As great as P.O.S.’s We Don’t Even Live Here is, the album’s been overshadowed by the rapper’s inability to properly tour to promote it, so it’s great to hear he’s getting the chance to go out and do a few dates this spring, including Sasquatch Fest in Washington state this May. With his otherwise well-documented health issues keeping him off the road for the last few months, I suspected he might have something to say to fans about the album and his collaborative spirit, which has seen him working with everyone from Doomtree to Building Better Bombs and Marijuana Deathsquads. Sure enough, there was enough great discussion fodder in a few minutes to fuel hours of conversation, had there been the opportunity.
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I’ve been really impressed with the collaborative spirit of Minneapolis hip-hop over the last decade. What would you hope the mainstream contributors to the genre would take from that?
I don’t know, I guess I really think that you’re starting to see that more anyway without someone having to get out there and say anything. I think having a band behind you is pretty fun, but it’s more about finding people who are good at something and working with them. Really thinking about everything as more of a project.
I’d noticed with the new album that, on tracks like “Fuck Your Stuff,” it seemed you were talking about getting people to get up off their asses to do something constructive rather than just bragging, hyping and buying stuff.
Yeah, it’s not just about musicians, but more everybody.
Have your fans taken that message and run with it?
I don’t know! I think some of them have, but I don’t know if all of them go beyond the music. The problem with talking about some of the stuff I talk about on this record is that we still live in the world that we live in, you know? It’s still all about the money you have and what you can afford and brag about. Whether I rap about trying to find a better way or a different way, that’s still where people’s lives are. They have to work and get money, whether they care about money or not.
Do you feel you have a responsibility since you have that “voice” through hip-hop, to push that Occupy message as far as it’ll go?
Sort of. I don’t know if it’s an Occupy message, but more of a general “if we live in a capitalist society, that’s where we live” mentality. There may not be anything you can do about it, but that doesn’t mean we all just have to take being wage-slaves and being treated like that’s what we want to do. I don’t know anyone who wants to be a wage-slave.
You got your start in the realm of punk music. Comparing that genre to hip-hop, do you think there’s really much of a difference between hip-hop’s lyricism and punk’s more furious roots?
No. I really don’t. I think that when I was first getting into Wu Tang Clan I was definitely very aware as a fan of music of how really punk-rock it was. I think at the very roots you can go all the way down and they both have their fun, they both have their carefree side, but at the most fundamental level they’re about doing something constructive with your life, looking at things from a different angle.
Listening to your music, you’ve covered all the different angles, with four solo albums, your work with Doomtree, and then you’ve been part of Building Better Bombs and Marijuana Deathsquads. How do you keep challenging yourself to maintain that level of work?
Well, I think the point is to make things that are challenging. I don’t know that it’s a matter of “how do I keep challenging,” it’s a matter of making songs that are interesting to me. If it feels that it’s not interesting for me then I can’t roll with it, you know? I never really think about it in terms of “how am I gonna outdo myself?” It’s a matter of making more music.
Do you feel that you have to have multiple things going on to keep yourself inspired?
Yeah. Definitely, if I was only rapping I’d be bored out of my mind.
Looking at Minneapolis in particular, in the 90s it was a flourishing punk and alternative scene, and now it’s been hip-hop since Rhymesayers really took force.
Right, but in all that time there’s still been that rock influence. Everything that’s happened, there’s not a lot of ska bands, since ska kind of just “went away,” but as far as different styles of music you can always find it. This is a very unique and interesting music city.
What makes a city build a good scene?
I think it’s because there are no major labels, just small labels big enough to handle the music local bands collaborate on. I think there’s a tradition here. I definitely wasn’t born when the music scene started here, but by the time I was old enough to listen to music, there were already bands like Husker Du and the Replacements, all these awesome bands that had worked the scene here. So I think if you’re a musician, if you’re just starting out it feels impossible to break through, but you only have to make a little bit of headway to realize just how wide open it is.
Artists often get pigeonholed into the same conversation over and over again. What do you wish someone would ask you but they never do?
