Words By Holly H | @holl_x
Tef Poe has had a big, busy year. A sold-out show with Talib Kweli, 106 & Park “Freestyle Friday” wins, and collabs with Killer Mike, Royce Da 5’9 and others. Last week, we were able to steal a few minutes of Tef’s time to talk about his music, his hometown, and some of his secrets to grassroots networking.
On His First Shows
My first show was horrible [laughs]. And to be honest probably my first 300 shows were horrible. I didn’t really become a good performer until recently, if you ask me. And I still have a lot of work to do. But…my first show that I did, I was young, I wasn’t even old enough to get into the venue…I snuck in…and I was actually a hype man for my guy Kash, I backed him up and I had just too much energy and hardly any coordination with my movements [laughs], it was just embarrassing.
I moved around for awhile. I wrote 1000 rhymes while I was gone. I came home and had a new focus on myself and I really looked at the city for what it was worth and was like you know, this really is a small city but there are things that I could work with. So that was my objective, to come home and really show people that, you know, you can be an independent artist making it work for yourself in [your] city.
I intended to move to New York, [but] by the time I did War Machine the lights started coming on for me and I had a really big record called “Out the Kitchen” which became a regional hit for me and GLC, Kanye’s comrade. Prior to that, I did a show in downtown St. Louis, we opened up for Lupe Fiasco…my brother Black Spade had invited me to open…I mean there were people as far as you could see…I don’t know the number, it coulda been like 15,000 people, that definitely was one of the craziest moments of my career, that show was like you know what, we might have something going here that I think we can pull off.
On Building a Career in Your Hometown
[Not being in NY/LA/ATL] is a hindrance, to be honest. There’s just certain advantages that we don’t have coming from here. There are tons of advantages to being out here tho, it’s easier to maneuver out here…like I know who the role players are…if there’s a big show, I can figure out what promoter to call a little bit easier than I would if I was in New York. But at the same time, having the type of buzz I have and having the type of following that we’re building, it’s not as noticeable as it would be if we were in a different market.
We miss out on a lot of the things that larger cities get to enjoy, and as an artist from here you just don’t get that same light, even tho you may be bigger than some of the guys that come from other cities…and our scene is so vibrant and you just wouldn’t know it. I try to focus on the positive, I try to show other artists, you know, look, I went out, traveled around a bit, this is what I learned, this is what I’m bringing back to the table, I hope you guys can learn from my experiences to do greater than me or as great as me, and hopefully we can work together and really build something here. The Indyground Crew, Steddy, Doorway, Vega, so many [Missouri up-and-comers] doing great right now.
Also gotta mention Rockwell Knuckles, I’ve got a new project out with him right now.