“Reading Past The Headline” — an Interview with P.O.S.

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.

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