I don’t remember, for sure, how I originally came across P.O.S. (Stefan Alexander). I think I first heard about him in 2006, around the time he released Audition. At that time, I read Alternative Press almost every month, and P.O.S. was in one of the “Artists to Look Out For Issues.” I picked up Audition, and its mixture of punk and hip hop struck a chord with me. P.O.S. introduced me to Doomtree: Dessa, Sims, Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, Cecil Otter, and Mike Mictlan. Thirteen years later, you’ll still catch me rockin’ P.O.S. in a crisis, driving down the road, walking to class, or cooking a meal. He’s evolved over the years, and every move he’s made has brought with it phenomenal musical and lyrical insight. Over the next two posts, I want to take a moment and talk about five of my favorite P.O.S. tracks.
“Safety in Speed (Heavy Metal)” Audition (2006)
There are numerous songs on Audition that are classics: “Half-Cocked Concepts,” “Da La Souls,” “Paul Kersey to Jack Kimball,” “Living Slightly Larger,” and so many more. However, the first song I always go to is “Safety in Speed.” The laid-back, indie beat that P.O.S. created draws the us in, hypnotically lulling us into Craig Finn’s (The Hold Steady) and P.O.S.’s lines. It lulls us, in a way, into a daze, a daze that draws us into our own headphones, into our own darkened rooms, into the darkened cinema, into the media we consume.
Finn and P.O.S. look at the ways that media lull us into stereotypes, recycled images, and “double speakers from the double features.” We buy into supposed diversity or social justice initiatives, only to realize that these are nothing more than superficial moves meant to placate us. Finn lays this bare with his opening lines where he talks about the only movie he has ever walked out of, Predator, a movie with “Carl Weathers and two future governers,” a movie “that’s really unacceptable.” While the white Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura became governors, Weathers did not.
P.O.S. tackles representation in perhaps some of my favorite bars ever laid down on a track. They’re worth quoting at length:
You ever feel like you’re being tricked
Tricked-out, dicked, dicked around with or flat out lied to?
Welcome to Hollywood D.C
Where Reagan youth grew up cowboys off Ronnie’s westerns
That shoot em up and steal the bucks
Tell ’em what’s love and giddy-up, yeah off into the sunset
Years later we watched the Running Man and two of ’em ran and won
Too star-struck to stick with the plan, huh
I shoulda switched to Marlboros, them cowboy killers
‘Cause cowboys are killing Camel Lights
And some mustache punked the evil Jafar
But for a middle eastern guy, I think Aladdin looked kinda white
We open wide and catch a bite of villain image
We swallow it and feed it to the kids if the song’s alright
That’s just the way it be, eyes wide shut up and sit down
Put your hands up for your turn to speak
Here, he goes after Hollywood and politicians, using Hollywood D.C. and Ronald Reagan as the fulcrum to highlight how cultural representation and the government both work to oppress and suppress individuals. The allusions to Reagan Youth, the Marlboro man, and Camels all play into this. Two of the most pointed lines point out that Aladdin, a Middle Easter character, is portrayed and looks more like a tan white character in the Disney animated film. He ends by showing that we take these things, these moves, these images, these policies, lying down. We ingest them them “shut up and sit down.” We need to question, to challenge, to push back and demand what is right, using “these proofs to prove what not to do.”
“Drumroll (We’re All Thirsty)” Never Better (2009)
The militaristic snare drum rolls coupled with the distorted bass set the punk tone for “Drumroll,” a song that always causes me to think. There are countless things that attract me to “Drumroll.” One is obviously the sonic soundscape that P.O.S. creates, a soundscape that pounds and distorts all at the same time. The music keeps a brutal pace, dropping out to be supplanted by P.O.S.’s rhymes. These musical pauses showcase his flow, but when the instruments come back in, his lyrical virtuosity comes out full force as he blisters through bars at breakneck speed, dropping lines like
Off my rock, no songs, no more locked, yeah
Just a little bit a prison for everyone of us
We won’t listen till there isn’t any more of us
These days we quick to part ways with rights like “okay”
Thematically, “Drumroll” always hits home for me. It’s a song that deals with carving out a life for oneself amidst forces that systematically seek to keep individuals confined. The opening line, “In a world where the world ends at the end of your block,” lays the foundation for the rest of the song. In the second verse, P.O.S. highlights surveillance and the ways that educators and other authority figures continue to foster these same systems.
Walking these streets, heat is watching
These preachers speak from their pockets
These teachers- Bring it back, c’mon
These teachers reach but can’t stop it
Seedlings so poisoned, so lost and
Follow these prophets to nonsense
Tossing what’s right to the dust
While the poisoned seedlings latch into the dirt, P.O.S. keeps “looking for disinfectant.” How do we bring water (knowledge, self-respect, etc.) to the thirsty in the title? How do we counter those who want to line their own pockets or those who adhere to the hegemonic order? That’s what “Drumroll” asks and ponders.
“Get Down” We Don’t Even Live Here (2012)
Patrick Russel’s beat for “Get Down” is a banger. The music sounds like a dance club, and the video carries over with this vibe. However, on “Get Down,” P.O.S. and Mike Mictlan strongly critique the apathy that has become such a part of our everyday lives. The chorus lays this them bare:
No one gives a fuck about shit
So fuck your shit, we fuck shit up
Cause shit’s fucked anyway
Shit is run into the ground (I know right)
I don’t wanna think about it I just wanna get down
Get down get down until we come up
I don’t wanna think about it I just wanna get down
Get down get down cause shit’s fucked get down get down
I ain’t tryna hear that I just wanna get down until we come up
Why should someone care if everything is so messed up? Is that the reason people should care? Instead of working to change the system, we buy into it and placate ourselves, getting down to the music and media we imbibe.
Mictlan’s verse highlights the ways that instead of denying or being blind to he systems that oppress us, we need to actively resist and fight back. While others are hanging at night clubs, him and P.O.S. are “setting up fight clubs” as they’re “passing out cocktails, the kind that light up.” This song came after the financial crisis in 2008, and Mictlain’s lines, specifically “Banks selling guns and farmers hunting grey slacks,” speak to this. While the wealthy make their money in various ways, including selling arms to support totalitarian regimes, the poor suffer. Instead of spreading the wealth so everyone can prosper, the wealthy horde and recycle it back into their own coffers. This is what “Get Down” critiques. It critiques people’s apathy and calls upon them to act.
P.O.S.’s work continues to inspire me, and I constantly come back to it, again and again, because it challenges me to act, not to sit inside and do nothing. It inspires me to speak up. It inspires me to “push facts and hope.” What are your favorite P.O.S. songs? Let me know in the comments below.
Next post, I’ll finish up this list with two more songs. Make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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