Hip-hop is no stranger to mating with non-rap-affiliated genres. Even so, it may come as a surprise that the next college radio chart-topping hip-hop artist dons a studded jean-jacket vest and has a history of playing bass and keyboards in local hometown punk bands. Enter P.O.S, aka Stefon Alexander, whose past albums tango with fusing punk instrumentals with hip-hop beats. The unorthodox blend of music proves to be an unexpected but enjoyable combination, like fried chicken and waffles.
P.O.S’s newest record, We Don’t Even Live Here, came out in October on Rhymesayers and had him positioned at No. 1 on CMJ’s Hip-Hop chart for three weeks. But amid the good news, the artist is also facing difficult times. The second half of his album-promoting tour was cut short due to health complications involving his kidneys, which he described as being “garbage” via vlog post.
I caught up with P.O.S on the phone as he was grabbing a bagel for his late breakfast in his chilly hometown of Minneapolis, MN. Now surrounding himself with a more relaxing home life, we discussed his health, his integration of contrasting musical styles, the cultural gem that is Minneapolis and the political views that inundate his lyrics.
How’re you feeling? I heard about the kidney.
I’m OK. I’m a little crabby, but aside from that, man, I’m pretty good.
Sorry to hear about that. Just rest and relaxation is all you can do right now?
Yeah, can’t really do much.
Did you get the procedure yet, or are you still waiting on that?
Still waiting on that. Last I heard they were thinking sometime in January, but no date was set yet.
Do they at least have a kidney that matches up with yours?
Yeah, I mean, they’re testing a lot of my friends and family to make sure I get a good one.
I hope that goes well and definitely good luck with you on that.
Want to talk about your music instead?
Yeah, I’d rather.
Reviews often mention that your music is a hybrid? How do you feel about that label?
I think a lot of things are hybrids nowadays. It kind of depends on why you’re calling it a hybrid. Because I always have rap drums, but I also have really aggressive rock drums too because those are some of my favorite kind of drums. I mean, I just don’t really think about it. I just try to make songs. Especially when the reviews come out for a new record. Then like, I try even harder not to think about it and just think about making good shit.
What would you describe as good shit as far as your songs go?
It’s rap music. Rap music with aggressive, rock drums, sometimes. I dunno if I’d say that it’s rockish, especially this new record. There are not any guitars on it. My last records were real noisy. This one’s a lot less noisy, so I don’t know if I would really describe it that way. In the past I might’ve, but I don’t know with this record. I’m always going to have traces of rock or hardcore or punk in there because I think it makes it sounds more urgent, and I think it’s more fun to make.
It’s the twang, huh?
How did you end up crossing over into rap if you listened to punk music all the time?
Mostly because I could do it, like I could rap. I would rap with my friends for fun. But I needed something to do by myself when my band broke up because the other songwriter and bass player had to go to college at the time. Pretty much when he went to college, I started a band called Building Better Bombs, joined a band called Cadillac Blindside and started rapping pretty much within a month of each other just to fill my time. And rapping is the one that stuck. Building Better Bombs turned into Marijuana Deathsquads, and we still play shows now.
So when and how did you get the name “Pissed Off Stef?” Was that your MC name?
Yeah, it was just stupid. I was probably 14. I don’t know if it was about being angry—it was definitely about being angry—but it was more like picking an alias to pick an alias. Like punk rockers had aliases. People don’t so much these days.
You grew up in Minnesota, and you live there now. How’s the hip-hop scene?
It’s pretty awesome. We have the Rhymesayers label here. It’s really good for creating a nice place. Honestly, like there’s a rap show every day of the week here, and it’s just like a large music scene in general. You can find any style of music any day of the week.
So there’s no deficiency.
No, for music and for a music scene? Nah. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, and I’ve toured this country so many times over. There are a million bands, and there are million rappers, there are a million styles of bands. There are pockets of people that collaborate with each other endlessly. Historically, we’ve got bands of every genre. Prince, Atmosphere—it’s a great place. It’s like a little secret gem.
So it would be worth taking a trip up to Minnesota?
Yeah, just not during the winter time.
You have the rap collective and label Doomtree up there. Did Doomtree start as a group of outcasts in your high school? Because there’s the track on your new record called “Weird Friends (We Don’t Even Live Here).” Was it about you and Doomtree and friends in high school?
It’s mostly about anybody that feels like a lot of day-to-day life is bullshit and maybe trying to find adventure and more fun and not think about chasing money every day, all day. I personally believe the system of capitalism we live in is counterproductive to the expansion of human evolution. So the idea of We Don’t Even Live Here is the idea of recognizing that, and instead of just spending our time still doing that, kind of reaching out to find something that’s truly inspiring to us, us being anybody and everybody that feels that way.
A bunch of your lyrics are very politically and economically charged in their views, like “Fuck Your Stuff.” That’s a fun one, but it gets the message across at the same time.
That was the point of that song, is to be fun and then still be able to listen to it.
Then there are other songs where you make kind of sarcastic or dismal remarks about our black president, Obama, being elected. So was that more personal feelings you had to express, or was there something else behind that?
Well yeah, I’m happy that Obama is president, I suppose. It’s a really good look, and there have been some positive things that have come from it. But if you close at it, he still did sign the National Defense Authorization Act into law, behind closed doors, and he’s been pretty much a horrible president as far as civil liberties go. I’m not a Republican by any means. I’m not necessarily a Democrat either. Of those two particular presidential candidates, I suppose I’m happy to see Obama there, but the whole thing seems like football to me. Any sports, any kind of ridiculous public competition.
We were discussing how the way they were screening it, watching the election, was just like watching a sports game.
It’s ridiculous. The amount of money that goes into it makes me feel like, you know as a citizen, and as an American, my ideas and my views don’t really count because I don’t have millions of dollars to be throwing at whatever cause I care about. So that’s how I feel about that.