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Exclusive #52Weeks Interview

From BET to MSNBC, Pine Lawn native Tef Poe has never shied away from the spotlight. His activist roots with Amnesty International and his political engagement at the local level laid the foundation for his leadership role following the turbulence that erupted in Ferguson, resulting in his involvement with the social justice organization Hands Up United (http://www.handsupunited.org). His War Machine rap mixtape series spawned a Midwest classic (“Out The Kitchen”) and propelled him into the conversation for next-up out of Saint Louis. In this interview, we ask Tef Poe how his past affects his present, and what the next year holds for this key local underground figure.

Q: How did the events in Ferguson over the past year impact your music?

A:  If you’ve listened to Tef Poe music, then you know my subject matter hasn’t really changed much from then to now. I think I’ve become more principled about how I incorporate women into what I do lyrically. I think more about the implications of black men referring to our women as b****es and hoes in every other breathe when I write. On War Machine 3, I wanted to make the project as misogyny-free as I could.

The challenge was doing this also being real about the s*** I was spitting. I will always and forever contest the fact that people consider me a conscious rapper. I like to talk about grown people s*** in my music as well — just like the next artist. Sometimes I want to write a record about smoking weed and having sex all night. I do these types of records with a specific artistic framing in my mind. What human emotion am I truthfully attempting to strike with this song? What personal experiences do I share with the common person? I think I’m just extremely honest with myself when I step into the booth. I feel like this is why people listen to me, my fan base is expanding so rapidly because I’m not afraid to be honest in my music.

Our city went through a lot, and during this process I wasn’t always in a good space. I was battling a deep-seated depression right before Ferguson erupted. Throughout the entire year it intensified, but I was knee deep into a different world of events. I was in and out of jail while we recorded War Machine 3. I wanted to give my fans a classic because they deserved it, and I also had something to prove. The War Machine 2 cover basically came to me as a prophetic visions of things to come. I had no idea this vision was specific to the city of Saint Louis. We have a responsibility to use this music as a weapon, if nothing else.

Q: For 2016, are you more focused as Tef Poe the artist over Tef Poe the activist, or are they now one in the same?
 
A: They were always one in the same. The track record is on public display for the non-believers: the only local rapper of my stature pushing for Show Me $15, performing at political rallies for independent candidates, the Justice for Reggie Clemons campaign. I was once a canvasser for Russ Carnahan. I worked out of the the very same office that the Tea Party bombed. I’m not an activist, I’m a politically engaged black man living in a racially repressive city. I just so happen to make rap records for a living, so everyone watches my every move as if I’m doing something more profound than the next concerned citizen at the protest.

The reality is I live here just like the next person. The same communities being deeply affected by these issues are the places my family inhabits in Saint Louis. This year we are releasing more music than I’ve ever released my entire career. I’m in a different type of zone these days in the studio. I think I feel a sense of urgency concerning the need for me to record and release music simultaneously. Saint Louis has a new creative wave going on, similar to the Bronx post-the gang wars of the 70’s. I’m dropping a few projects this year basically back-to-back. It makes sense for STLiens to step up because we ushered in this moment in history. As artists, we have to leave cultural clues behind for future generations. Social unrest requires the right music to strengthen the peoples’ vibrations.

I recently realized so much of the wrong type of so-called conscious music that is floating around. I want to create some unique s*** and jam out like the Bob Marley. The next solo joint from me is currently titled Black Julian. I might change the title, but it’s sticking for now. After that, hopefully Black Spade and I will drop Preacher in The Trap. I’m definitely dropping War Machine 4 this winter. I also have a project with Rebel Diaz completed and sitting in my iTunes. Black Julian 2.0 is sitting in my iTunes as well. I want to get back in the lab with Rockwell Knuckles for another album. I’m also working on an EP with T-Dubb-O. We just released a controversial song called “Message to Macklemore”. The record was a gamble, but it went viral and sparked a sea of conversations. Musically this has been the most aggressive year of my life thus far.

 
Q: Your #52Weeks campaign promises a new freestyle each week. Do you feel pressure to prove your status as a heavyweight in the local music scene?
 

