The Beauty in the Bass LineAccording to The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, the best stories ever written are the result of genre bending of some kind. Taking something that people are used to experiencing a certain way, and blending it with something they wouldnít expect, like mash potato quesadillas. Itís awesome try it. A lot people have purported to combine punk rock with hip-hop. With the success of 311 in the mid 90ís, a slew of hip- hop-mixed-with-everything-else bands emerged, most of them rap-core, most of them boring. Therefore, when people describe POS as a rapper with punk rock influences, it doesnít really convey the reality of what he does. POSís brand of punk rock hip-hop is more visceral. Rather than carefully inserting rock and roll moments into rap songs, he injects the energy of punk into hip-hop songs. Hip-hop is his style, without question, but behind it lays an attitude, an ethos that we donít usually equate with hip-hop. Heís collaborated with artists such like The Bouncing Souls and Jason Shevchuk from Kid Dynamite. Listening to these collaborations thereís a sense of shared excitement between the artists, and never an awkward mashing of styles.
Punknews writer Jon Reiss, having grown up in DIY punk, believes that it can be a meaningful experience that can affect any number of aspects of oneís life. Perhaps most interesting are those who carry that spirit into things we wouldnít expect, be it music writing, cooking or even parenting. Heís written extensively on the subject looking for examples of people whose roots in punk manifest in interesting and different ways. POSís music is a great example of how punk can pop up where you might not expect to see it.
Tell me about how you found punk rock.
I found punk rock because I moved from the inner city to a first-rate suburb when I was in third grade. I didnít have any friends because I was like one of two black people and I wasnít super conform-y or really into anything except for shit that I thought was cool. So I found punk rock pretty much through skateboarding by myself and running into other people that were skateboarding by themselves.
What were some of the first bands that you loved?
Minor Threat, Operation Ivy, Black Flag, Rancid, Metalica, Michael Jackson. I liked everything that my mom listened to, rhythm and blues, and everything my cousins listened to like, Mobb Deep, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Apache Indian. Usually the stuff I sought out myself was older punk and hardcore.
How did it occur to you to try rapping?
It came to me around 2000. My band that I cared about for all of high school broke up and I didnít want to think about anyone else in the band deciding to quit or going off to college. So I started rapping. I always did it as a hobby but it was something that I could focus on, and to not have to worry about anyone else not showing up for practice, or quitting. I always rapped just for fun just with my friends and stuff and then I found deeper hip-hop like Mos Def and Company Flow, and that got me into other hip-hop that I liked, Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, stuff like that. I was just always doing it, and when the band broke up it became my focus.
You said you moved to a white suburb when you were young, did you have mostly white friends growing up?
I didnít until I moved, when I moved I had pretty much no friends until 6th or 7th grade and yeah, they were mostly white. Then I got more friends of different races throughout junior high and high school.
Being black and into punk Iíd imagine could be somewhat alienating, did you find that?
It is, it is incredibly, especially in Minneapolis. I was one of two, and people would come up to me all the time, thinking I was this other guy. The same thing would happen to him. We didnít know each other until later on.
Whatís up with Minneapolis? I mean I first heard Atmosphere in like 2001 and then all these rappers started to pour out of that city. What about Minneapolis is conducive to this underground hip-hop scene?
Itís just big enough where if you do something big you can actually get out of the city and itís small enough that you hear everything everyone is doing and you have to make it better. Itís not just hip-hop, every band that come out of MinneapolisÖ the progression of every band in the scene doing one thing then someone pops out and does it awesome and everyone tries to take elements of that, and builds with them. But itís not eating itself like other cities have. Itís always building upon what someone else did that was cool. Itís the best music scene in the country, easy.
So youíre all encouraging one another?
Thatís the thing, thereís hates like everywhere else but for the most part everyone is pushing for bands from our city to do well and be awesome and be artistic, and get out of the box
How did you hook up with Slug?
He knew me from punk rock and just being around. Then he asked me to come sell merch on one of his tours and during the 2004 Warped Tour he told me I could bring a set if I wanted to because I might end up playing a show, and I did, then I hustled that into playing a show everyday.
You sometimes play guitar during POS shows. Is more difficult playing guitar and rappingÖ
Öthan it is playing guitar and singing?
