photography by Ben Sarle
Vermont has many claims to fame – Phish, Ben & Jerry’s, maple syrup, hip hop….hip hop? Let’s not kid ourselves, hip hop has never been our musical niche, but that’s all about to change. Enter stage right: The Lynguistic Civilians. This super-group is putting Burlington, Vermont on the map with their innovative, energetic hip hop. In the past year they’ve been named Best Vermont Hip Hop and Best Vermont Unsigned Band by Seven Days and were crowned 2011’s I Make Music champions.
In the first-ever Burlington-based I Make Music competition, the Lynguisitic Civilians triumphed against some of the greatest in local music, including K-Spitz, Y-DNA, Memaranda [who’s local hit ‘lil VTeezy’ is now on iTunes], and Principal Dean, winning a contract to record a demo or mastering time at Signal Kitchen. The Lynguistic Civilians took command of the stage in a way that couldn’t be ignored, glowing among a sea of flashing lights. The crowd showed an overwhelming amount of love and support for these talented musicians as they rocked Metronome into the night with their catchy beats and mesmerizing hooks.
Just last year, The Lynguistic Civilians dropped their first EP titled “A Hard Act to Follow” – which happens to be extremely apropos. Their style has been referred to as a hip hop hybrid of sorts, mixing funk and soul to create a sound that is all their own. The group’s influences are far less obscure – from an intro track in the air of Jurassic 5 to a “Dead Wrong” Notorious B.I.G. reference. It’s clear that a classic hip hop upbringing has played an imperative role in shaping the band’s own identity.
When I met with The Lynguistic Civilians at Burlington’s best kept secret, The S.P.A.C.E. Gallery, a gigantic studio collective for artists, it was snowing and the wind speed was considerably higher than I had ever remembered it being – a true Vermont winter day. I decided to temporarily escape the harsh elements and find shelter in the endless aisles of slightly used, slightly unusable treasures in the holy grail of used “stuff,” otherwise known as Recycle North. I flipped through some pages of a musty sci-fi book, picked up what looked like a glass deer ornament, and nearly bought a pocket-sized address book before I checked my watch and realized it was time to get down to business.
Naturally, I did some research before speaking with these critically acclaimed hip hoppin’ Burlingtonians. I knew there were seven of them in total – five emcees, a DJ, and a drummer – and let’s just say I wasn’t sure what to expect. After navigating a daunting maze of endless hallways strewn with art of all varieties, I found myself in room with twenty-foot ceilings that was mostly bare – save for a few awkwardly positioned high school-esque lockers and a black panel adorned with hand-whittled wooden magnets – and, of course, The Lynguistic Civilians.
There was endless chatter among the members: jokes about the night before, talk of plans for the evening, and even casual threats to punch one another in the face. The Lynguistic Civilians do not condone violence, of course, but they certainly encourage and enforce rough-housing and name-calling among themselves, and what happily-functioning family doesn’t? It was like watching the most ideal family reunion unfold, except there were no intoxicated relatives or fifth-cousins’ cousins. How was I going to temporarily sneak my way into this sacred bond for even just ten minutes? It didn’t seem possible.
One by one, the members took a brief hiatus from their brotherly exchanges to introduce themselves. “It’s nice to meet you!” they said, and, “Thanks so much for doing this, we really appreciate it!” With gentle handshakes, welcoming smiles, and the most pleasantly sincere “nice-to-meet-yous” I had ever heard, I had successfully become acquainted with The Lynguistic Civilians. They continued to joke around, make fun of one another, and throw confetti in each others’ faces (they jumped at the chance to participate in what turned out to be more of a pie-in-the-face confetti toss). It became clear that, by day, they are average Joes working downtown and in the food service industry. By night, they are spitting carefully crafted verses at Metronome and hitting the stage with artists like Killah Priest, Lyrics Born, and Lil’ Kim. The Lynguistic Civilians are humble folk leading normal lives, and they write relatable lyrics about their everyday lives as members of the Burlington community.
One of their most obvious skills, besides their honest approach to songwriting, is their ability to get a crowd, any crowd, moving and grooving. LC, one of the five emcees, can’t go unnoticed. She holds her own as the one and only female emcee in the male-majority group, and she brings such an infectious energy to their live performances that one can’t help but want to go home and try to emulate her rap verses in front of a mirror – when no one’s home of course. “We even get old people jive’in,” LC said with a chuckle and smile from ear to ear. “We’ve done some pretty ridiculous shows.”
