Performer of substance
P.O.S. has better things to rap about than your humps
Different perspectives are rap’s lifeblood, which may explain the 20 percent drop in hip-hop record sales last year. Someone probably needs to cancel all those gangsta-and-bling reruns.
“Anyone can write a song about how nice a girl’s ass looks,” jibed Minneapolis rapper P.O.S. (a.k.a Stefon Alexander). “It takes patience and a dedication to your craft not to take the easy way out all the time.”
A fresh perspective is one of the 26-year-old emcee’s defining features: How many rappers can claim they once sported a blue frohawk, can bust a move on a skateboard, or count the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn as a friend?
The summer between sixth and seventh grade, P.O.S. stumbled across Black Flag’s Damaged and Minor Threat’s Complete Discography. Like many suburban teens, P.O.S. identified with the music’s sense of alienation (though, obviously, becoming a black punk rocker didn’t do much to alleviate that).
“When you’re a kid hearing punk rock, you find yourself grabbing for those ideas,” he said. “When I first heard it as a kid, I was like, ‘What was that?’”
P.O.S. started a punk band, Om, while in junior high, and later began another project, Building Better Bombs, which involved programming the bass, drums and other sounds into a drum machine so he and buddy Isaac Gale could play guitar and sing over it. That little education came in handy when he began making beats and rapping toward the end of high school. (Members of a later, fuller incarnation of BBB are backing P.O.S. on his current tour, in addition to his deejay, Turbo Nemesis.)
P.O.S., which initially stood for “pissed-off Stef” but has taken on many meanings since, never abandoned his punk-rock roots, and his music is informed by its spirit and, occasionally, its sound. While most tracks on his latest, Audition, work a funky R&B vibe (“Bush League Psych-Out Stuff,” “The Kill in Me”), others stray into steely industrial clang (“Half-Cocked Concepts”) and slashing rock guitar (“P.O.S. is Ruining My Life”).
Make no mistake, this isn’t rap rock. What P.O.S. hopes to bring to rap from punk is “songs that are about things—the energy, maybe a little of the volume.” Yet punk’s biggest legacy for P.O.S. is its DIY attitude, which was reinforced by his mother’s childhood encouragement to do what would make him happy.
“She told me from a very young age to feel free to do whatever I want, but to know that whatever I choose, I have to accept what comes with it,” he says. “No matter how much you got or how little you got, the point is to enjoy yourself. The point is to kind of do it up and make the best out of what you have. Consistently.”
But his music career isn’t just a fanciful holiday. P.O.S. is out to earn. “Doing it for the love of it is one thing, but I’ve got a 7-year-old son at home,” he explained. “That’s what made this such a ‘If I want to do this, I gotta do this!’ kind of move.”
P.O.S. duets with Finn on the celebrity-bashing “Safety in Speed (Heavy Metal).” In conversation, he compares the Hold Steady frontman to a carnival barker. But if Finn’s a barker, what’s P.O.S.?
“I’d be like a guy on a soapbox, but not saying anything,” he said. “I never feel like preaching. It’s more about finding people that agree with me right off the bat and find a way for us to convince everyone else. That always made more sense to me. I wasn’t as interested in what the individual could do so much as what the crew could do or what the scene can do.”
Given his output and that of other critically lauded friends, such as Atmosphere, the Plastic Constellations and Brother Ali, the scene’s as hot as in the late ’80s when the Replacements and Hüsker Dü ruled Minneapolis, only this time the punks rap from a new perspective.