“Now understand, this is pretty much the only real hip-hop shit comin’ out of Vermont right now.” While some — The Aztext, GTD, et al. — might (rightly) quibble with that introductory statement from Boston’s Statik Selektah, the host of VT Union’s  latest effort The Return could be forgiven if he’s surprised at — or, perhaps, unaware of — the wealth and quality of hip-hop in the 802. Hell, I was. In fact, Dakota, Nastee, Manus, B-Free and DJ A-Dog essentially taught my personal crash course in Green Mountain hip-hop with their 2007 debut Tha Mixtape. But if that album was the survey course, The Return is the thesis. Class is in session.
Produced almost entirely by VTU honcho Nastee — the multitalented emcee scores an assist from Hot 97’s Bobby Konders on “On My Grind” — the 22-track epic covers a strikingly wide range of stylistic terrain. It’s clear VT Union have their sights set on bringing national recognition to hip-hop “at the top of the map.” With that in mind, unscrupulous critics could accuse them of pandering to mass appeal — i.e., the “throw enough shit against the wall” theory. The problem with that notion is, while they dabble in more commercially viable fare than on Tha Mixtape, they do it well and with trademark wit and charm.
“Handz on It” serves up more than enough sinister bounce to satisfy the club-banger set. Meanwhile, “Feelz Good” checks in with a skillfully funkdafied radio single — that is, if Vermont had hip-hop radio. Underground purists might turn up their noses at the track. But they don’t have to wait long to find a cut to fit their fancies.
While each member of VT Union boasts unique style and flow, the disc hits its stride when the extended family drops in. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Eat,” which features a fiery back and forth between Nastee and noted Burlington MC Burnt MD of GTD. The former’s gruff, blunt delivery complements the latter’s smooth aggression, resulting in one of the album’s finer cuts.
The lengthy guest list includes an impressive roster of national luminaries. But Vermont talents — S.I.N & Lee, Mecca, N.Y.T. and The Mighty Konflik, among many others — make some impressive cameos and hold their own alongside heavy hitters such as Craig G. & Silent Majority, R.A. The Rugged Man and Re-Up Gang’s Ab Liva.
So, Statik Selektah — did I spell that right? — VT Union aren’t the only real hip-hop artists in Vermont. But as The Return proves, they are among the best.