Turkey's current reigning king of underground hip-hop waxes poetic on his proper commercial debut, a set of grippingly dark and emotionally-charged numbers that depict the bleaker side of the human condition.
Born Ozan Erdoğan, Da Poet has been making remarkable progress in Turkey’s still flourishing hip-hop community, earning a massive and devoted following amongst the Turkish youth and winning plaudits for his skills behind the mic and at the mixing board. At a mere 24-years old, the rapper has accomplished almost twice as much as his American counterparts have, with already six albums under his belt in the last seven years and playing more than 150 shows across Turkey in his beginning years. Starting out as just a teen on the scene cutting beats and spitting verse, the hopeful upstart soon blossomed into a prodigious mastermind, a hip-hop head laying down tracks as early as sixteen and going on to become one of the most hotly-tipped go-to producers to ever emerge from Turkey’s small but growing hip-hop circles. Having surfaced from Istanbul’s underground hip-hop scene, Da Poet lays down his first proper commercial release, Poetika, an expertly-crafted collection of tunes that blazes with caustic street-smarts, unobstructed passion and a cold, unforgiving delivery of tightly-wound rhymes.
In the 14 tracks featured on Poetika, the young rapper finds a precarious balance between social unrest and emotional dissonance, these polemically-charged numbers fueled by the fires of misspent youth. His Turkish raps may present a language barrier to those outside his homeland but the precision and cadence with which he imparts his verbal flow will be understood by all. Musically, the album showcases an East-meets-West potential, with a strong and clear understanding and appreciation of American hip-hop underscored by an unmistakably Turkish bent (despite there being very little traces of actual Turkish music).
In Da Poet’s blue-tinted world of permanent midnight, beats skitter and slam through a nocturnal cityscape of sound, where sonic ghosts haunt the deserted, lonely streets. An air of anxiety pervades the album and almost every track unfolds like a dark drama in the shadowy back alleys of Istanbul. From the fog-like atmospherics of the searching intro to the rest of the self-produced cuts, the rapper shows off his skills as a sound architect, splicing an array of eerie samples into the crevices of his rock-hard beats. Check out the loop of watery percussion amidst the swirls of Turkish strings on "Ayağa Kalk" or the sampled guitar riffs that streak across "Avcumda Ritmin Kalp Atışları" like cirrus clouds in a twilit sky. Neither obtrusive nor slight, the samples melt right into the fabric of the production, pushing around a euphonic flow of sounds inside the locked-in grooves. Meanwhile, the anvil bass-drops and thunderous plod of the reggae-tronic "Again" momentarily derail the album’s velocity for a dub-dream drift through electro-space.
For all of its varied tempos and rhythms, Poetika never loses its consistency, keeping a tuned ear on the sphinx-like ambience that permeates the beat-mutations. On "Halüsinasyon", Da Poet and fellow Turkish rapper Saian exchange hurried rhymes, the two unwinding spools of lyrical thread over a bare-boned, metronomic beat. "Neyim Var Benim" gets dubstepped, the drum loop rolling over layers of droning synths that splinter like shattered nerves. There are plenty of creepy turns on Poetika that betray a sense of filmic grandeur. Much of the album is suffused with the shadows and fog of an old black-and-white film. The atmosphere of dread is especially pronounced on the Euro-rinsed electronica of "Dur Dünya", with the moody, cinematic spread of organ swells lending the track a sense of panic and danger. Enveloped in an air of menace and mystery, these numbers play like an emotional thriller, with Da Poet trading on his ability to manipulate tension and release in the structures of his drum patterns. The airs of gloom briefly disperse on the intense battle raps of "Hip-Hop" (an impassioned one-to-one with rapper Hayki about Turkey’s inception of hip-hop culture), and the aggravated lyrical assault of "Organiztsa", a chest-thumper which pits the rapper against a roundtable of Istanbul’s hip-hop elite.
The hyperreality of urban life rendered on Poetika is perfectly captured in the painted artwork of the album cover (a pastiche of the skewed Expressionistic portraits created by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner). Awash in the green glow of night, Da Poet stares off into a labyrinthine city of snaking roads and twisted buildings, eyes painted out and seemingly dead to the world. Here, in the solitary chill of these 14 numbers, the Turkish wordsmith and beatmaker graffitis the album with the images of urban decay, armed with only his rhymes and an MPC sampler -- and an unfettered passion that powers them both.