Mike “Philly” Fulton, an emcee from the City of Brotherly Love, sat behind LC in the corner next to some drawings that looked miniature in comparison to his sizeable presence. When I asked the group how The Lynguisitic Civilians formed, he spoke up without the slightest hesitation. “We have so many different ideas that we mesh together as one. The crew was originally five, then it went to six, then it went to seven…as far as a collective and what we do material wise, everybody has their own input.” The group’s members are from all around – from Colorado to Connecticut – but they all found a home in Burlington and have a passion for rapping about what goes on here on day-to-day basis. They even recorded a video for their song “Paint It Red” that features shots of the crew hanging out beside the iconic whale tails on Interstate 89 as well as on our very own beloved Church Street.
Aside from expanding their already diverse array of multi-media outlets, The Lynguistic Civilians have also recently expanded their family with the addition of a new member, Indievigil. Indievigil is a talented drummer who has studied at Berkeley and has been playing drums since he was ten years old. He adds an invaluable element to the group that will only further propel them into the limelight. “We’re so grateful,” LC said regarding the addition. Part of what makes The Lynguistic Civilians such a dynamic and progressive group is their forward-thinking mindset. They aren’t afraid to stir the pot a little and try something new by adding a drummer, a move that might cause some groups to hesitate. On the contrary, the new addition worked entirely in their favor – Indievigil’s talent for drumming rounded out their sound and made them even more dynamic and smooth-flowing as a group.
When it comes to laying down tracks, one can only imagine how difficult it is to find a mutually agreed-upon practice time. There are seven people involved, which means seven different sets of obligations, double-shifts, and home lives. T-Noonz, emcee and a NYC native, shed some light on the group’s scheduling strategy and explained their somewhat unorthodox agenda. “Our hours are all over the place, we really have to put time into finding a window – right now the window is 12 o’clock on Tuesday nights.” That’s right, 12 midnight to 3 a.m. to be exact. I’d by lying, though, if I said that The Lynguisitic Civilians are unaccustomed to the late-night lifestyle most musicians have grown to love. The night before our interview they played for the Cider Awards show at the Bellows Falls Opera House, where they won the title Best Vermont Hip Hop Artist. T-Noonz recalled seeing “…a silhouette of Walshie in a top-hat.” Walshie Steeze, an energetic emcee with a love for adrenaline, rode around the gallery on a child-sized green tricycle that just so happened to match his shoes, nearly taking down a white backdrop from the photo shoot in the process. “I actually had a top hat video camera – the ‘Steeze’ cam – but the battery died,” Walshie said as he steered the wheel frantically like a ten-year old playing video games.
The members’ vibrant personalities and unique experiences add to the mix of their dynamic verses and songwriting capabilities. There’s no shortage of clever quips and anecdotes in their tracks on “A Hard Act to Follow,” and the same holds true for their copious amounts of yet-to-be-recorded material. As for plans for the future, The Lynguistic Civilians are currently mastering some of their material at Signal Kitchen as part of their I Make Music award. Monty Burns, emcee and The Lynguistic Civilian’s main producer, has a lot in mind for the group and their progression. He comfortably reclined in a black suede chair, looking composed, collected, and comfortable – the voice of reason in the group, no doubt. “One thing we want to do this year is push out new music. We come up with new music, but recording it – having the time and money – it’s just not there. It’s what we want to focus on this year.” I have no doubt that they’ll accomplish their goal in the coming year – the group is dedicated and focused, and more importantly, they love what they do.
DJ BP, aka “Beat Punisher” or “Boss Player,” is the brains behind the beats. He’s one of the more recent additions to the group, and holds down the fort with some of the most befitting samples around. DJ BP sat coolly perched on a few steps that led to yet another room in the gallery, this one with a jar of severed-doll heads sitting menacingly on a countertop. When asked if anyone had anything else to say, DJ BP chimed in with a heartfelt homage to The Lynguistic Civilians. “One thing I love about this group is that not only are we a family, but we progress. I’ve noticed even just from a few months ago, we’ve already made the right steps to better ourselves from the last show. We’re always learning and growing as a group. I think you need to have that in this industry if you’re going to survive.”
Survival is not something The Lynguistic Civilians need to worry about. With strong fan bases in Boston and Burlington, and connections being made at every show, they’re sure to keep playing for years to come. They’ve got show after show booked until early April and are only adding to their already epic repertoire of performances. They’ll be playing at Nectar’s, Brick House Dover in New Hampshire, The Pub in Stowe, The Reservoir in Waterbury, as well as many other locations.
The Lynguistic Civilians are entertainment at its best and a hip hop sensation with a flare for fun. Mike “Philly” Fulton puts it best, “It’s real hip hop, no ghost-writing and none of that. It’s all authentic.”
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