Gangsta Rap Was The Original Emo Rap

Managing Hip-Hop Editor
07.02.14 31 Comments

Tef Poe Dear Mr. Scarface

Brad Jordan has become a metaphor in rap. A guide post for emcees who want to match in Scarface’s storytelling abilities. A reference point for fans who point to the days when rap was about realness and authenticity. That spirit is what fuels Tef Poe’s latest, “Dear Mr. Scarface.”

With social media, one of the traps I try my damnedest to avoid is following rappers. They’re either narcissistic, not that sharp or overall annoying. However, Tef Poe may be the only rapper whose updates I tend to pay attention to on Facebook. On any average day, Tef waxes poetic about the progress he and his team are making as it benefits not just them but his St. Louis hometown as a whole. Having known Tef and followed STL’s music scene for a while now, his updates are a window to the music and the community. His ability to bring his point of view to life in his music are what lured me into “Dear Mr. Scarface,” after being baited a bit by the title, of course.

Everything I’ve seen and heard from Tef over the years leads me believe that seeing the ‘Lou shine is as important as his own success. Over production by Dave The King, Poe’s rhymes are specific as usual, hitting their target at each point along the way by painting a picture of how the music shapes and influences people, for better or worse. His message isn’t so much a plea for a reappearance of the man he calls “the ghetto Shakespeare,” but a call to action for other rappers, radio DJs and the like to take a different approach than the course things are on now. But it was part of what Tef said in his outro that caught my attention most.

“The emo rap used to be gangsta rap. The emotional rap where you had a motherf***er spilling his heart out on the track, telling you about a story about the complications of his life used to be what we considered gangsta rap. Where you had a poet from the ghetto striking a chord in your heart.”

Strike a chord is exactly what Tef did because his words coincide with an idea I’ve been toying around with for a while.

Many older acts managed to wear multiple hats without losing fans or any fear of being mislabeled. Years ago, even the chummiest of emcees could kick knowledge in their rhymes, and their words be absorbed. An out-there group like De La could talk about knuckling up if they had to. And even groups like N.W.A. and Scarface’s original trio, Geto Boys, could switch gears from being hyper-violent figures to dropping gems on social and political issues, thus balancing the scales.

The Fifth Ward group probably shared one of their best attempts at social awareness on the song “City Under Siege” from their 1990 album, The Geto Boys, released on Rick Rubin’s Def American label. The song itself is hard-hitting as the group tackles the politics behind the drug trade, using the we-don’t-got-boats-or-planes-in-the-‘hood argument to support their message. The song is track 13 on the album. The song before it? The misogynistic “Let A Ho Be A Ho.”

At the time of its release, no one would bat an eye at the thought of two completely opposite records being beside each other. Also, no one would question the sincerity in thought behind either song.

Often, I find these online discussions about how Scarface is underrated and my immediate response is not for us, meaning anyone who grew up in the South during the late-’80s and early-’90s. Yes, he was criminally overlooked due to playing in a smaller media market at that time, but, for those of us in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest–which would apply to Poe–he was one of those guys whom we placed on a pedestal.

But before he was Brad Jordan solo, he was Mister Mister Scarface, the Geto Boys member diagnosed with bipolar disorder who battled his demons–both internal and external–very candidly in his music. He was paired with two equally eccentric oddballs, the rabble-rousing, shit-talker Willie Dee and rap’s shortest but most feisty emcee of all time, Bushwick Bill. These three seemingly different rappers shared their Houston hometown and directed their anger at so many things that common threads formed and the group became a force, with some initial help from Rap-A-Lot Records.

As someone who grew up listening, too, Poe knows what “real rap” should sound like and the power it holds over listeners. That’s why “Dear Mr. Scarface” and Tef’s role as a voice for his St. Louis home matter so much. Not only is he speaking for the people, he’s giving some kid hope through the words heard in his earbuds, which is the same hope Brad Jordan probably provided a young Tef Poe.

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