Music

Unsung Heroes: Moe Pope

“I would like to hope me sticking to my guns about being who I am, and not worrying about what other people think, has changed the viewpoint of what Boston music is.” – Moe Pope

When Boston emcee Moe Pope started rhyming, he heard a common critique of his work. “I remember when people were like, ‘This dude don’t even sound like he’s from here,’ as if that was a bad thing,” he says with a laugh.

What separated Pope from the majority of his peers was that he wasn’t partaking in the fervent Boston-centricity that had overtaken the scene in the ‘90s.

“When I was growing up, if you weren’t wearing a Celtics jersey or a Red Sox hat in Boston, spitting about all that is Boston, you weren’t getting no love on the radio,” he explains. “I wasn’t doing that at a certain time, so I didn’t get much play here when I first started out.”

Although Pope is quick to note he was actually a fan of much of his hometown’s hip-hop scene back then, rock n’ roll was his first musical love. With that love—and a strong desire to simply be himself on the mic—his individuality can be pointed to as one of the reasons Pope has become one of the most influential artists in modern Boston hip-hop.

When everyone else was going right, he went left; and now he sees a plethora of Boston artists embracing their unique personalities.

“Everyone who’s making noise in the city right now is really different. From Joyner Lucas, to Millyz, to (Cousin) Stizz, to Dutch (ReBelle), none of them sound the same.”

Pope—already different thanks to his musical background—also picked up the mic significantly later than his peers. “Most of the people I knew had been rapping since they were 13…I was probably closer to about 19 when I started.”

The advantage to being a late bloomer as an emcee is that at 19, a person knows themselves much better than they do at 13. Pope notes there’s a downside, however, and it’s one he still wrestles with today.

“You always feel you’re not up to everyone’s level because you started later. There is a slight insecurity level, or a chip on your shoulder, because you’re thinking, ‘Is this good enough? These guys have been doing it so much longer than me,’” he explains. “I think I carried that into my later years, as well. I still feel like that. I still feel like I have more to learn, that cats have been doing it longer, and it came easier to them.”

Some would argue that it looked like things came easily for Pope, whose first group, Mission—which later became Crown City Rockers after his departure from the group—became an underground hip-hop sensation just a year and a half into Pope’s career. Pope, however, never took the accolades to heart.

“I always thought it’s not me who they’re talking about; they’re talking about the group as a whole,” Pope expresses. “It felt good to be a part of something, but it’s also like I hadn’t reached the status that I’d wanted to yet, so it doesn’t matter if someone says you’re dope, or if someone says you’re amongst some of the best in the area, or some of the best in the city, I was always trying to measure myself a little bit differently, outside of the city. I always felt like I still had something to learn.”

For Pope, that learning has come not just from other veteran emcees (and those who came before him) but also from the city’s exciting young talent.

“I listen to all these young cats—from Dutch (ReBelle), to Cousin Stizz, Michael Christmas, definitely Latrell James, Tim Nihan. These people are out here doing a different style than what I was growing up with, and still delivering some very thought provoking music. There’s a lot to learn from.”

Pope continued, noting inspiration has been a two-way street: “When I met all of these cats back in the day, they were at different stages of their careers, obviously, not everyone was at the same spot, but some asked questions, some just observed, some told me later on that they got this record (of mine) when they were in high school, or they bumped this record (of mine) for years before meeting me, and stuff like that, and that, to me, is humbling, especially when I’m trying to figure out what makesTHEM tick, and how they spit. I love what they’re doing, and I’m trying to figure out how I can better myself through listening to them.”

Bettering himself has been a theme for Pope—who became a father at 19—and immediately dedicated himself to being a good dad (as well as being a good student) while diving into a hip-hop career. He also became involved in Boston’s City Year program, which rewards participants with money for college for a year of community service.

During his time in the City Year program, Pope had a revelation. “It just kinda changed my perspective on life a little bit,” he says. “How life is just so much bigger than just me. As a teenager, you’re just figuring those things out. I think being a teenager back then, or just period, you think about life in a certain sense of everything is about you. And then all of a sudden you get smacked in the face with the reality that life isn’t really about you. It’s way bigger.”

This, in turn, has continued to influence Pope’s music—including his latest album, Torch Song, which is a collaborative effort with producer The Achitype that was released earlier this year under the name STL GLD. It’s the latest in a long line of albums for Pope, which include the 2001 Mission album One, the 2004 Electric album Life’s A Struggle, the 2007 Project Move album Love Gone Wrong/Butterfly Theory, 2008’s Megaphone, 2010’s Life After God, and 2013’sLet the Right Ones In.

With individualism currently at the forefront of Boston’s hip-hop scene, it would be fair to say that Moe Pope can (and should) be credited with helping his area’s artists embrace their uniqueness. Pope, however, not only feels he still has work to do, he feels his best work is yet to come.

“Rapping-wise I feel like I’m getting better in my older age than I ever was when I was younger, because I’m not afraid of failure at this stage,” he says with confidence. “I try things out now that I would never have when I was younger, because I was afraid of what this person might think, or if it wasn’t with the times, or if it wasn’t what other people were thinking about at the time. Now I just create, and I worry about all that other stuff later…There’s a complete freedom to that.”

It’s a freedom that leads to great music, and as long as this Pope preaches, his scene will continue to listen.

Speak your piece in the comments below or over at the UGHH Forums.