Two years ago yesterday, P.O.S wasn’t celebrating the release of a new single. Instead, the Twin Cities rap great also known as Stef Alexander was resting, slowly recovering from a successful kidney transplant that saved his life. “The first year was mostly sitting around my house, pretending to be OK,” he tells City Pages.
Since then, he’s gone on tour with Doomtree, his main rap collaboration, and released an album with that crew, All Hands. Now, in his second year with a new kidney, Alexander’s prepping a solo album as P.O.S, and on Monday he released his massive new single, “sleepdrone/superposition.”
Featuring Allan Kingdom, Astronautalis, Eric Mayson, Kathleen Hanna, Hard_R, Lydia Liza, Lizzo, and Nicholas L. Perez, “sleepdrone/superposition” is a nine-minute-long journey into Alexander’s biting psyche. To get a better grasp on how he created the epic and emotional track, we talked with Alexander, asking him to deconstruct the different parts that make the song.
On what inspired the track
When Alexander first told people close to him that he needed a new kidney, the reactions from his loved ones were varied.
“All of them were supportive, [but] a lot of them don’t know what to do when their friends are sick, so they end up just staying back a little bit,” he reports.
This discomfort shows. After opening with jarring synth chords, Alexander’s voice cuts through the harsher frequencies with an aggressive edge. When he was producing the track, he says, he wanted to highlight the multitude of emotions he experienced post-surgery.
“I was covering everything from feeling ready to come back out and take over the world to just reflecting on how shitty it is when you feel super by yourself and sick,” he says.
On the abundance of collaborators
Though big names like Lizzo, Allan Kingdom, and punk-rock god Kathleen Hanna (yes, Bikini Kill and Julie Ruin’s Kathleen Hanna) are grabbing headlines, Alexander said the goal was to keep everyone’s role in the song smaller than usual.
“Half of the people that are featured on the song are just singing the chorus,” he says. “I wanted to give everybody their credit, but also figure out the best way to texture this song to make it so long but not have it get boring.”
On collaborating with his son, Hard_R
Among that list of collaborators is a name you might not recognize: HardR, who is Alexander’s 16-year-old son, Jake. The father says he’s been watching his son create music as HardR for a few years, and decided to feature him based on his talent, rather than nepotism.
“If he wasn’t good, he wouldn’t have been on it,” Alexander says. “He ended up on the song because his part fit, subject matter-wise, with what was going on.”
On collaborating with Kathleen Hanna and Allan Kingdom
The most surprising name on the list of “sleepdrone” collaborators is likely Hanna. The Bikini Kill and Julie Ruin leader’s presence isn’t obvious on the track, but her speaking part during Alexander’s third verse and her background singing after the song’s bridge add elements to “sleepdrone” that help make the song not “boring,” as Alexander puts it. His connection to Hanna happened on a whim.
“I grew up listening to Bikini Kill and I was always super inspired by her,” Alexander says. “As a goof, I emailed my manager, like, ‘Let’s find Kathleen Hanna for this song.’ And right away, Kathleen Hanna hit us back and was like, ‘Let’s see the lyrics.’ So we sent over the lyrics — after inspection, she was into it. [She] recorded a ton of stuff for it, like way more than we could actually fit in the song. But the fact that she was interested at all blew my mind.”
"I am so thrilled to be featured on this track," the riot grrrl legend wrote yesterday about the collab in a blog post titled "Okay So I Cried." "Not only does it slam racism up against the wall, but the lyrics about living through illness had me on the floor."
Hanna’s subtlety on the track matches Kingdom’s, whose appearance is augmented by his backing vocals. In addition to his short verse, Kingdom raps along with Alexander throughout the song, double-tracking all of Alexander’s verses.
“That was the point: not to have everybody up in everybody’s face,” Alexander says. “Like Allan Kingdom’s part: He has a pretty short verse, but he does all my background vocals for the entire song. I don’t double any of my tracks, all of my doubles are done by him.”
On the track’s name
"When you’re making an epic tune, it just feels right to give it an unexpected name," Alexander says. He used a synthesizer called Sleepdrone while he was producing the track, and decided to incorporate the synth’s odd name as a curveball into the song title.
“Superposition was the tentative name of the song, and I figured, ‘You know what? It’s really long," he says. "It can have a nice, long name, too."
Alexander hopes a new P.O.S album will follow the single sometime this year.