It absolutely is. Hands down impossible, unless you do something that has a really simple rhythm, rap-wise or guitar-wise, itís really difficult, for me anyway.
What do you like to see from the audience at POS shows, what tells you that youíre playing a good show?
I want to see people fucking loosing their minds, simple as that. My favorite shows of mine are when even the people that donít know the words to the songs are screaming their heads off. It doesnít happen every time, but it happens man. People who come to the shows and know the music are there to freak out man, theyíre there to get sweaty and go home when theyíre exhausted.
I notice you donít use a hype man, why?
Because itís dumb. Itís not really dumb itís justÖI personally feel like, if I canít say every word, youíll at least know, if I took a breathe that itís because I was saying every word as hard as I could the whole time. If I canít say it, thatís cuz I exhausted myself and even if you donít know what the word was you should see on my face what I was going to say. I donít know if thatís a reasonable request to make, but thatís why I donít use a hype man.
I see youíre playing with your band, Marijuana Death Squad. How did that come about?
I just wanted to change it up. I wanted to play the same songs but I wanted them to sound bigger and I wanted to try something new, and make a new record. Iíve been playing with these dudes for four years now in Building Better Bombs and Marijuana Death Squad and it was so easy, we already had the system down, we just plugged in the POS tracks and did it.
Were there challenges in converting the songs for that setup?
There was, but they were easy to do. If you listen to my beats youíll find that thereís raw rap drums and thereís cut up loops of real drums, and itís just as simple to have the DJ play the rap drums, process those, and then have Ben play on top of them, whatever comes to him.
This is a kind of personal question, so you donít have to answer if you donít want to, but I know you had a son rather young, and Iím wondering, whether that made it difficult to push on and continue to be an artist.
I wouldnít be an artist for a living if it wasnít for my son.
What makes you say that?
It helped me figure out my focus, man. It helped me realize that if I was actually going to make music I had to take it seriously, and I had to figure out a way to actually do it for a job, right now. Because it was like, either Iím going to have to quit so I can make money to raise my son or Iím going to have to make it something that pays me a little bit so I can make money to raise my son. This was all I ever tried to do, so it was like, I have to try harder and then I did. Iím not saying that itís that easy, Iím just saying, that was my motivation.
Having grown up involved in DIY punk rock, do you feel that itís had an effect on the way you do things, make decisions and what not, as an adult?
Yeah, absolutely. I feel like something as simple as being a punk rocker and being looked at as a dirty, idiot, teenager with a Mohawk, it does something to your psyche. If you get to a point where youíre like, I donít care, I choose to look like this, people can never say shit to you for your entire life. Because youíve already dealt with every type of hate and people not knowing you but having assumptions about you. If youíve already dealt with it, you know how to move on. Youíre exposed to a lot of anti-typical ideals, youíre exposed to the idea of anarchy, of dissolving a patriarchy. You get exposed to a lot of ideas that most people arenít exposed to, so even if it doesnít absorb your lifeÖ Iím not an anarchist, but Iím aware of how it works, Iím aware that those people exist, Iím aware that those people mean it. People who arenít punks and arenít studying that and arenít trying to figure out what counter cultures are really all about, have no clue what those people think. Theyíre missing out on whole chunks of knowledge, you know. I think it definitely informs the way I live the rest of my life, even if I donít have a Mohawk ever again.
Youíre getting a lot bigger from when I first heard your name, at least. You seem to be in a really good spot. Have you been in any situations that you felt have jeopardized some of your values at all? Say, in dealing with things like PR, things of that nature?
No, not at all, thereís definitely a way to do it. You canít say fuck everything, like, "fuck Iím not going to do any interviews" and "Iím not going to do any of this stuff." You have to scale it back enough to actually be productive with it too. But no, it doesnít hinder or change anything.
Did you ever come across something you felt was too personal to write a song about?
Yeah, but itís too personal to talk about. When I get over it, Iíll write a song about it though.
So, at a friends wedding, I saw you and you had a pen and pad and sort ducked down and wrote a couple lines. When I saw that, I had this moment of, ďWow, they actually do that.Ē Tell me something about creating rap music that most people probably wouldnít know.