A: Nah, I don’t feel any pressure whatsoever. This #52weeks movement isn’t even about rap records. If you’re still counting bars, then this conversation is too developed for you. Some rappers sell their soul to the devil for talent enhancement purposes. Going into the dark side makes these n***s better because it gives their music an edge. I sold my soul to God. So when I go into the dark I’m actually in that b**** to retrieve the lost souls. We don’t think about it we just do it and let it be what it is. How the hell can I feel pressured to do what comes natural? I reached black Super Saiyan status a long time ago. The power doesn’t just lie dormant inside you it increases with your personal ability. I’m in a different zone right now. I love the art form, and I love to create music, but truthfully I’m more relaxed than I’ve ever been.The space my head is in right now really doesn’t have much room for being concerned about trivial stuff. Rappers really do need to get over themselves (laughs). I am completely guilty of over-complicating this process. The pen is flowing so effortlessly for me right now that I know it’s not coming from me. I’m grateful to be the vessel, but the flow comes from somewhere else. I’m blessed to be the one that has inherited it but the universe owns it. The flow is special, but I’m nothing more than the muse it selected. Why would I clog up this process with my own foolish ego?I stopped counting bars on the last album so now a song can be six bars if it needs to be. The flows I dropped over the Jay-Z “Feeling It” instrumental are un-f***witable. I’m not just blurbing a bunch of bulls*** for the sake of rhyming. I’m chilling and giving people some thought-provoking sounds to vibe to. It’s all about the frequencies and the harmonics. The melodies and the rhythms. My approach is basically similar to a old school jazz musicians right now. We blow some tree and let the spirits make the music. If we need extra musicians — we call them. If we need to bring in actual musicians to play — we call them. If we need some Black Girl Magic in the lab to inspire us, then the radiant beauty of our beloved women is a call away.

Right now my entire situation is crafted on some real life Bohemian lifestyle type of s***. I don’t really care about much of anything in studio. We’re liberated in this space to be weird and productive. I haven’t been this excited about making music since elementary school. One day Matt Sawicki and I are going to go down in history as a legendary Missouri duo. We craft the records together for the most part. I drop the lyrics and describe the universe I’m trying to create with the records. I’m not taking myself so serious these days. I’m here to basically scribe the truth on a rap record to the listeners’ ears. Since the truth is self explanatory, I don’t have to use my imagination as much as other rappers. I’m just picking up the pen and painting the picture.

I also record with Cory Rose at Doorway Studios. He understands the energy I want to leave in the music better than almost anyone. Let’s give the world as much of this thought-provoking lifestyle-oriented s*** as possible before the Anti-Christ reveals himself. The Illuminati ain’t nothing but a bunch of b**** n****s anyways. Make music and teach the babies how to cook their own food if you really about it.

 
 Q: How has your brother’s (Black Spade) music experience affected your approach to hip-hop?

 A: Black Spade is the greatest artist of all time. If we’re talking Saint Louis, then he’s the head of the Holy Trinity that eventually gave birth to Rockwell Knuckles and Tef Poe. Rocky and I changed the sound of the Saint Louis underground scene. If you can’t give us credit for that, then you’re truthfully in denial. We didn’t cater to singles and mixtapes because our projects were always like albums. I’m not discrediting anyone because a lot of people have created similar followings.

Saint Louis is currently creating unknown diamonds. We were the first to be so different; it made us appear to be awkward. Black Spade would be the origin of this process. He was indie selling 10,000 albums, critically acclaimed by the likes of Prince himself. He toured Europe twice back when the only thing popping here commercially was Nelly. Our genre of music is titled the real s*** genre. When I say real s***, I’m not talking about some corny real hip-hop bulls***. I’m not talking about some wack n****s trying to be overly lyrical and prove a point with his bars. I’m talking the emotion you feel in your body that lets you know this is something special that you are listening to; the feeling you get when you propose to the love of your life and she says, “yes, I want to be with you forever.”

We don’t go into the studio pondering on how compete with other artists. We don’t care which one of us has the best verse on the track. It’s a collective effort to just make some groovy s**** with the right energy attached to it. Black Spade has a legacy in the underground at this point.Tef Poe is a product of that legacy. People forget he’s my older brother. He was revolutionary before it was a trend. I get my no-nonsense approach to the politics of the STL scene from him. I’m not here to make lame music and blame the public for not liking it. I’m also not here to beg a 45 year old out-of-touch DJ to play my records. Nah, I’m good on all of that. The last #52weels freestyle did over 8,000 listens in a week. I’m not out of touch with the culture, you are so why would I even engage with you? Black Spade has always played the game like this so he’s had a moderately successful career. I think myself and Rockwell Knuckles are the evolution of his wave.

 
Q: Delmar Records formed at the end of 2014 with a strong roster of Saint Louis artists, but did not appear to be very active last year. What is its current state and future release plans?
 
A: There was a lot going on last year so I didn’t have time to focus on the launch of the label as much as I wanted to. T-Dubb-O just dropped his debut indie album The Drop. It’s doing splendid internationally and garnering attention in a few new lanes for him. Indiana Rome just dropped a new EP titled “Love Dope”. Legend Camp recently released their EP “The Campaign”. We’ll have some big moments this year as I gear up to drop War Machine 4 as well.

