6 Indie Rappers Dispel Myths About Being Independent And Explain Why They Wouldn’t Have Their Careers Any Other Way

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St. Louis native Tef Poe, whose real name is Kareem Jackson, said he’s been a revolutionary all of his life, but his social advocacy drew mainstream attention following the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The rapper immediately joined the frontlines of protests, becoming a household name in civil rights and social justice

“In 2014, I was crowned an undefeated BET Freestyle Friday Champion,” Jackson told Blavity. “That’s the same year an unarmed teenager in my neighborhood was killed by the police. His name was Michael Brown Jr. It was hard for me to be focused on recording at that same time. I left my regional tour and joined the movement.”

However, his musical accolades never stopped coming. 

He was selected by Harvard University as the Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellow in 2017 and he’s also a Harvard University American Democracy Fellow.

“That makes me the only emcee in the world with this combination of academic accolades,” he said. 

He’s also found a way to combine his advocacy with his music internationally, serving as a United States Cultural Ambassador to the country of Jordan.

“I’ve traveled to the Middle East and worked with the best Arab emcees in the region. I’ll be going to Egypt this summer.” 

Since joining the current civil rights movement, the Midwest artist has continued to release music, but he’s also taken his civic duty a step up by being a co-creator of Hands Up United and later through his involvement with Black Men Build. 

“Hands Up United is an organization me and my homies from St. Louis started together. We created a lot of community programming but Books and Breakfast was the most popular one,” he said. “We had friends who died, and we know people in prison behind the Ferguson Uprising. The real story wasn’t made for TV. Today, I’m a part of something called Black Men Build. We give away free diapers to struggling parents, we put free coats on kids’ backs in the winter and we clean up the community. We were also outside on the front lines of COVID giving away free masks and protective gear.”

Now in conjunction with his music, the highly-lauded emcee is a part-owner and executive director of The Boycott Times, “a nonprofit publication of independent journalism and revolutionary art as well as a platform for global dissent.”

“We wanted to create something fearless, so we prioritized writers with revolutionary voices. We’re a news organization with its own political agenda,” he said. “We want to do to the literary journalism world what Master P was able to the music world. In a few years, we could be what VICE could be if it was run by communists, Democratic socialists, and anti-zionist- Pan Africanists.” 

A true balancing act of revolution, Tef Poe recently released an album, Nine, which he calls a concept album. He is also set to release another album in August. 

“Over 25 mixtapes, albums, collaboration projects under my belt. I’ve recorded records with Trinidad James, Project Pat and Young Noble from Tupac’s crew the Outlawz,” he said. “I’ve toured with Run The Jewels, Talib Kweli, Chino XL and Immortal Technique. I’ve opened up for Lupe Fiasco, Big Krit, Kendrick Lamar, Dead Prez, Stevie Wonder and so many more. I used to wash dishes for a living. My greatest accomplishment is using my skills to get myself out of the dish pit.”

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