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.One of the emcees responsible for giving me tutelage and guidance throughout the years is also a virtual hip-hop historian. He goes by the name of Lyfestile and wears the hats of an activist, community organizer and emcee. I've had several conversations with Lyfestile throughout the years about hip-hop and the beauty of the art form.
So often, we spend time complaining about the culture, so I wanted to do something to highlight what is right with it. I would consider Lyfestile a true purist. He can freestyle with the best of them. His pen game with written rhyme is high quality. He can DJ and he also produces. He is in my opinion the local version of old school leadership, similar to the likes of KRS-1 or Rakim.
I've always honored his opinions about the music and the hip-hop culture. I feel like emcees nowadays in our city don't get the chance to build with cornerstone individuals such as Lyfestile due to the lack of opportunity and knowledge. He is one of the lead organizers behind Slum Fest. He has endured several classic mic fights and freestyle battles. People like Lyfestile are the reason our city felt like the Bronx a few years ago. He has the infinite respect of St. Louis, the underground admiral Black Spade. I wanted to do something different like I said before. I could spend waste time with this column by talking about myself every week. I could easily give you guys a long lasting rant about whatever the heck I choose to rant about. I have to remind myself this is actually a music blog and it's okay to discuss the music.
So here we are: I had the idea to ask Lyfestile about his favorite hip-hop albums. One of the biggest questions any hip-hop head is randomly asked at the drop of a dime is, "What are your top five albums?". We all have surely spent hours debating things of this nature. So I decided to ask a person whom I consider a true historian in the art form to tell us about his top five favorite albums. He gave us some in depth insight into his mind and train of thought. I'm too young to remember a few of these classics being freshly released, but that's the beauty of being friends with a genius of Lyfestile's caliber.
I'm sure I'll try to do this again with a random artist. I may ask a different question for the sake of making it more interesting. It would be interesting to do a best rapper alive blog. I wouldn't mind writing about our readers' top five dead or alive. The options are endless and I am grateful the RFT Music is offering the hip-hop community such a platform to express ourselves. I feel like I have a responsibility to stay true to my roots. This column has helped me do such a thing with ease. Imagine you're outside Blueberry Hill and J. Narko air dunks on you out of nowhere. Lyfestile walks out while everyone is in a circle out front. Skeemer and Luqmon are debating which producer is the best at the current moment. Lyfestile injects and the convo leads over into a deep discussion about the best hip-hop albums ever made . A few years ago when I could barely get in the club, this was my reality. All the guys I just mentioned were iconic figures and still are to me and many others. This is what one of those conversations would possibly sound like if you could eavesdrop. When I do articles like this I feel the same way Jay-Z must have felt when he got hired by Def Jam as an executive. Jigga saw DMX in the hallway and said, "X, the crooks have took over the building." This was simply a metaphor saying one of our own has now become an influencer, so I hope the public is ready to be influenced. I know it's not that deep yet but it feels good being able to share moments like this with the readers. Okay I'll shut up and allow Lyfe to break it down for y'all:
To those who don't know, I'm Lyfestile. I'm an emcee and I also produce. I'm a member of Altered St8s and Plan-B alongside my fellow group member Nato Caliph. I am also a solo artist. Over the years I've recorded twelve-inch singles for independent labels such as Sondoo Recordings in NY, F5Records in St. Louis. While continuously hustlin my own music that I burn right at the crib. I deejay a lil' bit and I'm thinking about starting my own cult.
First of all it's very hard for me to list my five favorite albums. I love so many records for so many different reasons. Whenever the topic comes up, I think of at least twenty albums off the top of my head. It's really hard to narrow them down. I could literally do a different top five list every day for a least a month. Now with that being said, here are five albums that influenced me and had an impact on hip-hop culture in general. This list is not all-inclusive, and is not in any particular order other than P.E. being #1.
1. Public Enemy It Takes a Nation Of Millions to Hold Us Back Revolutionary in every sense of the word. Public Enemy's second album shocked the music world. The Bomb Squad created a wall of sound that has been often imitated by everyone from Gangstarr to EL-P. But through the test of time this sound will never be duplicated. The music attacked the listeners. We were used to listening to the funky sounds sampled from James Brown.We discovered P.E. didn't really want you to dance.They wanted to prepare you for war. Sirens, High pitched wails, vocal samples, layers of scratching,... whatever it took they got your attention. Then there was the voice: Chuck D is like no other. My man once said that "Chuck D's voice is so ill, he could be reading his grocery list and you would want to pay attention to it." His unorthodox flow is kind of like a preacher, a poet with a lil Melle Melle added in. Chuck was a self- appointed spokesman for Black America. He broke down the media "Don't Believe the Hype;" the draft and the prison system -- "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos;" the mind numbing effects of too much tv -- "She Watch Channel Zero;" the crack epidemic --"Night of the Living Baseheads" and many other issues affecting the community. Because the songs were so serious, Flavor Flav was added to the mix, to reinforce Chuck and to make the messages more accessible. P.E. didn't look like a "rap group." They had the appearance of an organization. Professor Griff and the S1w's combined the imagery of the Black Panthers, the Military, and The Nation of Islam giving the crew a unique Image. DJ Terminator X was portrayed as if he was some sort of mysterious turntable assassin who only spoke with his hands. I can go on and on... let me chill this is only #1.
