Too Poetic :: Droppin' Signal :: Tommy Boy Records {*unreleased*}
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Too Poetic] If you're reading this review right now, check out The Too Poetic Story by Jesse Serwer when you're done with my dissection. Actually check it out at any time - go there first and come back if you want. It's a fantastic piece that goes in depth on the history of hip-hop in Wyandanch, New York. You probably know Wyandanch because of Rakim, but there was no shortage of hip-hop talent bubbling up to the surface during the 1980's in this unincorporated hamlet of Babylon. Poetic was in and out of a variety of groups and crews, rapping under a half-dozen or more monikers, before he finally landed his big break and was signed to Tommy Boy Records. Soon enough a twelve inch single hit radio and retail in '89: "Poetical Terror" b/w "God Made Me Funky."

After the Paul C. produced B-side got some love on the air, a full-length album seemed like the next logical step, but rap fans were mystified when none ever surfaced. Years later Poetic returned as a darker, angrier, vicious lyricist on the RZA and Prince Paul collaboration Gravediggaz. What happened? Poetic's career became a perfect example of Q-Tip's "industry rule number four thousand and eighty" in action. Poetic and his comrades didn't just drop one single with the intention of disappearing, they recorded a whole full length album for Tommy Boy and turned it in expecting they would package it and put it out in stores. Tommy Boy balked at the idea because they felt there was no "gimmick" to sell Too Poetic with, feeling that his album needed to be shelved until they found a good marketing hook. Apparently a popular single and an album full of good music weren't enough of a hook. The album vanished, Poetic tried so hard to get his second break that he briefly became homeless, then the Gravediggaz resurrected his career.

Unfortunately Poetic's story of triumph ended with yet another tragedy as cancer cut his life short in 2001 before he could even see the final Gravediggaz album "Nightmare in A-Minor" hit retail. He made more out of his short years on planet Earth than most of us will make in our entire lifetime, and tragically never got the degree of recognition for it he earned and deserved. In the aftermath though people have looked back on Poetic's career and declared "the kid was dope." He may not go down as an all-time great, or get the martyr hero worship like Biggie and 'Pac, but at least he's earned a posthumous measure of respect as a well above average rapper who may have been undone by his very moniker. There's no pun in saying he was too poetic for Tommy Boy, it's just the unfortunate truth. In reexamining his early career though that once unknown album that got shelved has finally come back and gotten the chance to shine it should've twenty years ago. Long after his death Poetic is "Droppin' Signal" on us all.

"My poetical scripture, comes fully equipped to
split the myth that hip-hop is the
perfect scapegoat for music violence
They call us wild, when
Back when Elvis shook his pelvis
Concert halls were packed and filled with
Teens screamin, fiendin and gleanin
Full of adrenaline, waitin to see him
Lip, synchin every song
Urgin him to keep singin on
Guys were pepped, girls wept
Somebody left their set to jet
up on stage, dazed and amazed
Now you got a crowd on a rampage
People got hurt at these concerts
But you don't need an expert, here's how it works
Concerts today, are still that way
And Too Poetic came to convey
You gotta realize when the crowd is mesmerized
It means their emotions rise
Poetic speaks, K's on the beat
People get a urge to move their feet
But stereotyping hip-hop as violence is BULL
So I'm droppin signal"

The "K" that Poetic speaks of is Capital K a/k/a DJ Freddie 'Kaos' Cox, one of two DJ's in the group Too Poetic and the main audio architect. In fact the name of the group was an intentional in-joke - two DJ's plus Poetic = Too Poetic. Their unreleased 14 track "Droppin' Signal" debut album is typical of East coast rap albums from the golden age for all the right reasons. The beats and rhymes stand shoulder to shoulder with the sound of Lord Finesse on "Funky Technician," Main Source on "Breaking Atoms" and "3 Feet High and Rising" by De La Soul. The samples, drums and sounds will be instantly familiar to anyone who came of age in that era - "The Speech Keeps Flowin" begets "Brooklyn-Queens" by 3rd Bass, which begets "I'll Do 4 U" by Father MC, which begets "Movin' On 'Em" by Two Kings in a Cipher and so on. Of course even if all of those songs sampled the same Cheryl Lynn track, none of them had Poetic's rap:

"Here's an audio questionnaire, for you to fill out
Sort of a test for your ear as you chill out
Who do you figure could deliver a more liquid flow
to a pro with a real raw sequel?
Time is up so here's the solution
Poetic the man with the grand execution
Skill and wit and phrases that fit
Beats that's difficult they meant to accent it
Naturally, it's got to be
Better than the ordinary sort of emcee"

The album included a remix of "God Made Me Funky" which will once again cause deja vu to anyone who downloads this unreleased LP - you'll immediately recognize Scarface's "A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die" and D.O.C's "The Formula" thanks to a friendly bite of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues." Some people will be tempted to knock it for that reason, and it's true that at one point certain tracks by James Brown, George Clinton and the Isley Brothers were so overused in hip-hop they should have been banned for life. On the other hand the over-restrictive sample clearance policies which came along after De La Soul and Biz Markie had their legal battles ultimately stifled creativity and brought an untimely end to a sound we now fondly remember for how much SOUL it had. While a new era of producers learned how to make their own beats and/or disguise their samples more carefully, the golden era maestros took the music of their childhood and unapologetically paid tribute to it by putting it in the breaks of hip-hop hits. Poetic doesn't shame the samples here in any way shape or form - he brings them to vivid life:

"I'm five foot four and half cause I grew
No need to worry cause I still do
Deliver, bigger, than any other brother figure
Flip on my own solo tip and then trigger
vowels and consonants flow with, confidence
Makin MC's, solid as a monument
As I comence to dent their intelligence
The mic's a tool and the stage is a work bench
So rappers better, stand back and let a
brother like me press on, instead of
searchin for tricks to try to aim static
Like an automatic, word to Roger Rabbit
I'll remain in the same frame of mind
Blowin the cause of those that keep tryin
To rip and snatch tax mix or match poems
that in actual fact they don't own
Verses I write recite and ignite
It's original type hype that light's ya insight
Showin off a superior being"

Say WORD. It's amazing to consider that Tommy Boy felt that Too Poetic "wasn't marketable" when they were making songs that fit perfectly into the golden age era, and the entire album is track after track that could have been put into any mix. "I Will Remember You" was the smooth New Jack Swing ballad that could have gotten Too Poetic over as quiet storm kings and might have even made Poetic a figure of sexual potency rivaling Big Daddy Kane. "Motivation" starts out as rough around the edges as Tim Dog's "Fuck Compton" but brings on the intellectual qualities of KRS-One and meets them with the pop appeal of Fresh Prince. "The Melt Down" was a perfect uptempo dance floor beat straight out of the hip-house style and sound of Redhead Kingpin and Jungle Brothers. "Do For Self" is the classical hip-hop motivational track of the era, with Poetic and his partners encouraging everyone "with a little something for your mental development, because everything else is irrelevant." Apparently it was irrelevant to TBR though, which makes me angry the longer I continue to ponder it, especially given what happened to Poetic afterward. They're no longer able (and more importantly not willing) to right that wrong but at least the now widely bootlegged "Droppin' Signal" will stand as a tribute to the kind of skills Poetic had to pay the bills before he became a Grym Reaper. The production and flow are out of step for today's times but for a golden age hip-hop album, it's hard to beat what Too Poetic did here.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: July 6, 2010