The Midwest is known for a few things: corn, cattle, plains, white people…but in recent years these stereotypes are proving to be entirely outdated. Today’s small Midwestern cities are continually proving themselves to be powerful and innovative forces in independent music. Regardless of your opinions concerning the artists, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Omaha’s Saddle Creek and Minneapolis’s Rhymesayers Entertainment have become among the most notable labels in their respective genres. One would be hard-pressed to find a college student who was unfamiliar with either one of their leading artists (Bright Eyes and Atmosphere, respectively). However, while new additions to the Saddle Creek roster have continually failed to turn the heads of rock fans, the most promising new artist on Rhymesayers is quickly rising to indie stardom.
“If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s thumb-wars,” P.O.S. declared after challenging and defeating three ardent competitors from the crowd during his recent set at The Space in Portland. After witnessing firsthand his exceptional thumb-warring abilities, I don’t think anyone in the room would’ve argued with this claim. His solid hand grip and agile thumb jabs were enough to frighten away even the most fanatic thumb-warriors. It seems then, that unlike most mainstream rappers, P.O.S. simply has the skills to back up his words. That’s not to say that he’s arrogant; after all, Hip-Hop Thumb-War Champion isn’t exactly the most sought after title. When P.O.S. gloats about his skills, which is rather rare, he’s simply telling the truth, but this honesty extends beyond his stage personality.
The songs on P.O.S.’s Rhymesayers debut, Audition, were written in an effort to combine hip-hop music with punk rock sensibilities. Is this an original idea? Of course not; rapping over rock music, in all its forms, has become about as cliché as making fun of Mormons. However, that doesn’t mean it can no longer be done well.
Having grown up in the punk scene, initially rejecting rap music, P.O.S. refuses to deny his roots and instead blends the sounds of punk with hip-hop beat production and creates a sound which is his own. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean Transplant-esque bar-chord rap nonsense. This means raw drum tones, ominous guitar meddling, occasional shout-out choruses, and plenty of punk-oriented references including guest vocalist Greg Attonito of the Bouncing Souls contributing the vocals from their `90s punk classic “Argyle.” In the end, however, the “punk” aspect of Audition has been overblown. There is nothing stripped down about the album; it’s full of horns, strings, and plenty of digitally produced melodies. The final product is in many ways a typical hip-hop release. It may not be breaking barriers, but it’s definitely distinct, it sounds good, and a lot of these songs are just too good to ignore.
Those who have not found issue with his “hip-hop/punk/indie” gimmick have criticized P.O.S. for being a definite runner-up to Atmosphere front man Slug, who appears twice on Audition. On first listen there are some similarities in their deliveries, but it’s unlikely that anyone would confuse the two Minnesotans. It’s true that P.O.S. may represent a follower in Slug’s movement, but it would be wrong to call him an imitator. Their relationship should not be seen as one of rivalry, but instead as mentor and protégé. If you have a difficult time remembering that just think of P-O-S as Protégé Of Slug.
The modest album title “Audtion” suggests that P.O.S. is just getting started. He knows he has big shoes to fill. Still, those who catch him on the “P.O.S. Is Ruining My Life Tour” will unanimously agree that seeing him on this small D.I.Y. tour, sure beat the hell out of paying over $20 to see Atmosphere with a bunch of frat boys at the Roxy. If concert-goers are lucky, P.O.S. will never be the next Slug.