A Deep Exploration of Damu The Fudgemunk and Raw Poetic’s “Calling”

From intricate sample scratches that tell part of a story to intimate lyrics and a freestyled hook, both artists share some candid thoughts on their magnum opus.

(This is a modified version of a 2019 interview from the Micro-Chop Medium publication.)

Redef Records artists Damu The Fudgemunk and Raw Poetic have a tendency to ignore typical song structure, length, and formula when they work together. The resulting music is often impressive, even if their respective personal situations are not ideal during the creative process.

Shrinking listener attention spans be damned, Damu released the ambitious two-hour concept album Vignettes after experiencing unprecedented personal and professional stressors in early 2017. Though Vignettes is almost entirely void of vocal assistance, Raw Poetic showed up to spit fire on the politically charged “Openings” while navigating his own challenges. The end result was an impressive pairing of nuanced production, passionate rhymes, and a perfectly sung hook that ran double the length of a typical rap song—much to the delight of their fans.

With the duo’s 2017 full-length project The Reflecting Sea (Welcome to a New Philosophy), they decided to put the magnifying glass on Raw Poetic’s personal life on “Calling”—a 10-minute masterwork of beats, rhymes, and scratching. Though both artists decline to say who the lyrics are about specifically, the inspiration for “Calling” came from the end of a long-term relationship Raw Poetic was in prior to making the album.

His lyrics are emotional and transparent throughout, but he also made an effort to conceal the identity of the woman he’s referencing in the song, perhaps to protect his privacy just as much as hers. “Everything was written to protect the innocent—or the assholes, however you look at it,” he says with a laugh. “A lot of times when you write music, you just speak on your life and you figure out a metaphorical way of saying it so people aren’t all in your business.”

To fully understand the lyrics and composition of “Calling” is to pull it apart and examine the different layers, of which there are many. First, there’s the beat. Stitching together fragments of vocal samples, piano keys, drum hits, a synth line, scratches, and much more, Damu constructs a beautiful instrumental with painstaking precision. “It kind of had the soulful, slowed down R & B sound, yet in a very muddy hip-hop way—as Damu knows how to do so well,” Raw Poetic says.

Though some producers might guard such a creation carefully, Damu trusted his longtime friend and collaborator to give the beat the deliberate thought and care it deserved. And he did indeed, crafting such thoughtful lines as, “But love becomes a stranger when you are loving a stranger/True emotions really start coming out off the hanger/To me it’s all a novel, sinking in someone’s bottle/Ship it off tomorrow, shallow but never hollow.”

Once Raw Poetic committed his troubled mindstate to two lengthy verses, it was time to come up with a hook. Despite how beautifully the sung chorus, “You got love but don’t save it for me,” fits the emotional tenor of the song, it was 100% off the cuff. “That was a one take, man,” he says. “I freestyled that hook—I never wrote that shit down.”

It’s at this point in our conversation that Raw Poetic drops a true songwriting gem. Because of the limited amount of time and space that choruses occupy, he believes spontaneity can be a secret weapon to coming up with a great hook. Sometimes too much analysis and thought kill the purity of it. “A lot of hooks are freestyles because I feel like the hook has to capture the moment more than anything,” he explains. “The verses you can go back and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. For the hook, a lot of times whatever you’re humming to the song is what’s gonna work.”

After the verses and the second hook, the song takes an unexpected turn as Damu launches into an incredible display of vocal sample scratching for the final six and a half minutes. Far from filler, every single cut serves a purpose and further enhances the storyline. “The reason I went above and beyond and put the extra effort into it is, not only did I know what he went through, but I wanted to give him a portrait of himself,” Damu says.

Blending vocal snippets from The Pharcyde’s “Passing Me By,” Elzhi, some earlier vocals from Raw Poetic himself via his work with Panacea, an obscure Prince Markie Dee album, and much more, Damu used scratching to reflect his friend’s mindstate. “Midway through the scratch sequence, I have Prince Markie Dee where he said, ‘Maybe I woke up and smelled the coffee.’ All those scratches were pretty much me talking back to Jason (Raw Poetic), but then also pretty much Jason talking to himself.”

Raw Poetic also thinks Damu’s cuts helped him say things he didn’t put in his rap while enriching the song along the way. “I feel like the scratches sometimes is Damu’s way of MCing,” he says. “He has a way of talking with his hands and the turntables. I think he kind of finished telling the story I was telling.”

