If we don’t love us, then we’re lost / If we don’t own land, it’s not ours / I’m here to spread love for all kinds, who don’t want us putting truth in young minds
-Moe Pope on Torch Song
“I was about to go on tour, and we didn’t have a front door that latched. So I called my landlord and said, ‘You have to fix this before I go away.’”
Welcome to Boston, where our most popular and critically acclaimed musicians face the same mountainous hurdles of horseshit that the rest of us endure. Moe Pope continues:
“He was like, ‘OK.’ But then a week goes by and I don’t hear from him. I called and he said, ‘Well, I chose against that.’ Instead of fixing it, he wanted us out, so he chose not to fix it.”
And then the boom …
“We got into an argument, and the day I got back from tour there was a piece of paper saying that I had to leave,” Pope recalls. At the time of this ordeal last year, his youngest daughter was just two years old, making it that much harder to find housing. “I was the super—I mowed the lawn, I fixed anything that needed fixing in the house. We were never late on rent once in 10 years.”
Pope’s temporary housing nightmare (his family has secured a nice spot in Mattapan since) came after he began to pen the most politically critical mark of his two-decade career, which spans from his early work with the Bay Area band Mission, to the acclaimed Boston groups Electric and Project Move, to solo projects with producers Rain, Headnodic, and The Arcitype. As an MC, he’s heretofore primarily reflected on his place in the world, not always considering the weight of hard external factors; but this time out with Arcitype as STL GLD for their second joint adventure, Torch Song, Pope had already raised the stakes when he was pushed out of his crib. The forced eviction just happened to fit with his theme de resistance.
“The other records, I wrote them from an internal place—what’s happening with my children, what’s happening with my wife. Or on my corner, in my area. With my friends,” Pope says. This time, however, the larger shit fire afoot served as a baseline inspiration. He continues:
“It’s different because I don’t know [Minnesota police shooting victim] Philando Castile. I don’t know these people, but if affected me. It broke my heart. People think [police misconduct and injustice in general] is done because they don’t see it on the news every day, but it’s not done. It’s always been like this, but now the world is seeing it. I’ve known about this, I’ve felt it, I’ve been a part of being treated improperly by police, and I think I accepted that we were less. And this is a time to not accept it. This isn’t OK. That’s the only way I can describe it. I don’t usually write outwardly like that.”
The debut STL GLD outing was a smidgen playful, a moody (and exceptional, really, fucking outstanding) album that hit highs and lows with work, life, and party themes while wowing from the verbal feats to beats. For example: Yo, I’m writin’ my name in graffiti on the wall / Hopin’ when I’m gone that my people will recall, my / Letters to the world over beat breaks / Hold ‘em all accountable, especially the DJs.
On Torch Song, a slightly different story. Everybody’s held accountable. This time Pope and his associates are vocal about profiling and beatings, surveillance and incarceration. “I was working on another album,” he says, “and watching Eric Garner get murdered really affected me. We had two songs done for the STL GLD record, and we were taking it slowly, but [Arcitype] started sending me these beats and I started rhyming to them.”
Arcitype adds: “With this record, I would get things to the point where I thought they were ready for Moe. He would write to that, come back, and I would build around that. We did a couple this way, and because they were so underdeveloped Moe had a lot more room to write in ways that I have never heard him write. Moe [used to say that] he was never one for the frills, but I taught him to fall in love with the frills [that were added after vocals were recorded].”
“The beats were skeletons,” Pope says. Whereas in the past he’s often written on the spot, this time he approached each cut more like a long-form reportorial endeavor. Pope continues: “There was so much happening at the time; I would be at home, and something new would happen. Personally and nationally, there was a lot going on. It was a fucked up time when we were making this record, and it still is.”
“Moe has [previously] been lumped into the ‘conscious rapper’ category because he’s always been aware,” Arcitype says. “But aside from the delivery—and I’ve never heard Moe rap like he raps on this record—there is a politically charged element that wasn’t always there, even if there was depth on previous albums.”
As for the sound that Arcitype constructed to propel said mission … “We fucked around,” the producer adds. Pope’s homey, muse, and create mate Christopher Talken punches in: “The tone’s not always heavy though. It’s a conscious record you could put on at a party. The music is dope, but there are things being said.”
“All I really cared about before was rapping good,” Pope says. “At this point in my life, I feel like I have to say something that matters. Right now everyone should.”
None of which means Pope, also a well-known visual artist, has foregone other longtime cares and creative initiatives. The national sociopolitical state of disgrace aside, closer to home he’s still prioritizing the plight of hip-hop in the Hub.
“I’m hoping I get to do some of these rock shows,” he says. “In the last two or three years, live music in this city is nil for rappers. And gospel, jazz—no burn. It’s rock, rock, rock, rock, rock. They’re only booking rock, they don’t want black music in the clubs. Twenty years of music and I can barely book a show here.”
It’s not unlike the bullshit with his last apartment.
“I see all these new buildings going up in JP and all this crazy shit happening,” Pope says. “It’s absurd.
“Anyone can see what’s happening—they want us out.”
Check out the STL GLD Torch Song release party with Avenue at the Middle East this Fri 2.17.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.