Redef Records artists Damu The Fudgemunk and Raw Poetic have a tendency to ignore typical song structure, length, and formula when they work together. The resulting music is often impressive — even if their respective personal situations are not ideal during the creative process.
In a recent example of rejecting convention during trying times, Damu released the ambitious two-hour concept album Vignettes after experiencing unprecedented personal and professional stressors in early 2017 — shrinking listener attention spans be damned.
Though Vignettes is almost entirely void of vocal assistance, Raw Poetic showed up to spit fire on the politically charged “Openings” while navigating his own challenges. The end result was an impressive pairing of nuanced production, passionate rhymes, and a perfectly sung hook that ran double the length of a typical rap song — much to the delight of their fans.
“He has a way of talking with his hands and the turntables. I think he kind of finished telling the story I was telling.”
— Raw Poetic
With the duo’s 2017 full-length project The Reflecting Sea (Welcome to a New Philosophy), they decided to put the magnifying glass on Raw Poetic’s personal life on “Calling” — a 10-minute opus of beats, rhymes, and scratching. Though both artists decline to say who the lyrics are about specifically, the inspiration for “Calling” came from the end of a long-term relationship Raw Poetic was in prior to making the album. “That song is about a relationship that didn’t really work out, but ironically that was a relationship prior to a more a recent relationship that kind of went the same way,” Damu says. “At the time he made the song and I made the beat, things had changed, but I guess the cycle of being subjected to a certain sort of situation hadn’t.”
Raw Poetic’s lyrics are emotional and transparent throughout, but he made an effort to conceal the identity of the woman he’s referencing in the song, perhaps to protect his privacy just as much as hers. “Everything was written to protect the innocent — or the assholes, however you look at it,” he says with a laugh. “A lot of times when you write music, you just speak on your life and you figure out a metaphorical way of saying it so people aren’t all in your business.”
To fully understand the lyrics and composition of “Calling” is to pull it apart and examine the different layers, of which there are many. First, there is the beat. Stitching together fragments of vocal samples, piano keys, drum hits, a synth line, scratches, and much more, Damu constructs a beautiful sonic tapestry with painstaking precision. “It kind of had the soulful, slowed down R & B sound, yet in a very muddy hip-hop way — as Damu knows how to do so well,” Raw Poetic says.
“That was a one take, man. I freestyled that hook — I never wrote that shit down.” — Raw Poetic
Though some producers might guard such a creation carefully, Damu trusted his longtime friend and collaborator to give the beat the deliberate thought and care it deserved. And he did indeed, crafting such thoughtful lines as, “But love becomes a stranger when you are loving a stranger/True emotions really start coming out off the hanger/To me it’s all a novel, sinking in someone’s bottle/Ship it off tomorrow, shallow but never hollow.”
Once Raw Poetic committed his troubled mindstate to two lengthy verses, it was time to come up with a hook. Despite how beautifully the sung chorus of, “You got love but don’t save it for me,” fits the emotional tenor of the song, it 100% off the cuff. “That was a one take, man. I freestyled that hook — I never wrote that shit down.”
It’s at this point in our conversation that Raw Poetic drops a true songwriting gem. Because of the limited amount of time and space that choruses occupy, he believes spontaneity can be a secret weapon to coming up with a great hook. Sometimes too much analysis and thought kill the purity of it. “A lot of hooks are freestyles because I feel like the hook has to capture the moment — more than anything,” he explains. “The verses you can go back and re-write and re-write and re-write. For the hook, a lot of times whatever you’re humming to the song is what’s gonna work.”
“At the time I had mixed the song and done all the scratches, I was in the relationship. Maybe within a week or two weeks after I turned in the album, that relationship was done.” — Damu The Fudgemunk
After the verses and the second hook, the song takes an unexpected turn as Damu launches into an incredible display of vocal sample scratching for the song’s final six and a half minutes. Far from filler, every single scratch serves a purpose and further enhances the storyline. “The reason I went above and beyond and put the extra effort into it is, not only did I know what he went through, but I wanted to give him a portrait of himself,” Damu says.
Blending vocal snippets from The Pharcyde’s “Passing Me By,” Elzhi, some earlier vocals from Raw Poetic himself via his work with Panacea, an obscure Prince Markie Dee album, and much more, Damu used scratching to reflect his friend’s mindstate. “Midway through the scratch sequence, I have Prince Markie Dee where he said, ‘maybe I woke up and smelled the coffee.’ All those scratches were pretty much me talking back to Jason (Raw Poetic), but then also pretty much Jason talking to himself.”
Raw Poetic also thinks Damu’s cuts helped him say things he didn’t put in his rap while enriching the song along the way. “I feel like the scratches sometimes is Damu’s way of MCing,” he says. “He has a way of talking with his hands and the turntables. I think he kind of finished telling the story I was telling.”
“We’re both dedicated musicians. He and I both know what the first loves of our lives are.”— Damu The Fudgemunk
Listen closely to “Calling” and you’ll notice that the beat changeups also play a critical role in enhancing the narrative by matching the musical tone of what’s being said. “The first wave of the cuts — even the changes in the music, the beat, the climaxes and so forth — those were all calculated things I wanted to put in there to illustrate what he was saying,” Damu says.
Pushing the intense listening journey one step further, “Calling” blends into the song “Raw Poetic’s Motif” while drawing on the synth line that’s played throughout the chorus of “Calling.” Using another kind of swing and energy, Damu brings the record to a completely different space as the album draws to a close. “When you hear the bouncy, kind of jazzy elegance and softness and moods of ‘Calling,’ it’s definitely an emotional song and it’s definitely done in a careful and respectful way,” says Damu. “When you hear ‘Raw Poetic’s Motif,’ you hear the edgier, raw, harder drum pattern and then when Special Ed and Organized Konfusion say, ‘Raw…so poetic.’ That’s Jason returning to his core, Jason returning to himself.”
When asked about the decision to make a 10-minute song followed by a connected two and a half minute song, Damu points to Jaco Pastorius records and explains how expanding the track’s intricacies can actually enrich the listener’s experience. “All the musicians are soloing and it’s eight minutes — I’m getting my money’s worth,” he says. “Especially if it’s something I’m enjoying, I don’t want it to go off.”
“That’s Jason returning to his core, Jason returning to himself.” — Damu The Fudgemunk
Sadly, in an unexpected twist of art imitating life, Damu reveals that even though the song was about Raw Poetic’s romantic struggles, his own love life fell into turmoil as the duo finalized the album. “At the time I had mixed the song and done all the scratches, I was in the relationship,” he says. “Maybe within a week or two weeks after I turned in the album, that relationship was done.”
Though there’s never a simple explanation for why relationships end, Damu alludes to the possibility that he and Raw Poetic’s passion for their art makes lasting partnerships difficult. “We’re both dedicated musicians,” he says. “He and I both know what the first loves of our lives are.”
Despite the difficulties both artists faced as they completed The Reflecting Sea (Welcome to a New Philosophy), fans should rest assured that neither artist has an emotional hangover after completing the deeply personal project. In fact, they’re more ready than ever to tackle their new projects. “A lot of times by the time the song comes out, I’m knee deep into two or three albums later,” says Raw Poetic. “It feels like that release. I couldn’t move on to the next thing until I got that off my chest. A lot of times I’m happy that I did it and then I can write about some happier times.”
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