More on the hip-hop story, with a little help
Last week, I wrote an article for this paper titled “Livin’ in the 802,” which highlighted some of the up-and-coming hip-hop artists in and around Vermont. As the genre and attendant culture has grown in popularity and relevance nationwide, so, too, has the lakeside hamlet of Burlington seen an increase of hip-hop artists and fans. It was my feeling the genre had been vastly under-reported in Seven Days. Being in a unique position to do something about it, I decided to explore the current scene.
Despite its front-page over-selling as “VT’s hip-hop history,” the article was intended to simply serve as a primer for those who, like myself, were woefully unfamiliar with the local scene. While some degree of historical perspective was offered, in no way was the piece meant to serve as the definitive record. To do that, I’d need a series of articles, if not an entire issue.
During my brief tenure as music editor, I have on numerous occasions come clean about my relative ignorance not only about local hip-hop but the entire genre. By committing to stories such as this one, I hope my education will be swift and, ultimately, comprehensive.
So it’s always a pleasure when folks who have knowledge to share write in with previously untapped perspectives. Such was the case last week when a letter from Infinite Culcleasure — better known to local club-goers as DJ Infinite — slid across my desk. Here it is:
Let us please set the record straight: A conversation about “VT’s hip-hop history,” especially in Burlington, is grossly incomplete without acknowledgment of WRUV and Melo Grant. If you grew up in Vermont and loved hip-hop, you probably grew up listening to Grant’s voice while she spun music you hadn’t heard before anywhere else. Melo has been playing hip-hop in Burlington for almost 20 years.
I touched down in B-town in 1991, before Red Square existed. Club Metronome was Border, Second Floor was Club Toast and Fattie Bumbalattie was spelling his name out one syllable at a time on the mic beside a very impressive acid-jazz group.
From 1991 until Higher Ground opened in Winooski, one could only find local hip-hop publicly in two places: WRUV by way of the incomparable Melo Grant, and a young Latino stand-out by the name of DJ Luis Calderon, or in the basement/attic/ apartment of some misplaced urban impresario. Before the noise ordinance became unreasonable, we didn’t have to rely on downtown venues to have a good time. We’ve still got the flyers to prove it.
Just to give an example of what the social climate was at the time, the President’s office at UVM was taken over by Black, Asian and Hispanic students in order to force a more diverse curriculum and faculty on campus. A very popular radio station operating in the area would occasionally announce their slogan, “100% hip-hop and rap-free radio” just to clarify where they stood in terms of hip-hop music — although they did play Salt-N-Pepa and Naughty By Nature.
I won’t get too deep into the politics of how hip-hop culture has been received by Vermont in the past decade. But I do strongly suggest that Vermont hip-hop historians dig a little deeper, while being cautious of romanticizing a so-called hip-hop renaissance in Vermont.
Some local hip-hop honorable mentions and shout-outs include: DJ A-Dog, Anton, Benny L, Big Country, Big J, Dubee, ELV, Joey K, Rhino, and Rugger (Tim Diaz), Akbar a.k.a. First God, Trey, Trauma Unit, Shabar, Flex Tone Massive, 69 Main Street, 25 Orchard Terrace, L Burners, Higher Ground (in Winooski), Club Toast, Vinyl Destination and Pure Pop.
As I said in the original article, hip-hop has been alive and well in Vermont almost as long as the genre has been in existence. However, in recent years, local fans have been treated to an explosion of artists and promoters doing things that have gone largely unrecognized by Vermont media.
It was my hope that last week’s feature would serve as an introduction to folks who are interested in hip-hop but know little about the scene in their own town. The piece was not the last that will be written about Vermont hip-hop in these pages, and the artists featured in it are not the only ones who deserve attention.
I’d like to thank Mr. Culcleasure for taking the time to set me straight. Perhaps at some point down the line, we’ll give Vermont hip-hop the “Ken Burns treatment.”
I’d also like to thank the local hip-hop artists who reached out and introduced themselves to me since the article ran — I want to know who you are. In the words of GI Joe, knowing is half the battle. Or, as GTD might say, kill the disease, spread the cure.
That said, I’m not a mind reader. If you’re upset that you’ve never seen your name in print, do something about it. “Livin’ in the 802” was written because people like Nastee and Burnt MD made conscious efforts to bring me up to speed on what they do. That’s how it works.
So come on, Burlington. Holla back.