“I used to write rhymes that were far too complex for me to try and remember. So, I had to kick freestyles to show my skill level…” – Tef Poe
We all know of his reputation as a battle rapper. His raw, yet truthful lyrics that often cause us to stop and contemplate what he said. His political commentary, gritty street style mixed with just enough advocacy swagger is what makes him stand out. Born Kareem Jackson, though known to us as Tef Poe, the hip hop artist gives DELUX an intimate look inside his thoughts on what hip hop means to him, what he really thought about the Ferguson fiasco, being appointed a civil rights leader of our time, and his latest release to the music world, Black Julian.
Let’s rewind to when we first heard the name Tef Poe step onto the music scene. Then let’s fast forward to three years ago, when he became center stage as one of the voices of this generation to speak out against what was really going on amongst Black Americans and the police forces around the word. His style was different, his sentence flow was complex and his truth was served as raw and you could possibly ingest it. Tef Poe was as authentic as they came and if you thought for one moment St. Louis was going to fade into the back, you thought wrong. St. Louis native and hip hop artist, Tef Poe reiterates this with his latest release, Black Julian in which the battle rapper shows everyone we are on the map and here to stay. Finding his musical identity early, Poe began writing around the age of 6 or 7 years old. Unsure of what is gift truly was at the time, he continued to hone in what would be his craft. “I owe my musical identity solely to my older brother Black Spade. If it wasn’t for him there would most likely be no such thing as a Tef Poe,” Poe said. By the time Poe was thirteen, he dove head first into battle rapping. With complex rhymes and influences like Rakim and Nas; Poe figured freestyling was the best way to show off his skills. Though, losing his first freestyle battle, he later went on to became one of the undefeated battle rappers in St. Louis. Heavily influenced by a host of rappers and music genres, Poe used this to his advantage as he curated his own style of music. “I am vocally influenced by someone like MJG, but also heavily influenced by Mos Def. Until I dropped Black Julian, I felt like people struggled to understand this about me,” he stated.
Equipped with a sound he says comes from his gut, the rapper conforms his nervous energy into powerful and explosive lyrics. Not afraid to test the waters with sound, the artist perfected his style that he says is a combination of southern music, soul, funk, gospel and trap. Given his love affair with music, Tef Poe credits a lot of his sound to his interest in the city’s musical history. Capturing the rock energy engrained in the city’s roots, Poe incorporates live instruments into his sets to feed off the energy of a genre we are connected so intimately with.
“If St. Louis could turn itself into a physical human being and start recording a rap record, it would probably look a lot like me in the flesh…”- Tef Poe
Standing firm on his willingness to see the truth and his unapologetic candor to go with it; I asked the rapper what his thoughts were regarding the negative stereotypes surrounding rap music and the black community. He simply stated, “I don’t know any 13-year old’s that work for Atlantic Records. So, these are adults making decisions about entertainment and the children respond to what is being selected or promoted.” Again, I ask, does life really reflect art? Are the lyrics we listen to really damaging to our culture, or are they simply the truth? “If you live in Baghdad how the hell are you going to rap about world peace? If your friends are dying quicker than you can count, or your parents aren’t involved in your life, this is your story.” Well according to Poe, this is how great artists are born. Taking his own advice, Poe recently released his third album; Black Julian. Being fresh off the heels of the tragedy that occurred in Ferguson; Poe stated this album was about isolation. “I was a mental wreck. PTSD from Ferguson had me wanted to basically stop living. Black Julian made me decide to live, and that’s why this record is important.” With his unwarranted claim to being named a civil rights figure, Poe says he isolated himself to block out everything which had occurred inside the city that dreadful summer.
Not wanting the album to be too conscious heavy and with countless changes to the album, Poe made final track decisions and the album was released. Still in love with music, the rapper realized he had struck classic gold with his newest album. “St. Louis wasn’t dead. We deserve to have jamming representation in the culture today. We deserve to have new classics from our artists, we deserve the right to be creative.” With tracks like Don’t Judge Her, Fvck 12, and New Ice Cube; Poe can’t really say he has any favorites, but if he has his way people will listen to the album and see who he is as an artist, a man, and that he lives and dies by his stage show. For more Tef Poe and his music go on iTunes and on social media.
Facebook: Tef Poe