Listen closely to “Calling” and you’ll notice that the beat changeups also play a critical role in enhancing the narrative by matching the musical tone of what’s being said. “The first wave of the cuts—even the changes in the music, the beat, the climaxes and so forth—those were all calculated things I wanted to put in there to illustrate what he was saying,” Damu says.

Pushing the intense listening journey one step further, “Calling” blends into the song “Raw Poetic’s Motif” while drawing on the synth line that’s played throughout the chorus of “Calling.” Using another kind of swing and energy, Damu brings the record to a completely different space as it draws to a close. “When you hear the bouncy, kind of jazzy elegance and softness and moods of ‘Calling,’ it’s definitely an emotional song and it’s definitely done in a careful and respectful way,” says Damu. “When you hear ‘Raw Poetic’s Motif,’ you hear the edgier, raw, harder drum pattern and then when Special Ed and Organized Konfusion say, ‘Raw…so poetic.’ That’s Jason returning to his core, Jason returning to himself.”

When asked about the decision to make a 10-minute song followed by a connected two and a half minute song, Damu points to Jaco Pastorius records and explains how expanding the track’s intricacies can actually enrich the listener’s experience. “All the musicians are soloing and it’s eight minutes—I’m getting my money’s worth,” he says. “Especially if it’s something I’m enjoying, I don’t want it to go off.”

Sadly, in an unexpected twist of art imitating life, Damu reveals that even though the song was about Raw Poetic’s romantic struggles, his own love life fell into turmoil as the duo finalized the album. “At the time I had mixed the song and done all the scratches, I was in the relationship,” he says. “Maybe within a week or two weeks after I turned in the album, that relationship was done.”

Though there’s never a simple explanation for why relationships end, Damu alludes to the possibility that he and Raw Poetic’s passion for their art makes lasting partnerships difficult. “We’re both dedicated musicians,” he says. “He and I both know what the first loves of our lives are.”

Despite the difficulties both artists faced as they completed The Reflecting Sea (Welcome to a New Philosophy)fans should rest assured that neither of them has an emotional hangover after completing the deeply personal record. In fact, they’re more ready than ever to tackle their new projects. “A lot of times by the time the song comes out, I’m knee deep into two or three albums later,” says Raw Poetic. “It feels like that release. I couldn’t move on to the next thing until I got that off my chest. A lot of times I’m happy that I did it and then I can write about some happier times.”

Micro-Chopping Damu The Fudgemunk and Raw Poetic — an exclusive 40-track playlist.

Thanks for reading, see you on Wednesday!

Micro-Chop/Gino Sorcinelli Articles Featured on Ableton, Roland, and Reverb

Plus other exciting stories to share.

On March 8th aka International Women’s Day something very exciting happened. Roland posted about Linafornia on their official Instagram page. Better yet, they included the Micro-Chop interview I did with her over the summer of 2019 in their story.

Today, on #InternationalWomensDay, we salute the women creators who inspire people all around the world. We’re honored to be part of your musical and creative journey.⁠⠀
@linafornia, the versatile producer & DJ, who is a staple in the L.A. Beat Scene, can always be spotted rocking her Roland SP-404 and SP-555. Check out her debut album 'YUNG' on her bandcamp and her latest work on her SoundCloud (link in her bio). Swipe up on our stories to read her feature on @micro_chop. ⁠⠀
📸: @afrikansniper
March 8, 2020

At the risk of stating the very obvious, Roland is a legendary manufacturer of electronic musical instruments and music software. They’re responsible for the iconic and highly influential TR-808 drum machine, Juno-106 synthesizer, and SP-404 sampler to name just of few of their more notable inventions. To have them acknowledge the amazing artistry of Linafornia and my conversation with her was a very special moment.

this first generation american born belizean woman feels so very seen today 💛🇧🇿🖤. i started my SP journey in 2012. never pulled up to a set without it. to have the brand of the gear that literally changed the course of my life recognize my demonstration and celebrate artistry is PHENOMENAL. my spirit tells me this is the genesis of something bigger. thank you @roland_us for the luv n visibility. 💖 I look forward to see what cracks off on 404 day! #internationalwomensday #womenshistorymonth #sp555 #sp404 #linafornia #roland
March 9, 2020

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you take a moment to read our interview and learn about Linafornia’s inspiring perseverance amidst adversity and the stories behind her most excellent 2016 debut YUNG.

Sixteen days later Ableton published my new interview with STLNDRMS—the second feature that I’ve written for them in the past year. It’s currently sitting proudly at the top of their homepage. I still can’t believe that two things I’ve written have ended up on the front page of a music software company that has long been an industry standard.

