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Interview: P.O.S. of Doomtree

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The multitalented Doomtree hip-hop collective has become an almost inescapable presence in its hometown music scene of Minneapolis and St. Paul, but its first real national exposure came via the fiery second album by founding MC Stefon Alexander, a.k.a. P.O.S. Co-produced by the Doomtree collective along with Slug and Siddiq of Rhymesayers, Audition bristles with energy and wit, taking inspiration from hardcore punk-rock as much as rap. P.O.S. winds up a two-month tour this week with a homecoming stand at Minneapolis' First Avenue March 26 with Doomtree compatriots Turbo Nemesis, Mac Lethal, and Sims. The A.V. Club recently caught up with P.O.S. by phone. This interview first appeared in The A.V. Club's Twin Cities print edition.

The A.V. Club: Your pathway to becoming a rapper is kind of out of the ordinary, since you grew up as a part of the punk scene in suburban Hopkins, Minnesota.

P.O.S.: Well, I never lived in Hopkins, but I went to Hopkins High School. For a long time, during early junior high, it seemed like I was the only punk. And later there was a bunch of other punks, but I was definitely the only black punk. We had bands and our bands were great. And then members of the band went to college, so we started rapping.

AVC: The walls that used to divide different genres of music, especially rock and hip-hop, seem to be evaporating.

POS: Minneapolis makes it really easy. It's just a great, all-inclusive music scene. I can't think of any other place in the country where Atmosphere and Dillinger Four can play a show together and nobody will blink an eye. Everybody will be like "Oh yeah, that makes sense." And then the same show happens in Chicago and there's fights every 15 minutes. Nobody gets it. But in Minneapolis, that kind of shit's just really standard. It didn't take any deep breathing to figure out what I was going to do—it just was what was going to happen, you know?

AVC: How well do you think the Twin Cities music scene does at bringing black and white audiences together?

POS: Very, very, very, very badly. I think there's one guy who can do it very well, and that's Toki Wright. I'm sure somebody else is doing it too, but he's the guy I know about, and man, I wish—I'm working on it, you know. You've got to move with baby steps, but I'm really hoping to get more of everybody out to the shows.

AVC: How do you think that can be accomplished?

POS: I really don't know. I'm working on it. [Laughs.]

AVC: One of your goals with Audition was a louder, more abrasive sound than your first disc. Why?

POS: The same reason I called it Audition. It's my first time knowing that I have a national audience, because of the distribution and publicity and all of that stuff. So calling it Audition made sense. Going for the most abrasive possible sound I could, and trying to go out of my way to make some of the songs difficult to listen to… A lot of the music I listen to is challenging stuff, and you can tell the people making the music really care about picking just the right sound to convey a certain feeling and emotion, not only with the words, but the music behind it. I was definitely doing my best to not hold that shit back just because it's a rap record, or just because I got signed to Rhymesayers, and Rhymesayers has a particular sound.

AVC: What are you listening to these days?

POS: Lots of stuff. Mostly Dillinger Escape Plan and Coheed and Cambria's new record. And then this really great French hardcore band called Beret!, and all the rappers in Doomtree. Heavy technical metal is kind of killing me right now.

AVC: How much did you collaborate with the rest of Doomtree on Audition?

POS: Well, it's always a Doomtree thing. Everything any of us do represents our whole crew. Nobody has got veto power over anyone else's songs, but we all keep in mind that we're not representing just ourselves. It's definitely my record, but it's there. I say "Doomtree" maybe 47 times on it. You've got to know I'm part of a crew all trying to do the same thing. I'm really happy with my crew.

AVC: Slug and Siddiq are also credited as executive producers.

POS: [That mainly means they're] the money behind the record. They definitely put their heads in. That's how it always works. Both of them make suggestions and ask what my point is on certain stuff. I actually only changed one thing: The beat for "Let's Get Murdered" had a beat break-down that happened twice; Siddiq suggested doing it only once, and he was right.

AVC: There's a lot of pointed political commentary on Audition. It's kind of funny that the first line is "First of all, fuck Bush, that's all, that's the end of it," and then you keep going, you keep talking about it.

POS: It's a good way to rant, you know? [Laughs.] I don't want to get into specific politics on the records, you know. I'll talk about the things I know about. But for the most part, I'm just a dude. I read the paper, I watch CNN. I try to keep current, but [I'm not like] Sage Francis—he knows everything. That dude is brilliant. If he puts out a song where he tells you all the facts on something, and what you should do about it, it makes sense for him. Me, I'm more of a dude who just kind of hangs out with my eyes open. I'm not trying to be smarter than anybody, I'm not trying to act like I know anything that anybody else doesn't. I want people to feel like they're right there with me, not feel like I'm talking at them from above. That's more what I'm going for. People keep saying the record's really political, but it's not so overtly political to me as much as it is kind of social.

AVC: If you couldn't be a musician, what would you want to do with your life?

POS: A high-school history teacher. That's what I will probably do after all this music is done.

AVC: Have you taken any college classes for that yet?

POS: Nope, not at all. When I got out of high school, I never graduated, I got kicked out pretty close to the end of school. I did decently in school and always tested really high. But I was the same way I am now, then—so if there was something that was questionable, I would question it. And if I saw certain students getting picked on, or certain students getting treated better than other students, I would mention it. And they had a lot of that. And then I had a big, dumb stunt at the end of the year. I skipped prom and put out big posters that said "Fuck prom, punk rock," and then made a little explanation about how expensive prom was to go get drunk and try and fondle some girl when you could just spend $5 instead of $65 and go to a punk show. Because my band was playing that night. [Laughs.]

AVC: High school doesn't exactly take well to independent thinkers.

POS: Not really. I really did not like my high-school experience. I learned a lot from it, though, so I'm not complaining.

AVC: And that's also where you met a lot of other local musicians important to you now, like The Plastic Constellations. [Constellations guitarist Aaron Mader, a.k.a. Lazerbeak, is also a member of Doomtree.]

POS: I met them in junior high, actually. And that's also where I met most of Doomtree. Doomtree is the culmination of all the best friends I've ever had in my entire life. I didn't start it; we all started together. But it just so happens that all of my oldest friends are involved in it.

AVC: You lived together too, right?

POS: A group of us still do now. Mike Mictlan, Sims, Turbo Nemesis, and myself all live in a house together. That's kind of the home base—we have our meetings there and everything.

AVC: What's on your agenda for the near future?

POS: Keep making songs. Finish this tour up. Save my voice. The Doomtree record, the whole crew record, should be coming out before the end of the year. Spend as much time as I can with my son, smile often, try to be happy, hang out with people. [Laughs.] Enjoy myself. I've never been happier in my life.