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On Producing in the Right Environment & Injecting His Live Show with Rock & Roll
Intrinsically motivated, quick-witted, Boston-based rapper Moe Pope has been in the game for the better part of the last decade, and is now releasing what is arguably his best work. It’s no surprise he just won the Boston Music Award for Best Hip-Hop Artist. Pope, who is known for his lyrical social commentary and casual persona, is creating old-school hip-hop in a new voice. Laying down rhymes on unique tracks of his own composition, Pope it upping the ante for up and coming hip-hop artists to not only talk about real issues, but to do it in an distinctive way. This month, we got the chance to talk with Pope about his upcoming album, his hometown influence, the music industry, and his creative process.
What drew you to music?
I come from a musical family. My dad is a drummer, and my mom is a singer. My first love was the records that they would play when I was growing up. I’m a lucky dude, my mom’s family is from the suburbs, and my dad’s family is from the city. My uncles listened to new wave and punk stuff. I don’t know a lot of black families who did that. And my mom listens to soul, jazz, and my grandmother listened to country and gospel music. I was exposed to all of this very young, and I was a quiet kid, so I just soaked all of it in.
But as far as hip-hop goes, I really don’t feel like you can grow up in the city and not be influenced by hip-hop. I heard an interview with Jack White. He grew up in the hood, and said that even though he tried as much as he could to not be influenced by his surroundings, how could he not be influenced by the beats and the sounds, and how a man carries himself in the inner city?
I lived in the projects, and then when I was thirteen, my mom bought my grandparents’ house and moved us out to the suburbs. It was a huge culture shock, but I got used to the music. Like Nirvana. There were certain things about all of it that really made sense, and shaped how I listened to music.
How do you write music lyrically, and how do you approach your studio time?
As far as studio time, I mean, we’ve done some songs in my living room, we’ve done songs in a closet. It’s really wherever the acoustics can be right.
Honestly I feel like you can make music anywhere, as long as you have the right ear and a really good engineer…and the right vibe. You can be in a million dollar studio and the vibe just isn’t right, so you are never going to get the song right.
As for my writing process, I go through an ebb and flow. Sometimes I can write a song in 15 minutes; sometimes it will take me weeks. I try, as much as possible, to talk about important aspects of my life, as well as have fun. I just try to tell the truth to people. I think that’s a huge thing that’s not in hip-hop right now. There is a lot of fun in hip-hop. And I’m not like one of those old-school rapper dudes who doesn’t like the new stuff. I feel like you can find an influence in anything. It’s just that the stuff that’s on the radio right now, the new hip-hop…it’s vastly superficial.
You’ve got the gangster rappers and they are really only talking about the negatives. They are only talking about the shootings and getting their money, selling drugs, you know? And that’s one part of it…when they’re talking about ladies shaking their asses, and that’s a part of it, too. But that’s not the whole story; there are mothers and fathers, there are children playing in the park, there are huge success stories of kids who have come out of tragedies. There are flowers that grow in the city. So I don’t feel like the whole story is being told. Whereas a rock band can really talk about anything they want. And because of that, I feel like there is a huge double standard within writing in hip-hop. Like I can’t say that I want to shoot somebody in the face, but Martin Scorsese can make a movie [about] that.
The video for “Rock Me” was shot all around Boston; are you trying to represent Boston/Roxbury?
I’m not trying. I AM Boston. I went out to the Bay when I was younger, and when I was out there, I wore a Boston t-shirt everywhere that I went. I am vastly Boston, but Boston doesn’t define me. I don’t make records to represent Boston. I make records because I love hip-hop, I love rock and roll. I love music. It just happens that I was born in a fuckin’ crazy city.
My first group was called Mission, which was a band actually. That was my first anything. My first song, my first record, my first tour, the first time I left the country was with this group. Then they became a group in their own right, without me, and that group was the Crown City Rockers. So I decided to leave and move back to Boston to take care of my daughter and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I tried different beats, and different styles of producers, and different groups. And nothing really clicked…nothing really felt like home until I was working with Rain.
When I was in all those groups, I would write a song and they would be like, “This really isn’t you…you’re more like a Common guy.” And it’s just not true. I have these thoughts as well, so I write them. If it wasn’t in me, I wouldn’t write it. Or they’d be like, “You cant say this word because I don’t want to offend anybody,” and I just always hated that. So when I met Rain, he was young, and I had been in the game for a while, but it allowed me to start over and do what I wanted. I could be me, and not be judged on wanting to try things. Because he was kind of green, he had no idea how to make a record. So it was like learning how to be myself, and do what I wanted to do, that’s what Rain allowed me to do. And within that, I think I’ve taught Rain how to make records. And he has grown…before he was a good producer and I think right now he’s an amazing producer. He’s a goddamn genius to me.
Has Rain been doing the backbeats while you are strictly the lyricist, or do you have a hand in construction of the track as well?
I would say 75% of things that I rap on, Rain has created. Within that, there are songs that I have co-produced. And there are things that I have played for him, that he has built something around what I wrote. But the vast majority is him.
Having been in a few groups, and now making music on your own, do you enjoy working as a solo artist? Or do you miss the group dynamic?
I loved the group aspect of it. There is nothing like having your brothers and your sisters there to talk to about stuff, to travel with and see the world together. That’s definitely something that I miss about having the full on group. But there’s nothing like being able to express yourself fully. Like in a group, you have to compromise yourself drastically sometimes. I feel like I’ve done that over the years – compromising who I was, and what I wanted to achieve.
Right, you are just showing that you are human…
Exactly, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that hip-hop can be that way. I mean, shit, if Dylan can write about his fucking feelings, why can’t I, and have it be hip-hop? Just because there’s a thunderous beat there, or something people can shake to doesn’t mean that it can’t be good and have quality. It also doesn’t mean that somebody who wants to write a song that’s serious, can’t write a song that he just wants people to dance to.
It’s a double-edged sword, wanting to be creative and wanting to do something that’s different. People will put you in a box no matter what.
How do your albums translate to a live performance?
The onstage show, people tell me all the time, is the best show that they’ve ever seen for hip-hop. Because the worst thing, for me, is going to see a dude walk back and forth rapping and grabbing his dick. Hip-hop is really a testosterone-filled environment. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve knocked a few people out, but at a certain point you’ve got to talk about something different, you’ve got to be creative, and I feel like that’s something that hasn’t happened in this genre. And that’s why people haven’t gravitated towards it like they used to.
We work really hard on the live show; we try to bring a very live, rock and roll feel to hip-hop, without it being rap-rock. Because I hate rap-rock.
What does your touring schedule look like?
Everything is just starting now. And the record comes out [this month]. So between the two, we will be going out to New York and doing something for Converse. But we are just starting booking now. The record just got mixed; we are doing press and just doing all the final stuff. Everything had to be designed, fixed up and made to look pretty for people. We have crazy packaging for the CD cover that I think people are going to bug-out about when they see it.
I am trying to be! We did six videos for this project and still are going to do two more. We are just trying to make sure that people hear this record. If there is any record that I have worked my ass off for, it’s this one.
There is good hip-hop out there, palatable hip-hop that is really hard to make, that would bring people back to loving hip-hop. Without it being cheesy and old. I just feel like our time is now. So many young people are listening to rock, and R&B and hip-hop. I don’t know if a lot of my friends know that I have a Radiohead record and that I’m bumpin’ Frank Ocean right now. And that I have A Tribe Called Quest record and I listen to A$AP. I just feel like the time is now for people to shed those boundaries and those little groupings.
photos by David Salafia