By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
A bit more awake now, and with a coconut mocha steaming into his face, he opens his impossibly big brown eyes a little wider. There's a stud in his lower lip, with a few tiny hairs curling around it. He says he used to spend 25 minutes a day straightening his kinky hair into a Mohawk before deciding one day that maybe punk means not caring about what you look like.
The guy friends know as Stef is 22 now and has been hitting basement shows for half his life. He worked at the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, the storied downtown all-ages club, and was there nearly every night until it closed. Sean Tillman (Har Mar Superstar) met him as a hyperactive, pot-smoking 11-year-old. The rapper's oldest friend in Doomtree, Kai (DJ name: Marshall Larada), met him as a steel-toed-boot in the face at Edgefest--Stef had bodysurfed into him. Then Stef kicked him in the face again when the two of them were slam-dancing at a party in somebody's garage. Stef ended up following Kai home afterward, and stayed at his place for days playing guitar. ("I was like, shit, who's this weird black kid in my house?" Kai recalls. "I didn't have the social wherewithal to tell him to leave.") Today they create a squall of noise together in Building Better Bombs.
Half of P.O.S.'s remaining friends from his punk-rock days are in Doomtree now. "Either we grew up together skateboarding or we grew up together making music," he says. And punk's sense of solidarity and outrage--what his girlfriend calls "constructive anger"--is obvious throughout Ipecac Neat, the rap label's first official release. Calling out George Bush by name on "Live," P.O.S. lifts a chorus from the Nas classic "The World Is Yours," but inverts its nihilism to attack an unnamed overclass: "Whose world is this/The world is theirs/Too many of you think it's fine/It's fine/It's fine."
"People tell us to quit bitching," P.O.S. says. "But I'm not some angry, pissed-off guy. One of the things I always loved about Minor Threat was that they'd present a problem, and then by the end of the song they'd have an answer for that problem. Aside from Public Enemy, a lot of times even the most intense and forward-thinking hip hop doesn't present answers."
P.O.S. says punk similarly provides a lot of his samples, which, by his count, include four by Fugazi, two by Modest Mouse, three by Rancid, and one by high school friends the Plastic Constellations. (That band's Aaron Mader actually made the DJ Shadow-like beats for "Live" under his Doomtree name, Lazerbeak.) This is the "black punk rock" that Russell Simons once accused PE of promulgating.
"I was talking to Zach from Kanser," says P.O.S., "and I was like, 'Is it cool to use drum 'n' bass stuff and really loud guitars on a hip-hop record? Would you do that?'
"And he's like, 'I wouldn't do that, dude. But it's like 2001 now, you can do whatever you want. You're already screaming at your shows.'"
3) P.O.S. = Product of Society
1:30 p.m. Volkswagen Golf, 28th Street and Stevens Avenue South, heading south
P.O.S. addresses racism with humor in concert, turning to the right, showing off his physique, and quipping, "My racial profile is beautiful."
So it occurs to me to ask him, back in the car, whether he has seen the documentary Afro-Punk: The Rock N' Roll Nigger Experience? Without missing a beat, he responds, "Yeah, and I wept my little eyes out."
"I don't really want to talk about it except that I wish he was around," says P.O.S. "He was a really important person to me. We had very few--but very long and meaningful--conversations about being black in a scene like this."
It strikes me that P.O.S. implicitly reaches across color lines in his songs in the search for allies and like-minded souls. Which only makes sense, given his integrated crew: Except for one or two other MCs and their friends, Doomtree seems to be made up of white folks, who mostly display the collective fashion sense of a Brainerd muffler repairman. As Doomtree member Cecil Otter raps, "I'm looking Minneapolis, but I'm feeling North Dakota."
I ask him what it felt like being black at punk concerts, where he was often the only one.
"I was at some show at the Mainroom," he says, "and I remember getting glared at for being the black kid. Like, 'What the hell is this guy doing here?' And actually getting elbows! Then, I'd go to school and get same fucking elbows and punches and shit for not looking like every other black kid."
We pull into an alleyway, park behind a brick building, and wait for whomever we're picking up.
"There was a long time growing up as a kid when I just assumed that everybody hated me," he says. "That there was no place for me."