Rapper Named Poverty Escapes From It

Autobiographical Rise From Ruin due November 5.

Tom Abate is a walking contradiction.

He's a skeptic by day who says, "I figured I'd wash dishes and mop floors

for the rest of my life," but also a dreamer by night who insists, "I always

believed in my heart that ... I was gonna make it."

Even as the up-and-coming rapper moved from one Portland, Maine, homeless

shelter to another, even as he prepared himself for defeat, Abate's dreams

tugged at him, forcing him to dig deep and pull out words and rhymes that,

unbeknownst to him, would one day be his salvation.

"I'd go around and break my back trying to get around people involved in

hip-hop," he recalled, "trying to rap, continuing to write and trying to get

better at it, trying to master it, and it was like all the way through the

whole process, one right after the other, good luck things would happen."

Just enough, he said, to keep him going until his big break.

"When I was in the shelter, I used to do emceeing at little clubs in the

area, and kids would come and they'd wanna see me, and it started to blow up

locally. Then I met Chip [Sullivan], who is now my manager, and next thing

you know he was like, 'I wanna record you a local album.' And I was like,

'Whatever.' So we did it, hooked up with a few people that were in the music

business, and we just kinda pushed the project, got it on the radio, and it

blew up locally."

During a trip to California, Sullivan passed Abate's demo around, ultimately

getting him hooked up to write lyrics for the band Crazy Town. The demo

ended up at ARTISTdirect Records, the start-up label headed by former

Interscope Records executive Ted Fields, and Abate was signed.

Today the 23-year-old rapper — now known as Poverty — is in the

studio recording tracks for his mostly autobiographical debut, Rise From

Ruin, due November 5.

Poverty said the concept for the album is "really far and wide." "It's

basically an album where I'm trying to touch base on every single emotion

that I've been feeling. I want my album to be 360 degrees of myself."

That includes the good, bad and the ugly. "I think a lot of rap is

self-centered, but even though it's self-centered in a way, [other rappers]

don't really give people all of them. They tell about the side of them that

makes money, or they tell about the side of them that'll kill someone. I

want to have the whole world hear 100 percent of me — my ups, my downs,

my mistakes, everything."

And Poverty reveals himself, warts and all, on tracks like "I'm Hatin," a

song that lashes out at the privileged class. "That is 100 percent what I

was living. I was in a situation where I was on the street and I didn't have

nothing. I hated on everybody who had something."

But Poverty's venom wasn't just about envy. "I wasn't hatin' them because

they had something. I was hatin' them because I felt that a lot of people

had stuff that they didn't earn. That's what that song is about."

Featuring production by Erick Sermon, Alchemist and underground producer

Tycoon, Rise From Ruin features an array of lyrically singeing songs

that recount Poverty's life and convey his personal philosophies.

"For My People" is a song for people like himself, Poverty said. "It's for

the strugglers and sufferers, the people that don't have a name —

anywhere from lower class to middle class, working class, blue collar class

— the people that break their backs to get what they need."

And the title track is an ode to friendship. " 'Rise From Ruin' is about my best friend in the whole, entire world, because me and him been on the streets together side by side for eight years. ... We created 'Rise From Ruin' because we were sitting down in a shelter and we said to ourselves that was the mission, to rise from ruin, to rise from all the sh-- we were living in."

"Symphony of Sorrow" is dedicated to Poverty's mother, who died recently and

who, the rapper said, continues to inspire him in a strange sort of way.

"It's kinda keeping me focused. I hide in rap music. I don't really know how

to deal with reality. Hip-hop is like my way of escaping, When she passed

away, the only way I knew how to deal with that was to just continue to stay

focused in rap music so I wouldn't think about it."

As for where his music career will lead him, Poverty again hopes for the

best but is prepared for the worst. "I don't like to count my chickens

before they hatch, but by the same token I like to have confidence. ... My

thing is where I'm gonna go from here is either to the moon or back to the

streets, and I'll be happy either way."