The Best Hip-Hop Release to Come Out of Saint Louis This Year

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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 newest project War Machine 2 was released on 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.ollow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get War Machine 2 here.

I believe the honor of Best Hip-Hop Release to Come Out of Saint Louis This Year belongs to none other than Rockwell Knuckles for the tireless effort he put in on his latest work, Take Me To Your Leader. I don't intend on turning this blog into a music review or a step-by-step critical breakdown; I simply want to put into perspective the endless amount of vision embedded in this project.

It's no secret that Rocky is a friend of mine, but it's also no secret that I am brutally honest when it comes to my public opinion about music. My personal credibility is everything to me. Hip-hop doesn't always get a fair break in our town; the media doesn't always know how to cover it and sometimes folks just don't actually know where to find the good stuff. I try sincerely to redirect traffic with my RFT Music column and to point everyone in what I think is the right direction.

I think TMTYL was Rocky's attempt to do the same exact thing, within the framework of a timeless body of music. RFT Award-winning vocalist Theresa Payne pops in and out of TMTYL to assist Rockwell whenever her soulful presence is needed. The record has strong features from Kanye West's affiliates GLC (a frequent collaborator and artist on West's label) and Tony Williams (Kanye's blood cousin and background singer) as well.

Knuckles currently resides in New York City, but he recorded most of this project prior to his departure from his hometown. I had the privilege of being present for most of the studio sessions -- the day he recorded "Blur" I almost scrapped my entire mixtape. I believe I witnessed Rocky record nearly three entire albums' worth of music prior to leaving Missouri, and I felt like I was witnessing something special every day. Certain people enjoy the recording process more than others; some are capable of navigating the studio as if it were a battleship roaming the seven seas. Sessions with Rocky are intense in this way, and pinpointed in a very precise manner. To watch him work is to feel as if the entire project is already recorded in his head, just waiting to pour out of his brain and onto the tape.

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While listening, you'll notice that Knuckles doesn't really have a specific rap style. He is capable of penning edgy hardcore rap songs, such as the title track "Take Me To Your Leader Part 2" -- this song plays like the the soundtrack to an epic fight scene between the army of God and the gates of Hell. Then, in the blink of an eye he flips the script with fan-favorite "Helmet," whose instrumental was produced by none other than famed St. Louis producer Tarboy (whom you may recall from J-Kwon's smash record "Tipsy"). On this track, Rocky somehow edu-tains the listener while simultaneously taking them on a wild ride through the troubled lifestyle he has left behind, growing up on the North side of St.Louis. This versatility persists throughout the record: One minute he's laying down rhymes with a relaxed, Biggie Smalls-styled cadence and the next he's belting out lyrics from his gut in a manner reminiscent of Tupac Shakur. He's not attempting to mock either one of them, and the music makes me feel like it comes from the same place of determination.

The new breed of Saint Louis emcee's will have to be hybrids in this way if they intend on surviving in the current climate of music. We don't need rappers attempting to duplicate the genius of Kendrick Lamar and Asap Rocky; we simply need people that are capable of competing with these artists on a versatile, strictly-sonic level. We need individuals that aren't afraid to wear multiple hats at once.

Hip Hop is in the process of re-drafting the rules and regulations that once shaped the genre. Rockwell Knuckles is vital because he has understood this from day one, and is constantly striving to throw the rock as far as he possibly can, in terms of creativity. Every rapper has their forte -- some of us acknowledge this more so than others. On TMTYL, Rocky seems to finally acknowledge that the core of his musical strength resides within the fact that he is not afraid to constantly challenge himself creatively. On this project you'll hear everything from rapid-fire raps with hard-hitting production to a bit of crooning and melodramatic harmonizing. Knuckles doesn't attempt to duplicate current musical trends or make records that will be easily overlooked and viewed as filler. Every song on this project is a portal to its very own universe. The body of music is easy to listen to, considering it's only twelve tracks, but each has plenty of replay value.

My suggestion to all hip-hop fans searching for something timeless from 2012? Check out Take Me To Your Leader.

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