Depending on his mood and the need of the moment, the initials in Stefon Alexander's stage name can stand for Pissed Off Stef, Promise Of Skill, Promise Of Stress, or Piece Of Shit. The first two phrases are ones at work on Audition. (It's his second album, but it's bound to reach a wider audience than his self-released debut.) The leading light of the Twin Cities' Doomtree rap collective (the up-and-coming younger cousin of Atmosphere's Rhymesayers), P.O.S. first put down musical roots in punk, and his sensibility fuses punk's painful sincerity and social consciousness with indie-rap's self-awareness and musicality. The result falls between Slug's disarmingly inward-looking honesty and Rage Against The Machine's furious calls to action, and largely takes the best from both worlds.
Besides executive-producing the disc, Slug lends a laid-back vocal presence on two songs, balancing P.O.S.' tendency toward machine-gun syllables. The Hold Steady's Craig Finn also shows up on "Safety In Speed" to raise a mocking eyebrow at the legacy of Predator: "Carl Weathers and two future governors, that's really unacceptable." And P.O.S. has plenty to say about politics and standing up for your beliefs, even though he kicks the album off with the line "first of all, fuck Bush, that's all, that's the end of it." The theme threads through the entire album, and especially through the best songs, like "Stand Up (Let's Get Murdered)," a stirring tirade against apathy and hopelessness. It's something his agitprop hip-hop won't be accused of, particularly with lines like "I've got a message in a bottle written in gas and oil, signed with a rag and a match—here, catch." Which is not to say Audition is all polemics. Like fellow Minneapolis rappers Slug and Brother Ali, P.O.S. doesn't let his pugnacious attitude obscure his own vulnerability, and the passions, fears, and rages that drive him. That makes Audition not dogmatism, but art.