By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
"I'm hell-bent on putting a certain amount of music out now; I've been taken out for a minute, time to make up for a little bit of lost time. Finish the job, set it right," says Mr. Gene Poole, exuding the same understated intensity that seeps into his raps. "I had a big part in starting the hip-hop game here, and I should just make my presence known."
An original member of the famed Headshots and the Dynospectrum collective, Mr. Gene Poole has a storied history in the local scene, coming up at a time when it was just beginning to define itself. Gene distinguished himself with a raw, confrontational sound sharpened by maniacally charismatic live performances, and a firm grasp of freestyle battle ability. He had mostly worked collaboratively with the group Phull Circle since starting around 1996, but it wasn't until 2009's The Protocol that listeners heard what he could do individually. His release from a prison stint, coupled with criticisms of the current state of the local rap scene, found Gene hungry to re-establish his voice.
Enter producer Bionik, who did beats duty for the latest Mr. Gene Poole project, The God Particle. The two were introduced by Kevin Beacham, who recognized similarities in the pair's work ethic and ear for sound. Connecting over a similar penchant for dancehall and reggae, Gene and Bionik began to find a chemistry with one another, as the plans for a shorter EP quickly grew into a full-length album.
"He's in the upper echelons of people that I've ever worked with, as far as dedication, content, drive, and can back it up with performance; all that stuff is there," says Bionik of their intensive working process. "This guy's a beast. He just is very prolific, and a real writer. He's got a pretty developed process in a lot of ways. It's dope [that he doesn't] write anything down. He just happens to be that kind of a mind."
The songwriting primarily stemmed from improvisation, with Gene responding to Bionik's beats with fully formed freestyle concepts in what he describes as an almost ritualistic conversation with the sound. "He'll play some shit and I'll get all curled up in the corner or something, start freaking out on the floor and shit, and he'll be like, 'I think he might like that one' [laughs]," says Gene of his process. "The tracks tell me what to say, they just kind of rely on me to use what I pull out of life and apply it to what they're saying. Whatever was telling his fingers to push this button, the same kind of suggestions that are floating around that tell me to say this over that part, and the song'll take shape. When it makes itself, that's how you know it's some good shit."
The songs have progressed from the starkly underground tracks that made up Gene's early material, and utilize sample-free production inspired by a number of different genres. "I've been a student of dancehall and reggae for years", says Bionik, whose beats fall closer to a club-oriented sound than what Gene has spit over before. "We're just looking to find the next manifestation of where things can go, trying to combine genres and ideas. Doing songs that have radio appeal, but still really Gene, really grimy but accessible. It's still got his content buried in it."
The bass and synths have a dark lean throughout that plays to Gene's rugged aggression, especially on tracks like "Cell Manual" and "Air Force Chick," which find a middle ground between dubstep brashness and Pantera guitar riffs. Many still bring an upbeat swing that cuts against the heaviness in an oddly satisfying form. Some songs capture the intensity of surviving jail, but there's also the lead single, "Danger," which features sung lyrics about letting go of anger. It's a sonic challenge that brings out the rapper's best.
Currently in the midst of three other upcoming projects, Gene is full of ideas that are spilling out fast, and The God Particle is almost a mission statement of his continuing to move forward. He says, "It's coming out the way I kind of always wished it would have."