Larry Montague answers the phone, and I picture him standing on furniture or doing some acrobatic in order to receive my call; he’s informed me earlier that his new apartment offers just one solitary square foot of cell phone service. But as we get into the conversation, he talks with no evident restraints.
“You know me – I like to talk,” he says.
Montague has held two jobs since he graduated from Paul Smith’s College in 2012: protecting and restoring salmon and trout in the Pacific Northwest, and more recently raising his 10 month-old-daughter Francesca. All the while he’s stayed active as a musician.
“Once it’s in your blood – once you find out what makes you tick, you never stop.”
I met Montague during my first semester at the college, which was his last, when our paths crossed at the decades-old Paul Smith’s Open Mic. His performance was always a highlight for me; he would put on an instrumental version of music his brother had made and perform a live rap. Despite this style of music being under-represented at the Open Mics, his lyrics would almost unfailingly be about nature and environmental conscience and consumerism (topics on which I was eager to gain perspective). One night I approached him and discussed shared music tastes, and he invited me to download his music free from his website. I promptly felt that I had unlocked a hidden corner of the music world that blended hip hop and environmental philosophy. Lyrics that dropped references to Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and the near extinction of buffalo had me equal parts grooving in my desk chair and pondering the deep sociological issues of our consumerist culture (both things I like to do, but never expected to do together).
When I drop the term “environmental hip hop” to describe Montague’s music genre during our phone call, he stops me cold and gets pretty serious.
“I’ve been making hip hop for 14 years, half my life. I have to consider myself a true hip hop artist. Because of that, I have to totally rebel against the term ‘environmental hip hop.’” To him, the term is cringe-worthy, not to mention its synonym ‘eco-rap.’ Montague makes his reasoning plain.
“I know the cards I’m playing with.” He points out that he’s a white guy, pretty average, from the suburbs, and he’s talking about [sic] “hippy dippy shit” in his music.
“I’m like a great candidate for the Ellen DeGeneres Show. I could try to get money and get famous as a novelty act,” he says. As environmentalism creeps into the mainstream, which indeed it has begun to do already, he would be appreciated not for his art but for the role he would fill. But it’s clear this is an off-putting prospect for him; he’s after something more honest.
“I just like spreading music. If I have an agenda, that’s it!”
Montague started writing music since age 14 and continued throughout high school and community college. His younger brother began writing music a bit later, when he went to college in California.Montague transferred into Paul Smith’s College. Pretty soon they were sharing beat tapes and writing albums through an organic, though long-distance, process. Montague then played a show at Paul Smiths’ Bobcat Lounge, and calls it a “huge milestone” in his life. The amalgamation of students, professors, parents, and old friends in the audience solidified for him the significance of his pursuits in hip hop.
“It just so happened that I got into hip hop so feverishly that it sprouted into something that now drives me in my life.”
And the message of that music is sure to drive others. Montague cites the “Hip Hop Declaration of Peace” as a major parallel to the ideals in his music. The declaration was written by prominent figures of the music genre, and is made up of 18 principles of hip hop to separate it from its less respectable off-shoots.
“[The declaration] was put together as a response to the way hip hop appears in the mainstream… ‘this is what hip hop is all about: we don’t support the discrimination of people and sexes,’ etcetera.”
Besides the declaration’s principles, Montague draws influences from De La Soul (a socially conscious early 90s hip hop group that was the antithesis of the emerging ‘gansta rap’), Muir and Emerson, Native American philosophy and religion (with which he identifies most, despite not seeing himself as religious), and who he considers the “early day rappers”: Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, and Marvin Gaye.
But most of all, it’s apparent during our conversation that he wants to make a difference for the better with his music. Be it through encouraging environmental consciousness, denouncing disrespectful genres and professing hip hop’s true values, or even just setting forth personal ideals that he can be proud to pass on to his young daughter.
“My wife and I want to teach her the hard skills that are gonna matter.”
The extent of good Montague has already done is significant. He will remain on this course for some time to come.
Blake Parker is a fourth year Environmental Science major from Blacksburg, Virginia, and is known as a member of the band, The Fox and the Feather. Aside from writing, he enjoys music of all varieties, Studio Ghibli movies, and hammocks. He hopes to wind up in a journalism field relating to environmental issues or music, after taking some time post-graduation to explore the US by way of seasonal environmental jobs. He has been called affable, pensive, and tall, and is always excited to make new friends!