In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Stefon Alexander has sung makeout jams with sprawling Twin Cities collective Gayngs, contributed to the electronic squiggles of Marijuana Deathsquads, and fronted a number of hardcore and punk acts. But he’s made the biggest impact as P.O.S., turning in four LPs of noisy, rabble-rousing hip-hop, including the new We Don’t Even Live Here. (The hard-touring Alexander was set to promote the record on the road this fall, but had to postpone those dates due to a pending kidney transplant. That announcement was made after this interview was conducted.) On We Don’t Even Live Here, the Doomtree co-founder rails against corruption, materialism, and general apathy, but he reserved a special bit of ire for this HateSong conversation about the breakthrough hit of a rapper turned country star.
The hated: Kid Rock, “Bawitdaba” (1999)
The A.V. Club: Your interests and your musical output span multiple styles and genres; is it hard to settle on a song you truly hate?
P.O.S.: It kind of is. There are themes I hate. There are sounds and there are styles I hate. I was trying to think of a song that embodies the most of what I hate about music all at once. [Laughs.] And it’s probably “Bawitdaba” by Kid Rock. I don’t have any problems with [Kid Rock], either. He’s one of those guys that’s like, you know—his first record was called Grits Sandwiches For Breakfast, ya’ll. He had a giant, white-guy flattop. The only white-guy flattop I’ve ever heard of. And he definitely made his transition, but that song is really terrible.
AVC: What about “Bawitdaba” embodies the sounds, themes, and styles you hate?
P.O.S.: It embodies the idea of rap-rock, which is horrible to me. There are times where you can take rap, and you can take some elements of rock, and you can take a really good drum part from a rock song, and then you build a different song. And you have the urgency of rock because you have the drums there, but you don’t have the standard [imitates chugging guitar] riff. It’s just so easy to be cornball. And for a dude that is a big fan of lots of rock music, as well as lots of rap music, seeing them smashed together is, 99.9 percent of the time, the worst idea ever.
AVC: That has to be a big sticking point for you as a musician who often has the “rap-rock” label applied to him.
P.O.S.: Yeah, yeah. People don’t know how to talk about it in a way that’s real.
AVC: Do any particularly bad rhymes from “Bawitdaba” stick out in your mind?
P.O.S.: I don’t know any of the lyrics from that song. [Laughs.] I know that he keeps in that standard “anybody can rap” cadence. Where it’s just like [high-pitched voice], “I’m gonna bump / bump da da / bump.” Where it’s just like the basic, first rap you’ve ever heard.
AVC: The first few lines of the song fit that cadence to a T: “This is for the questions that don’t have any answers / the midnight glancers and the topless dancers / the candid freaks, cars packed with speakers / the Gs with the 40s and the chicks with beepers.” The rhyme scheme alone is atrocious.
P.O.S.: I think that might have set white rappers back a good five years when it came out. There’s one thing I do like about the song: When Kid Rock played “Bawitdaba” at Woodstock ’99—I was watching this with my friend Andrew—he shouts out, “It’s Kid, baby.” [Laughs.] So oftentimes, me and Andrew will just say that to each other. Like, he’ll call me up, and I’ll be like, “Hello.” And he’ll be like, “It’s Kid, baby!” [Laughs.]
AVC: In the studio version of the song, that introduction stretches out for several measures.
P.O.S.: I think what happens in that live version is that he can’t stretch it out any longer. So in order to fill the time between saying Kid and Rock, he says, “Kiiiiid, it’s Kid, baby—Rock!”
AVC: Do any of the other members of Doomtree have strong feelings about “Bawitdaba”?
P.O.S.: I don’t know. I know that they’re all in the same boat as me, in that they can’t actually think of any of its lyrics off the top of their heads. And everybody remembers the extended “Kid.” I think either you thought that was the coolest thing ever, or you thought that was completely ridiculous. And I think everybody I was hanging out with when that song came out thought that was the most ridiculous thing ever.
AVC: Do you think there’s any way to salvage “Bawitdaba,” either through a cover version or a remix?
P.O.S.: It’s totally unsalvageable, unless you replace all the notes and words. [Laughs.] It’s got the [sings the chugging guitar part] “juh juh, juh JUHN. Juh juh, juh JUHN” as the guitar part, which is like—the first rule of rap music is, don’t have “juh juh” guitar, unless you bury that shit. Good guitar in that kind of pattern is already kind of hard to pull off in a real way. Deftones are one of the exceptions. They can always have a really simple kind of guitar-playing, but it just sounds awesome because of the way their band is produced. But if you isolate that type of guitar-playing and throw some rap drums on it, you’re looking for something that sounds corny.
AVC: And as you were saying earlier, this doesn’t have anything to do with Kid Rock as a person.
