Six years ago, Anthony Ian Berkeley—better known to fans as Too Poetic from ’90s horrorcore group Gravediggaz—succumbed to colon cancer. Initially given only four months to live, he hung on for just over two years. It was this willingness to live and tenacity towards death that made Poetic a far contradiction to the title of his group. For that reason, his early passing left a foul taste in the mouths of many hip-hop heads, as he had so much more to contribute to this art form.
Born in Trinidad and raised in Long Island, Poetic fell in love with hip-hop early on and formed the Brothers GRYM with younger siblings Brainstorm and E Sharp in 1989. Sharp handled some of the production duties, while Poetic and Brainstorm rocked the mic. They created a buzz for themselves on the underground with their first official demo, which included notable cuts like “Circle-Circle-Dot-Dot” and “GRYMnastics.” Just when the group was close to landing a record deal, Brainstorm surprisingly decided to quit rap altogether and forced Poetic to pursue a solo career. Despite scoring an underground hit with the 12-inch single “God Made Me Funky/Poetical Terror” on Tommy Boy Records, success didn’t come easy for Poetic. The rap vet spent a brief period of time homeless before longtime friend Prince Paul offered him a spot in the supergroup Gravediggaz, which also included Frukwan from Stetsasonic and the RZA from Wu-Tang Clan. The quartet’s debut, Six Feet Deep, was released on Gee Street/Island in 1994 to high praise and introduced “horrorcore” rap to the masses. Poetic, who had by this point changed his moniker to Grym Reaper, was a stand out member because of his eccentric flow and maniacal laughter that could often be heard scratching the walls in the background.
The ingenious novelty of the Gravediggaz insanity act began to dissipate by the time the group’s 1997 sophomore effort, The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel. Poetic began to stray away from the morbid Grym Reaper side of his music and leaned more towards his philosophical side. Songs like “Repentance Day,” “Dangerous Mindz” and “Fairytalez” displayed his talent as an MC much more than his previous work. Gravediggaz, however, went through tough times shortly after the album’s release. Looking to pursue other avenues in their careers, Prince Paul and RZA—who had evolved into one of hip-hop’s most respected producers—decided to leave the group. Then, in May ’99, Poetic collapsed in his home studio and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered he had an advance case of colon cancer. Lacking health insurance, the diminutive rapper saw his medical bills soar while hip-hop artists and fans tried to raise money for his costly surgery and chemotherapy. Tragically, the efforts were all for naught as Poetic died from the disease on July 15, 2001. In an effort to keep his rhyme partner’s legacy alive, Frukwan released 2002’s Nightmare in A-Minor, the final Gravediggaz’s album he and Poetic were working on before his death. Now, six years later, XXLMag.com pays tribute and respect to Poetic. On record and in life, he still holds a place in our hearts.
Last Emperor feat Poetic “One Life” Music, Magic & Myth, 2003
Gravediggaz “Mommy, What’s a Gravedigga?” 6 Feet Deep, 1994
Gravediggaz “Here Comes the Gravediggaz” 6 Feet Deep, 1994
Gravediggaz “Dangerous Mindz” The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel, 1997
Gravediggaz “Killing Fieldz” Nightmare in A-Minor, 2002
Gravediggaz “1-800 Suicide” 6 Feet Deep, 1994
Poetic Freestyle, BET Rap City