|Pictured above: Allen Poe relaxes after busting through the wall Kool-Aid Man style.|
Scott Ashburn, aka Allen Poe, is one of the dopest rappers in the state, and proved that last year with his amazing release, “How Gardens Grow.” Poe has collaborated with an assortment of producers and emcees from Dr. Dundiff or Ill Clinton to rappers Sheisty Khrist and Jalin Roze. This week, Ashburn is working with us at Never Nervous on a show at the New Vintage featuring Skyscraper Stereo, the aforementioned Sheisty Khrist & JustMe, Skull Avalanche, Uncommon Nasa + Carl Kavorkian (on tour from NYC), and 1200, alongside the DJ work of Jalin Roze, and plenty of special guests to join him on stage during his set. Of course we’ll be there too, hosting our asses off and podcasting as much as we can all night long. We chatted with Ashburn about making hip-hop in a rural environment, fatherhood, and holding grudges.
Never Nervous: What can you tell us about your origin as an emcee? How did that start and why?
Allen Poe: I think it was like 5th or 6th grade I heard ABC’s Iesha. My early music collection was very basic: MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, The Simpsons tape with Bart rapping on it and ABC, those were my first items in my music collection. My mom wasn’t fond of rap so I could only have like the G rated stuff. That was my earliest intro and even though it wasn’t Big Daddy Kane or Rakim or whatever was best at the time… it was enough of a taste for me to know I liked hearing rap. I would sit at the kitchen table and listen to those tapes for memorization. I would listen to a song like 20xs back to back until I knew it word for word and I think that helped me develop a template. Everyone starts out emulating until they get their feet under them. Then I would start writing poetry and in time that worked its way into writing poetry to beats. I probably first started writing to beats around 93 or so and maybe around 95 or 96 started recording those writings into tape decks. Those early tapes are now on display at The Smithsonian.
NN: Was it always hip-hop or have you ever done other sorts of music?
AP: It has always been hip hop for me. I don’t have a good singing voice, though I am coming to understand the huge value even the slightest of harmonizing can play in a rap song. There’s a difference between what Drake does with outright singing and a guy like Open Mike Eagle who isn’t trying to be a vocalist, but is using melodies as an extra piece to make a song more complex. So though it’s always been and likely will be hip hop for me, I do listen to and appreciate other genres greatly and believe fusion is important.
NN: Do you produce any of your own beats, or do you just write rhymes? Given the option, which would you prefer?
AP: I have made some beats before, but I didn’t work at it enough to learn what I was doing and never got good at it. I did make a few that I really liked and wrote songs to them and the writing came really easy. I saw how making the music you rap over could be a totally new level being in control of the entire creative process. I think ultimately I was happy enough rapping on other’s beats though so I didn’t stick with it. So writing is/was the preference.
NN: Can you play any instruments? If so, what do you play? If not, have you ever wanted to?
AP: I’ve never played anything and I believe I’m less of a musician for it. I have it in my mind that when I get geriatric I’ll start learning sax in an attempt to ward off dementia or something. I love jazz and the sound of the saxophone.
NN: When you’re writing lyrics, what comes first: the words or the beat? Why?
AP: I like to try different approaches. Most often it is the beat that inspires the rap. But there are moments where the beat gets tiring and I write in silence and then fit the words into the rhythm. I have had times where I had to write to a particular beat that didn’t inspire me and I would write to a beat that did, of similar tempo. I think setting and mood is important when you write. I try to write in different places and different times of day. The time lyrics come most easily to me is like 3 am when I’m dog tired and have been on a coffee binge, the most inopportune times are the best.
NN: I understand you live in a comparatively rural area, near Frankfort, right? How has living outside of a big city environment effected your music? How does the Louisville scene compare?
AP: I was raised in Frankfort and now live in Versailles, which is about 10 minutes from Frankfort and Lexington. I think living in a place where the music I loved wasn’t a mainstay or didn’t have a matured culture or scene made me dig deeper to connect with it. I was the weirdo who was in love with Wu-Tang while his friends were buying the most recent No Limit record that dropped that week, but you like what you like and when you find that thing that connects with you artistically, you can build on to it regardless of the environment.
