A long time ago, probably in a blog far, far away, someone said hip-hop artist P.O.S. hated mainstream rap. While that statement isn’t exactly true (Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg top his list of favorite emcees), P.O.S. (will be the first to tell you that a lot of what’s on the radio is “boring-ass garbage.” No surprises there: P.O.S. (otherwise known as Stefon Alexander) grew up as a punk who hated everything you loved, and only listened to bands carrying the underground’s stamp of approval. While the rest of us were tuning into Top 40, the Minneapolis artist was plugged into Minor Threat, Mobb Deep and Minus the Bear.
INTERVIEW: Chris French
PHOTO: Dan Monick
If you were to make a mixtape from your childhood, what would be on it?
If I was going to make a mixtape from when I was pre-high school, it’d probably be a lot of Rancid’s first records like maybe Punk in Drublic; NOFX’s White Trash, Two Heebs And A Bean. Then it’d probably just be Minor Threat’s complete discography, Black Flag’s Damaged and then I’d probably throw in some Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.
You’ve talked before about moving from a rougher part of Minneapolis to the suburbs when you were younger. How did that transition affect the music you listened to?
When I was younger, I was in a rougher area, and then moved to a slightly nicer area. But I think that affected me because, you know, the suburbs–especially for a black punk rocker–are definitely a place where you breathe a little longer [Laughs.] I feel like punk-rock and the spirit of punk comes out of the boredom and anxiety and normalcy of being in the suburbs. Punk-rock is easy to find if you don’t mind gettin’ dirty, because you’re trying to rally against everything around you at all times.
Did you find that the people you hung out with in those different parts of your hometown listened to different music?
When I was in north Minneapolis, I would roll around with my cousins and listen to, like, South Central Cartel and Mobb Deep and stuff like that,–sheer gansta-rap. And then when I moved to the suburbs, everyone listened to pop music. Everybody everywhere you go listens to pop music, unless you find the pocket of people with the skateboards and the dude who looked fucked up. [Laughs.]
You mention the Midwest multiple times on your records. Were there any artists you listened to growing up that you liked solely because they were from the Midwest?
Well, no. But later into my high school years, I kind of stopped listening to any music that wasn’t from the Midwest and coming through basements. That’s what happened to me: Being inspired by the punk and hardcore scenes, and being inspired by the fact that Minneapolis is such a music city, I kind of just dove straight into the Midwest music scene. I got really seriously into bands like Kill Sadie, who eventually broke up and turned into Pretty Girls Make Graves and Minus the Bear. Back then I was listening to a lot of Milemarker and a lot of the Blood Brothers because they were still touring in basements back then. I was into Botch and good techie-hardcore. Then I started getting into Refused and Spoon.
You’ve given a lot of credit to you mom for where you are today. Did she listen to much music while you were growing up?
She was always listening to the good kind of funk and soul: lots of Michael Jackson, lots of Chaka Khan, stuff like that. And then, ever since I first decided I wanted to write songs, she was the person who was like, “You’re pretty good at writing songs. You should write songs, don’t get a job; never get a job.” [Laughs.] She taught me from a really young age not to be a slave to a dollar and live happy and understand that, sometimes when you’re happy, it just means that you’re not rich, and that’s cool: I’ve never been rich, so I’m not even used to it, so I don’t care. [Laughs.]
You’re also in a band called Building Better Bombs. Which influences go into that music?
I feel like that’s inspired by At the Drive-In, Refused, maybe some old stuff by the Locust, and then this German techno artist called Boys Noize. And I don’t know if I gave Kid Dynamite any due yet, but Kid Dynamite was a huge influence to me. I had already given up on punk-rock when that first Kid Dynamite record came out, and that totally restarted my love and fire for punk-rock and that kind of hardcore. For such a short-lived band, they did a lot more for me than some of these bands that have been around forever.
Are there any old-school rappers that had an impact on your music?
I would say yes, and I would say it wholeheartedly, if I could go back and be like, “This emcee did this to my style,” but I really don’t know. I know that I’m influenced by Nas and Biggie, but I don’t know how I’m influenced by Nas and Biggie. I would listen to hip-hop like Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog and then I found underground punk-rock and listened to underground punk-rock forever. And then I found underground hip-hop, and it took me a long time to find mainstream hip-hop from there. Like, my pioneers, to me in my life, are not KRS-One. When KRS-One would’ve been affecting me, I was listening to Minor Threat. So, like, my pioneers were people like Atmosphere, and people like EL-P and groups like Black Delicious and Aesop Rock, stuff like that. Mos Def and Talib Kweli are my pioneers, so whoever their influences are the ones that directly influenced me. I give respect where it’s due, but I’d already memorized all of Mos Def’s The Hard Way before I really gave a shit about Nas.
Is there anyone on mainstream radio now that you admire and respect?
Jay-Z. I don’t think anybody can not appreciate Jay-Z for what he does. Like, everything that people hate about mainstream hip-hop they all can equate to Jay-Z because he’s done all that stuff. He has like the “Big Pimpin’” songs and the fuckin’ earn money and fuckin’ women songs, but those were his singles. If you listen to Jay-Z’s debut album cuts, he’s an intentionally good lyricist and intentionally good with words. He knows what he’s doing: He didn’t really fight anybody else; everybody else kind of jumped on what he was doin’. That makes him a pioneer in a way a lot of people are not pioneers. So I give Jay-Z credit where it’s due. I give Lil’ Wayne credit where it’s due because it takes a lot to be an entire personality in hip-hop. And that dude rapes his ass off on mixtapes that most of America doesn’t even hear: Between Tha Carter II and Tha Carter III, that guy made, like, seven full-length records that just didn’t come out in mainstream areas. So I respect Wayne, I respect Jay-Z, I respect Nas and anybody that came up doin’ it that way and who still kind of have their own feel to it. I respect those people. I don’t have a general hate for mainstream hip-hop: I think I was misquoted a long time ago and it came out that way, but I will say that a lot of it’s fucking boring-ass garbage. [Laughs.]
So what do you find yourself constantly listening to today?
I’ve been listening to the Silversun Pickups new record, Swoon I just picked that one up on a whim and it’s blowing my mind. I’ve been listening to that; I’ve been listening to the Paul and Linda McCartney record called Ram. I’ve been listening to Miss Machine by Dillinger Escape Plan. I’ve been listening to Innerpartysystem just because we’re on [Warped Tour] together, and they’re good. They’re one of those few bands that are sticking out to me as pretty excellent.
P.O.S. Wouldn’t Exist Without
REFUSED: “They took chances within their genre at such an early stage before anybody else was really taking chances in their genre”
COMPANY FLOW: “They made hip-hop sound like fuckin’ Fugazi way before any other rapper had ever done that kind of thing.”
SPOON: “They make pop songs, but kind of turn them on their head. Spoon’s one of those bands that make straight-up, like, Beatles-ass pop songs but they fuckin’ produce them and make them in such a way that they’re interesting to listen to over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.” alt