Ahead of his new album with K-Def, Cool Convos In Quantum Speech, I flicked through a few stand-out features from Raw Poetic on ReDefinition Records thus far for fans new and old…
Raw Poetic’s lyrical genealogy is an interesting mix. It can be considered one part golden era fast-rap (which his hometown of Philly has a mighty history in; ask any “random rap” record collector and they’ll be happy to school you on some of the city’s illest warp-speed rhymes), and one part post-Tribe-abstract-poetry that was largely inspired by… the Abstract Poetic. It’s all there in Raw Poetic’s name, and it therefore comes as little surprise that his early albums as Panacea (with producer K-Murdock) were scooped up by Rawkus Records, the label synonymous with artists considered by many as the second generation of the Native Tongues like Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common.
Whilst it’s probably fair to say that if you’re a fan of these emcees you’ll be a fan of Raw Poetic, bundling him into that bracket would be reductive. Upon the first listen you’ll notice that Raw Poetic is undoubtedly his own voice, and what separates him from your average cram-as-many-syllables-into-the-rhyme rapper of that era is his passion for experimentation. This is perhaps more apparent when you look at his self-produced work (which would fall closer to something like Andre 3000’s The Love Below or the eventual release of Q-Tip’s Kamaal The Abstract) but it’s there when he picks up the pen for other producer’s work too, where it seems to be inspired by his fundamental love for literature. Raw Poetic is a through and through scribe who super-sets novels; the kind of guy who could hook an Ivy League academic onto Hip-Hop. This filters through into an approach to writing which utilities unusual narratives, allegory and satire, amongst other devices. This might often leave you wondering where to begin unpacking his rhymes but, like most dense literature, its intent is not to be insular but is instead to inspire exploration, and therein lies the fun and reward.
‘Walk In The Park‘ is a prime example of Raw Poetic’s story-telling skills as he explores a topic that writers and poets have found themselves pre-occupied with since first putting ink to papyrus; the opposite sex. Refreshingly to most listeners, its execution is neither too corny (“LL’s “Backseat”) nor too crass (LL’s “Backseat”) as is often the misstep within Hip-Hop. It is instead played modestly at first before broadening into something grander courtesy of Raw Poetic’s illustrative lyricism, and all of this over a classic remix by Damu The Fudgemunk; one of many collaborations between the two over the years.
Dusty record samples are the bread-and-butter of many beatmakers, but few reconstitute them into something as effortlessly intuitive as Kev Brown. So when he paired his naturalistic, loose style of beat-making with Raw Poetic’s streaming free-flow rhymes, the result was ‘Super‘. The first single from the collaborative Concentrated Maneuvers LP features a relentless pummeling of truncated raps that leave the listener trying to connect the dots whilst still keeping pace with the lyrical momentum. It’s a traditional Hip-Hop throwdown that exhibits Raw Poetic’s battle-rap side, although he still manages to work in some cosmic metaphors along with the crowd pleasing punchlines.
Raw Poetic closed out producer Def Dee’s Deja Vu last year with ‘Beau‘. The track is dedicated to Dee’s cousin who died in a motorcycle accident but will be relatable to anyone who has lost friends or relatives and has had to redefine themselves in the process, as the chorus puts it “living for those who didn’t get to finish”. Over a sobering and contemplative instrumental, Raw Poetic runs deeper than usual with his writing by posing an alternate narrative alluding to the cyclical nature of life.
From the heavier themes of ‘Beau’, Raw Poetic flips to party songs like ‘Night Owls’ with no lapse in quality; a dexterous trait that any good poet observing the spectrum of life should arguably have. Legendary DJ and producer K-Def creates what is an embodiment of the park jam ethos, from the repeating opening hype of “K-Def and Raw Poetic rockin’ in your stereo” to the syrupy bass and the electric-bugaloo-ready beat. Amidst the tradition of establishing microphone superiority, Raw Poetic takes a moment mid-way to assert his old-school attire before shouting out his DJ and punctuating with a “Yes Yes Y’all” to firmly seal the track as an ode to the party spirit of the genre. As usual, Raw Poetic being Raw Poetic, he can’t help but sneak in a thought-provoking line about breaking “the hourglass that your livin’ though”, but it’s all thematic to the song; don’t live in auto-pilot, stop and smell the flowers.
This theme is in fact vital enough to run throughout ‘Prosper‘, which is pretty unambiguous in its content. Rather than fall into the perils of measuring your life by material metrics and busying yourself to the point that you lose track of enjoying what you’ve earned, Raw Poetic advises the route of prosperity through meaningful experience. The frailty of life and therefore the imperative to live a personally fulfilling one is acknowledged with a near-death event, and the modern trend of over-individualising niche cultures that ultimately isolate is dismantled in light of our overwhelming similarities, and all of this within the first couple of minutes. It may sound like a tangled web of philosophy or a clichéd prescription for living, and it probably would be in a lesser emcee’s hands, but Raw Poetic pulls it off with more coherence than most and isn’t foolish enough to think himself a messiah with all the answers. Instead, he resigns with the incisively honest line “All I can control is one thing at time, and that’s fine”. This is Raw Poetic at perhaps his most open and insightful; an internal monologue of sorts to come back to literary devices, and it likely goes some way to explaining his own diverse path within music (as he is equally prolific outside of the Hip-Hop genre) but that’s a whole other conversation.
Cool Convos In Quantum Speech releases February 10th; available for pre-order now on iTunes
Raw Poetic is also a co-host on Subsoniq Radio, where you can enjoy a different side of his vocabulary as he populates the airwaves with signature idioms such as “cheese burger boogers”, “greasy nipple lips”, “bikini diapers”, “junebug jugs”, etc. etc. Listen to the crew discuss the new album on the show earlier this week