I haven’t said a word about my favorite album of 2009 to date yet, but you’re about to hear about it from someone much more qualified than myself. Meet my cousin Eric, aka ‘ziek, master of the obvious at the hilarious new blog, Big Breakthroughs. Eric is one of my main sources for indie hip hop. He’s about as knowledgeable on the subject as anyone I’ve met, and has introduced me to some of my favorite albums in the genre, most notably Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus, which I’ll hopefully write on at some point. He’s also, and I’m not just saying this because he’s my cousin, a pretty talented rapper himself, adopting a sort of deadpan spoken word delivery that recalls Sage Francis. Last year he recorded an album called Next Time, It’s Personal under the name The Nocturnals. Here’s a highlight:
Early this year, Eric turned me on to P.O.S.’s latest album Never Better, and I found it stunning. I asked if he would be interested in writing about the album in a guest post, and here’s what he came up with:
Nothing’s better than aiming at nothing and hitting your mark
Now we can just sit in the dark
—P.O.S., “Never Better,” from Never Better (Buy It)
I always thought that “rap-rock” was definitionally bad. A lot of rock groups seems to have rap influence – Beck, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soul Coughing – and a lot of rap groups have rock influence – Rage Against the Machine, Saul Williams, El-P – but the music media never seems to refer to any of these groups as rap-rockers. Instead “rap-rock” is a term generally reserved for especially bad “rap-rock,” for the Kid Rocks, Limp Bizkits, and Linkin Parks of the world. Even Faith No More is too good to be called rap-rock.
P.O.S. is thus quite an anomaly. Especially after his luke-warmly received second album, Audition, critics, accurately, labeled P.O.S. as a rap-rocker. His recent release “Never Better” may be the first great, or, for that matter, the first even half-decent, rap-rock album.
P.O.S, who started as a punk rocker in Minneapolis, has released his last three albums as part of the tightly knit Twin Cities hip hop collective, Doomtree Records (His latest album was picked up by Indierap giant, Rhymesayers Records, who represents the likes of Atmosphere and Brother Ali). Doomtree is made up of a seemingly indefinite number of MC’s, including P.O.S., Cecil Otter, Dessa Darling, Sims, Mictlan, Mel Gibson & the Pants, and Yoni, to name a few. Doomtree has released a number of albums as a group: while last year’s self-titled album was somewhat disappointing, the False Hopes and False Hopes (Warped Tour) albums are indie rap standouts. Doomtree is no by no means flawless. Their MC’s are not the most talented, but they up there with the most original. From P.O.S.’s punk-rap to Cecil Otter’s melancholy folk-rap (“My name is Cecil Fucking Otter/Not Dylan goes electric”) to Dessa Darling’s spoken word, Doomtree has effectively reinvented the rap-hyphen.
On Never Better, P.O.S. shines as both a rapper and a punk-rocker. He stays away from the rap-rock cliches like screaming rap bravado over heavy metal guitar, mediocrely speaking rock songs over unnecessary scratching, tacking a rock chorus onto a rap verse, doing it all for the nookie, etc. Instead, P.O.S. pulls from his experience as a rapper and a punk-rocker to subtly merge the two genres, and he pull beats and rhymes structures out that don’t quite belong in either camp.
Notice the wordplay, punk rock hook, and purposefully awkward beat culminating in a beautiful round on “Never Better”:
P.O.S. – Never Better (Download)
Demonstrating the eclecticism of the album, check out the intense drive of “Drumroll”:
P.O.S. – Drumroll (Download)
What the songs have in common, and how they effectively merge genres, is by blending rap stylings with the raw passion of early punk rock.
I saw P.O.S. play in Champaign, IL not long ago. It was a small venue, with maybe about 25 people in the audience, most of them gathered in a circle around P.O.S., as he, Sims, and Mictlan played from the floor. It was just what you would expect from Doomtree: intimate, non-pretentious; and hard-at-work to keep their few fans coming back.