“The Poetree sound is a unique amalgamation of old and new influences…to surprise and captivate his intended audiences.”
In effect, this entire phrase from Poetree’s official website renders the following piece of critique redundant. Poetree promises just what he delivers on Inner Orchestra, a superb, sprawling voyage through hip-hop’s uncharted waters, mixing the traditional with the offbeat and taking cues from a variety of influences. Am I surprised? Absolutely. Am I captivated? Even more so.
I’m firmly rooted in the old school hip hop., or at least, old school mainstream hip hop. I’m not old enough to remember the days when Nas and A Tribe Called Quest had chart-topping albums, but those must have been some days, right? Nowadays there’s little in the way of mainstream hip hop that appeals to me, and “underground” artists like Immortal Technique, People Under The Stairs etc remain underground. I’m pondering on that word there, underground. Underground. As if hip hop was dead, six feet under, right? And in ways it is. But if it wasn’t for the underground, independent and unsigned acts like our very own Poetree here it could be worse still. It’s being kept alive by those who haven’t given way to commercial expectations, selling out, doing ads etc, by those who tirelessly work honing their beats and crafting their rhymes in the spirit of true hip hop. To quote the liner notes of People Under The Stairs’ dope album O.S.T, “As major artists traded in their DJ’s and turntables for backing bands and backup singers, underground hip hop became a symbol of suburban rebellion across the Internet… It seems that in the infinite pursuit of progression, some have forgotten to acknowledge the past.” With two feet firmly forward, Poetree nevertheless hasn’t forgotten about the importance of the past.
One of the great things about DJ’ing and sampling is the almost endless ability to create sentences and hooks by sampling bits of existing lyrics alone. If a DJ don’t rap, how will we get to know his personality, his style? Why, sampling of course. Inner Orchestra’s opening track is a superbly virtuosic and confident introduction to the music and the artist, with a foundation of drums and soulful strings underlying samples from some of the genre’s most legendary MC’s. I can hear Notorious B.I.G. in there, bit of Big L, Inspectah Deck, Mos Def, KRS-One maybe? As much as it’s for show, it’s a fitting insight to Poetree’s character: whimsical, self-assured, and very funky. “Who’s the one you call” “Poetree” “Coming into your mind!” Grandiose enough for you? Try the next track Muzik Power, whose opening string salvo puts you in mind of a royal procession. Well, this is hip hop royalty we’re talking about here, so I guess it’s fitting. Guest MC Headkrack rips this track up over Poetree’s immensely funky beat, flavoured with brilliant scratches, THOSE STRINGS and some guitar that clearly went out and devoured a massive bowl of soul food for dinner. Just great stuff, and it only gets better… Chronicle Dynamite ups the pace again with a wonderful DJ Premier-esque string loop before Late Night Blues transports us to a classy nightclub, sits us on a mahogany barstool and hands us a drink of the finest bourbon. Loose, live drumming over some chillllllllllllllllled electric piano. I’m checking out an elegant blonde alone at a table, shrouded in a mist of shadow and cigarette smoke, drifting lugubriously from the slender cigarette holder poised between her gloved fingers. Her debonair demeanor is entrancing, enhanced by the suaveness of the music. I feel like I should be dressed in a dinner jacket… I’m half expecting Miles Davis to walk up to me and offer me another drink. You see we’re only a few tracks in and the lines have already been blurred between hip hop, jazz and soul in so subtle a way it took me a while to work out it was happening. Sometimes it even happens in the same song, such as the exuberantly charming Heart Beats. Taking one of the fattest and best known drum loops in hip hop (from The Honey Drippers’ Impeach The President) Poetree contrasts it with a few gorgeous loops of tinkling piano. For me, here lies an apt summation of his entire style: taking something old and well known, mixing it with something fresh and making some utterly amiable, zealous and inventive music in the process.
While sticking strongly in the hip hop mindset, Poetree often opts for the mellower moods on Inner Orchestra. It just started to rain outside as Reflections came on, and I’ve rarely felt music and mood coincide so appropriately. Tired and meditative, it blends into the equally reflective Sleep, gently soothing our ears and resting a fat pillow behind our heads. An elegant comfort to wearisome and melancholy minds. Yet equally adept is he in reaching into the funkier echelons of the music: Rock on the Block uses a classic Group Home sample as the hook of what turns out to be a bumping dance-influenced track, Mirage casts the shadow of rock music over the track with its hazy guitar and marching drums. And so on and so forth. Styles are blended and coalesce in a flash of genius, staying true to the game and delivering some surprising and captivating music along the way; music that soothes, excites and amazes. Poetree’s music stands up on its own, is the perfect compliment to a number of guest rappers and illuminates the dark cavern of modern day hip hop, pushing boundaries yet firmly indebted to the old school. The whole album is free on his Bandcamp page, you can “like” him on Facebook, and I suggest spreading the word if you dig his music. Certainly more people could do with hearing it.
Words - Adam