Don’t call him a conscious rapper.
St. Louis hip-hop artist Tef Poe may be on the front lines in Ferguson demanding justice for the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer, but his choice to fuse art with activism comes natural.
“I don’t consider myself a conscious rapper,” he told GlobalGrind. “I’m a black man living in America, so I rap about things black people live through.”
Poe, who is helping lead a growing number of young protestors and organizers dedicated to bringing global awareness to police brutality, has noticed that many rappers who claim to be “conscious” aren’t actually in the trenches doing the work.
“People rap about revolution from a fantasy standpoint,” he said.
The beginnings of this revolution are nothing close to a fantasy. Poe was recently pepper-sprayed by police in riot gear during a demonstration sparked by another shooting, this time in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis, that left 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. dead.
He was tear gassed in the first days of unrest after Brown’s death. He’s been detained. He’s faced blatant racism and discrimination carried out by Missouri police. And he has a front row seat to the show of police brutality every day.
“I would personally consider myself a sellout if I didn’t contribute something greater to the situation,” he said of his will to protest daily and make music that highlights the dangers of living while black in America.
“Hip-hop sets the tone for the hood. In certain pockets of St. Louis, I have more power than Barack Obama, so I have a responsibility.”
Touching on rapper Young Thug’s recent comment that rappers don’t have the responsibility to amplify social issues, Poe insisted that there is still a conscious element in the rapper’s music, depending on the audience. As for Young Thug’s dissociation from activism, Poe says it’s only a matter of time before he sees how important the work is.
“He may not see it now, at this point in time, but maybe he’ll grow and encounter an experience that makes him say ‘You know what? I do have a responsibility to this.'”
More importantly, Poe stresses, the fight isn’t getting artists to talk about social issues. It’s about the issue at hand in Ferguson and other cities plagued with a broken system of justice.
In short, the disenfranchisement, brutality and discrimination of brown and black bodies is real. When asked if Ferguson was a war zone, Poe said:
“The only reason it wasn’t a war zone is because the civilians didn’t have weaponry available to us to fight back. All we had was hands and intellect.”
And in planned protests from Oct. 10-13, dubbed the Weekend of Resistance, Poe and his fellow activists, including Tory Russell of Hands Up United and Ashley Yates of Millennial Activists United will join thousands of people traveling to Ferguson to stand in solidarity for the Michael Browns, Aiyana Stanley-Jones‘ and Amadou Diallo’s of the world.
And they will use just that — their intellect and their voices.
“[The weekend of resistance] is to create one of the first American global actions against police brutality,” Poe said. “That’s what this weekend represents.”
Check out our exclusive interview, including a freestyle from Poe, above. For more information on the weekend of resistance, visit FergusonOctober.com