Lessons I Learned From Nelly



Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis City. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His next project War Machine 2 was released this Tuesday, June 5th and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For The Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get War Machine 2 here.

Every week in I'm Just A Rapper Tef discusses modern life, hip-hop, and the deep connection between them.

Nelly's music has the ability to resonate with several different types of crowds. The hood and the hillbillies combined show love to the him. He has songs with Gucci Mane, Tim McGraw, and Rick Ross. It's difficult to apply a lane to this type of versatility. Rocking a capacity crowd of thousands of people on the outside stage downtown in your hometown is a major look for a hip-hop artist.

My team uses situations like this to inspire us to work harder. The desire to play ball with the big boys is often our fuel. We just organized, promoted and funded one of the biggest local hip-hop shows of the summer at the Gramophone. We could probably walk around on Cloud Nine for a few days. We have some of the most loyal fans you could ask for in the underground. Reality check though: Nelly shut the entire summer down in the blink of an eye with his concert. This right here is some serious motivation if ever I needed it.

I remember when Country Grammar dropped, I saw his first video, and I was beyond amped. We're talking about rappers dressing like us, repping our neighborhoods, etc. I had never witnessed anything quite like it being from St. Louis, so I was proud. I felt inspired more than ever even though I was too young to completely understand my place in hip-hop. It seemed like everywhere you went it was our time as a city. Things were on the incline, the Rams had suddenly become the dream team of football. There was a certain level of electricity surrounding our wonderful city. I saw Nelly and the Tic's on MTV performing at the VMA's. My younger brother and I were high fiving each other with total glee.

Before this, realistically, rappers didn't come from St. Louis and make it to MTV. The St. Lunatic album dropped, and it had more than a few jams on it.I was in the U-City Loop the day they filmed the Air Force Ones video. My friend Brooklyn Mike owned a poster shop next door to the shoe store they rented for the shoot.The world famous Mannie Fresh came into the poster shop and bought a few posters. He had Gillie the Kid and Baby aka Birdman with him. I was young and this right here was probably the most amazing thing I had ever seen in life at this point. The Loop was filled with famous people and not so famous people that were attached to famous people that day.St.Louis officially transformed into the real life version of Rap City.

Kyjuan from the St. Lunatics told me forty-five to fifty thousand people went to the show last weekend. I knew the numbers would be high but this is insane. No other group of rappers in this city can do those numbers in similar circumstances. This taught me our focal point should be the world and not the city.This is something I already knew and lived by but sometimes you need a little bit of confirmation.

I performed in Kansas City at the Record Bar this week in front of a crowd that was full of energy and a few people who were familiar with my music. It felt good to be on stage in a city that wasn't home yet still had a decent perception of who I am as an artist. The world famous independent hip-hop icon Tech N9ne was in the audience, and after the show we had a brief conversation. He shook my hand and said some very motivational words to me.The next day he mentioned me on twitter.

I came home and destroyed the Gramophone in front of a capacity crowd of people losing their minds and moshing in front of the stage. My partner in rhyme Rockwell Knuckles released his newest body of work entitled Take Me To Your Leader this Friday as well. I had a great week and a fantastic weekend. After the madness of my show the smoke settled, and I realized there was a Nelly concert on Saturday. I had people in town from New York and business to handle on my end so I didn't get to attend the concert. I haven't really talked about it too much publicly but I have a lot of respect for Nelly. I'm always over-analyzing things so somehow I came to the conclusion that Nelly having a concert this weekend was the universe's way of showing me that there are always higher plateaus to climb. My crew was blessed enough to rock the same stage as opening acts for BBD, Common and Lupe Fiasco in front of the St. Louis Arch. The key word in this sentence is "opening act."

