GET FAMILIAR: Raw Deff

Photo courtesy of   Brett North Photography

Photo courtesy of Brett North Photography

Raw Deff has been a standout spitter for years now, but 2018 saw him stepping it up on several important levels. There’s been a string of killer singles and guest verses, increasingly high profile shows — most recently, opening up for Jarren Benton in Manchester, NH — and he’s been working closely with the newly reunited So.802 crew, who are prepping for a huge 2019.

Here, though, we’re mostly looking back at some of the long, intertwined rap history shared by Vermont and New Hampshire. We’re also talking shop about songwriting, performance and influences. Enjoy.

VTHH: I first realized you were flames grade material when I saw that "40 Bars of Raw" video, but when I investigated, man, you already had a deep catalog. When do you feel like you started hitting the standards you heard in your head growing up?

Raw Deff: I mean, it seems like every year I look back and listen to my last project and feel like I’m already better than I was then. I think I reached a point of contentment with myself as an artist in 2016. Extraordinary Failure was the one that I really took seriously through the whole process of making it. If somebody who’s never heard of me asks me where to start in my catalog of music, I’d point them in that direction.

VTHH: I still think Uninvited Guest was one the best rap LPs of 2018. What was the process when you assembled that?

Raw Deff: The process for that project was pretty much just trying to find a perfect balance of substance and ignorance. I always tried to have a record for everybody on all my projects but at this point, I realized I just want to make the same kind of music I would listen to myself. Although I felt as if I kinda did that with Uninvited Guest unintentionally. But, I’d rather do it organically than forcefully so it worked out well.

VTHH: What is your process for writing verses? Are you an obsessive editor?

Raw Deff: When I write, usually the beat dictates everything. The mood, the tone, the cadence...is all a compliment to the beat (not sure if that’s a good or bad technique) but that’s just how I’ve done it for so long. Every now and then I’ll write in silence then surf through my beats and find which one it matches best with. I’ll usually write my rhyme, give it a day or two, go back and tweak a few things, depending if it’s gonna help in the recording process, then call it a wrap. (Pun intended.)

VTHH: When you started rhyming, where were you getting feedback and finding community? Were there locals doing hip hop yet?

Raw Deff: Yeah, I usually got decent feedback, I’ve been writing since I was 10 or so, I started publicly rapping in front of my friends around the age of 15. It was always positive feedback from them, but in retrospect that’s not really who I was looking for a reaction from. I didn’t know of too many locals who actually made records, just a few kids would rap in cyphers at parties with me. As far as cats that were actually recording, all I really knew was Breadtruck Productions. Then of course when XP came into the picture, he fucked up all my confidence in being the illest around. I wanted to quit after I first heard him.

VTHH: Amen to that. It looks like you managed to work things out with XP since you first heard him, though. How did the Hellrazors project with him come together? Is there more in the vault?

Raw Deff: Yeah, XP and I have put out a couple full length projects in the past. The first tape we did came about through mutual acquaintances. We linked up to record a song, found out we had similar interests, and within a few months we laid down roughly 20 records. We “released” our first project in 2012 then we dropped a follow up mixtape 2 Hell & Back in 2015.

Since then, we’ve just been focusing on our solo stuff with a few features from each other here and there but we’re still close. Music aside, that’s one of my best friends. And yes, there’s definitely music in the vault and new material on the way. Expect more this year.

VTHH: Who are you feeling in New England these days? Do you have local cats in rotation on your stereo?

Raw Deff: There’s a lot of dope talent in New England. Some are deservedly getting their shine. The ones that are are almost exclusively from Mass. Such as...Reks, Joyner, Millyz, Termanology, Slaine, Esoteric, Jaysaun, Krumbsnatcha, Edo G. I definitely gotta shout out the 656 Records crew up in Maine, all of them get busy.

Still, most days though, I find myself playing the same albums I grew up on from the 90’s. I definitely dig a lot of local cats too. As far as local musicians (VT & NH) that I keep in rotation...XP is always in there, The Aztext, Yung Breeze, Wombaticus Rex, Mike Wing, Maiden Voyage, Granite State, Drive, Jibba the Gent (just to name a few) there’s plenty more. There’s a lot of dope dudes around here at the moment. I expect to see a surplus in really good music come out of VT from here on out.

VTHH: You had a dope run of shows in 2018 -- do you have any favorites, in terms of crowds or venues?

Raw Deff: A versatile crowd is always a great crowd. To make fans out of people who not only don’t know who you are, but don’t listen to that genre of music on the regular, is always a dope feeling. My favorite show(s) this year was probably 656fest up in Maine this past summer. In terms of venues, the more intimate spots are dope because it makes the experience more personal on behalf of the audience. The bigger venues are fun just to wild out and be more physically expressive. Just to name a few, I’ve always loved The Shaskeen in Manchester NH. The Monkey House in Winooski is a great spot and always brings in a well educated hip hop crowd. And Higher Ground for the fact that it’s where I’ve seen some of the best shows I’ve ever been to. Hopefully I can scratch that venue off my bucket list in the very near future.

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Justin Boland