(Elevated Press Records, digital download)
With Who Cares if We’re Dope? Vol. 4, the Aztext conclude one of the more innovative local recording projects to hit Queen City ears in recent memory. To recap, the longtime Burlington hip-hop stalwarts reemerged from a lengthy hiatus late last year with Who Cares if We’re Dope? Vol. 1, the debut installment of a four-part series of EPs released in three-month intervals over the past nine months. The brilliance of that approach was twofold. First, rather than unveil one full-length record that would likely have faded from memory after a few months, the Aztext remained relevant by reintroducing themselves to local audiences at the change of each season. Second, savvy marketing aside, it was also a cagey artistic maneuver.
A different producer helmed each volume of Dope, allowing the Aztext to showcase their remarkable versatility. Vol. 1 featured the knob-tweaking talents of B-Town expat E Train, formerly of the Loyalists, and leaned heavily on a classic boom-bap hip-hop aesthetic. Vol. 2, produced by fellow ex-Loyalist Touchphonics, veered into up-tempo club-banging joints. On Vol. 3, the Aztext explored retro hip-hop with classic funk and R&B beats, courtesy of Romanian producer XPL. On the fourth and final installment, MCs Pro and Learic tab Dub Sonata. The renowned New York City-based producer imbues the Aztext’s finale with cinematic bombast, drawing the curtain to a close in celebratory fashion.
The opening cut, “Moment in Rhyme,” is a multigenerational tour de force. It features rapper Craig G, who is probably best known to mainstream audiences as the man who helped coordinate the battle rap scenes in the Eminem pseudo-biopic 8 Mile. The rappers trade verses expounding on their earliest experiences with hip-hop. Craig G ruminates on Run DMC in the 1980s, while his younger counterparts, Pro and Learic, recall jumping around to House of Pain in Reebok Pumps in the 1990s.
Nostalgia is a theme throughout Vol. 4. One reason Aztext faded from view in recent years was that, well, they grew up. Jobs and families took precedence over rhymes and beats. Now older and wiser, the Aztext look back on their relationship with life and music. “Without You” examines artistic influence — as in, which bands shaped them and, now, as the 802’s elder hip-hop statesmen, their role in influencing the next generation. “My Thoughts” and “Peace of Mind” touch on handling adult responsibilities while clinging to childhood dreams. EP and series closer “Say No More” is something of a retrospective, a clever, brash confrontation of the incongruities of being a hip-hop act from rural Vermont, something the band has had to deal with since their 2007 debut. Witty and cunning, it’s classic Aztext, and a fitting finish to a career-defining project.
Who Cares if We’re Dope? Vol. 4 is available at theaztext.com.