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Can Vermont Rap?

  • Maiden Voyage, a group of area rappers, pose with two horses at the home of the Jarvis family in Windsor. From left are Ethan Sumner of Claremont, Taylor Carter of Hartland, Nate Jarvis of Windsor and Sean McNew of Windsor.<br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Maiden Voyage, a group of area rappers, pose with two horses at the home of the Jarvis family in Windsor. From left are Ethan Sumner of Claremont, Taylor Carter of Hartland, Nate Jarvis of Windsor and Sean McNew of Windsor.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ethan Sumner of Claremont, Sean McNew of Windsor and Nate Jarvis of Windsor listen to Taylor Carter of Hartland (wearing bandana) freestyle rap during a practice session of their rap group, Maiden Voyage, at Jarvis' home in Windsor.<br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Ethan Sumner of Claremont, Sean McNew of Windsor and Nate Jarvis of Windsor listen to Taylor Carter of Hartland (wearing bandana) freestyle rap during a practice session of their rap group, Maiden Voyage, at Jarvis' home in Windsor.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nate Jarvis talks about which song to record next while pulling up a document of lyrics at his home in Windsor.<br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Nate Jarvis talks about which song to record next while pulling up a document of lyrics at his home in Windsor.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Maiden Voyage, a group of area rappers, pose with two horses at the home of the Jarvis family in Windsor. From left are Ethan Sumner of Claremont, Taylor Carter of Hartland, Nate Jarvis of Windsor and Sean McNew of Windsor.<br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Ethan Sumner of Claremont, Sean McNew of Windsor and Nate Jarvis of Windsor listen to Taylor Carter of Hartland (wearing bandana) freestyle rap during a practice session of their rap group, Maiden Voyage, at Jarvis' home in Windsor.<br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Nate Jarvis talks about which song to record next while pulling up a document of lyrics at his home in Windsor.<br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Complete this multiple choice test: Vermont is known for a) cows b) maple syrup c) covered bridges d) rap music e) all of the above.

If you answered “e,” you’re closer to the truth than you might think. On the surface, putting the words “Vermont” and “rap” in the same sentence seems like one of those weird word association games that a shrink would foist on you to see how your mind works, but if Nate Jarvis, a 19-year-old from Windsor, has his way, being a Vermont rapper won’t be as counterintuitive as it first seems.

“People say, how can you rap? Well, it’s just music,” Jarvis said. He and his two friends, Taylor Carter and Shawn McNew, are hanging out in a basement room — call it their man cave — of the house Jarvis lives in with his mother in Windsor.

This is where Jarvis, Carter, McNew, and a new band member, Ethan Sumner, who call their band Maiden Voyage, record their tracks using the Maschine, a computer-based, electronic music machine that supplies a wide range of musical styles, sounds and instrumentation, while the members of Maiden Voyage supply the rapping. They also play instruments on occasion.

“That’s what you get confronted with, living in Vermont,” Jarvis said. “That there’s no rap in Vermont.”

“The first thing they say to you is, Dude, you’re white and from Vermont,” said Carter. “But it’s music. I have the freedom to write my own life in poetry.”

Carter, skinny with dark hair, and McNew, also slight of build, with long hair, are slouched in chairs while Jarvis, who has an open, amiable expression, sits next to the Maschine. The three friends graduated this spring from Windsor High School. What happens next is the $64,000 question; or, calculating for inflation, the $640,000 question. Where will life take them?

Carter, 18, is studying art in his first year at Colby-Sawyer College in New London; McNew, 18, is working at Kleen Laundry in Lebanon and thinking about studying meteorology; and Jarvis is working with his father in his automotive shop in Hartland and thinking about leaving Vermont, maybe, to try rapping in a place like California, where there’s not only a bigger audience for rap but an industry behind it, and venues where you can play.

The Upper Valley is, to say the least, not teeming with clubs where you can listen to or play rap, so for now Maiden Voyage is confined, mostly, to the basement studio, although Jarvis and Carter did perform at Windsor High School, and Jarvis, at the invitation of a former teacher, rapped for a fourth-grade class in Barre.

The young men don’t conform to the stereotype of the gangsta rapper and they reject the stereotyped subject matter. “We can’t really rap about guns and shoot-outs, it’d be a joke,” Jarvis said. “People think rap is really easy but it’s not. Rapping is a lot harder than people tend to think. What you hear on the radio and what you hear on MTV is totally not what I listen to.”

The rappers they admire — Brother Ali, Atmosphere, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest — talk about, Jarvis said, “real people, not like, I got money, I got girls.”

The rapper Slug talks about problems at work, family, the day-to-day stuff that makes up people’s lives, Jarvis said. Another rapper, Murs, is a vegan who doesn’t do drugs. A guy named George Watsky does poetry slams about climate change, and Talib Kweli raps about politics, education, drug abuse, you name it.

Maiden Voyage’s songs are about what they know. Growing up, skate boarding, home, relationships. It would be hard for them, said McNew, to run through the usual litany of gangsta rap subjects. “They’re about music, drugs, sex, money,” McNew said.

“That’d be like me rapping about money,” Jarvis said.

But their music also tackles such issues as capitalism, politics, the environment, the preoccupation with social media. They’re idealists, still. The young men mull over what kind of future they, and their generation, are facing, and they’re not sure they like what they see.

“The world population is at seven billion,” Carter points out.

“Yeah, that’s crazy,” Jarvis said. “Yeah, we’re pretty much screwed.”

“A thing for me personally is people who don’t believe in global warming,” Carter said.

“I don’t claim to be some scientist but you don’t have to be a super genius to see something’s going on,” Jarvis added.

“You barely see little kids go outside anymore,” McNew said. “All the little kids have cell phones. I didn’t get my first cell phone until 10th grade.”

“What I really want to do is to go to school and be a speaker, that’d be the sweetest thing,” Carter said. “I want to get my point of view across, get kids to see that life isn’t so clean-cut. This is a good time for me, I’m figuring out life.”

One of Maiden Voyage’s songs, Takin’ over the nation, stakes out their position.

“The fact is I’m done toyin’ with the average,” Jarvis raps. It goes on.

“Step outside your comfort zone and look outside the box ...

We’re takin’ over the nation from the basement that we’re placed in.”

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.