Honestly? On my last record I was more annoyed. The questions this time around have been really good because people are starting to pay attention to the subject-matter of the songs. And I think culturally people are a little more awake than they may have ever been, if you take the Internet into consideration not just for music but for information. You can have an opinion and a set of ideals that maybe you didn’t have a few years back even. Things can happen so fast, it’s just a matter of taking the time to actually read things past the headline.
Is there something you wish no one would ever ask you again?
There are always the standard questions about “what are your favorite bands,” and stuff like that. I never mind sharing, but it’s always like “you could probably just read another interview.”
I’m always more interested in what artists are currently inspired by. Are there groups or solo writers coming up who you think we should be more aware of?
Yeah … I think that there’s a rapper named Haleek Maul who people are kind of sleeping on right now. But there’s always so many rappers, there are a million people. I’m really super-inspired by podcasts and current events. Musically I’m still into my favorites and I’m always listening to new stuff.
Do you think artists have a mandate to keep pushing people to think more deeply about the world?
No. I don’t at all. I think there’s always a place for stupid love songs, a place for completely mindless songs. I think there’s room for everybody. There’s a common thought in underground rap that mainstream rap is stupid. Underground punk bands think mainstream bands are stupid, since people who grew up loving Green Day hate Green Day now. I think there’s room for everybody to do pretty much whatever they want, there’s enough people out there to be successful. If you believe in the music that you’re putting out, you should stand behind it. When I was younger I was really mad at the direction hip-hop culture drives people, and there’s always going to be anger and ignorance, whether it’s rap or anything. But that’s me. Part of my personality is that I want to talk about things that affect my life, the world around me. It doesn’t mean everybody needs to do that.
If you’re going to write silly love songs, at least be willing to stand up for that.
Exactly, but there are people who – think about the Queers or bands like that – part of their charm is that they make silly stupid songs. Some are good, some are bad, but they all have that bent to them. For someone like me, I love Minor Threat because they talked about things which mattered to them, but I also liked the Vandals, where every song just seemed to make fun of something. There’s room for everything.
No such thing as a guilty pleasure then?
Not for me, at least not since I was 25. At that point I decided fuck it. If I like it, I like it.
I know you’re scheduled to play at Sasquatch Fest this spring. What should we expect to hear from you guys in the coming year? Are you working on any new material or are you just excited to get out there and promote the current album now?
I’m getting excited to promote the current album, but with all the health stuff sidelining the tour, I’d be bored if I wasn’t making something. It’s still been tough, I haven’t gotten my transplant yet and I’m booking shows on faith that I’ll be able to get out there. My docket’s still pretty open at this point.
If you had one album through which you could introduce the world to hip-hop or rap, which would be your “most essential” pick?
Oh man, there’s a lot of albums I personally like. I guess just because you’re asking me today and I’m thinking about it today, I’d say My Ghetto Report Card by E-40. It’s a really good record, because he’s one of those guys who is a true innovator and he’s not always dumb. There’s enough party, enough bullshit and enough smart stuff, and the beats all knock. And nobody sounds like E-40.
“We Don’t Even Live Here” — P.O.S. and his “Weird Friends” showcase just how far ahead they remain of mainstream hip-hop via new video
I’ve been a champion of P.O.S.’s magnificent hip-hop effort We Don’t Even Live Here since it came out late last year, but the rapper continues to find ways to mine that album for gold as the new year gets going, proving he leads the genre’s vanguard by a wide distance. Reset your opinions of hip-hop by giving these lyrical anarchists a listen or ten. They won’t be beat, and any chance to dig deeper into their catalog is worth the effort. Their tour was cancelled last year due to P.O.S.’s imminent need for a kidney transplant, but they will be playing Sasquatch! Fest with Mumford and Sons, Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, the XX and an astonishing number of other cutting edge alternative artists, when the festival takes over George, Washington on May 27, 2013. Based on everything I’ve heard about his live shows, this won’t be one to miss.
