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 wouldn't expect, like mash potato quesadillas. It's awesome try it. A lot people have purported to combine punk rock with hip-hop. With the success of 311 in the mid 90's, 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 doesn't really convey the reality of what he does. POS's 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 don't usually equate with hip-hop. He's collaborated with artists such like The Bouncing Souls and Jason Shevchuk from Kid Dynamite. Listening to these collaborations there's 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 one's life. Perhaps most interesting are those who carry that spirit into things we wouldn't expect, be it music writing, cooking or even parenting. He's written extensively on the subject looking for examples of people whose roots in punk manifest in interesting and different ways. POS's 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 didn't have any friends because I was like one of two black people and I wasn't 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 didn't 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 didn't 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 I'd 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 didn't know each other until later on.
What's 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?
It's just big enough where if you do something big you can actually get out of the city and it's small enough that you hear everything everyone is doing and you have to make it better. It's not just hip-hop, every band that come out of Minneapolis… 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 it's not eating itself like other cities have. It's always building upon what someone else did that was cool. It's the best music scene in the country, easy.
So you're all encouraging one another?
That's the thing, there's 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 rapping…
…than 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, it's really difficult, for me anyway.
What do you like to see from the audience at POS shows, what tells you that you're 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 don't know the words to the songs are screaming their heads off. It doesn't happen every time, but it happens man. People who come to the shows and know the music are there to freak out man, they're there to get sweaty and go home when they're exhausted.
I notice you don't use a hype man, why?
Because it's dumb. It's not really dumb it's just…I personally feel like, if I can't say every word, you'll at least know, if I took a breathe that it's because I was saying every word as hard as I could the whole time. If I can't say it, that's cuz I exhausted myself and even if you don't know what the word was you should see on my face what I was going to say. I don't know if that's a reasonable request to make, but that's why I don't use a hype man.
I see you're 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. I've 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 you'll find that there's raw rap drums and there's cut up loops of real drums, and it's 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 don't have to answer if you don't want to, but I know you had a son rather young, and I'm wondering, whether that made it difficult to push on and continue to be an artist.
I wouldn't be an artist for a living if it wasn't 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 I'm going to have to quit so I can make money to raise my son or I'm 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. I'm not saying that it's that easy, I'm just saying, that was my motivation.
Having grown up involved in DIY punk rock, do you feel that it's 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 you're like, I don't care, I choose to look like this, people can never say shit to you for your entire life. Because you've already dealt with every type of hate and people not knowing you but having assumptions about you. If you've already dealt with it, you know how to move on. You're exposed to a lot of anti-typical ideals, you're exposed to the idea of anarchy, of dissolving a patriarchy. You get exposed to a lot of ideas that most people aren't exposed to, so even if it doesn't absorb your life… I'm not an anarchist, but I'm aware of how it works, I'm aware that those people exist, I'm aware that those people mean it. People who aren't punks and aren't studying that and aren't trying to figure out what counter cultures are really all about, have no clue what those people think. They're 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 don't have a Mohawk ever again.
You're 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, there's definitely a way to do it. You can't say fuck everything, like, "fuck I'm not going to do any interviews" and "I'm 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 doesn't hinder or change anything.
Did you ever come across something you felt was too personal to write a song about?
Yeah, but it's too personal to talk about. When I get over it, I'll 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, "Wow, they actually do that." Tell me something about creating rap music that most people probably wouldn't know.
People automatically assume that it's really hard because there's so many words, and it is hard, because there's so many words, and you want them to be about something, if you're just going to rap about whatever, it's not that hard. You could freestyle, a lot of rappers freestyle. I freestyle, but I don't freestyle records. A lot of rapper freestyle records because they don't really need to write, and then spend some time on what the single might be. I think for me and my process, it's 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 don't know man. I don't think I'm a rapper, I think I'm a songwriter and I think the difference lies in the content.
Have you had an offers to, "sell out?"
Yeah, I've had some big offers, but I turned them down them because they didn't feel right. When one of them feels right I'll probably take it.
You're 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, there's been awesome ones. There's 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. I've gotten shouted out by Mos Def, he one of my favorite rappers ever, so that was good. I don't know man, I'm a rapper for a job! That's it, that's like the coolest thing I could ever imagine, playing music for a living, and while it probably wont be forever, it's been for most of my 20's and that's great.
Any collaborations coming up?
Yeah, I'm doing a record with Astronautalis who had a really great record come out the same year as Never Better called Pomegranate. I'm a fan of his music and he's a fan of mine and the songs we're making right now are crazy for both us, they'll be really fun.
How do you feel about digital music and downloading, have you ever been a downloader?
No, I still don't really download music illegally. It's not because I don't believe in it, it's because I don't really think to do it. But I still steal music just as much as everyone else. I still get burned CD's from my friends, and I still like, suggest things. Yeah, I don't like it. I wish people still gave a fuck about the whole album. That's my favorite thing, an album you can listen to from top to bottom and if you separate album into 99 cent songs it's real easy to forget about the entire piece, but who cares, I'm over it, fuck it.
Do you think now is a good time to be where you're 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, it's all or nothing, you give everything up and maybe they'll give you something back.
What do you think about Rap and Hip Hop right now.
It's boring. It's boring as fuck. It's boring, it's 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 don't want to sound like I'm bitching or like I'm some PTA mom, because that's not me. I'm just saying it's so easy to step back and say, "Is anything reasonably positive happening? No? Well at least there's the Black Eyed Peas." Fuck that.
Do you think there's a chance that hip-hop that's 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 that's cool, I'm not mad at him, Freeway is one of my favorite rappers.
I'm just saying, I want to see something happen for real. I'm not saying it's me, it probably won't be me and I don't 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 doesn't make the streets any worse than they already are. See what I'm saying? And I'm not just talking about the streets, I'm talking about the suburbs that buy it and decide that that's what everybody is like in the streets.
People are fucking dumb. Everybody's 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 they're artistic, everyone thinks they're smart and people still get fucking everything twisted, all the time. People are fucking dumb that's why the music that's popular is popular. That's why everything sucks all the time, every day. That's why you have to notice it, step next to it, ignore it, and live your life happy, every day. And that's what I try to do.