“I Trust Few With My Narration”: Raw Poetic Dissects His “Openings” Verse
In 2002 DC-based MC, musician, and producer Raw Poetic and his cousin formed the five member live hip-hop band Restoring Poetry in Music (RPM). It wasn’t long before a then-unknown, teenage Damu The Fudgemunk started wandering into their rehearsal sessions to watch them practice. RPM members enjoyed talking with the aspiring DJ/producer and soon became friends with him.
From the very beginning, music was a shared love that brought Damu and Poetic together and solidified their friendship. “We just used to always talk about different music we were into,” he says. But despite their common interests and similar social circles, it would be another five or six years until the two artists worked together.
For Poetic, sharing his most intimate emotions with a producer isn’t always the easiest task. “If you know me, you know I’m private. I trust few with my narration,” he explained in a recent Facebook post.
Poetic likes challenging his listeners by talking about emotional and political subject matter, but there are certain lines of privacy with his own life that he isn’t comfortable crossing. “I talk about things in songs, but I don’t want anybody knowing about who I’m talking about in my personal life,” he says. “Those are intimate situations.”
“I realized that I was ignoring some important parts that make up who I am genetically.”
It’s a difficult balancing act that many rappers navigate during their career — how do you open up to your audience and let them in without hurting or offending the people you know? The answer isn’t always easy, but as soon as he linked up with Damu, Raw Poetic knew he’d found a creative allay that could help him get his message across without crossing any lines. “This is somebody I can always trust to know how to put it out there,” Poetic tells me. “He’s a consummate professional. Also, he’s my friend.”
As a friend and trusted collaborator, Damu has helped Raw Poetic break through two extended creative dry spells when he was considering walking away from his music career altogether. The first was in 2011, the second during the summer of 2016. With the presidential election looming and tensions in the United States running high, both men were enduring their own struggles in the context of larger social unrest
And while Damu navigated almost loosing his entire collection of master recordings due to various technical issues, Poetic and Damu both faced stressful personal situations that made it difficult to create. But as is often the case, the most trying times can yield remarkable art.
With their backs against the wall, Damu started his two hour instrumental album Vignettes. After spending some time on the project he knew that the track “Openings” was made for Poetic’s voice and decided to offer his friend the lone vocal appearance on the album. “I hit him up and said, ‘Look, I just made this beat. It’s crazy, it’s for you. I hear you on it, I can feel your presence on it,’” Damu explained in an earlier interview.
To compose his verses to Damu’s stark, brooding production, Poetic looked inward to try to sort out the emotional turmoil he was experiencing. “I think of a lot of it had to do with some self-reflection and parts of my own self that I ignored,” he says. “Which I think we probably all do at times. I tried to ignore them because I guess I was trying to do better and keep my own life straight and narrow. I realized that I was ignoring some important parts that make up who I am genetically.”
“Say yo, say yo things gettin’ strange/When we all live for hope but it all stays the same.”
By reaching deep within in himself, Poetic was able to spit emotionally raw verses that maintained the tricky balance of connecting with the listener on a personal level while speaking to broader social issues. Rapping “Still who I am is something only few get/Speed away from fakeness, embrace awakeness/Earth steady breaking from manmade mistakes,” one minute and “Racism is definin’ how were going/If we’re flying, walking, running, or we’re climbin’/Sorry I’ve been gone/Felt my life had done me wrong/Noticed it was me when I put it in a song” the next, Poetic bares his soul on “Openings”.
And while each verse is packed with enough wisdom and lyrical dexterity that it warrants multiple repeat listens, perhaps it’s Poetic’s beautifully sung, freestyled chorus that steals the show. Utilizing a soulful melody that he came up with on the spot, Poetic says so much with so few words as he sings, “Way oh, way oh line up my people/Same old, same old ain’t fair and equal/Say yo, say yo things gettin’ strange/When we all live for hope but it all stays the same.”
Although “Openings” helped Poetic break through his creative funk while addressing elements of America’s racist past and present, he isn’t one to rest on past successes. “A lot of times when I do a song, I do it and then I get that release from it, and then I start writing more,” he says.
“If you know me, you know I’m private. I trust few with my narration.”
With that mindset dictating his creative flow, Poetic is in the midst of a creative hot streak. After assembling a home studio, he’s now constantly recording new material — solo and otherwise. For fans of “Openings” and Damu’s other work, that also means more projects from the dynamic duo in the future. “I’m just looking forward to the next thing we release, for people to dig into it again,” he says. “Some of the stuff that he has I’m like, ‘Damu, you have some amazing stuff we’ve done.’”
Though the future for Raw Poetic and the world around him may be uncertain, he’s embracing the uncertainty and using it to fuel his creativity. An with his trusted collaborator providing the sounds that bring out some of his best narration, people can expect more music with a message. “Some of it’s really energetic and hype, but it’s always got some kind of topical conversation point,” he says. “When it’s released I think people are gonna be like, ‘Yo, where the hell did that come from?’”
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