Check out the video below! It definitely deserves a shot at wider mainstream acknowledgement, even as the band refuses to give up an ounce of their indie credibility to get it.
Year of the Album — #004
Sims – “Bad Time Zoo”
Doomtree Records (2011)
Similar Albums: Pocket Dwellers – “Digitally Organic” (Independent, 2002)
Atmosphere – “You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having” (Rhymesayers, 2005)
With it’s heavily African-inspired jazz-oriented beats and Sims’ incredibly tight, complex flow, there’s a great deal to love about Bad Time Zoo. It’s rare that an underground hip-hop album will have this distinct a theme running through its lyrics, but Sims does an amazing job recapping his world as it stands in this world where we’re all immediately interconnected with the global community – we can be immediately knowledgeable about a great deal without ever really understanding any of it, even down to the decay of our own communities. This is an album with a lot to say, and Sims says it with intelligence and creativity. This may be the best hip-hop album you’ll hear in 2011 and it’s coming out in Februrary!
“Burn It Down” and its accompanying video are the highlight of the album and they lay out Sims’ modus operandi perfectly: “Welcome to the Veldt,” he says at the end of the song, after showing us a world of urban decay and “community” in which the only way we can really save ourselves is by letting go, burning everything down and rebuilding from the ashes. “What will you call your home, what will you call your own?” he asks. “Where will you lay them bones? Oh no, the bell just tolled … this is heaven, this is home, this is heaven, this is hell.” We’re in a world where we’re all connected digitally, he implies, but we’re not connected to our communities physically, so they’re rotting from the inside.
He furthers the argument on “Bad Time Zoo,” implying that “generation now” wants to get everything at once without actually being willing to invest anything to get it. On “One Dimensional Man” he flows over a tight snare-and-guitars beat of liberal hypocrisy in the modern age: “Rules are the same, we’re speaking double-think, with the action based on guilt holier-than-thou type thing. But you did your part! You gave your hundred bucks to NPR, you joined the co-op now, you bought the hybrid car. Switched to “peace” coffee, went to three rallies, then wiped your hands with sanitized solution – good deeds tallied.”
The album’s full of amazingly catchy tracks, and they’re not all so deadly serious. “Love My Girl,” for instance, has the hook to sell to radio, as Sims raps about his girl and how much he loves her because she’s “as bad as baboon,” making him feel warm and sexy because she’s more fucked up than he is. Okay, so it’s not exactly classy to hear him rapping about her getting high on Oxycontin and going on an alcohol-fueled bender, and how that makes him love her even more, but it sure beats the normal “Smack That Ass” mentality of the Akons of the world.
And on the hidden track after “Hey You,” he raps somberly about that same girl’s near-death experience. She’s in desperate need of a heart transplant and they’ve found a six-point match. But the heart is rejected, and he’s left by her bedside arguing with God about why he’d put her through all this. “When she awoke, she thought she was dead – and that thought plagues my head! So damn all the Demerol to hell! I’m face to face with the devil himself … or God at her most masochistic. It’s probably neither, just came from the ether.” By the end of the song we can hear him growing more and more desperate as his girl suffers in front of him and there’s nothing he can do about it. “I believe in life like I believe in death,” he says, “but I’m not ready for hers just yet. I can’t believe in what I can’t see, that’s just my nature; so picture me pleading with my maker – like, ‘God please save her! Or if you’re gonna take her then just take her, but save her from the terror that breaks her.’” It’s one of the most wrenching ,moving experiences you’ll ever have listening to a hip-hop track, and it’s a worthy finish to an incredible album.
Here’s hoping Doomtree Records has the push to get this album out to the wide audience it deserves. There may be something in the water in Minneapolis, considering the amazing underground hip-hop scene which has developed there over the last decade. Whatever it is, Sims’ Bad Time Zoo has something to say and gets its points across with beats that blend jazz and world-beat with modern flair that would set radio on fire if anyone had the balls to play these songs. Regardless, Bad Time Zoo is the first must-hear hip-hop album of 2011, and it’s an early contender for my year-end top ten.
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