There is no conceivable reason why hip-hop can’t rock. While there is plenty of evidence to suggest that rock stars should never rap (or country singers for that matter…Big & Rich, I’m looking in your direction), the opposite isn’t necessarily true. If you look back at punk rock and hip-hop, the two movements were essentially spawned from similar ideas. Even the fashion was similar in the late ’70s and early ’80s. And yet, somehow, few artists have been able to combine the two without embarrassing results. I can name some examples of artists that have done it well—Dälek, New Kingdom, The Beastie Boys—but it’s artists like Kid Rock that are making gold records.
Enter P.O.S. A Minneapolis MC with a pedigree in punk rock (he used to be in a band called Om), Stef (that’s what the S stands for) has taken on a new life as a rapper, yet he keeps one foot firmly in the Twin Cities punk rock scene on which he was weaned. On more than a few tracks, P.O.S., Lazerbeak and Emily Bloodmobile pack the production with heavy as fuck basslines and the occasional Kill Sadie sample. On top of that, Craig Finn from The Hold Steady and Greg Attonito from The Bouncing Souls (not a Minneapolis band, for the record) lend guest vocals. And even more Mpls bands, such as the Plastic Constellations, are thanked in the liner notes of his latest, Audition.
So if I haven’t made myself clear, this platter o’ wax rocks. Stef’s delivery is more than fiery and impassioned enough to match the music, thus giving credence to the suggestion that the P.O. stands for “pissed off.” In the near-DMX shouting chorus opener “Half-Cocked Concept,” Stef spits, “First of all, fuck Bush/that’s it, that’s the end of it.” But this is merely a tease, as “Stand Up (Let’s Get Murdered)” proves two tracks later. First he offers, “We’re playing the game for most of our lives/but in November, who had the patience to stand in line? Then wittily shouts “I keep my hands warm with the damn patriot act.” This man ain’t pleased with the state of affairs today, but he presents his anger in a hot, high energy jam rather than a three chord punk song.
The punk energy is still there though, you see. It just sounds a little different. That “Bush League Psyche-Out Stuff” is mellow and funky doesn’t erase the intensity bubbling underneath. And just because “Paul Kersey to Jack Kimball” sounds more like Eminem than The Clash, that doesn’t take away from the vitriol. But the peak moment of the album comes in the song’s chorus when Stef reflects, “we don’t throw our hands up like we don’t care anymore/we throw our hands up like we don’t care anymore.”
P.O.S. may not be sporting a studded belt anymore, but there’s no hiding the punk rocker behind his beats and rhymes. He’s a solid rapper, one that shines brighter than many of his contemporaries, but he does something that most MCs don’t know how to do—rock hard.
Atmosphere – You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having
Sage Francis – A Healthy Distrust
Murs – The End of the Beginning
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.