Yeah there were a few thousand people at these shows but we were just the openers. We were grateful to be there, but I can't imagine how it feels to look out there and see a few thousand people purposely showing up to see just you. We're talking Jumbotron megastar status. It felt good to be the opening act in front of a few thousand people for a few gigs, and we're blessed to be in the position we are in, but we have more work to do. This is what the Nelly concert downtown reminded me of. My friend Amber Mckenzie, the former assistant editor of XXL, decided to stay in St. Louis for a few days after my show on Friday. She mentioned to me in casual conversation that in her teenage years she had a crush on Murphy Lee. She saw the good energy the concert was drawing into the downtown area, and I felt content knowing the city was shining during this specific moment. We had a few industry people in town after the show and I wanted them to see St. Louis in a different light than what they may be accustomed to. In the midst of all the action, I started thinking about my own career.

We packed out the Gramophone had a few hundred people. I crowd surfed and got thrown back on stage by the audience. It was a classic night for everyone involved, from the artists to the fans. The out of town performers and media guests had a lovely time.For years I've wished I could bring tastemakers and industry influencers into our city to witness what's going on below the surface level. I am proud to say what took place this weekend proved my theory to be correct. We have the talent to compete with the national scene and we also have fans and supporters hungry enough to back us.

I was relieved that the show was a total success.I typically don't get excited and I'm not the type to do a victory dance. I'm always conscious that there's more to come. I was still relieved and it felt good to be able to get the show off of my psyche.I talked about the night with a few friends of mine. We were excited about the response new music from Rockwell Knuckles and myself received.We were happy about the outcome needless to say. Then the subtle reminder that we haven't done much yet decided to set in. There's always going to be a food chain, and the way I've motivated myself throughout the years is by finding ways to move up the food chain. It's not my job to say where I'm currently at on the food chain as of now but I can say we're getting to the point where actual accomplishments matter more than potential accomplishments. Wale said it best: "Potential is just another word for I haven't done much of anything yet". There's a fine line between thirst and hunger. Hunger is beautiful but thirst will drive you to do things you internally don't agree with.

We're currently hungrier than we've ever been. If you toy with the notion of success long enough you'll eventually reach a point where you realize how much every move you make counts. You'll get to the point where you want it so badly nothing else is on your radar. The greatest musicians of our time allowed something to click inside of their spirits. I can't explain to you what exactly it is nor can I technically define it. There is no real name for this mechanism, but I like to refer to it as "heart". Life as a musician isn't easy and often isn't socially acceptable unless by some chance you've managed to make it to the finish line and become a true success story. Far too many aspiring musicians lack "heart" and with the incline of social media people seem to think everything happens overnight.

The reality is no one cares about your music. The truth is respect isn't given it's earned. I've always admired people who went out guns blazing and middle fingers high. I remember feeling slept on in my city and pondering what I needed to do to change this. I called DJ Who and started booking myself for the hip-hop nights at Atomic back when most rappers still thought it was only a gay club in The Grove. I left St. Louis for a few years and spent some time in Tennessee and Knoxville. I moved back home to a city where the underground scene died in my opinion so we tried to rejuvenate it. I started booking myself at Urban Lounge because I was tired of waiting on other people. I went to open mics and blazed them to prove to the crowd I had it. I called the Gramophone and booked shows there prior to the era when every rapper under the sun does shows there. Rumor has it they actually wanted to stray away from hip-hop performances on the Manchester strip period. We were told "no" more times than I can count. I'm have a decent buzz right now and I'm prepared for the "no's" to return. I'm also prepared to fight through it this time and keep raising the bar.

The best artists never ask for a handout and when there isn't a way to be heard somehow they find a way. Eminem went through it in Detroit as he found a way to make the impossible happen. I want my name to one resonate with artists of this caliber so I study them and to see if there's anything I can learn from their sagas. Ludracris has a very intriguing story about how he made it out of Atlanta. He found a way to make sure no could ignore him by doing radio show intros for radio show DJs. It's all about finding something that works for you and pushing it to the next level. It's all about finding ways to reinvent yourself in the hope that you stay relevant. Country Grammar is a classic album and you can hear the hunger in the project. You can hear it on the Free City album, the struggles of coming from nothing and embracing a new life.