P.O.S.: Yeah, he’s just some dude. I heard a lot of stories about him before he blew up. I used to read the Beastie Boys’ magazine, Grand Royal. And they did a feature on Kid Rock way before he blew up. And they showed all kinds of pictures of him, like, driving a car following the Too Short tour. Because Too Short was like, “Yeah, you can come—as long as you drive yourself.” So the kind of hustle that guy put on is apparent. And whatever you’re going to do when you get your success, I’m sure is just some reflection of who you are. But it’s not like he’s coming out in some disingenuous way. Like I said, he’s the only white guy I’ve ever heard of that took the time to put his hair up in a flattop. [Laughs.]
AVC: How do you feel about his late-career turn toward the country charts?
P.O.S.: I mean, it’s not for me. But, you know, clearly that dude wants to be a country guy now. I’m sure he’s made lots of questionable songs. But one other one that sticks out is that one where he samples everything at the same time. [“All Summer Long”—Ed.] He sings about “Sweet Home Alabama” and Metallica and like, classic drum breaks all at once.
AVC: That one is especially frustrating because it leads with the piano riff from Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves Of London.” And it comes on the radio and you’re like “All right—jokey allusions to Lon Cheney and Trader Vic’s from Warren Zevon!” And then Kid Rock starts singing about drinking beers on boats.
P.O.S.: [Laughs.] What else does he sing about?
AVC: He’s a simple man of simple tastes.
P.O.S.: And I can’t be mad at that. So was 2Pac. [Laughs.] Real simple tastes.
AVC: You’re hooked into so many intersecting communities of musicians—through bands like Gayngs or Marijuana Deathsquads and collectives like Rhymesayers and Doomtree—how do you talk about music you don’t like without upsetting fellow musicians?
P.O.S.: If it’s dudes around here, they can stand to hear what’s not tight. Like, if it’s within the community of Gayngs, Deathsquads, Doomtree, Rhymesayers—I have no problem telling people what’s not tight, because we’re all trying to see the best music come out from each other. If it’s outside our immediate crews, into the mainstream, that’s where most of my lashing out at horrible music comes. There is so much bad music out there, it’s really easy to talk about all of it and still give your community room to grow. [Laughs.]
AVC: What other themes or sounds tend to grate on you?
P.O.S.: Personally, I don’t love love songs. If they’re not amazing love songs, if they’re touching on everything—I’m not a fan of love songs for love songs’ sake. And they seem to be dominating on most radio stations. Or if a party song is just about partying, I’m overhearing it, and it’s like, “There’s got to be something more clever you can say about partying at this point.” But a lot of people stick to the same script and the same things. I’m over the influence of money on rap music and our culture in general, so it’s boring to me. And people that [affects a whiny, twangy singing voice] “sing like this…” [Laughs.] I’m tired of it.
AVC: And being over material things is obviously addressed on We Don’t Even Live Here’s “Fuck Your Stuff.”
P.O.S.: Absolutely. That’s what that song is about. The quality of your character is going to mean a lot more to me than what you’re trying to show me, or show us.
AVC: You just want musicians to dig deeper, to move beyond the broadest lyrical themes and subject matter?
P.O.S.: Yeah. I want people to fucking try. I know that it’s easy to make songs—but I want people to try. It doesn’t have to be so easy. It can be a little tiny bit harder, and you can get a little bit more of a connection, hopefully, from your fans, to your fans. Everybody likes a jingle now and then, everybody likes a beat they can get to. But it’s not so hard to say something with a tiny bit of substance. There’s so much to talk about. Why would you limit yourself to the scope of five things that everybody else talks about?
AVC: If you could’ve spoken with Kid Rock before he recorded “Bawitdaba,” what piece of advice would you have given him to change the course of the song?
P.O.S.: Oh, man. I think if I would have known Kid Rock before he recorded that song, I would have already expected that that was the kind of dude that would make some super-corny shit. [Laughs.] I can’t imagine spending tons of time with somebody who is also making music, and not at least talking about the stylistic choices with each other—if I was going to be somebody who was close enough to be in the studio with him. [Laughs.] That said, if I just randomly chanced upon the studio, I would just say, “I don’t know, man.” [Laughs.]
AVC: “Maybe it’s time to start over from scratch?”
P.O.S.: Yeah. I’m a polite Minnesotan, so I might have just let it be.
AVC: Being a Midwesterner himself, I’m sure he would’ve appreciated that.
P.O.S.: Oh yeah. I think he’s from rowdy Michigan, though. [Laughs.]
AVC: Yes. As the lyrics to “Bawitdaba” attest, he hangs out with a “tough” crowd.
P.O.S.: Yeah. [Laughs.] That’s part of it. It’s all part of it.