I’ve interviewed STLNDRMS several times before, but I really saw this as an opportunity to write a definitive piece about him given the scope and size of Ableton’s music detail-obsessed audience. I had the chance to nerd out and get as granular as I wanted and our conversation didn’t disappoint. We talked about everything from anime soundtracks on vinyl to value of syncing older equipment with Ableton and had a blast doing it.

This was another very proud moment. It would make me so happy if you gave it a read.

In other news, Joel Handley at Reverb continues to give me a voice and a huge audience to tell Micro-Chop type stories to. Joel, if you’re reading this, thank you.

For my most recent piece, I attempted to trace the history of rap music production from live studio musicians and pause tapes in the beginning to records from the early ‘90s by Dre, DJ Quik, and Tribe that set new standards for engineering, mastering, and production.

I really enjoyed writing this and it took a lot of research and effort. I would love if you checked it out.

Finally, you maybe heard about D-Nice and his “"Homeschool” aka “Club Quarantine" IG Live party that exceeded 100,000 viewers and had people like Stevie Wonder dropping by. First and foremost, props to that man as he is absolutely killing it and I love to see him get his very well-deserved props after dedicating 34 years of his life to rap music and hip-hop culture.

I’ve been a fan of D-Nice for a minute and I feel like his music randomly comes in and out of my life. I remember finding a copy of To Tha Rescue on tape many, many years ago and loving it. It felt like one of many deserving rap albums that just kind of slipped through the cracks and disappeared after catching some initial buzz at the time of its release.

After seeing D blow up for his current string of IG parties, I wanted to write something about a different time of his career. I did some social media digging and discovered that he produced the classic socially conscious posse cut “Self Destruction” when he was only 18. Then I wrote a Micro-Chop story about it.

I had a lot of fun writing it. Hopefully you dig it too.

Whether you read all of these stories or just give them a quick skim, any and all support is greatly appreciated. I’m so humbled and grateful that my work is appearing one websites like Ableton, Roland, and Reverb. I honestly couldn’t do it without all of you showing me encouragement, love, and support.

Thank you so much.

Thanks for reading, see you on Wednesday!

Before "Club Quarantine" D-Nice Produced "Self Destruction" When He Was Only 18

A look back at the celebrated DJ's storied career and brief but impressive phase as a producer.

Like many of us, 34-year hip-hop veteran D-Nice (also known as DJ D-Nice) is feeling the weight of social isolation. In the midst of missing his family and the rush of performing for a crowd, he woke up at 4 AM on Saturday, March 21st and decided to throw a party.

It started with him playing music for his friends straight off of his laptop on Instagram Live. Then he hooked up his turntables. Before long there was an endless stream of of celebrities stopping by to watch, with folks like Dave Chappelle, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Michelle Obama, Rihanna, Bernie Sanders, Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder tuning in. His “Homeschool” party, which has also been referred to as “Club Quarantine," eventually exceeded 100,000 viewers.

When D woke up the next day to take stock of the reaction to his impromptu performance he was overwhelmed by the support. “You're just doing what feels good, but I didn't realize it was special until that next morning, and I had tears,” he told Oprah in a recent episode of Oprah Talks. “I've been in the music industry for over 30 years...but nothing felt like that, helping people. It was selfless and self-serving as well, because I was isolated too, and I just wanted people to feel good."

For those who keep a pulse on the wild world of professional DJing, the success of D-Nice shouldn’t come as a surprise. During his storied career behind the turntables he has rocked for major networks like ESPN, been selected as a Hennessy brand DJ, and earned the title of official DJ for former President Barack Obama. This extremely high-profile position lead to DJing dutes at the 2012 Inaugural Ball, perhaps his most visible event prior to the “Homeschool” party.

But it was a much lesser-known musical moment 34 years ago that first set the gears of D-Nice’s career in motion. His first performance as an MC in Boogie Down Productions at a Claremont Center concert proved to be a monumental occurrence. “This moment changed my life!” D-Nice wrote in 2016 Instagram post. “We went from the project gym to arenas!!”

Wow! @StretchArmstrong just sent me the flyer for my very 1st performance with #BDP! 1986! This moment changed my life! We went from the project gym to arenas!! #IamHipHop!
March 10, 2016

Another career-altering moment happened just a few years after becoming a founding member of Boogie Down Productions. While touring with the group in 1988 he decided to leave the tour for one day, fly back to New York City, and purchase the Akai MPC60 sampler with the financial backing of BDP frontman KRS-One. The first beat he made with the machine ended up becoming Boogie Down Productions’ 1989 single “Jack of Spades” from their third LP Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop.

