The landmark Bridge Wars ended and made careers
The latter applies to Blaq Poet, who was then a brash, cocky teen looking to make a name for himself at the expense of KRS-Ones BDP (Boogie Down Productions) and affiliates like Just-Ice.
Now over 20 years later, Poet is a musical elder statesman in his legendary Queensbridge neighborhood.
And on Tuesday (June 30), the Queens vet released his most anticipated album in the Blaqprint, executive-produced by long-time collaborator and legend DJ Premier.
With a Hip-Hop market drastically different from the one he entered in 1987, Blaq Poet is out to prove the seminal East Coast Boom Bap sound still has a viable audience.
AllHipHop.com: Obviously, Blaqprint is a play on the word blueprint. What was the process and direction you were looking to take this new album?
Poet: Its all street, everything is street. Its Hip-Hop, hardcore, [and] gangsta. Its more Hip-Hop than anything else; hardcore, amped up music that n*ggas havent heard in a long time. [Its] a lot of hood tales, stories, bragging a lot, [and] talking a lot of sh*t. Im basically doing me.
AllHipHop.com: Youve been working with Premier for years now. I know you guys have developed chemistry, and the thing about Premier is that he can be a perfectionist. He has no problems telling an emcee hes not feeling the rhyme and to do it over. Just looking at your own career, how do you feel youve progressed lyrically since your last album in 2006?
Poet: Every time with me it gets better and better. It seems like when dudes get older they get weaker they just suck! Me? I dont know. I stay current. My team keeps me young. My dudes keep me level-headed. They let me know if its not popping. But everything be popping [laughs]. So Im going to keep it going until I hear otherwise.
AllHipHop.com: When you first came into the game in the early to mid 80s, singles were a lot more prominent than albums. It was the singles where you made your name. Now in 2009 its come full circle where now many artists focus more on singles and ringtones than their albums. Even though thats a surface similarity, what are the main differences you hear in singles now compared to when you first started?
Poet: Dudes nowadays arent even rapping a full 3 16s. Theyre just doing 2 verses, a long ass chorus, and thats the song [laughs]. Theyre not even going hard. Its more party rhyme about the money than anything. But everything comes back 360, man.
AllHipHop.com: You were around 15-16 years old when you put out All Hells Breaking Loose. You went at everyone that had a name at that time, including T La Rock, Melle Mel, LL Cool J, Rakim, Kool Moe Dee, and the Ultramagnetic MCs. If you look at the response to what happened between Method Man and Joe Budden, these days youre expected to have a good resume before you test a veteran. When you came in it wasnt like that. Even if you didnt have a strong backing, you were given a shot against anyone if you called them out. Why do you think todays battling dynamic is so different?
Poet: Yo, if you want to take a chance, take a chance! It dont matter. If you think you got a shot, go at it. It dont matter to me. Some dudes are just trying to make a name for themselves. Back then when I did it I just wanted to challenge the best at that time. I figured I was the best. Method Man and Buddens? I dont know. Budden, hes nice, and Meth is crazy with it. Well see what happens.
AllHipHop.com: Youve always been a street rapper but you cant be accused of glorifying the gangster lifestyle. The majority of the time Ive heard you rhyme about a street tale, 9 times out of 10 it doesnt end well. That lets people know how things turn out 99% of the time if you live that life
Poet: Yeah! I aint glorifying it; Im just letting people know what it is. Things happen on the streets, drug dudes do a lot of things to make it. I rap about it and then at the end try to wrap it up with a little message. Sometimes its just straight ignorant, and other times I got a message to go along with the madness.
AllHipHop.com: The one time you were involved in something overtly political was the controversy from the Who Shot Rudy? track with your group Screwball. When you guys finished that song, did you expect the media firestorm that followed?
Poet: Nah, we aint expect that. It was a solo joint from my man Keron. Everyone had a solo joint on the album. It got a lot of political attention and popped off, but we werent expecting that. We went to war with Giuliani!
AllHipHop.com: Queens have a very long legacy of elite rappers, especially Queensbridge. But besides the Bridge Wars, the Bridge has never really been united. Theres always been a lot of infighting and tension. Do you think theres anything in particular that causes these issues?
Poet: It just like brothers man, brothers always fight each other. And it goes back to the hood; people got bad blood with each other over stuff that has nothing to do with rap. But its always about competition and trying to outdo the next [man]. But were good in Queensbridge. Everybody may have their little beefs here and there, but its all good.
AllHipHop.com: Nas is unquestionably the biggest star to emerge from Queensbridge. However, theres other emcees that may have been just as skilled, but didnt get to that elite level for various reasons. What rappers do you feel had the potential but fell short of reaching that plateau?
Poet: Oh, theres a lot thats out there still doing their thing: Cormega, Nature, [and] Horse. There are a whole slew of us out there still going hard. But Nas is [still] the top dog.
AllHipHop.com: Youve gotten to travel and see how Hip-Hop has grown in other countries. Have you noticed a big difference in how people, say from the UK, receive Hip-Hop as opposed to fans back home?
Poet: Fans over there really study, and they know what theyre talking about. The average 17 year old street UK kid knows more than the average 17-18 U.S. kid. They just are really into it. They dont see you all the time so they just really appreciate it more than Americans. Its still new to them. They really love and respect the artists.
AllHipHop.com: On the album you have a track that stands out to me called Voices, where you speculate on what BIG and Tupac would say about the game if they were still alive. Youve always said you never wanted to be one of those artists that romanticized the past, but Ive noticed youve been speaking about more about the music. Is it a case of you being fed up with what youre hearing on the radio and that state of Hip-Hop?