The Nelly concert this weekend reminded me that there's always a new level to reach. There's always a higher plateau to climb. We load up a rental car a few times a month and drive to different cities with everything we have. We leave our families and loved ones behind to pursue immortality. It's not about popping bottles in the club, buying cars, and sleeping with the most beautiful women. It's about finding a way to live forever. If I died today the city would mourn me. A few out of towners that are hip to the Tef Poe brand would do the same. The fact of the matter is I'd be dead and gone. My goal is to create something that grows so organically it's impossible for me to die. Once you reach a certain level of success death is irrelevant in the physical form. The music becomes your persona and as long as people love you for the music you're alive. These are the types of goals I'm shooting for. I go to rap concerts and watch the stars not as a fan but as a guy that aspires to compete with the greats. We all know the famous quote from Jay-Z about the guy eating the cereal and writing some crazy bars. Jay-Z said, "And he wants my spot I'ma find him though, I'ma sign him I don't want no problems."

In my mind since the day I heard that quote I transformed into that person. On the local level I see 3,000 guys in the streets with that same exact hunger. My goal unfortunately is to retire as many of them as possible. My view on the grind is aggressive and competitive. The harsh reality is someone has to be Jordan and someone has to be Reggie Miller or Patrick Ewing. If I don't put myself and my comrades in the best position to compete then you win. If we lose I'll sit around telling a bunch of stories about what could have happened. I didn't enjoy working a regular nine to five. My mission is to use this music to do everything possible to assure myself that I'll never have to clock in and work for another person's life-long aspirations ever again. My mother needs to see portions of this world she's never seen. My sister had three children and they need college funds. There's a next level and it's real. I know it sounds cliché to use such a term. But let me say it again there is a next level and it's realer than you think. Piece together a plan and a team and you can achieve it.

I'm shooting for the stars, the moon, the next galaxy. In the forever clever words of Rockwell Knuckles, "Trying to be king of the Lou, let them have that." The same spirit of motivation I felt as me and my brother watched the Lunatics on MTV never died inside me. I've had moments where I've felt defeated. To tell the complete truth I feel defeated every day.

As long as I decide to be a rapper this feeling will never leave. I realize the levels of success only broaden themselves as you get more of your goals accomplished.

I think indie artists can learn a sea of things from our predecessors. These guys have maneuvered in the industry on a level many of us have yet to see. Growth is a process and I aspire to one day be in a similar position. It's going to take an ongoing amount of hard work. It's going to take pure dedication and nonstop belief in what we're doing as a team. It's going to take quality records and quality decisions on the flip side. There is hardly anything organic about the music industry these days.

In today's music climate you have to fight through the storms and pretty much give the people no other option than to love you and support your movement. We all want to live forever and do concerts that actually shut the city down. Only a handful of us are truthfully going to see the light. I pray you make it, but I pray I make it even more so than you. I know this sounds selfish, but in my hearts of hearts I honestly believe me and my cronies deserve it. You probably deserve it as well, but it's not my job to solidify your legacy.

It's like the real life version of a Duncan McCloud battle. I don't think everything has to be entirely cut throat but I do believe we are all racing to the finish line. I'm praying and working like hell to reassure myself that we make it.

The lesson I learned from this weekend is I haven't done a damn thing yet. We're just getting started and here we are. Go for yours with the same intensity that I intend to go for mine. Seeing fifty thousand people showing up to sing every word to every song you perform is no small feat. I am completely about that life. In the words of Juvenile "I need it in my life, come put it in my life. " I am officially inspired once again.

Picks of the Week: Rockwell Knuckles Take Me To Your Leader (mixtape) Vega Heartbreak-Small City, Big Dreams(mixtape) CJieg-Kick Back Nas - "I Gave You Power," "No Introduction," Life Is Good Rick Ross feat Dr Dre, Jay-Z - 3 Kings Jason Chandler-The Jason Chandler EP Freddie Gibbs - Cold Day In Hell

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