Finding Meaning Through Music in a Violent, Confusing World: A Conversation with Allen Gates
Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis City. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His newest project War Machine 2 was released on June 5th and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For The Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get War Machine 2 here.
Tef Poe: Tell us about your story. Talk to us about your struggles and the things that keep you going.
Allen Gates: I was born and raised in downtown St. Louis -- grew up in one of the city's many "Red Zones," which is the phrase used by Law enforcement to describe very dangerous areas.
I grew up an only child with few friends raised by a single mother and a semi-distant family. Growing up in the hood but being sent to a Catholic school made life a little confusing, so I usually dealt with that by fighting and getting into trouble.
To say the least I had a lack of self control, but after seeing how similar behavior was affecting others around me I decided I didn't wanna fall into that world. So every time I felt like I wanted to fight or hurt someone I would write a little short story or poem about it. This is actually the first time I ever admitted that.
Needless to say thats how I started writing. I have always been inspired by emotion. My first project I ever did was "Direct Contradictions." It Came about after a friend of mine did me wrong ,a uncle pissed me off, my girl cheated on me, I got arrested, cut from the football team, almost missed being able to graduate, had problems with my mom and she put me out the house. So I made a desicion and that choice was to channel all that angered passionate emotion. In a span of six days, I recorded a 31 track mixtape and thats how the snowball was created. The struggle and pain in my music is real so is the good stuff but the passion could never be fabricated.
Talk to us about your current project and any future releases you are planning on pushing in the future.
My current project The Proof is special to me. Not just because it's what I'm pushing right now, but because its the first project that is a direct reflection of who I am and who I should be. Past projects were truthful but none had the professionalism and appeal of this one.
I sense alot of heart inside you. I hear it in your delivery. How has this shaped the way you approach writing a song?
Its weird because it actually makes it harder. What I mean by that is unfortunately we live in a time where honesty and passion doesn't sell. When I was freestyling everything it was particularly tricky, but I re-trained myself to write songs that could fit any type of vibe for any type of listener.
Can you share with us a personal moment of triumph or maybe even defeat?
On August 8, 2011, close to 3 a.m. I was leaving my second job bartending. After work I walked to Flamingo Bowl most nights to grab a burger with my co-workers. I started walking home and heard a car pulling up behind me. Four guys approached me, three with automatic rifles and the driver had a pistol.
They jumped me pretty bad, left me in the middle of the street in a pool of blood. I dont have any enemies so it was clearly a wrong place, wrong time situation. But when I had to walk home from the hospital because I had no way to contact a ride since all my contacts were in my phone that was stolen, I snapped... all that was on my mind was killing anybody that I thought knew anything about it. The next day I contacted a big homie about buying a HK45 that I had recently turned down because I didn't want to have to use it. But here I was a week later with blood in my eyes and revenge in my heart.
So the big homie asked me about the stitches in my chin and the bruise on my eye, after telling him the whole situation he told me he wouldn't sell me the weapon. Which pissed me off but then he explained, "You're better than this crazy shit. I know you want to get whoever did this to you but are you willing to throw away your career on some thirsty scary thugs?" I wasn't in the mood to be talked down but he said, "Your music is proof that better things are out here."
For months I was talking about doing another project and wanted to name it The Proof so when he said that I just start crying. Here I am a grown man trying to buy a gun to kill somebody and crying. I got over it and put together a GREAT PROJECT.