Whether it be with Doomtree, Gayngs, Marijuana Deathsquads, Four Fists, Cenospecies, or his punk band Building Better Bombs, P.O.S has been an exemplar in the Minneapolis tradition of genre-hopping, and his punk-infused solo work on Rhymesayers Entertainment has worked to diversify the label's talent pool. No one one raps like P.O.S, and the motor-mouthed, anti-establishment emcee has inspired another generation of rhymers with his uncontainable style.
In our continued celebration of RSE's 20th anniversary, City Pages Music has been crate-digging some of the company's premiere stars (see our rundowns of Slug and Eyedea's best deep cuts), and it seemed wrong to progress without first taking a moment to appreciate the depths of Stef's career. The 34-year-old rapper has put out four solo albums and nearly 10 group efforts and has featured on a slew of songs alongside some of the underground's most respected artists. Though he's a bit more esoteric than Slug or Eyedea, a dive into P.O.S's lesser-known highlights is well worth the effort.
From Small Steps by Heiruspecs (2002)
There isn't a ton of pre-Ipecac Neat P.O.S floating around, but this cut from Heiruspecs's third album, Small Steps, is one that's luckily been preserved. The St. Paul rap collective gives P.O.S the opening verse on "Commonwealth," and the Minneapolis art-rapper proceeds to set the tone for the extremely avant garde song. "Commonwealth" is a perfect example of how yonug P.O.S rhymed. The verse is totally off the rails, with syllables stacking over each other in breathless fashion. After hearing this eye-opening feature, Heiruspecs fans must've known P.O.S would become a major player in the Twin Cities rap scene.
9. “Hog Knuckle Demo”
From Record Store Day Exclusive by Rhymesayers Entertainment (2011)
P.O.S's appeal has always been his rawness, so it makes sense that an unpolished demo would make the list of his deep-cut greatest hits. In 2011, Rhymesayers put out a superlative Record Store Day release. The 12" exclusive features instant classic "Which Way Is Up" by Aesop Rock and Atmosphere and Blueprint/Zero Star's standout track "The Bartenders," but a rough cut from P.O.S is somehow still the highlight.
"Hog Knuckle" seems to be a castaway from Stef's We Don't Even Live Here recordings, and given that album's party-forward flavor, it wouldn't have been a good fit. Featuring sparse, bass-averse production that sounds like it was ripped from an 8-bit video game cartridge, "Hog Knuckle" is much crunchier and modular than the other stuff P.O.S was working on at the time. But, thankfully, RSE had a picture disc that'd keep it from being lost to Stef's hard drive forever.
From Recession Music by Prof & St. Paul Slim (2009)
“I am a laser-guided hurricane" is probably the most true thing P.O.S ever said about himself. That quote comes from St. Paul Slim and Prof's 2009 collaborative LP Recession Music, where Stef leant his unwieldy flow to the banger highlight "Broadcasting." Prof and P.O.S are something of kindred spirits in their wildin' delivery, but even the party boy emcee can't keep up with P.O.S, who rips through a boastful, acidic verse in the middle of the song. It's the closest to punchline rapping that the Doomtree representative gets, and even St. Paul Slim and his piss-drunk cohort can't measure up to the bravado that a totally uninhibited P.O.S can bring.
7. “Hotline Miami”
From Dude Bro by ShowYouSuck (2013)
Speaking of party rappers, Chicago pizza aficionado ShowYouSuck has also hosted a P.O.S deep cut, this time coming on "Hotline Miami" from his 2013 romp Dude Bro. Even though the song is made for tropical good times, that doesn't stop P.O.S from bringing ti back to his home. “My name is Stef, and I exist in cooler climates," P.O.S rhymes with Minnesota pride abounding, "It’s fine, I’m colder anyway / Doomtree, Minnesota, ay!"
Elsewhere on the song, Stef name-drops Walter Fuego, which is a habit of his, and invents the phrase "Netflix and chill," something he doesn't get credit for, as this little-heard feature was mostly swept under the rug of time. Here's hoping this list restores his claim to the Generation Z catchphrase, because P.O.S already had his thunder stolen by Anna Kendrick ("Cups" is an obvious ripoff of "The Optimist"), so he can't stand to lose any more relevance with the twee masses.