According to a 2017 D-Nice instagram post, it also seems like an E-mu SP-1200 was used to make some of the beat. Apparently he would bring the famous drum machine/sampler on the road with him during tours.

#TBT of @teacha_krsone and I in a Hollywood recording studio working on the song "Jack of Spades" from the @keenenivorywayans classic movie "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka." I produced the song when I was 18 years old. I kept my SP1200 on the road with me. I originally did the beat we used for our show intro while touring with Eric B & Rakim, Kool Moe Dee, @IceT, @officialbizmarkie, and @therealdougefresh. Damn, I need to get back into the studio! #BDP #BoogieDownProductions #ScottLaRock #MsMelodie
August 31, 2017

Over the next six years D racked up a slew of impressive production credits, but his biggest beat placement happened a short time before the release of “Jack of Spades” when he was a mere 18 years old.

In September of 1988 Boogie Down Productions was part of the Dope Jam concert lineup that included Kool Moe Dee, Doug E. Fresh, and Eric B. & Rakim. With the show slated to take place at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island, the event took an ugly turn when a series of physical assaults and stabbings led to thirteen people being injured, three of them critically. 19-year-old Bronx native Julio Fuentes died as a result of his injuries. The tragedy led to a tidal wave of negative press that targeted rap music as the culprit for the violence at the show.

KRS-One was deeply moved by the events at Dope Jam and the ensuing backlash against rap music. Reeling from Fuentes’ senseless death, he sought to channel his emotions into creative expression. “KRS always, from the time I first met him at the shelter, wrote lyrics that were fueled by knowledge and social consciousness from a street perspective, but not really in a preachy form,” D-Nice told Keith Murphy in a 2015 BET interview. “But once he went through the violence of that concert at Nassau Coliseum where a fan lost his life, Kris was devoted to making these types of records.”

Billboard magazine’s former Black music editor Nelson George and former Jive/RCA exec Ann Carli (listed in the liner notes as Tokyo Rose) joined forces with KRS to gather up an ensemble of rap royalty to form the Stop The Violence Movement. When all was said and done the lineup included Boogie Down Productions members KRS-One, D-Nice and Ms. Melodie, Stetsasonic members Delite, Daddy-O, Wise, and Frukwan, Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh, Just-Ice, Heavy D, and Public Enemy members Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

The superstar collective united to record their lone single “Self Destruction” and released it in early 1989. Handling production duties with his trusty MPC60, D-Nice took his role of producer extremely seriously. When it came time to mix the song, he spent seven days sleeping under the mixing board in the studio.

By August of ‘89 the single had earned itself a gold plaque and made $150,000 that was promptly donated to The Urban League. Though the Stop The Violence Movement would never record another song together, their legacy remains strong, as various artists have recorded “Self Destruction” remakes over the years. (For a full deep dive on the making and legacy of self-destruction, please read Dart Adams’ definitive 2019 Okayplayer feature.)

The importance of providing the beat for such a weighty single and so many hip-hop luminaries at age 18 was not lost on D-Nice, who continues to express gratitude towards Ann Carli and Nelson George for giving him a shot.

The record also helped him recognize the importance of giving young people opportunities to achieve greatness—even when they’re relatively inexperienced. “I was 18 years old when I produced this,” he tweeted in 2009. “With guidance, kids can do legendary things.”

#TBT Here I am at 19, after receiving a gold record for Self Destruction and a Billboard #1 rap single award. Produced by yours truly! #Throwback #flattop
September 27, 2012

The significant success of “Self-Destruction” didn’t make D-Nice complacent in the least. He co-produced the beats on Just-Ice’s 1989 album The Desolate One, which has some very interesting and unconventional instrumentals—especially considering the popular sample sources and beatmaking techniques of the time.

He also co-produced Boogie Down Productions’ critically acclaimed gold record Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop the same year before producing the entirety of his debut solo record Call Me D-Nice in 1990 and much of his follow-up effort To Tha Rescue in 1991.

Though D-Nice’s output as a producer slowed down and eventually stalled completely by the mid-90s, his career never let up—it just changed course. In subsequent years he has carved himself a lane as both an in-demand photographer and an A-list DJ.

For those who watched him drop another superstar-studded, social isolation DJ set on the NBA’s official Instagram feed last night, it’s important to remember that this new wave of support and 1.7 million Instagram followers isn’t a case of overnight success.

It’s the byproduct of 34 years of constant hard work, innovation, and reinvention.

Here's a pre #throwbackthursdays pic taken on the Self Destruction video set.
April 25, 2012

Thanks for reading, see you on Sunday!

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