My last project War Machine 3 was actually released via the label, but the growth of the project didn’t necessarily match the growth of the company. We’re still in the developmental phase as a record label. On March 6th, the entire roster opens up for Scarface at Pop’s. T-Dubb-O will be opening for Lil Durk this Friday. Indiana Rome has some insane heat brewing in the kitchen. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The burnout is real in this game. The life of an artist isn’t very comforting. Nothing comes easy in this profession. If you can figure out how make money off of music, then you’re actually one of the smartest people alive. We’ve accomplished this on a very marginal level.

I’ve slept in a bathtub with a pistol in my mouth while praying for the opportunity to create these songs. I believe I am who God told me I was when I was 12 years old. The flow does s*** for me these other f***-boys spend their entire life time trying to manipulate. I run with people that have created styles out of nothing. The same exact thing Rakim did. We did that and do it daily. When you create something out of nothing, you’re triggering the God in you. Every single person in my crew from Rocky to Indiana Rome to Dubb is a motherf***ing rap god. These black bastards make the illest s*** you ever heard out of thin air. Rocky and Nick Menn aren’t signed to Delmar Records, but none of that cosmetic music illusionary music industry bulls*** matters.

We’re talking reality morphing through dimensions and bringing brain dead humans back to life status over here. All of my future projects for the duration of the year will be released via the imprint as well. What you’re seeing happen with Delmar Records is called the natural growth process. We’re a functioning company at this point with problems like any other small business. The music industry moves at a unpredictable pace.

Q: What will we be hearing soon from Tef Poe?

A: Here’s the truth. I’ve never ever believed in myself, so this year is the summation of Tef Poe suddenly owning the fact the he is a God damn immortal. I hope and sincerely pray people don’t think I’m just rapping all of this majestic s*** in my songs for nothing. I’m actually creating a sound that doesn’t exist anywhere else besides my music. You hear doses of this sound in other people’s music locally, but they aren’t in tune with the right energies. People are starting to hit up Matt Sawicki and Suburban Pro Studios demanding their records sound like mine.

The #52weeks freestyles are going to keep coming until the year ends. I’m about to drop this Black Julian EP on 4/20. When it’s released, I want everyone to relax and smoke to this s***. My music typically makes you feel like you need to fight something, and that energy will still be there, but for now I need to talk to the troops. All around the world I want people sitting around in cipher circles blowing trees and listening toBlack Julian. Open up your psyche and take me with you. Real ones all across the world will be functioning on the same exact frequency for once. I’m honing the sound daily on this batch of records to leave subliminal messages planted in your soul. Love yourself and kill anyone attempting to rob you of this joy. Let’s vibrate on a level so high it reveals the very fabric of the universe to us. The new music is street but funky and soulful. It’s power translated into the audio form.

I listen to a lot of Future because I feel like he’s figured it out. Drake and Kendrick figured it out, too. I feel like Curren$y is a visionary as well. Freddie Gibbs has also figured it out. F*** the world, just do you. I’ve basically locked myself in the studio and crafted almost 4 new albums at the same time. The same zone everyone experiences when their prime is about to physically manifest is here for me right now. I know I’m about to lose people in the process, but this is about universal vengeance. This music is our retaliation mechanism since the enemy thinks he can own our culture. Less and I connected to make one of the craziest records ever recorded. I want to do some s*** with The Domino Effect. I want to link back up with Chase The Money and work while I’m in in this creative space.

I made the last album under a lot of stress. I thought we were stranded in Hell at the time. The police are a demonic task force designed to kill black men and women. Any demonic energy is on this planet is in direct conflict with our music. We tell young black kids to dream about the possibilities. What if you could blink and knock a drone out the sky before it bombs a small village? What type of pressure does a young man feel when the judge sentences him and throws his life away? Black Julian will be the musical inquiry into these things.

We’re dropping it on April 20th, and I predict there will be an earthquake around this time. The Foot Klan will rise like the dead. We dare to tell the truth about life here in Saint Louis. The corruption never stops because the evil is no longer hybrid. Most elected officials deserve whatever death the reaper appropriates to them. Haters come from a demonic energy source. Real n****s come from the same energy source that made Jesus and Harriet Tubman because the black woman is actually God in her own right. This is what you’ll hear from me. Black Julian 4/20 on Delmar Records.


To keep up with Tef Poe and all of his releases planned for 2016, follow his social media accounts below.

twitter: @tefpoe
Instagram: @tef_poe

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