By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Choosing your name is a fine art in rap music. Just ask Chingy, who disposed of the less huggable "Thugsy," or Ol' Dirty Bastard, who for a while there asked that we call him "Big Baby Jesus." Self-reinvention is the game of naming in hip hop, something as old as graffiti. So why, in Snoop's green heavens, would a rapper ever call himself Piece of Shit?
The MC born Stefon Leron Alexander will tell you that P.O.S. actually began as an abbreviation for something else. Back when he was a 13-year-old punk rocker, in a basement scene not exactly bustling with other African Americans, he was known as "Pissed Off Stef." When he stopped taking speed at age 14 and picked up the mic to start rapping, he became "Promise of Skills." Now, with an upstart hip-hop crew and label, Doomtree, and a new album of punk-inspired rap, Ipecac Neat, he still goes by "Product of Society" and "Promise of Stress."
As I learned while spending the day with him two weeks ago, on February 19, the biggest name you haven't heard in Minnesota hip hop stands for all the above--and probably more.
1) P.O.S. = Piece of Shit
12:20 p.m., Doomtree house, 31st Street and Garfield Avenue South
"I had a dream last night," P.O.S. tells me. "I was at the Triple Rock, at the Dr. Dre birthday, and you were there. You were following me around asking questions. And somebody was walking behind you, saying, 'Don't be friends,' like in Almost Famous. 'Don't be friends. He just wants to look cool.' It was really weird. Then I dreamt that I went home and you were there when I woke up. And then I actually did wake up and you really were there."
I have entered P.O.S.'s south Minneapolis house through one of two unlocked doors, and found a disaster of dishes and garbage. Three other roommates are asleep upstairs, while downstairs the noonday sun floods in through the windows. The rapper is standing there, maybe realizing what this looks like, him surrounded by chaos. He's tall in his sweatshirt, with milk-chocolate skin and dreadlocks exploding out of his head. Not quite fat, but round like the new teddy bear inexplicably sitting out on the sticky table.
"I need a T-shirt," he says, gingerly stepping over a ripped paper bag bursting with Kleenex, a Wheelo, and a VHS copy of Tick Tock. On the wall next to the door he disappears into, there's the peeled-off grip tape from a skateboard painted with these words, in red: "We kill spies. Doomtree." The gothic-sounding name belongs to the rapper's crew, to their recently formalized record label, and also to this house, where several members live, and where everyone records homemade CDs in the basement. Though not for much longer. After numerous threats of eviction, Doomtree is moving out. An orange water-shutoff notice hangs on the wall; somewhere there's one for electricity. Last time the power was cut, the Doomtreers sat around listening to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper on a shitty boombox, drinking by candlelight.
"It's a punk house, dude," P.O.S. warned me the night before. Now he has emerged from his room in blue Ipath sneakers, chuckling as he glances at the forest of Budweiser bottles. His expression says: Well, what did you expect? He steps into the wet snow behind Doomtree and shows me to his blue '93 Volkswagen Golf. P.O.S. is awake to the world and it's coffee time.
Describing his reverie from last night, he laughs again. Media attention seems new to him, this journalistic spy in his house. He's been performing in public for more than eight years, having drummed in the pop-punk band Cadillac Blindside. He currently sings and plays guitar in Building Better Bombs, his screaming hardcore band.
But P.O.S. has no experience becoming famous, or almost famous, and like Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Lester Bangs, he's skeptical of the process. The rapper is self-deprecating even when explaining the reasons fans know him by an acronym for "Piece of Shit."
"I'm not trying to make it sound any cooler than it is," he says. "It's the kind of name I wish I could change. But for me it was the same as Joe Schmoe or John Doe. It isn't self-hating; it's an everyman thing. I'm just anybody."
2) P.O.S. = Pissed Off Stef
12:45 p.m. Urban Bean, 32nd Street and Bryant Avenue South
At the coffee shop, P.O.S. receives three phone calls on his Motorola. Four people stop him to chat; one hugs him without a word. The rapper behaves warmly toward everyone he encounters, though he employs the abbreviated phonespeak of a busy man: "Hey, you want to be my DJ tonight? Cool. Bye."
Between calls, P.O.S. pulls out a cigarette, which he asks my permission to light. It's hard to imagine how this guy ever got the nickname Pissed Off Stef.
"The most important thing to know about my background," he says, "is that I was brought up from the sixth grade on punk rock. My first tape was Black Flag, Damaged. I basically listened to what Mom listened to, which was Motown, and what my friends listened to, which was Dead Kennedys and Minor Threat. Minor Threat was like my favorite band forever."