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99 Neighbors Are Keeping It In-house

The Vermont-based hip-hop collective talk us through the pros and cons of rolling nine members deep.

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In today’s climate, there are many elements that need to come together to build a successful career in music. Obviously you need to be able to write, record, perform, produce, DJ, create content, do interviews, solve complex maths equations, do a backflip, and speak at least three languages—and that’s just on the creative side. As you can imagine, that results in a lot of outsourcing for many artists. Luckily, in the case of Burlington, Vermont’s 99 Neighbors, they can do almost all of it themselves—excluding the backflips and complex maths equations, that is.

The nine member collective was founded by hip-hop vocalists Sam Paulino, HANKNATIVE, photographer Shane Kaseta, and producer Somba and is the result of friends combining their talents and maximising their efforts. It also includes additional members Swank, Aidan Ostby, Jared Fier, and Julian Segar-Reid (aka Juju), and they all live in a house together—talk about keeping it tight. Fresh off the stage following their high energy performance at the first ever New York City edition of the infamous Rolling Loud Festival, I caught up with the three vocalists in the crew: Hank, Sam, and Swank, to hear more about their unique approach to hip-hop and how they are helping put Burlington on the map.

Can you tell me who all the members in the 99 Neighbors crew are and what they do?
Hank: So there’s nine of us in total. We’re all from Vermont, aside from our DJ who is from Massachusetts. We have four vocalists, two producers, a DJ, a photographer, and a manager.

How did it come about, who are the founding members and how did you start it?
We’ve all known each other for years, before the music. Some of us since high school or even middle school. A lot of us went to South Burlington [and] we’d meet through sports or freestyling at parties. There’s an age range too. But what really united us was taking music seriously. We made a little group out of all the people we knew in Vermont who wanted to do something and that group has grown as we’ve assembled our team. It’s all made up of people with the same goals in mind.

Hank: We’re just trying to think of ways to elevate what we were doing which was just recording demos and playing small shows. Swank was overseas in London at the time and he wanted to come home and join. It was just fluid because we welcome family, and what that means in 99 terms is someone with the same goals, intentions, and willingness to create.

What kinds of things do you think you need to consider when forming a collective that a solo artist might not have to?
[Laughs] A lot more then we did.

Swank: Patience.

Sam: Definitely patience. You just have to accept that, you know, with nine people you’re going to have a lot of different opinions, different tastes. Luckily we mostly grew up as friends so we have a good understanding between us.

Hank: It’s about who you select [and] we’re blessed to have nine people who work well together.

I guess there would be a lot of advantages to it too. You can get most of what you need to do done in-house right?
Yeah absolutely, everything is done in-house. The songs, music videos, artwork. We even bought a green screen to shoot with.

Cool. Do you guys have like an HQ?
Our house.

Damn. You all live together?
Yeah, we’ve always just made music at our house. We’ll go to a studio if we need to track something specific there but most of our recordingS are done in-house and when I say that I mean literally in our house.

Sam: Our last album was made in Somba’s [producer] bedroom. Just one tiny room in the house.

What’s the scene like in Burlington?
It’s a college town so pretty much every apartment has college students in it. It’s a fun place to grow up but it’s also a little dangerous.

Sam: It’s very young but very old in history if that makes sense. There’s a bit of a scene for like jam bands and stuff but we were probably some of the first ones of our generation to start putting out hip-hop music. Usually if you go out to a local bar it will be like a jazz band or a rock band playing.

Hank: I think our area is seeing a bit of a new wave going on and we’re sort of a part of that which is dope. We’re starting to see some young people making cool stuff.

Ok, so there’s a scene that’s bubbling in Burlington!

Hank: There’s something happening for sure.

What can you tell me about some of the people you’ve collaborated with outside the core 99 crew?
Brasstracks is dope. Shout out Ivan by the way.

Swank: Brasstracks is someone I personally looked up to, being a Soundcloud head, you would just see his name on all these tracks with all these different artists. When we had the opportunity to work with him it was just like, “Holy Shit”. It was really cool.

Hank: We work internally and externally, it just depends on the sound we’re going for. There’s definitely stuff where we try to keep it all internal, because there’s a lot of us still, but there’s some tracks when we’re looking for other inspiration and other inspiration. You can’t do everything, you know? We definitely look for more, especially when another artist gets it like he did.

Sam: Yeah right now we’re definitely honing in on the internal, trying to be our best selves and then from there anything could happen.

You might all have different answers for this one, but if you could collaborate with anyone, who would you choose?
Hank: Isaiah Rashad. That’s Hank Collins, you can find me at 99 Neighbors management @… [Laughs]

Swank: Tierra Whack. I just feel like we would come up with the craziest shit bro, oh my god. That’s Swank, Connor Stankovich uh, I’ll give you my number.

Sam: That’s a really hard question but off the top off my head, Bon Iver.

Hank: Also T-Pain man if you out there and you reading this, god damn.

You never know! Hey I really dig the video for ‘Fake Pods’. I feel like you were channeling some serious…
Sam: Redneck energy. [Laughs]

Exactly! Can you talk me through making that clip?
Swank: So that’s where we lived this summer. We lived in Burlington and we decided to get out of Burlington for a while for distraction purposes so we moved to the middle of fucking nowhere, boonies type shit.

Hank: Northeast Kingdom, Vermont. Very close to the Canadian border.

Sam: Where every season is huntin’ season! [Laughs]

Swank: Theres like one bar, one grocery store. Woods everywhere. When we got out there we realised this place is kind of cool, if you like the outdoors I guess.

Hank: Its not my thing but I have family members that are from that life. My grandparents adopted me, I was raised by them. My grandfather is a full blooded redneck. So for me, it was a nice homage to go back there and pay respect to the roots and what I was raised with and see everyone else get into it too, because it’s a distinct difference [to] the way we were raised. We embraced it and we made it fun.

So we’re standing backstage at Rolling Loud NYC, you guys just got off stage. How was your Rolling Loud experience?
Swank: Yeah it was really good, we recently played at Rolling Loud in San Fransisco, we’re playing LA soon too. They kind of look after you in that way.

Sam: It was cool man, the crowd was really cool and LA is going to be dope.

Lastly, who are you guys trying to catch today?
Swank: Young Thug.

Sam: A$AP Rocky for sure.

Follow 99 Neighbors here and check out their new ‘19’ below.

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