2. EPMD Strictly Business Great album for two reasons. Number one, EPMD was a group that really reinforced the blueprint of what makes a dope hip-hop group. Like their predecessors (Run DMC) they displayed a unique chemistry. Parrish Smith and Eric Sermon made a great team on the mic. They spent a lot of time taxin wack emcees ("You're a Customer" and "Strictly Business") but they also inject some humor (on "Jane" they both reminisced about a sista with a "haircut like Anita Baker"). They sounded like two kids from Long Island out to "make Dollars" and prove their reps on the mic. The other thing about this album is that it's just plain FUNKY. The production was midtempo and contained a lot of funk elements which was pretty unique for the East Coast at the time. Roger Troutman's "More Bounce" has been sampled thousands of times, but few songs can match Eric and Parrish's "You Gots Ta Chill." The duo (along with DJ K-La-Boss) combined their "slow flows" with sick scratches and beats that were hard as hell even though they were coated in the funk. 3. Run DMC Raising Hell Run DMC's first four albums are classics period, but their third joint marked the point at which these three guys from Hollis, Queens became certified superstars. Modern hip-hop took center stage when this album came out and the world was watching. Run, DMC, and Jay were on MTV now demanding the same respect as their counterparts in the Rock world. The production contained the breakbeats from the park, JMJ's cuts, 808s, and hard rock guitars (big up Rick Rubin & Russell Simmons). This album has the undeniable song that gets played at any hip-hop function -- "Peter Piper." And we can't forget "Walk this Way;" the crossover song that was so powerful that it resurrected a band (Aerosmith) who hadn't had a hit in years. "My Adidas" demonstrated hip-hop's power to validate or make certain things "cool" to young consumers. They did it all. "Proud to be Black" named dropped Malcolm X before the whole "Pro-Black" movement. "Dumb Girl" was a cautionary tale of a young woman who was "movin' too fast." "You Be Illin" showed how that the trio wasn't too hard to have fun. Songs like "Hit It Run" and "Raising Hell" let the people know that the Kings from Queens were ready to defend their crowns. DMC even threatened to "cut the head off the devil" and throw it at you. After Run DMC and Jam Master Jay, millions of people became intrigued by the power of turntables and mics.
4. Boogie Down Productions By All Means Necessary BDP's second album. "Criminal Minded" is heralded as a classic, but "By All Means Necessary" is when KRS-One clearly combined his streetwise sensibilities with his intellect. When this record came out KRS-One established himself as the most powerful "new" voice in hip-hop. First and foremost KRS was an emcee always ready to take out those "suckers with colorful names." Secondly he was proud to be an "intelligent brown man." On "My Philosophy" KRS-1 proclaims "I don't walk this way to portray/or reinforce Stereotypes of the Day/Like all my brothers eat chicken and watermelon/talk broken english and drug sellin.' KRS was able to discuss world events and the inner workings of the hood in a way that we can all understand. He made you respect his skill first, then he hit you with the knowledge. He could flip a reggae style, kick the social commentary and remind you that he was still "Criminal Minded" in one verse. "Part Time Suckers" got laid to rest. He told us the pitfalls of trusting "a big butt and a smile" on "JIMMY." The Drums were hard, the message was harder.
5. De La Soul 3 Feet High and Rising Simply put De La and producer Prince Paul expanded the boundaries of what you could do in hip-hop music. These guys thought outside the box on their debut album. They weren't the first to experiment with crazy ideas (big up UltraMagnetic) but they did influence the game like few other groups. Lyrically Posdonous and Dave (Trugoy back then) were all over the place. They talked about the opposite sex "Jenifa" and "Buddy"-(the remix introduced us to the Native Tongues); inner city struggle -- "Ghetto Thang" being themselves -- "Me myself and I" and biting "Potholes in my lawn." Then there were times that we weren't sure what they were talking about because the rhymes were filled with so many cryptic references ("Dan Stuck" who or what is that??). They rapped about talking fish on "Eye Know." They referenced the D.a.i.s.y. age but those guys were far from hippies. (They would prove this on their second album, but that's another list). As far as the production, the album is pure genius. Mase made the songs better with cutting up all kinds of sounds and voices. Prince Paul did his damn thing. He shows us that you can make something dope out of anything. Sample sources included Hall and Oates, Steely Dan, The Turtles, Parliament, A French Language Instructional Record, and all kinds of other stuff that's not supposed to be on a rap record.
Well that's my list and now that I've wrapped it up, I realize that I've excluded a lot of dope artists who made classic albums (Ice Cube, NWA, Queen Latifah, Ice-T, Beastie Boys, X-Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, Big Daddy Kane, A Tribe Called Quest, Geto Boys). Oh well I'll catch some of them on the next list. Peace to Tef for gettin' at me. Big shout to Nato Caliph, D-Ex, Amene, Cave, Niteowl, Yah Supreme, Hi-Fidel, DJ K-Nine and everybody who makes buys and supports good music. Now for some shameless self promotion - Altered St8s "Warning Shots" is available for download.
I'm working on my solo joint RIGHT NOW!! Plan-B (Lyfestile and Nato Caliph) album coming soon.