Burlington DJ Melo Grant has been sharing her passion for hip-hop in Vermont for nearly 40 years
Vermont's hip-hop scene has grown rapidly in recent years. But for almost 40 years, Burlington-based DJ Melo Grant has been one of Vermont’s foremost purveyors of hip-hip.
Generations of local rap fans — and rappers such as North Ave Jax and Rivan C. — have been raised on her weekly radio show “Cultural Bunker” on WRUV, the University of Vermont’s radio station.
Vermont Public’s Marlon Hyde spoke with Grant about how Vermont’s hip-hop scene has changed over the years, and why she started the “Cultural Bunker” in 1984. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Melo Grant: So when I originally started the show, I started the show, and it was an alternative music show. So I was playing things like Killing Joke, the Gang of Four, The Cure, and I would also mix it up a little bit with some dance music. And it was like that for pretty much the first two years. Now, in the meantime, I'm going back and forth from New York City. And I'm still going out in New York City. And I'm hearing like, hip-hop growing in New York City. And my friends are getting into, you know, oh, Afrika Bambaataa and the Cold Crush Brothers. And then there is this, "Oh, you gotta hear this kid, LL Cool J," and then it's like, "Oh, I get back. Oh, the Beastie Boys."
So I'm hearing all of this. And then I start to incorporate it into the "Cultural Bunker." And the whole thought around the "Cultural Bunker" was giving people shelter, like musical shelter, that it was a bunker to protect you, but also to educate you in a way that people weren't hearing up here.
"The whole thought around the 'Cultural bunker' was was giving people shelter, like musical shelter, that it was a bunker to protect you, but also to educate you in a way that people weren't hearing up here."DJ Melo Grant
Marlon Hyde: From your perspective, over the last almost 40 years, how has the music industry in Vermont changed? How has the "Cultural Bunker" pushed the culture forward?
One of the best compliments I got from someone significantly younger than I was, "Wow, your set is so much better than Spotify." I'm like, thank you. But that's the whole — you know, you can listen to streaming services all day every day. But are they going to [be] really properly catered to you, because there is something to think about? All right, I have these listeners. How am I going to mix it up, because I do mix it up a lot as well. With different types of sounds. And sometimes I play things I don't even like, I play things that you know, this isn't for me, but it's an interesting sound or is from an interesting place. Because, of course, hip-hop is spread across the world. So now it's about, "Oh, let's hear what they're doing in different countries. Let's hear what they're doing, you know, in different parts of our country."
Hip-hop was developed by diverse populations of artists in some of the country’s largest cities. What is it like to play this music in one of the whitest states in the country? Do the demographics here impact your approach?
No! No! Because it was! It was because it was like, the whitest state, it was like, "Well, what am I doing?" Well, first of all, I played music so I could survive. Music for me was a way of survival. I surrounded myself with people who were involved in music, involved in the arts, involved in expressing themselves in different ways. Because these people weren't racist. And it was like survival.
When I joined the college radio station, that is the only reason I finished at the University of Vermont, was through everyone that I met and the opportunities that I got playing music and starting to to DJ. I was like, people need this, people need this, people need to understand, and it was playing music to fight certain stereotypes that existed.
With the wave of new hip-hop acts gaining popularity, where do you see the Vermont hip-hop scene going?
I still would like to see more performance venues support local acts, I think that getting out in front of the people is really important. And for hip-hop, it's part of the experience. And I would like to see people start to think out of the box in terms of how to make the show successful. I am encouraged by some of the acts right now that are doing their thing. And getting out there and getting themselves known more nationally. I think that's really encouraging. But I think there's just like, a huge scene right now, there really truly is, that doesn't get enough support.
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