A man who overcame a failing kidney. A performer who was just about to take his leap at the ring. A rapper who came back and said “fuck it, this is me”. All of these statements are true about Stef Alexander aka P.O.S. and the back-story of his struggles have been told over and over again (our abridged version is below) so in this edition of HLT we’re going to look at the curious case of Stef and how he got his mojo back by producing one of the best LPs of 2017.
His is the kind of story that anyone can appreciate. That he comes from a Minneapolis punk background and successfully bridges many genres with his music illustrates why he should be not just relevant, but important to all music fans. As he said himself in an interview with the Alaska Dispatch News, “I think being someone that grew up on rock music song structure has informed the way I make rap music,” continuing with “I’m easily bored by a lot of rap music if the beats don’t change much.”
We don’t talk about hip hop’s influence on metal or heavy music nearly enough. We comment on stories about “that time when” Yeezy wore a Testament t-shirt. We might occasionally check out mash-ups between metal and hip hop artists, though these are much, much fewer and farther between than in their mid-90s heyday. We might even have a few rappers that we listen to on a limited basis. But if there’s one thing that we don’t do enough of is push beyond our comfort zones when it comes to exploring music.
For those reasons and so many more, P.O.S. should be in everyone’s regular rotation. Full-stop. That might sound like an opinion to you. I feel otherwise.
To understand how we got here you need to have some grounding in where he came from. P.O.S. did the thing many of us do by having a band growing up. He played in a variety of projects (hold on, you’ll notice a theme) of the mostly rock and punk variety before forming Doomtree around 2002. Doomtree became “home” for several Minneapolis emcees and Stef would go on to produce (and appear on) many of them in between recording his own material.
He released 2 of his own albums, 2004’s Ipecac Neat and 2006’s Audition, before doing a deep-dive into the collective work of his fellow artists in Doomtree. The next couple of years would see Doomtree rise, as a group, to eventually splinter off powerfully in separate projects of their own. P.O.S. was not impervious to this, going on the road as a part of Warped Tour or sharing stages with Minus the Bear and Russian Circles before eventually releasing the album that would set him up well for future success.
2009’s Never Better is an album you should own. A lot of people already do, but not enough. If you love music you should just get it. That it has bangers and think pieces, art statements and a lot of get down makes it a worthwhile addition to any collection. That the track below might be considered a “throwaway” in everything P.O.S. and company throws at his audience over the course of this LP signals the overwhelming quality that is this album.
2012 would see P.O.S. hit audiences with what seemed to be the “moment”. This was going to finally and firmly put him on the radar of mainstream rap fans. We Don’t Even Live Here followed red-hot on the heels of the massive Doomtree release No Kings and had him poised and ready… until his body said no. The irony in all this, of course, is that in his crowning moment something out there pushed back and whispered “Remember what you said? No. Kings.” So fans never got to see the moment when tracks like “Fuck Your Stuff” would catapult his music and message to an unimaginable number of new fans they, we, were all convinced he would pick up.
So what do you do when your health fails and career derails? You lean on your support network, you fight, and you go through the gamut of available emotions, I would think. If you can, imagine being so beloved that people handed over money a bit at a time to make sure that you could survive, as many did, to help fund your medical care. Or how about having an old high school friend donate an organ? Maybe you write a note that comes off as ham-fisted, throw it out, and try again? Maybe you go into a reflective shell and do the thing that makes you *you* and wind up writing the deepest, darkest, highest of the high, lowest of the low, and ultimately, most beautiful piece of work you’re, up until now, capable of.
And that’s what this man did.
Chill, dummy comes at the end of a lengthy recovery battle for P.O.S. In a lot of ways it’s hard to tell whether art imitated life or the other way around. It might sound cliche but there’s no other way we wind up with this record from this artist if things hadn’t gone the way they did. So sure, this punk-rocker-turned-rapper-producer-collectivist who spans more classifications than Sugar “Ray” Leonard went and made a killer album but no matter what, you don’t get to it without a boatload of heart. No one shares the spotlight quite like him but his turn is more than overdue. After working with such diverse acts as Gayngs, Doomtree, and Marijuana Deathsquads, among many others, it’s finally his time.
What’s that? You need more? Another reason you should listen to P.O.S.? His genre-bending isn’t only tied to his hip hop. To wit, the closing trio of songs from Chill, dummy – “Lanes”, “Gravedigger”, and the voluminous, sprawling rap-gone-doom electronic swirl of “sleepdrone/superposition” – provide a promising glimpse of where Stef might be headed next and, indeed, that hip hop hasn’t met it’s logical boundary yet as it supercollides with many other types of sounds on his latest effort.
In a time where we have been spoiled for choice like no other when it comes to the flow of talent coming out of the hip hop realm it’s important to take a step back and recognize artists who push at the boundaries of the form. When we have our Kendrick’s, Chance’s, and so many others sitting at the top, it’s nice to recognize a gleaming P.O.S. when we see and hear one. So, to any haters, chill, dummy and dig into this record.
You can and should pick up this album wherever fine albums are sold or through Bandcamp.