P.O.S., courtesy Jeff Luger
P.O.S., or Stef Alexander, is an MC from the Twin Cities who just released his third full-length album on Rhymesayers yesterday. It's called Never Better, and within its sexy Technicolor packaging (complete with fun transparencies!) is more of the innovative, heavy production and sharp, confrontational spitting dude's made into a career since his debut record Ipecac Neat. P.O.S.'s punk rock past has been well-documented by the media, and it's true that his music retains the furious energy and heavy, thumping rhythm from his younger days. Which might be keeping him from earning more true school hip hop fans.
From the way P.O.S.' music sounds (not to mention some of the lyrics) you might assume that P.O.S. is an angry person. But from talking to P.O.S.-- well, actually, he'd rather be called Stef-- I find out that he's not super intense, but is actually a really nice, easygoing dude. And for all the bullshit-calling he's done over the years, he still considers himself an optimist. Interview (which I edited slightly for clarity and brevity) after the jump.
because I read that you made a lot of the beats on the record. Is that
a regular thing for you? I had trouble finding out any reliable
details about the production on your first two albums [and couldn't find my physical copy of Audition]...
usually do make half of the beats on every record I've made. I don't
know why people are all of a sudden noticing that this time around, but
it's making me pretty happy. My guy Lazerbeak usually does about half
of the records, and I do the other half.
Yeah, I've noticed
that there's not a lot of talk about who makes the beats [in press about you], but more
about how the beats sound so, like, punk rock and show your punk rock
roots. Do you get tired of everybody talking about your
punk youth all the time?
I feel like I get a lot of that.
People sometimes read articles -- and they're fans of hip hop -- and they
write me off, like, immediately because they hear about punk rock roots
or aggressive beats. But if they didn't hear about that stuff and
[listened to the music first] it wouldn't be so much of an issue.
They'd just check it out and be like, "This is a little different..."
and it would totally grow on them.
True. And you know, [for
hip hop] a lot of your stuff is atypical, which is why you've been so
successful. But a lot of your rhymes -- and not just from this record
but from your previous work as well -- express this ambivalence about
your success and what it requires of you to tour all the time, and be
away. And then you named your album Never Better. Is that meant to be sarcastic? Or is it a genuine feeling?
a little bit of both. It's kind of sarcastic, and it's kind of like,
'Hey, how you doing Stef?' and I say, 'Never better, man, how are you?' There's
also the vibe of, 'Ok, everything's so heavy in the world--everything's
so crazy--and it doesn't look like anything's ever going to get
better...' So it's kind of a combination of both of those things. It's
gonna go based on the song. Whatever song you're listening to, you're
going to pick up a little of each.
Yeah. I mean, the P.O.S. persona comes off really angry, but you don't seem like an angry person...
I'm not. I'm definitely not. When I'm focusing and thinking about the way things are sometimes, it definitely comes up, but in my day to day I'm a pretty chill, easy to deal with dude. I'm happy most of the time. I'm an optimist. I don't let stupid little things get to me. If you're gonna see me angry, it's because something horrible happened.
The first time I listened to Never Better, I got stuck on that line on the first track, "Let It Rattle, the one about the president not being able to represent you. So is that supposed to be about Obama, or what?
Honestly, the line is actually, "They out for presidents to represent them," which is commenting on the Nas song "The World Is Yours," with the refrain "I'm out for presidents to represent me" which is of course talking about money. So many things in hip hop music, and pretty much everybody's day to day life, is about money...getting money, making money, talking about money, being about money... And some people, some rappers, every single song they have is about how much, or how little, or the pursuit of, you know what I'm saying? And that line is [saying], "No matter what money you're going to end up with, that's not going to be who you are." There's also a little element of Obama coming into office.
That's how I interpreted it. Now I need to go back and listen to the song again.
Well yeah. I guess taking the Obama part into consideration...he might be the greatest hero of our time. I never gave two serious thoughts about this country as a place that, like, I am an equal in. Until you see a black president, which is amazing, and great. But at the same time, you've gotta keep in mind that, you know, he's a president. He's a PRESIDENT. He probably doesn't know your name....so it can't be the kind of thing where we all vote him in and we're like, "Yay, we won!" No, we vote him in and then we realize we are in the greatest recession of our generation right now, and things are not going to be great, so you need to be ready to stand up and work, and act like you appreciate it.
Is that (the recession) affecting you at all, as an artist? Are you working any day jobs right now?
I'm not working any day jobs at all. I haven't since 2004. But it's not because I have tons of money. It's because I don't care about things. I have enough money to feed my son and make sure my bills are covered and live from there. That's enough to keep me happy. That's enough to keep me going.
I know you're not that into the comparison, but you have to admit that philosophy is pretty punk rock.
I'm just being real. I believe Barack Obama can help change this place, and I believe that he can help lead the way. He already is kinda leading the way to the unprecedented new standards a president can make. Whether it's direct correspondence with the American people via the Internet, or whatever else, I believe in this guy. But I don't believe it's going to help or it's going to work unless everybody's truly on board past just voting. Everybody needs to stay informed. We can't be like, 'All right, we won, let's get back to the same crap we were doing before.'
I'm hoping for the best.
That's pretty much all we can do. We gotta hope for the best and be ready to do our part. I contributed money to his campaign. I played several benefit shows and raised thousands of dollars for him. And, you know, that's something I've never done for any presidential candidate in my life, because I never believed in one as hard. I feel it.
Hey, has Lazerbeak ever gone on tour with you before? Is he into touring, or not really?
He's into touring, but this is the first time he's gone on tour with me.
He's toured with his band before--he's in a band called the Plastic Constellations.
Now, is he just going to press play and hang out during your set? What's the situation going to be like up there?
Naw, he's actually not doing anything during my set. He's out with Mike Mictlan -- he and Mike made an album together called Hand Over Fist -- and he's not really pushing play, he's playing the MPC live, so you get to see a little bit of live production, both in his set and my set.
Nice. I'm looking forward to it. So...did you try to do anything different with this record that you hadn't done before?
Maybe...but not specifically like that. I built a lot of the beats from the rhythm up instead of from the melody down, which is how I had been working before, which made the specific sound the record has. Very rhythmic, and very bouncy, and lots of drums. That came about because I was building beats from the rhythm up.
As a lyricist, I feel like I've grown up. I have the same views, but I'm not quite so blunt about everything all the time. I feel like I'm a little sneakier about it, or at least more mature about it.
I've kept you for a little while, here, but is there anything else you want to add? Are there any other things that people [in the media] don't talk about much?
One thing that has come up a couple times is that people do kinda have this vibe that I hate presidents. That I hate all presidents, period. And that's not what it is. I just want people to think. That line about presidents representing you? I mean it, and I mean it how it was written, about money first and foremost, and secondly [when I'm] talking about how the fight isn't over just because dude's in office. You know what I'm saying? It's gotta be more than 'We voted him in! Yay, we win!' [Obama] can be your hero. This dude can really, positively change this country, but definitely not without our help.