- Raw Deff x THEN WHAt, The Others II
Raw Deff occupies a strange place in the Vermont hip-hop scene. For years, the rapper has collaborated with many of the 802's best, playing shows everywhere he can and earning so much respect that he's often called one of the best MCs in the state. Thing is, though, he's actually from Lebanon, N.H.
Raw Deff's latest album marks his second collaboration with producer/Renaissance man THEN WHAt, who also raps under the memorable moniker Selfish Presley. Since we're talking location, THEN WHAt is technically a Vermont expat, having relocated to the endless sun of New Mexico. But he's still an active collaborator and creative consultant for a Green Mountain scene on which he left a big mark.
Which brings us to The Others II, a 10-track LP that's something of an artistic statement. Raw Deff and THEN WHAt have put in work for years, but what sets them apart isn't their talent; it's quality control. Every song here is a high-gloss masterpiece. THEN WHAt's carefully tailored beats are melodic and bumping, and they always unfold like full-fledged songs, not alternating loops.
Album opener "Dead Flowers" is a scathing manifesto that leads straight into "Been a Long Time," a reflection on Deff's years in the game. These two are not here to prove themselves; that's already been done. They're here to cement those legacies with the best work they can do.
To their credit, the biggest challenge for this reviewer was picking the standouts on a tight LP where every track is a worthy single. The upbeat "Finesse Like Me" is a killer workout, showing off Raw Deff's charisma and flow. "Flip the Script" is a nonstop barrage of clever, disrespectful bars over a constantly evolving beat.
The most unexpected triumph is "Frankenstein." Most MCs would be content flipping metaphors and movie references, but he puts the listener inside the awakening monster for a riveting first-person, body-horror experience. Equally compelling is "Habitat," a heartfelt hip-hop autobiography featuring genial Vermont legend Jibba the Gent.
Yet album closer "Stuck" is perhaps the finest song here. The beat is a lush banger, and Deff is at his best, making peace with his demons and rendering a lifetime of struggling with doubt and depression into relatable, flawlessly composed rhymes. Weary, wise and hopeful, the song is the perfect note to end on — though listeners may immediately be tempted to replay the whole album.
The sound quality throughout is impeccable, thanks to Street Religion kingpin Yung Breeze, whose mixing and mastering is professional grade.
The product of two prolific artists at the absolute top of their game, The Others II is an early contender for local hip-hop album of the year. Expect that field to keep getting more crowded, though, because there's more competition than ever. You can also bet that Raw Deff and THEN WHAt will be involved with more than a few of those contenders.
The Others II is available at rawdeffxthenwhat.bandcamp.com.