Waiting to meet the rapper Poke in Amsterdam's De Duivel bar I was anticipating to meet an eclectic character. As I expected, a hilarious, charming young man with an overwhelming sense of personality walks in. He needs no introduction because his persona speaks for itself. Poke is the kind of person who owns the room with his cheeky smile and fearless nature. I see him as a Dutch Young Thug, but with better lyrics.
Poke's music is a blend of trap, hip-hop and Suriname, as he describes "I'm not the kind of rapper whose music you can fall asleep to. I turn up". His version of turning up is transforming 1 track into a 3 beat frenzy and scathing lyrics to match. Poke is not afraid to act as a caricature of himself and that is what makes him refreshing. His songs are borderline schizophrenic. The last time I heard somebody lyrically slaying a beat like Poke is with rappers Big L, Big Pun, Guru and Tupac who when they talked about putting you in an ambulance, you really believed that they would put you in an ambulance.
Poke takes me back to the old school hip-hop where rappers were charismatic, clever with their words and knew how to put the fear of God in people with just one look. J Cole is a rapper who talks a lot about how the essence of hip-hop is being drained by those who are only in the business for the shallow consumerism. Poke is not the kind of hip-hop artist who raps for money. He raps because it is a burning desire within him to express himself through lyrical art. I am fond of how Poke is so unapologetically afraid to be himself and I admire that he does not take himself so seriously.
Music needs more than just a beat and promotion team, it needs a charismatic leader who preserves the subversive nature of rap. Not fitting in and being a non-conformist who goes against the status quo is the phenomenon that gave birth to hip-hop in the first place. Poke tells me that he does not smoke or drink. When I ask what his vice is he replies: "I get a kick from myself". Poke continues the legacy of old school rap by going against the grain and showing people that you having nothing to lose by being yourself.
What got you started into rap? Was there an 'aha' moment when you thought "Yes, I'm a rapper"?
I never thought that I'm a rapper. I do different things. I'm an entertainer.
In what way is your music different?
A lot of rappers don't dare to be themselves. They spend their time rapping about other people to look hard. My music is different because I am myself.
How do you stay connected to your lyrics?
Through the desire to express myself.
You mix hip-hop and Suriname so well, how do you do this?
I don't have a certain, stable style that I focus on. I want to try and make all kinds of music. As long as I do what I feel like.
How much is freestyle?
Everything from me is freestyle. I don't write. I get into my flow state by focusing on the song, I concentrate and what comes out is music.
What does rap personally mean to you?
Turn up and have fun. Get crazy.
You come across as fearless in your music. Is this really who you are?
That is me for real. I am my own hype man [laughs].
What inspires your lyrics?
The fans. The people around me. I love seeing people around me having fun. I can see faces full of happiness and I'm enjoying it with my kids.
Will you write a love song?
[Laughs] Fuck love songs. But, I think I can do it.
How close are you to your Suriname culture?
Very close. My people are always proud to see me representing Suriname.
Do you feel treated differently as a black Dutch man?
Of course a little bit. I stay positive and I always want the best for my self, a better future and I do my best. It's irritating but I'm always positive. Some little rocks come in my path but I move them out of my way. That's life. Things get harder and you get stronger
What can we expect in the future?
More commercial music, good music and new styles. There will be more language in my music. This time it doesn't matter if people understand it, but it's all only about making good music for me and nothing else. Nobody dares to do it the way I do. Expect new songs and a new look.