The difference between Louisville and Frankfort scene is that Louisville has one lol. Our venues treat hip hop shows as pains in the neck, honestly. They are scared of the “K-State” crowd, they don’t want to be perceived as a “black bar.” These are all factual statements about some of the venues here. I had Bird Zoo down for a show last year and it was the owner’s birthday that night and he was sloshed, he mentioned to one of the member’s something about “blacks” playing there…yuck.
We have some people who rap and are interested in rap here, but as far as making an accepted scene that has grown and people participate in and embrace, it doesn’t exist. My view is that Kentucky itself should be the scene, though I understand how coming from Louisville or coming from Lexington, maybe the view would tend to be those cities are fine alone and state wide connection isn’t a big deal. I want Lexington and Louisville and whatever other pockets exist to be better connected, I think I would want that even if I originated in those scenes though.
I kind of have a goal that Kentucky not be the country rap hee-haw state (while enabling any country rappers to feel good about doing that kind of music if they choose, no shots, I just want us perceived as diverse and not as the gimmick state where if a label needs a country rap single to fill a demographic and turn a quick buck, they look up KY hip hop). I want people to look on the state and see the unique and diverse sounds that exist here, that are actually really good!!
I don’t think there is one style of hip hop that defines a Kentucky sound. I think it’s an exciting time to be a MC from KY because I think some of that uniting and representing ourselves to a regional and even nationwide audience is starting to take place. I was spotlighted on Tech & Sway’s “The Wake Up Show” last week (and though they said I was from NC, I construed that as an overly busy radio host misspeaking, I think she knows I’m from KY) and she said, “look out for the people around him too, they are doing dope things from that scene and have been for a while now”… that show is a mainstay in hip hop… we are talking about legends in the game talking on Sirius radio about us…its happening whether people understand it or not.
NN: Relative to that, your Facebook bio lists “father” as part of your description. How has fatherhood impacted your music?
AP: Without fatherhood I wouldn’t be nearly as far along in my path as I am. I would say prior to 2011 I only toyed with music. You can do something a long time and not be serious about it. You could’ve asked me in the 2000s about music and I would’ve told you I was a dope MC like any other rapper would say, but I wasn’t doing anything more than listening to beats, writing, recording and putting it on myspace or whatever.
It wasn’t until I had children that I realized if I was going to stay at music, I’d better start having something to show for it. I would feel guilty being the guy going to his friends apartment to record on poor quality beats and put out amateur sounding music just to say I still rap, that was selfish to me and I had more productive things to do with my time now. I decided I’d better start building a fan base (friends and family do not count as fans as far as I’m concerned). I had no idea how to do that and I didn’t want to quit doing what I loved.
So from those competing circumstances, the pressure produced my growth. Without a family I would be that guy on the internet telling you I’m dope without anything to prove it, because that can be fun, drink brews with some friends and rap…that was a fun pastime…but it had to become a PAST TIME (oohhh bars sahn!!) Also, though I embellish (even the most “keep it real” type rapper embellishes, period) family and the emotions/thoughts that come as a result of my real life are the ammo I use to write, so family is a big source of inspiration as well.
NN: What is the best show you’ve ever played? What’s the worst? For that matter, what constitutes a good or bad show?
AP: Best show I ever played was at Al’s Block Party last summer in Lexington. It was a show Sheisty Khrist put on and the crowd wasn’t anything crazy, it was a relatively small space, but the energy was ridiculous. Like I felt cold chills several times during that show and pretty sure I was smiling the entire time. The crowd was into it, the energy was just mutual everywhere. Worst show… I think I had a show in Frankfort at a place (now out of business) and I had a couple acts travel from out of town to Frankfort to perform, and there were probably less than 10 people there. I felt horrible to have a guy I thought was really talented show up to play for nobody. That was the worst.
