Ask Roxbury-bred rapper Moe Pope about his latest record sounding overtly political, and he tells a story about looking down the business end of a gun the day before his eldest daughter was born.
At 19, he was riding a 10-speed bicycle home from his landscaping job in Jamaica Plain. A policeman pulled him over; the reasons are still unclear to Pope, who is black. The police officer, he says, stuck his hand in his pants pocket without explanation. Feeling violated, Pope reacted, pushing the officer. He was then ordered to the ground at gunpoint, he says, before being told to wait in the back of a cruiser.
Pope, who did not have a criminal record, was eventually released without arrest. But that experience still informs his view of race relations in modern urban America. “It was an eye-opening experience,” Pope says. “I don’t know how a man is supposed to react when another man is putting their hands on them.”
The following day, his oldest daughter was born. Both rage and joy filled those 24 hours.
That was 20 years ago. And if the most recent effort from STL GLD — a duo consisting of Pope and Cambridge-based producer The Arcitype — is any indication, age hasn’t mellowed the 39-year-old husband and father of two.
On “Torch Song,” scheduled for release on Friday, Pope’s indignation is still palpable. That anger has many targets: police-involved fatal shootings of unarmed black men, a lack of economic opportunities for urban youth, President Trump, and people who are angry at what Pope calls the wrong things.
“I’m pissed off, as I feel a lot of Americans should be,” Pope says. “We should all be pissed off.”
STL GLD (pronounced “Still Gold”) will celebrate the release of “Torch Song,” the full-length follow-up to the group’s 2014 debut, “My Monday Morning Music,”’ with a show at The Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge Friday night.
Where the debut was laidback, “Torch Song” is poignant and aggressive. If you’re looking for lots of levity, look elsewhere. There are two songs with titles drawn from the death of Eric Garner, a black man who died after being placed in a chokehold by a New York City police officer in 2014. On the first of those tracks, Pope implores an unheard police officer to leave him alone over a haunting beat.
“I don’t think there’s many brown people who live in the city who haven’t had some type of bad dealings with a law official,” he says, speaking recently at a North Cambridge recording studio. “That’s not to say there aren’t any good police. Personally, I think there’s a huge disconnect.”
Much of the record is mournful, with Pope lamenting systemic inequality. On “Good,” Pope bemoans materialism, the limited job options for former convicts, and the drug trade. A vocal hook featured on the gospel-infused “Hold On” includes a warning: “One thing we did right was the day we started to fight, keep your eye on the prize.” “Tuff” is a gritty, spitfire requiem of fearing the block you live on, placing faith in a gun, and predicaments in which “handouts are not enough.”
“A lot of this record is about accountability,” says Arcitype (the 33-year-old’s real name is Janos Fulop), who grew up in Stockbridge, studied audio production at Emerson College, and has produced records for local hip-hop acts including Slaine, Michael Christmas, and Avenue. “The message, I think, is pretty straightforward.”
Pope acknowledges this is the most political record of his career, which has spanned 20 years and, including collaborations, 10 albums.
The music, Pope says, was molded during a nine-month period where he was depressed with what he was seeing on the news. He found the presidential election to be draining. He feared the killings of unarmed black men at the hands of police were becoming commonplace enough that people were getting desensitized to their injustice. He grew tired of debating where the burden of proof should be in such cases.
“Torch Song” was his catharsis.
“The times shape everything,” says Pope, who now owns a home in Mattapan. “We weren’t even trying to make this type of record, but we were seeing after about five of the tracks we were going in that direction.”
“It was making me feel better.”
At Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge, 8 p.m., Friday. Tickets: $10 advance, $12 day of show, www.ticketweb.com