(Tru North Records, CD)
On the surface, Burlington probably doesn't look like a hip-hop haven. Can a city lacking skyscrapers and subway routes produce quality urban music? A new compilation CD, Greetings From Vermont: An Introduction to Burlington's DJs & MCs, is a declaration to the affirmative.
The disc is the first release from local hip-hop champion Fattie B.'s Tru North Records, a label he started with Nectar's/Metronome owners Chris Walsh and Damon Brink. If the 25 rock-solid cuts on this album are any indication, they've made a worthwhile investment.
Greetings features nearly every working hip-hop act in the area. Scene staples Konflik, DJ A-Dog and Future Methods are joined by new blood such as The Aztext, Burnt and Neighborhood.
The disc kicks off with the Loyalists' "North Winds." The group recently relocated to sunny California, but their tight rhymes and frenetic DJ work are certainly missed 'round these parts.
Newcomers The Aztext seem destined for bigger things. Their inspired "It's True" is a rapid-fire love letter to the genre itself. The cut takes listeners on a mini-history of hip-hop, with legendary artists from Big Daddy Kane to Nas, name-dropped over boom-bap beats and juke joint piano.
Burnt is another fresh talent. His "Reason For Living" boasts remarkably realized production and a low-toned, almost sinister flow. Neighborhood's Atlanta-influenced "Holla" boasts breakneck raps that rival those of vintage Outkast.
Local turntablists get their due as well. B-town vet A-Dog serves up "He Gets Down," which kicks off with Wu Tang Clan superstar GZA giving props to our local wax-hound. DJ Cre8 offers "Innovate Cre8," an edgy track featuring snaky guitar and nimble scratching. Hip-hop shopkeep Darnell Burners' "Hate Myself Breaks" utilizes a bluesy vocal sample to paint a picture of romantic rejection. The bongos and breathy whispers in the tune's middle section are an especially nice touch.
Lee & S.I.N. give us the earnest "I Pray," which finds the duo rapping to God about various social ills. N. Cruz's "Vigilante's Theme" pilfers spoken-word bits from Apocalypse Now, as well as snippets of Johnny Depp's jittery performance in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. The tune's minimalist rhythms and spookhouse aura are right up my alley.
Compelling from start to finish, Greetings From Vermont proves that Burlington hip-hop not only exists, it's positively flourishing. I can't think of a better CD with which to launch a label. Looking forward to hearing more.