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Too Poetic (b. Anthony Ian Berkeley, 1966 in Trinidad, d. July 15, 2001 in California) was a rapper and producer from the horrorcore rap band Gravediggaz. The eldest son of a minister, Poetic was born in Trinidad and raised in the Wyandanch section of Long Island, New York. After forming his first rap group, Brothers Grym, with his brother Brainstorm, he released a solo 12” single, Poetical Terror/God Made Me Funky, in 1989 on DNA/Tommy Boy records (see 1989 in music). However, his deal with DNA/Tommy Boy fell through before the release of his first album, and Poetic fell on hard times, including a period of homelessness.
Poetic then joined Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, former De La Soul/Stetsasonic producer Prince Paul, and Frukwan from Stetsasonic in the rap ‘supergroup’ Gravediggaz. Each member adopted a Gravedigga alias, and Poetic became known as Grym Reaper (with ‘Grym’, an acronym for ‘Ghetto Repaired Young Mind’, also referring back to his first group). His offbeat rapping style quickly gained attention as the group’s first album, 1994’s 6 Feet Deep (also known by its original title Niggamortis outside the US), garnered positive reviews and strong sales alike. After the group’s second album, The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel, was released in 1997 (see 1997 in music), RZA and Prince Paul decided to leave The Gravediggaz, leaving Frukwan and Poetic as the only remaining members. In April 1999, Anthony collapsed in his home studio with stomach pains and was subsequently diagnosed with colon cancer. Given only four months to live, Poetic nonetheless kept on the struggle against cancer despite his initial refusal of chemotherapy in favour of a diet of herbs and fresh juice. He began the treatment, however, after the cancer metastasized from his colon to his lungs. Financial support came from both fans and other artists, including the seemingly unexpected likes of Warren G; however, Poetic was reportedly “very, very disappointed in RZA, to the point of hurtfulness” at the latter’s failure to contact or visit him during this time.
During this period, he collaborated with The Prodigy’s Maxim Reality and Last Emperor under the name of Tony Titanium (given to him by Frukwan because titanium metal was “as hard as Poetic’s will to live”, and as a reference to the titanium valve in his chest through which he received chemotherapy) and his original name Too Poetic, as well as continuing work on the third Gravediggaz album. The subsequent release, Nightmare in A-Minor, was the darkest work the group had done. It makes many references to Poetic’s cancer, perhaps most notably on the track “Burn Baby Burn” and on the Last Emperor’s track One Life, which extensively details his brutal battle with the illness.
On Sunday, July 15, 2001, 1:45pm EST at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, Poetic succumbed to his cancer, five weeks before Nightmare in A-Minor’s scheduled release. He had survived almost two and a half years beyond the doctors’ initial four-month diagnosis. Tributes came quickly from across the hip-hop world, both from fellow musicians and from critics, who widely wrote of their regret at the loss of his talent. An intimate memorial service for him was held at the Riverside Church in Harlem on August 4, 2001, attended by his family and close friends including bandmates Frukwan and Prince Paul. His family established a non-profit organization called The Life Goes On Foundation in his honour, to raise money for medical bills of close to $100,000 and also raise awareness of debilitating illnesses.
Nightmare in A-Minor was initially released on Echo Distribution on August 23, 2001. It was re-released without the track “Better Wake Up” on BMG in 2002 to critical plaudits. According to Frukwan, a new album may be released using left over material from Poetic. |
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