Following in the footsteps of Atmosphere, P.O.S—the nom de plume of Stefon Alexander—was primed to be the next star to emerge from the Minneapolis hip-hop scene. Though he never broke out in the same way as Atmosphere, records like Audition and Never Better saw P.O.S. amass a loyal following across genres. Between giving props to Bouncing Souls and featuring The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and Kid Dynamite’s Jason Shevchuk on tracks, Alexander was always working to unite the worlds of rap, punk, and indie, an endeavor that wasn’t wholly new but wasn’t particularly easy either.
Bolstered by his role in Doomtree—the Minneapolis collective behind 2011’s massive No Kings—P.O.S. was building a name for himself as his body began turning against him. He’d always made subtle illusions to his kidney issues, and in 2012, days before the release of his fourth album, he canceled his upcoming tour and told the world that he was in need of a transplant. He’d undergo a successful surgery in 2014 and fully recover, but that effectively put Alexander’s career on hold for the better part of a decade. He’d turn up on Doomtree’s 2015 album All Hands, but his powers felt diminished, as other crew members outshined him at nearly every turn. Now five years after We Don’t Even Live Here, the album he never had a chance to support, P.O.S. returns with Chill, Dummy, a record that is less about reinvention than it is rebirth.
One of the biggest criticisms of P.O.S. has always been his penchant for preaching to the converted. This manifests in references standing in for bars, and vague “we” statements that feel unifying but leave you wondering what we’re all up in arms about. It’s easy to see how a project like Run The Jewels has taken this approach and perfected it, offering hyper-specific punchlines that anyone can enjoy, not just the kids that picked up on the Fugazi reference. But to Alexander’s credit—and commercial detriment—P.O.S. has remained impervious to trends in rap. “I’ve been in my own lane so long,” he says in “Lanes,” less a boast than an acknowledgement that his breakout moment is likely in the rearview.
But it’s Alexander’s comfort with his place in the world that makes Chill, Dummy such a solid work. There are songs of straight-up political outrage that channel his mid-aughts agitation (“Wearing A Bear”) balanced against the hard-earned optimism of Never Better (“Gravedigger”). The nearly 9-minute closer “Sleepdrone/superposition” sees Alexander yelling about the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, his failing kidneys, and trying to find some semblance of calm amid these tragic moments. The song puts production in the backseat, letting huge hits of bass linger and distort, allowing Alexander to unleash spit-soaked syllables that carry the song from beginning to end. It’s a bold move, but one he pulls off by putting the focus on himself and his struggles, loading verses with lines that feel ripped straight out of his journals.
In many ways Chill, Dummy feels like P.O.S.’s least punk-inspired work, opting to lean on long-time supporters like Justin Vernon, Open Mike Eagle, and the Doomtree crew to fill it out. What jumps out time and again is how personal of an album it is, as Alexander takes five years of frustrations and distills them into his most potent record in nearly a decade. There are moments where he falters, often lacking hooks to make a track resonate beyond its runtime, but those failings exist in flashes. What sticks with you is a sense of joy that surmounts all the anger and angst. Chill, Dummy is a record about surviving, living, and battling for every little thing you’ve got—something P.O.S. knows his fair share about.