(Elevated Press Records, digital download)
When the Aztext ’s last effort, The Sacred Document , rocked local ears in 2007, the trio stood at the head of the class in terms of both Vermont hip-hop and, arguably, local music in general. Since then, as the talented trio has maintained a low profile, Burlington’s hip-hop scene has undergone something of a renaissance. Where local hip-hop was once defined by a handful of disparate artists making ripples independently, the scene has jelled into a community, with several artists seemingly poised to make a cannonball splash. The prevailing wisdom was that the Aztext, widely acknowledged as the cream of the local crop in 2007, would be the first to make the leap. Almost four years later, and with a dynamic series of releases on deck for 2011, the group may finally make good on that paused promise. Exhibit A: Who Cares If We’re Dope? Vol. 1.
Rather than release a single full-length, the Aztext are taking advantage of a shifting paradigm in the music industry and debuting the album online as a series of “episodes,” each helmed by a different producer. It’s a savvy move. One, by dropping a new EP every two months, the band remains relevant long after the newness of a single release might fade. Two, by enlisting a variety of producers, the Aztext can highlight their signature versatility without sacrificing the continuity crucial to a cohesive album. Three, the EP is just friggin’ sick.
Vol. 1 was produced by longtime friend E-Train , of Vermont-born and San Fran-based hip-hop outfit the Loyalists . But he’s not the only notable guest. The lead cut, “Time Is Just a Glare” features VT expat Wombaticus Rex  providing a cunning counter to Learic and Pro’s smooth, cerebral flow.
“Just Like That” highlights the Aztext’s greatest asset: the contrasting interplay between MCs. Learic balances Pro’s high-flying linguistic acrobatics with a measured yet aggressive cool.
“Rainy Day” is signature Aztext. Smart, subtle and incisive, it reaffirms everything we love but had perhaps forgotten about the group during their recent hiatus.
The EP closes on “Waiting,” which features Pro unleashing tongue-tying lines with startling ease over a sinewy half-time bounce.
It’s a shame we haven’t heard from the Aztext since George W. Bush was president. But Vol. 1 alone is worth the wait. Who cares if they’re dope? We do.
Who Cares If We’re Dope? Vol. 1 is available at iTunes, eMusic and Juno.