ MC LC. The song begins like a hip-hop daydream, as Pro wistfully longs for stardom, fame and wealth. But it closes with the rapper revealing that, with his family, career and music, he already has everything he’s dreamed about. “At 13 Prolific, at 30 I live this,” he says, suggesting the Aztext’s real escape might just be music itself.
Four by the Aztext is available at theaztext.com. The Aztext play an album-release show at Nectar’s on Saturday, November 2.