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."