6. “Why Go” (Pearl Jam cover)
From Pearl Jam Tribute Week by MTV (2009)
Astute Doomtree fans will notice that Building Better Bombs doesn't land a song on this list. While their 2007 album Freak Out Squares is probably the best example where the voracious rapper gets his punkish edge from (also, Wharf Rats), it's not P.O.S's most listenable work.
However, in 2009, when MTV tabbed the Minneapolis rhymer to cover a Pearl Jam song for their weeklong celebration, P.O.S melded his mosh-happy energy with his proficiency at hip-hop production, creating a hugely surprising, genre-smashing song. "Why Go" isn't the most exciting PJ song, but in Stef's hands, it become dynamic and sinister. With the post-industrial, mechanical production, Vedder's vision of wrongful psychiatric commitment becomes all the more harrowing.
From Pomegranate by Astronautalis (2008)
Long before "This Is Our Science" and Four Fists, P.O.S and Astronautalis hooked up for this entangled collaboration on Astro's 2008 LP Pomegranate. "Story of My Life" is something of a preview of the natural, complementary chemistry Astronautalis and P.O.S have. The intertwining verses and consonant chorus capture two men whose edges align and clash in all the right places, making "Story of My Life" the purest collaboration on this list. Though Stef straight up forgot the words to this 2008 throwback during a 2011 show at SXSW, any time the two Minneapolis rappers get together is special, and this rarely performed live gem still stands as a highlight from the dustier parts of P.O.S's catalog.
4. “Let ‘Em Come”
From Distraction Pieces by Scroobius Pip (2011)
Represented in the video by Carmen Pie, P.O.S is right at home in this track from Scroobius Pip's 2011 LP Distraction Pieces. The hardcore, blood-pumping drum track and Isaac Gale-like vocals on the chorus create a natural habitat for Stef, who puts the British rapper and feature buddy Sage Francis to shame with his anarchist screed in the middle of the song. Showcasing his grime 'n' grind methodology, P.O.S puts in a gritty effort perfectly embodied by the brawling video. Any Londoners that found P.O.S through this feature must've been happy when they clicked on "Drumroll (We're All Thirsty)" or "Piano Hits" and discovered that the punk-bred emcee does it filthier than any of his peers.
From ANX by Dark Time Sunshine (2012)
P.O.S has leant his vocals to both of Grayskul offshoot Dark Time Sunshine's LPs. On 2010's Vessel, he kills a stanza on "Primor," but two years later, when he guested on Anx, Stef outdid his previous effort by a mile. Centering on the pre-“Fuck Your Stuff” anti-capitalistic proverb, “Nothing seems more purposeless than trying to spend your way out of worthlessness," "Overlordian" is a premiere example of the a-materialistic philosophy that's endeared P.O.S to his fanbase. It's also emblematic of how Stef is never overtly dogmatic or oppressive in extolling this philosophy. After listening "Overlordian," you'll want to sell your car, quit your 9-5, and get back to work on that novel you started in college.
2. “Why Pianos Break”
From Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes by Open Mike Eagle (2011)
Produced by Taco Neck (which is an awesome producer name), "Why Pianos Break" pairs P.O.S with his buddy and Best Fucking Show Ever comrade Open Mike Eagle. Doomtree and the Hellfyre Club overlap often, with P.O.S and Eagle being the marquee talent in each faction, so this 2011 team-up is predictable awesome. P.O.S is almost uncharastically measured on "Why Pianos Break," giving a straight-up, fanfare-free burner to the Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes standout. This sort of nuts-and-bolts work from Stef reminds you of just how technically gifted he is as a rapper — a fact that's often obscured by the rapper's theatrical tendencies.
1. “War for the Crippled”
From The Confessions of Mr. Modest by Grieves (2010)
P.O.S is equal parts raucous and arresting, and he has the power to absolutely stop your heart when he lays himself bare. That's exactly what he does on "War for the Crippled," an overlooked cut from Rhymesayers labelmate Grieves on his 2010 album The Confessions of Mr. Modest. Stef's somber delivery quivers on the edge of tears as he searches for answers in a dissolving relationship.
As he joins the chorus of "I know that they say happiness is a warm gun / But sorrow is a cold jagged blade," it hearkens back to Ipecac Neat/Audition-era breakup laments like "Thatone" and "The Kill in Me." On "War for the Crippled," P.O.S bares familiar scars, losing himself in the ominous mood of the beat and producing one the most compelling pieces he's ever recorded.