With his new disc Never Better, P.O.S. moves into position as possibly the best MC to come out of the Twin Cities (watch out, Slug), and a major force in the thriving Midwest hip-hop scene. His first two records, Ipecac Neat and Audition, brought together his love of rap with his other job, a guitarist and singer for punk outfit Building Better Bombs. Never Better—which features cameos and production help from his colleagues in the Doomtree collective—again combines punchy beats with murky distortion, and the result is his best work yet. Set to play the Marquis Theater on Saturday, P.O.S. spoke with Decider about apathy, Mitch Hedberg, and the dangers of blind optimism.
Decider: The first line on Never Better is “Sorry it took so long.” Was there pressure to do this record?
P.O.S.: No, not at all. It’s just been a lot of years between the release of Audition and Never Better. I just wanted to let my fans know that I didn’t forget about them.
D: When we interviewed you a couple years ago, you’d just had a bunch of gear stolen.
P.O.S.: [Laughs.] That was one of the reasons why it took so long. It was maybe a good 80 percent of the beats of what could have been my new record. It was bad news.
D: Did you end up with what you would have done originally?
P.O.S.: That would have been a totally different record. The direction of the songs and how I was making the beats was just a stage I was at. When I sat down to start making the record again, it didn’t feel anywhere near the same. That one had a lot more of a De La Soul vibe to it.
D: Your hardcore and punk background shows up more on Never Better than it did on Audition.
P.O.S.: I wanted to make something that was an active listen, and to be a little less user-friendly upon first listen. Which might hurt sales, but it makes a deeper record to me. I wanted it to be more intense, I wanted it to be the kind of thing where people had to listen to it a couple of times in order to really get what I was trying to do.
D: The press materials say this record was written mostly on the road.
P.O.S.: It was a combination of [being] on the road, on tour in the van, and—also just even when I’m home, if I have a beat, I’ll take the beat off the computer, then take that CD, throw it in the car, and drive around with it for a while. Then, if the mood will strike, get some writing done. I’ll just pull over.
D: Is that where the “guy speaking his mind” feel on Never Better came from?
P.O.S.: Being in a car? Maybe. There is definitely something to be said for driving around, listening to a beat, and waiting to be inspired by a beat. I wanted it to be really what I was feeling, and not songs for the sake of songs. That’s tricky, especially having a record like Audition do as well as it did. I’m not saying I’m a huge famous guy, but it got, for the most part, good reviews, to the point where I stopped reading reviews because I didn’t want to have to live up to anything. I just wanted to make songs.
D: The line, “You really think a president would represent you?” from “Let It Rattle”—is that coming from a general distrust for authority, or just Bush?
P.O.S.: It’s a comment on a Nas line, for the song “The World Is Yours” from Illmatic. The [Nas] refrain is, “I’m out for presidents to represent me / I’m out for dead presidents to represent me.” It’s essentially a comment on money making the world go round, and that money can’t actually represent you in any kind of way. And yeah, there’s definitely hints of Bush in there, stressing everybody out, and making nobody being able to trust anyone. Ever. [Laughs.] As much hope as I have for change—and I’m an Obama supporter, and I’m really excited to see how this presidency goes down—I’m not one of those blind-love guys who’s like, “We did it! Everything is awesome!” Because nothing’s really been done yet.
D: There’s criticism for Bush on this record, but there’s also an angle of taking responsibility. There’s the line, “We wrote the book on how to remain stupid.”
P.O.S.: That whole song, “Graves (We Wrote The Book),” is kind of loosely about, “They ruined it for us, but what did you do? What did you do for yourself? What are we all doing for ourselves?” Even if we get the greatest president in the history of presidents, at least for our generation, it can’t just be up to him to go ahead and fix everything.
D: This is probably the only hip-hop record to reference Mitch Hedberg.
P.O.S.: [Laughs.] Maybe. That’s just for our Minnesotans, and for people who pay attention. I was a big fan of Mitch Hedberg, I got to see him twice before he passed. I saw him over at Acme in Minneapolis.
D: Are you inspired by comedians?
P.O.S.: If it’s good comedy. I’m inspired by anything that’s quality. I don’t want to bite peoples’ lines, but making a reference to something that anybody can acknowledge is good is something that I’m happy about.
D: Are there plans for another Doomtree LP?
P.O.S.: Yeah. Actually, we were meeting a couple weeks ago to start working on beats for it. But I’ve gotta work this record, Sims has got another record coming out, I think Mike [Mictlan] is about to start working on a record, Dessa is partly through her record, if not almost done with it already. Everybody is working on the next round of solo records, and we just started the initial talks for the beats.