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P.O.S. embraces chaos in hip hop

By Staff | Feb 23, 2010

P.O.S. exploded on the indie rap scene with 2006’s “Audition,” a brilliant fusion of his two musical loves: punk and hip hop. His follow-up, last year’s  “Never Better,” was everything its title promised.

P.O.S., which means either “Pissed off Steff,” “Promise of Society,” or “Piece of Shit,” among others, is coming to Cleveland’s Grog Shop March 17. Yea, it’s a little bit of a drive, but, as his latest album proves, hip hop has never sounded better.

Graffiti: So tell us what you’ve been up to lately.

P.O.S.: I’ve been on tour, just wrapping up the year-long touring of “Never Better,” the record. I’m just kind of doing the victory lap and then making a new record.

Graffiti: Do you have some stuff fleshed out yet, even in demo form?

P.O.S.: Yea, a little bit. Nothing really much to speak about, but definitely some stuff there.

Graffiti: I’m not sure how much of a role you have in the production of the songs, but when you start to have some ideas for songs, do you start with the music or the lyrics?

P.O.S.: It really depends on the song. I usually have about 50 percent of the beats I make myself on every record.

Graffiti:  I understand you started out as a punk musician. How did you come to rap from there?

P.O.S.: I always did both. How I came to do rap as a thing I was focusing on, I was just tired of having to put my music projects on hold while people went to college. Rap is one of those things you can do by yourself. That’s what took it to a serious thing from a hobby.

Graffiti: Minneapolis is a little bit more open-minded musically than some of the places I’m used to. But growing up I enjoyed both genres, punk and rap. Yet I always felt like I lost cred with my more punk and hardcore friends. Do you ever like you’re never fully embraced in one genre or the other because of your interest in both?

P.O.S.: Because of it, I’ve never been fully embraced in either. That was something I was upset about when I was a younger teen, but very quickly stopped caring about. I felt like early on they were the same at the root. But I don’t know, I never understood how people didn’t get that.

As you get older, people start to get that more. When you’re younger and you’re finding your musical identity, especially in the stuff that’s polarized like punk and hardcore or even hip hop, people have a hard time letting themselves like other kinds of music.

Graffiti: When you’re younger, especially as a teen, there’s a lot of posturing that goes on, too.

P.O.S.: Yea, that’s what it’s all about. When you’re younger you kind of find what your thing is and you do that as hard as you possibly can. I know so many people who are 14 or 15 and they won’t listen to anything but hip hop, or so many people who only listen to punk or hardcore.

Graffiti: It’s funny for me. I grew up on the border of West Virginia, and for us it’s country music. So many of my friends had broad musical tastes but they always said they hated country. They would never listen to country. But as I get older they are getting into the older stuff. I guess it’s more socially acceptable to be into Johnny Cash than it is the Dixie Chicks or something.

P.O.S.: That’s totally what it is. All the old punk rockers now make country music when their punk bands break up. Everybody swears they hate country music and then when they turn 30 they start a country band.

Graffiti: One of my first interviews for Graffiti was with Rocky Votolato, who, of course, was in Waxwing. But we were talking about  how all these punk musicians are mellowing out and getting into country and folk.

P.O.S.: It’s going from fast drinking songs to slow drinking songs.

Graffiti: Do you think you’ll ever go that route?

P.O.S.: Country?

Graffiti: Maybe, but more so I mean just mellowing out, making slower songs or more mellow songs. There’s a lot of aggression in some of your music.

P.O.S.: Probably, but probably not alt-country.

Graffiti: Let’s talk a little about Doomtree, your collective. How did that come about?

P.O.S.: We all either went to high school together or knew each other pretty young. That’s it. We all wanted to make music and it worked out so nicely. We were all already just bouncing our music off each as friends and we pulled our resources together and it worked out better.

Graffiti: I’m always interested when you hear about artists finding each like Truman Capote and Harper Lee. They were childhood friends, and I’m always interested in that dynamic. You know, were these people inherently talented to begin, or did they sort of spur each other on to greatness.

P.O.S.: It’s absolutely that. If I have a song I think is really good and I play it for (Doomtree Collective emcee) Sims and he’s really into it, then he writes a song and plays it for me.

It’s that how vibe of trying to outdo each other and impress each other and make the best possible songs we can.

That’s huge for us at Doomtree — the healthy competition. No matter what limb I’m trying to walk out on with any song, I could play it for my friends and get an honest opinion on it.

Graffiti: I read somewhere recently that the best art is made by friends trying to impress each other (Ed. note: It was said by one of the artists in the “Beautiful Losers” documentary).

P.O.S.: I believe that.

Graffiti: I read in an interview that you tried to make “Audition” as abrasive as possible to challenge listeners. Did you take that same perspective into the studio for “Never Better?” Does that change depending on the project.

P.O.S.: It does change depending on the project, but so far on every record I’m trying to challenge my boundaries and my audience’s boundaries for what hip hop is. I’m not trying to set off and go carve my own, brand new thing; I just want to make something that’s new, that sounds new.

Graffiti: You’ve often been described as a political rapper, but I’ve read you prefer to think of it in more of a social context. Can you explain that a little bit?

P.O.S.: I don’t consider myself a political rapper at all. I feel like I rap about things that I notice, the way I see I’m being treated in any circumstance or social situation, the way my friends are. Political rappers  have to decide which side they’re on and fight against the other side. While I do have an idea which side I’m on, I don’t feel I have any authority. So I spend my time on my more political songs looking at ‘A’ and ‘B’ and how they compare to each other instead of this is me and this is what we fight against.

I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I’m looked at as the authority on something that I don’t think I am.

Contact Justin at jmcintosh@graffitiwv.com