People automatically assume that itís really hard because thereís so many words, and it is hard, because thereís so many words, and you want them to be about something, if youíre just going to rap about whatever, itís not that hard. You could freestyle, a lot of rappers freestyle. I freestyle, but I donít freestyle records. A lot of rapper freestyle records because they donít really need to write, and then spend some time on what the single might be. I think for me and my process, itís more about constructing what the feel of the entire records might be and then practicing making beats in that field and then approaching it lyrically. I donít know man. I donít think Iím a rapper, I think Iím a songwriter and I think the difference lies in the content.
Have you had an offers to, ďsell out?Ē
Yeah, Iíve had some big offers, but I turned them down them because they didnít feel right. When one of them feels right Iíll probably take it.
Youíre headlining with Bad Brains, if I were a musician, that would be a huge milestone for me. What have been some milestones for you?
Man, thereís been awesome ones. Thereís been some really random weird things that have happened in my life. I got to play with a band that I sampled. I played a set with Underoath because the guitar player Tim had to go home for a family emergency. I had two days to learn the entire set, learned it, and played lead guitar for Underoath on the Warped Tour. Iíve gotten shouted out by Mos Def, he one of my favorite rappers ever, so that was good. I donít know man, Iím a rapper for a job! Thatís it, thatís like the coolest thing I could ever imagine, playing music for a living, and while it probably wont be forever, itís been for most of my 20ís and thatís great.
Any collaborations coming up?
Yeah, Iím doing a record with Astronautalis who had a really great record come out the same year as Never Better called Pomegranate. Iím a fan of his music and heís a fan of mine and the songs weíre making right now are crazy for both us, theyíll be really fun.
How do you feel about digital music and downloading, have you ever been a downloader?
No, I still donít really download music illegally. Itís not because I donít believe in it, itís because I donít really think to do it. But I still steal music just as much as everyone else. I still get burned CDís from my friends, and I still like, suggest things. Yeah, I donít like it. I wish people still gave a fuck about the whole album. Thatís my favorite thing, an album you can listen to from top to bottom and if you separate album into 99 cent songs itís real easy to forget about the entire piece, but who cares, Iím over it, fuck it.
Do you think now is a good time to be where youíre at?
Yeah, now is a perfect time to be on an independent label. Being on a major label is still one of those things where, more than ever, itís all or nothing, you give everything up and maybe theyíll give you something back.
What do you think about Rap and Hip Hop right now.
Itís boring. Itís boring as fuck. Itís boring, itís degrading and I used to think people who would say that hip-hop was degrading were stupid, but it is. Mainstream hip hop, mainstream pop music, the shit you see on the radio, the shit you see on TV, is degrading to you as the person looking at it, simple as that. Humans should not treat each other that way. Men should not treat women that way. Men should not treat men that way. I donít want to sound like Iím bitching or like Iím some PTA mom, because thatís not me. Iím just saying itís so easy to step back and say, ďIs anything reasonably positive happening? No? Well at least thereís the Black Eyed Peas.Ē Fuck that.
Do you think thereís a chance that hip-hop thatís more like what you do, like what Rhymesayers does, could become more predominant?
I know, for instance, that Freeway just did a record on Rhymesayers.
Freeway ended up on Rhymesayers, but he definitely stuck to what he does, which is spit hard patterns and kill it, but he spits about a lot of the getting paper by however means, and thatís cool, Iím not mad at him, Freeway is one of my favorite rappers.
Iím just saying, I want to see something happen for real. Iím not saying itís me, it probably wonít be me and I donít know that I could deal with it if it was, but I want to see somebody of Kanye caliber, or Jay-Z caliber make a record that the streets feel, that doesnít make the streets any worse than they already are. See what Iím saying? And Iím not just talking about the streets, Iím talking about the suburbs that buy it and decide that thatís what everybody is like in the streets.
People are fucking dumb. Everybodyís dumb and everybody takes exactly what you give them as exactly what it is. And it takes people who fancy themselves artists, or artistic or smart, to go through and look and really find stuff. But everyone thinks theyíre artistic, everyone thinks theyíre smart and people still get fucking everything twisted, all the time. People are fucking dumb thatís why the music thatís popular is popular. Thatís why everything sucks all the time, every day. Thatís why you have to notice it, step next to it, ignore it, and live your life happy, every day. And thatís what I try to do.