Poet: Nah, Hip-Hop is gangster man, its good. Everythings changed, but you got your choices. If you want that hard sh*t, I got that. You want that soft, bubble gum rap, they got that too. If you wanna have fun, party, thats out there too. There are all types of Hip-Hop to pick what you like and rock with it.
AllHipHop.com: People were surprised when you appeared on the Victory track off of KRS and Marley Marls album Hip-Hop Lives. Did Premier get you two together? How long had you made amends before that track?
Poet: Marley and KRS were working on his album and my name mustve came up. They got at Primo to get at me real quick to see if I was with it. At first I was like nah, nah, nah. But the more I thought about it, I said its Hip-Hop, lets get it poppin. So we squashed that [right there]. Everything is cool now.
AllHipHop.com: Out of everybody that went at KRS you probably went at him the hardest, from his character to even going at his then wife Ms. Melody. Is it safe to say you took it personal since in your mind he was trying to stop the Queensbridge movement?
Poet: I was young and ready for war and whatever. So when he disrespected the Bridge, I took that personal. I didnt really care what he said about the Juice Crew. I didnt appreciate what he said about Queensbridge. So I had to throw my 2 cents in.
AllHipHop.com: Hip-Hop artists have the tendency to deteriorate over the years in terms of skill, but in your case youre one of very few 80s rappers to actually get better and update their sound. Is there anything you utilize besides your crews feedback to keep your music fresh in todays market?
Poet: I just got the eye of the tiger. When I hear the beats, I try to say something harder, just trying to be creative with it. You can say the same thing 1,000 times. Its all about how you say it and how you sound. I try to give a little lesson and show n*ggas how to stay nice, [and] how to keep these words and lyrics, straight verbal abuse.
AllHipHop.com: We also got a tribute track on the LP for you cousin KL. I know that was a devastating loss for your family. How difficult was it to put those emotions into paper and put it out there for the fans?
Poet: Yeah man, thats the first time I ever cried writing a rhyme. That was my dedication to my cuz, my baby blood. KL rest in peace! Thats one of my favorite joints, one of the last joints to get mixed. We had to make sure that was nice and tight for my baby boy.
AllHipHop.com: Are there any plans to continue the Screwball name?
Poet: Screwball is coming right up to bat. We got Ty Nitty down with us. We doing a special Screwball tribute album. We got a lot of dudes down, its crazy. Screwball forever!
AllHipHop.com: Today you hear a lot of people say back in the day battles were all about lyrics and there wasnt any violence. That wasnt always true, especially regarding the Bridge Wars since things did get personal. For everyone who didnt live through it, talk about the atmosphere in Queensbridge and walking through different neighborhoods during the beef.
Poet: Ah man, it was drama. Todays beef is corny. N*ggas aint really trying to dump today and fight. They just keep talking about it. It was more violent than it is now. I remember getting approached by a bunch of dudes from the Bronx in Queens! I was on Queens Plaza going to a radio show and waiting for a train, and these guys on the train were looking at me. I had my jacket that said The Poet. They come back a few minutes later off a train and say yo, you made that record talking about the Bronx?! I said yeah! and they started putting their stuff down, putting up their dukes. So Im like cmon, lets get it on! Im with Craig Gs older brother, my man Smash. Hes a big dude but he had just had a bad motorcycle accident. So he wasnt good on his feet and they couldve just pushed him over. But they didnt know that. So were like lets fight! Theres about 7 or 8 of them and 2 of us. But nobody threw no punches. So my train came and we got on and started spitting on them before we rode off. Back then it was funky.
AllHipHop.com: As everyone can see, you infuriated a lot of people with your approach to beef, especially Just Ice. He literally wanted your head when he heard All Hells Breakin Loose. Knowing his rep back then, did you expect that type of response or were you foreseeing just an on-record battle?
Poet: Just, hes a maniac. Back then, he took it to the hood. He came to the hood (Queensbridge) with guns and his peoples looking for me. I wasnt around that day but I was ready. He bumped into MC Shan and told him wheres Poet? And Shan was like I told him not to do that [record]! And then he growled at Shan and showed him all his gold fronts and said tell him Jaws is looking for him! You know, those shark jaws. So I was like aight, all I did was get more guns and get more ready. But me and Just are cool now.
AllHipHop.com: When did you guys patch that up? Was it the first time you actually came face to face?
Poet: Once I signed with Premier me and Just met up at D&D headquarters, smoked a blunt, and we laughed about it. He just dont like that being mentioned [laughs]. But Im like yo man its Hip-Hop. Thats my dude right now.
AllHipHop.com: We went through your past and current history, what emcees are you currently appreciating in the game?
Poet: Its a lot of dudes. G Unit, 50s nice. You know Cormega, I like what hes doing with it. My dog MC Eiht, thats an OG. Young Maylay, hes from the Westside, too. My man Jay Rock, Royce da 59, and Joell Ortiz. Theres a couple of guys out there that are still nice.
AllHipHop.com: Premier produced all but two of the tracks on the Blaqprint. Talk about the others producers you worked with? Poet: It was Easy Mo Bee and Gemcrates. They blessed me. Gemcrates is one of the producers Premier just signed to his production company. Hes nice and nasty with it. We went crazy with a nice little concept song in Sichuwayshunz. I portray three different dudes. Im a gangster, a bum, and a hustler. It is three different points of view. I can get creative too; everything aint shoot em up, bang bang. But its mostly shoot em, bang bang! [laughs]
AllHipHop.com: Whats the next project after the *Blaqprint* runs its course?
Poet: Im ready to break out and do an All Hells Breakin Loose 09 just going at everybody. But Ill save that for another day and time.