by Daniel Hill
Tef Poe and Rockwell Knuckles dropped their much-anticipated David Ruffin Theory EP this week, and it is spectacular. Across twelve tracks of ethereal production Tef and Rocky weave in and out, each skillfully employing his individual style -- Rocky's more sing-songy approach still contrasts beautifully with Tef's hard-edged, pointed lyricism.
From the first song, "Introduce Us," the mission plan is clear: Knuckles decides to "keep it simple, stupid" while Poe comes in "realer than religion," respectively, wasting no time in setting the no-bullshit tone that permeates the album. Trifeckta's production is spacey and free, not overly simple but free of unnecessary frills, leaving the track wide open for its MCs to stomp all over. As an intro to the record, the song is a perfect opening salvo.
Speaking of Trifeckta, he takes care of the production on "Space & Opportunity" as well, which has "single" written all over it. Theresa Payne and Aloha Mi'sho handle the hook, which is catchy and smart -- and sure to be stuck in this reviewer's head for a couple weeks at least. Rounding out the track with a verse alongside the album's principals is Saint Orleans, another notable St. Louis rapper.
In fact, a lot of St. Louis artists appear throughout DTR. In addition to the aforementioned (every name you've read here so far is locally based), there's Nick Menn (whose track "Line Em Up" makes an appearance), Tech Supreme, Bentley Hendrixx and Chase the Money. The EP is even hosted by Trackstar the DJ, the St. Louis scene alumnus who acts as Killer Mike and El-P's DJ when the two are out running the jewels.
Overall, David Ruffin Theory is everything we hoped it would be. Classic Rocky meets Tef at his hungriest, with the two trading verses over able production and featuring a litany of St. Louis artists. The end result amounts to a perfect storm for our city's underground hip-hop scene at this moment.
Being that Tef Poe is a contributing writer for RFT Music, we thought it best to let him write out the answers to some questions for us via email:
Continue to page two for our interview with Tef and a stream of the new album.
Daniel Hill: How does it feel to finally have this record out? It has been a long time coming.
Tef Poe: It feels great. So many of our future plans are resting on the shoulders of this. The release of all my future solo music is pending the reach of this project. We also plan on doing another project together -- we're actually already starting on the follow up. We destroyed and remade this project at least three times. Tech Supreme's hard drive crashed and we lost a bulk of the work and had to bury ourselves in the studio to recreate the magic. We've talked about this project since 2009. Everything is about timing; in terms of releasing music Rockwell Knuckles and I both have zero problems sitting on a body of music and waiting for the perfect time to pull the trigger. Trackstar the DJ took a brief break from his overseas touring schedule with Killer Mike; once he got involved he single-handedly made everything more cohesive.
It seems like it's getting a lot of positive attention already since it dropped. Can you speak to that?
Out the gate people started referring to this EP as a classic. Each project you release grows differently; each body of music has its own identity. I couldn't have predicted things would go this way. People in London, Paris, Hawaii, Canada , New York and Memphis have contacted us about this EP. It's growing every day, and the reviews are excellent, for the most part. In St. Louis right now this is every hip-hopper's wet dream. We put the city on our back and said we will willingly compete with whatever the standard is on the national level. A producer from the West coast by the name of Trox said some pretty amazing things about us yesterday -- he's also worked with 50 Cent. A few high level tastemakers in our genre are speaking extremely high praises about us right now. We're going to do everything we can to take advantage of this energy and the current attention we are attracting.
I saw a lot of St. Louis artists listed as collaborators. Was that a conscious decision or a matter of convenience?
Everyone featured on the project is family. You very seldom see me on stage without Nick Menn and RT-Faq. They've been all over the country touring with me for the last two years. Saint Orleans is family as well; he's a member of our collective and his crew Aviator Gang has toured with us as well. Corey Black is with me everyday. Aloha is like a sister to me; I've known her since before she even thought about auditioning for American Idol. I spit a lyric on the album saying, "Around the same time Nelly sold 20 mil / I was in the trap reading comic books and selling pills." Well unfortunately she was in that same exact trap house with us, singing and writing songs.Theresa Payne is a permanent fixture in everything that Rockwell and I release. She's basically the invisible member of our duo. Almost every producer on this project has St. Louis ties except for KT the Terrible and Smiff N Cash. This is nothing new, though. We've always used this same exact formula.
What is your favorite track?
Its hard for me to gauge my favorite track. I knew the fans and critics would like "Malcolm X." One of Eminem's friends from his underground days, a New York based emcee named Skam (Em mentioned him in the lyrics of "Stan") called Rocky and told him this record was ridiculous. Chase the Money produced that record -- he's still in high school. I think "In For The Kill" is nothing short of incredible. My favorite verse is Rockwell's "Rap Fucked Up" remix verse. Most rappers work with someone like Rocky and attempt to imitate them or change their style, but this is a rap album (not a rap battle), so we both stayed in our lane did what we do best. We're a partnership, so all the egotistical bullshit was thrown out the window the day we sat down and started working on this project. We weren't even in the same city when we recorded "Why Not." He sent me a blank canvass with a few vocal stabs of him saying the most random punchlines and I filled it in. We've sat on most of these records for two years, so really I can't call it. My favorite beat is the joint Tech Supreme-produced "Don't Fuck Dem Hoes." It sounds like late '90s Timbaland to me.
Right now I'm the studio every day, writing with a new female singer Tech's working with by the name of SMS. My next solo project is Cheer For The Villain, which will be entirely produced by DJ Burn One. He's worked with the likes of Asap Rocky, Yelawolf, Freddie Gibbs and Gucci Mane. Rockwell is about to release It's All Happening. All of our producers, from Trifeckta to Average Jo, are constantly feeding us instrumentals and concepts. After Cheer For The Villain I plan on releasing a project titled The Number Two Headband. Tech and I are sitting on about 50 records that could potentially be used for this project, but I'm hoping to work on some new material with the Urban Legendz and Trifeckta. I'm also building a few new records with a Chicago producer by the name of Dave The King. Hopefully by the summer I can have a solid buzz building for the release of my national debut retail album via Bungalo/Universal.
Rockwell recently signed a deal with XMG -- they're based out of Colorado so I'm sure we'll find ourselves traveling back and forth as his team pieces the game plan together even further. We're about to drop a few videos for DRT and we'll be onstage with Nipsey Hussle on January 18 at Pop's. There's a lot happening at once right now. It confuses me and frustrates me at times but we are both grateful.
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