Allen Poe is old school, in all the best ways.
While the Lexington, Kentucky-based emcee has a diverse artistic output that spans over two decades, he’s exactly where he wants to be with his music career. His ability to trust the process and create a consistent body of work has resulted in his deservedly celebrating many little victories with each release and new milestone. While he’s a hero in his hometown, Poe is working each and every day to make sure he’s seizing something arguably more important than attention—respect (from rappers and rap fans alike as he expands his reach).
With thousands of rising artists in the game on a similar mission, Poe is standing out by relentlessly putting a focus on creating quality music. When he’s involved in a project, he’s giving it his full attention, which is impressive considering his balance of his work, music, family life, operating his own businesses, and supporting other musicians through journalistic contributions of his own. Given his workload and what he has on his plate, one would expect to see some degree of complaining on his social media, but take a fine tooth comb through his Twitter, and you’ll find nothing but humorous quips, positive vibes and encouraging words to those passionate for the rap game—he’s all in.
Poe’s warm personality, paired with his talent and open-mindedness, has led him to many fruitful collaborations over the years. Most recently, he paired up with Nigerian-born producer, Teck-Zilla. Together, the two have pieced together a new EP, titled Lightbulb Over My Head While I’m Thinking.
The EP (available today, Monday, August 8) takes what Poe is dubbing “a vintage look at life,” with lyrical content playing off of the themes the title suggests, lacing intrinsic deep thought story-telling over a laid-back soundscape. The seven-track project is full of surprises, appealing to fans of experimental Hip Hop and those who cater towards a more-traditional vibe alike. It’s not every day you hear scatting on a rap record, and it makes total sense on a project Poe puts together.
The moments Poe and Teck-Zilla pay homage to on this project are not drawn out, with the two collaborators intentionally putting together songs of a shorter length. With each song capturing a different “a-ha” moment, the kind when an idea or thought really clicks and makes obvious sense, the project shows a multi-dimensional approach to describing what we all experience each day in our day-to-day lives as conscious beings.
Take a listen and get to know the mastermind behind this pleasantly curated and tactfully-executed collection of mindful tracks below.
The Source: How long have you been doing what you do?
Allen Poe: I started rapping around ’96 with friends. I don’t think I took myself seriously as an artist until 2011 though. I rapped for 15 years before I ever put out a record. So I’d say I have a date I began preparing and a date I felt prepared to start.
How did you get started?
My friends and I would dub the B-side instrumentals off tape singles and record our freestyles to tape decks. I would freestyle for friends in school or at school dances sometimes they’d give me the mic and I rocked the whole dance. An early recording program [Cool Edit Pro…real ones know] came out and I made a mixtape or two and passed them around in school. The feedback was always really good so I was encouraged. I combined that part with the love I already had for writing. I was sitting in my room writing poems for fun way before I ever tried to rap.
Is there an early memory you’d like to share about getting into your craft, such as when you realized this was more than just a hobby or a passion?
The early years were all preparation…figuring out how to rhyme, studying patterns, nuances and all the mechanics and vibes. That change from a hobbyist mentality came when I recognized there’s more to it than writing and rapping. Writing and recording is the baseline, the common denominator… everybody does that. Some better than others but I realized the skill level wasn’t even what made rappers stand out.
I watched plenty average talents make major moves while phenomenal artists had trouble getting any visibility. At that point I knew I had to not only be dope with the fundamentals, but I had to go equally hard learning promotion. Rapping came easy to me but networking never did. I think the moment I decided to invest in my artistry by making myself grow in areas I wasn’t comfortable in, that was a turning point. I would stop spending money on extracurricular sh*t (food, clothes, video games…whatever) and I put money towards getting into a professional studio ahead of everything. That moment that I saw sacrifice as an investment changed everything.
How do you describe your sound?
My style is to use shared experiences and commonalities to tell stories or convey feelings. I try not to get caught up in topics that are overdone, I aim to take mundane sh*t and put new breath in it. Animate subtle ideas, associate words in ways that are suggestive. I’m more into introducing new questions instead of giving answers to old ones. I use ideas or situations we have all experienced but maybe never considered in any meaningful way. I’m open to convey these kinds of messages and styles in as many soundscapes as possible. I lean towards mellow soul and snapping drums but I’m confident in experimenting. It’s not so much what my sound ought to be but what sound works best for the feeling or message.
Who are your influences?
Early ones are like GZA, Def Jux and MF Doom. I always look for new influences, now I’m studying the lyrics and styles of Homeboy Sandman and Open Mike Eagle. I’ve been thinking on how KING and Haitus Kaiyote’s use song structures.
What is some advice that has stuck with you?
Pay attention to details. A lot that goes into making music is similar in that it all experiments with sound and feeling/thought. I feel like mastery is in the nuances. Do the little things right consistently and big stuff falls in place.
What do you hope people take away from listening to your music?
I hope they come away with a feeling and some questions. I hope they hear something new with each listen, or hear an old idea in a new way.
Tell us a little bit about what concepts or themes that reoccur in your new project?
My latest EP Lightbulb Over My Head While I’m Thinking is inspired by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi‘s speech about the conscious mind.
When Teck Zilla pitched the EP to me a little over a year ago he had the vision sound-wise all laid out. He sent me notes on each track which allowed me to have some general guidance on the theme, but allowed me room to still fill in details. We approached the topic of thought by using familiar symbolism, a light bulb. Each song is about a different situation where those “ah-ha” moments occur. It’s about seeking clarity in how we approach ourselves, our ideas and other people.
What was your creative process like for this project?
Myself and Teck Zilla worked together as writers for TheWordIsBond.com, so I think that gave us a chance to talk more. He brought up the idea to do an EP and sent me really detailed notes and breakdowns for every track. He is living in Montreal and I am in Lexington, KY, so our interactions were limited to the net. He was so thorough in his layout, though, it literally just took me filling in the blanks and the transitions and connections to other songs were already built in.
How did these songs make the cut?
I’m not huge on recording an abundance of songs and then sorting through the good ones. I’d rather have a purpose going in to it and get a song right the first time knowing I’m going to use it. Every song he sent me was going to be used so they all needed to be quality.
One note though, my favorite beat from the project is “Sunnyside Of Life,” and it took me months to figure out what to do on that song. Sometimes I hear the beat and wonder if rapping on it will only f*ck it up, I have a lot of respect for producers.
What are you hoping to accomplish next in your career?
I wear a lot of different hats and I want to keep refining myself in those areas. I have my own FM radio show in Lexington called Rhyme Hour Radio, a homie and I run a small videography business called Pixel Pushers and I write for ArtisticManifesto.com and a local blog that covers Louisville music called Never-Nervous.com. I want to be more consistent and develop myself in all of those roles.
As a student of the game, I want to learn more about marketing, promoting and business, because the game changes a lot in a short time. What I learned two years ago might not be information I can use to my advantage now. I accomplish this by self-teaching, watching others and taking advice from anyone kind enough to mentor me.
Artistically, I want to work towards being a more complete song writer. Project wise, I’m capitalizing on my recent track from The Other Guys’ latest record Life In Analog (featuring Skyzoo, Tanya Morgan, Substantial et al) with a full length project produced by them.The next record though, will likely be late this fall with LA producers Beatnick Dee. I have an EP with J57 underway. Also I have projects in the works with some of my favorite collaborators: IV The Polymath, PJ Katz and Dr. Dundiff. I’m not sure what I’ll accomplish from all of this, I just trust the process that by doing good work with what’s in my control, the stuff outside of my control will line up.
Photo courtesy Tim Savage