A good show is about energy I think. I’ve played a lot where the main point for the audience being at the venue was because they wanted beer and to be out socializing, the performers are background music. When people come out to see a show first and they wanted to be there for the music–PLUS the artists are set on putting on a show whether it’s 1 inattentive person or a 500 person mosh pit, those are the right conditions to have a crazy show.
I know that our show coming up at The New Vintage on 03/06 will be that kind of show, it’s going to be amazing. Again, the emphasis of the show is to bring KY together and then connect that to the world. That’s why you see Sheisty Khrist and JustMe (legends from Lexington) on the bill for a show in Louisville, that’s why Jay Elly and my homie Phorensicz (Lexington and Frankfort) are going to rock on my set, that’s why Uncommon Nasa and Carl Kavorkian (NYC and Philly) are coming through for part of their New York Telephone tour. Plus Never-Nervous.com doing the podcast, it’s supposed to be more than rappers rapping at a show, it is an effort to establish Kentucky Hip Hop culture.
NN: When is it okay to hold a grudge?
AP: Never truthfully, but I definitely do. When people treat people poorly over long periods of time, it can be easy to let that injury they have emotionally injure you as well, so that you start returning the poor treatment like an eye for an eye. So instead of giving them a band aid or an ear to listen and empathy, you want to give them a punch in the throat. It’s like I can understand the true nature of aggression or rudeness is symptomatic of something else, but sometimes enough is enough.. that’s around the time I hold a grudge. It’s something that has to go on for a long period of time and know somebody is willfully and repeatedly looking to be a jerk to you. I bend a lot but there is a breaking point..I also believe it’s humanly possible to have an ability to forgive and have patience that can exceed even the biggest jerk’s efforts to get you to react poorly, I’m just not there yet…so yea, grudges.
NN: Have you ever been in a fight? Did you win?
AP: I was in a couple of fights in school, I didn’t lose. I am not a tough guy though and would look to communicate every time before I choose to fight; actually I would never choose to fight somebody would have to initiate it. If my family or my physical health aren’t being directly threatened, I find it very childish to fight. Fist fights after 30 are not a good look at all, ever.
NN: What non-musical things have gotten you riled up lately and why? Read, watched, eaten, or drank anything worth mentioning?
AP: Video editing has been my lot in life lately. Video editing is something I got into solely to have a source of income separate from my family’s income to support my music habit. Can’t dip into the kid’s college funds to drop my fire mixtapes and feel good about life. Also, because paying for a music video is higher than groceries and I’m a firm believer in DIY if it’s possible and can be done well. I’ve been getting into craft beer lately, I don’t have enough beer snobbery under my belt to tell you much about warm barley flavors with hints of fruity undertones, but West 6th Cocoa Porter is my jam.
The Lego Movie is my jam. Gone Girl was the last movie I saw in theater, it was wild. I am on Xbox One (scottashb—add me and get obliterated in some street hoops) and play Madden Franchises, I like to think I’m a hell of a defensive coordinator against the computer on all-pro level. I was contributing for ActLiveMusic.com (a hip hop blog ran by the lead marketing guy at Duck Down Music), however he recently gave it up d/t time constraints. I really liked blogging when I had time for it and that was my first experience with it, so I was sad to see it go. I am excited again, because I just (like literally yesterday) got on with TheWordIsBond.com and will be contributing music for them.
NN: Last but never least, what have you been listening to and why?
AP: I have been on an Open Mike Eagle tear… that guy is crazy to me! Nearly anything from Mello Music Group can do no wrong by me. Homeboy Sandman is the best lyricist in hip hop right now, easily. Sheisty Khrist’s Cold Winter has been in rotation heavy. Kali Uchis is really nice, she is in that Winehouse vein of singing but with better music behind her. I play Hannibal King’s Floral Print a lot. I’ve been going back and revisiting older poppy R&B stuff (Billy Ocean, Bobby Brown, Anita Baker etc). If the cover wasn’t done in Microsoft Paint and I can tell the music was given at least a decent mixdown, I will always check out any KY MCs music. I really am interested in our scene and want to represent it.