Famous or not, Brattleboro's Neffy is bringing hip-hop to the Green Mountains
BENNINGTON -- He may not be famous yet, but it takes more than a blizzard and below-zero temperatures to stop Neffy. After all, he's from Vermont.
On Friday night, just hours after Winter Storm Hercules dropped a thick blanket of snow on the town, the now-empty storefront at 445 Main St. unlocked its doors for one of the town's first concerts of 2014 -- a repeat performance by Brattleboro rappers Neffy and Yung Hass, who drew a big crowd to the former site of Doug's On Main Street just a few weeks earlier on Nov. 30.
In a town of museums, art galleries and the Sage City Symphony, hip-hop might seem like a faraway art form, a music genre that exists on the radio and Internet -- but not on Main Street. However, while it may not be the Bronx, Compton or Atlanta, on Friday night Bennington showed it is home to a passionate flock of fans willing to brave minus-15 degree temperatures for a rare dose of live hip-hop.
"Bennington has always showed me a lot of support" said Neffy, the show's headlining performer. "I only know a few people from [the town], but ever since I started releasing music on the Internet I've had a really healthy following in Bennington."
Neffy and his crew, who call themselves TNEFF or Team Not Even F***ing Famous, have started planning concerts in Bennington to coincide with their hometown concerts in Brattleboro, where many of them grew up and attended high school.
Although the snow and cold weather kept the crowd smaller than Neffy's November show, it didn't keep the excited crowd from screaming when the DJ dropped Drake's radio hit "Started From The Bottom," a warm-up track for the performance to come.
The concert revved up when Darrell Miller (a.k.a. Mystro), the crew's sensitive, neo-soul presence took the stage to open the show, serenading the group of female fans that gathered in the front row before inviting up featured performer Yung Hass to rap along with him.
Hass may have been part of the top billing, and he was certainly impressive on the mic all night, but the crowd's excitement was still building when Mystro asked who they all really wanted to see.
Without missing a beat, the audience all yelled for Neffy.
Neffy, whose real name is Avery Ehrlich, has been surrounded by music since his childhood, when he remembers spending time with his father -- a bass player and vocalist -- at Bob Marley's Tuff Gong recording studio in Kingston, Jamaica. These experiences gave Neffy a strong appreciation for Jamaican culture, and solidified reggae legend Bob Marley as one of his musical idols.
As a high schooler in Brattleboro, Neffy said his friends all "either played sports or they were rapping," and he started making his own music at 15. In the hip-hop world, Neffy says he looks up the "classics" of his generation: rappers like Jay-Z, Southern hip-hop elders U.G.K. and Houston's Scarface.
In the same vein as TNEFF, Neffy's name is an acronym for Not Even F***ing Famous Yet, a personal motto that has motivated him for his whole career.
"[My name] stands for the whole independent aspect of what I'm doing. Although I'm not what people would consider famous, I still make money off of music, I'm still popular in various parts of the nation. I'm not on the TV or radio, so people say ‘oh, you're not even famous,' but at the same time, we're still doing numbers and traveling and playing shows.
This independent spirit has been an important part of Neffy's slow rise to widespread popularity, motivating him to release several mixtapes and play shows across the country without the resources of a record label backing him up.
His next release, a mixtape entitled Come Fly 2, is set to be released on the 4th of July this coming summer. He's currently in the process of recording the songs, working whenever he has free time on tour.
"We basically set up the studio anywhere we are, and I just record anywhere" said Neffy. "I record every day."
Starting next week, Neffy will be joining forces with Colorado rapper Pries for his first official national tour, dubbed the Freshman Four tour.
Hitting 17 cities in about five weeks, the tour includes stops in Detroit, Seattle, Las Vegas and Los Angeles -- markets significantly larger than Bennington (although our town might best them on TNEFF spirit).
As the screams for Neffy subsided, the DJ pushed the beat for Neffy and Yung Hass' song "Drama in the Summer" through the PA speakers and the crowd's energy jumped onto a new level.
Taking the bouncy plywood stage in a T-shirt printed with luxury watches, Neffy unleashed his brash, confident rhyming skills on the dramatic (if seasonally-inappropriate) track, which includes a reference to Brattleboro's Elliot Street.
He and Yung Hass followed the opener with "Squad," another track from their joint "Drama in the Summer" mixtape. Their hour-long performance included most of the mixtape, finishing with "Handouts," a new song released just after Thanksgiving that simultaneously celebrates and faces the hazards of Neffy's developing success, musing that "the secret to leading is never get greedy."
Now based in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, Neffy has stayed ultimately loyal to his crew of high school friends and their home state of Vermont in the face of his growing popularity. As he looks forward to bigger tours and an increasingly nationwide fanbase, Neffy has the potential to be the first rapper to represent Southern Vermont on the national hip-hop scene.
Even with all this excitement on the horizon, Neffy promised he'd come back to Bennington for another concert when the weather improves -- a show of home-state loyalty that means even more than the "802" tattoo on his forearm.
Check out more from Neffy on his website, neffysblog.tumblr.com, and on Twitter at @RealNeffy.
Reach Jack McManus at @Banner_Arts and jmcmanus @benningtonbanner.com
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