It's been a decade since a young P.O.S., a.k.a. Stefon Alexander, released his debut, Ipecac Neat. It was the first official Doomtree full-length that sparked their ascension from hip-hop outsiders to local legends and nationally recognized artists. The raw and uncompromising album draws equal inspiration from Stef's punk-rock proclivities and the emotive DIY underground rap scene in Minneapolis, creating abrasive and original hip-hop that's intensely personal and political.
Gimme Noise spoke with P.O.S. and album contributor Lazerbeak about the album's origins and impact.
Gimme Noise: Can you give a brief background on some of the stuff that came before this album, such as the False Hopes series or Cenospecies, the Indefinition album? What was recording like in the early days?
P.O.S.: Cenospecies was the first real rap thing I did. That pretty much happened because I only knew one rapper [laughs]. I knew a few rappers, but they were all in groups. I made a record with [Syst], the guy from Cenospecies. He had been a dude I rapped with in high school, and I called him up to see if he was still rapping, and he just happened to be about to go make a record, and we just made that record together, and then we stopped working together almost immediately after that record. We did not get along very well. It's fine.
And then me and Cecil worked on the first False Hopes; I don't even remember how that happened. I knew that he rapped, he rapped for fun, and then I kind of like forced him to rap for serious [laughs]. I think that was it. We just recorded songs at the house. I think everything was very much, "Well, now we got these songs, what should we do? Ok, put 'em out!" There wasn't any kind of plan.
What led up to Ipecac Neat?
P.O.S.: When Cenospecies broke up, we still had probably six or seven shows on the books, so I wrote more songs so I would have something to play at the shows, cuz I booked the shows. I invited other friends that I had that rapped to come play those shows with me so it wasn;t just me playing the few songs I had. At the end of all those shows that were booked, I had a handful of songs; like, shit, I've got these songs, I should put out an album. So I recorded them, and Ipecac Neat is pretty much every solo song that I had written up to that point. Just all of them, I think we only cut one song off the record, and it somehow still made it onto the clean version. I wasn't planning to make a record, I just realized I had a bunch of songs, like, oh shit, I could make a record.
Where was Ipecac Neat recorded?
P.O.S.: The record was recorded half at my house, which was right over on Garfield over by Pizza Luce. Half the record was recorded there, and half the record was recorded in a living room in the house directly across the street from Pizza Luce [laughs]. There were no studios involved, just the living rooms of our neighbor's house and the basement of our house. I remember spending a long time trying to decide with original Doomtree member Bobby Gorgeous (my buddy Rob), whether or not we should buy a four-track or Pro Tools. I remember being like, we can't get Pro Tools, cuz that means you have to get a computer, you have to get all this stuff. So we tried pretty much every device that you could use and they all broke and we ended up getting a computer anyway. Haven't looked back since.
Lazerbeak: The Doomtree house had a practice space basement that had soundproofing and all that shit. The initial recording of [the Plastic Constellations' record] Mazatlan, Stef did around the same time as he was making Ipecac Neat. I think that's kind of why I ended up singing on a couple of those records.
P.O.S.: [Big] Zach from Kanser always asked me before shows, "Hey Stef, are you gonna scream at these kids again?" I remember being at Bon Appetit and all the rap heads would be around, and I would just get out and rap as hard and loud as I can. I came from the punk scene where there was a lot of jumping around and being loud, and it was always kind of a part of my style to be a little shouty, super-aggressive.
Especially at that time, a lot of the established hip-hop acts in the city didn't really want anything to do with Doomtree at all, so we just played shows with rock bands and metal bands and hardcore bands. We kind of built what we thought was our own little scene. The shows were rowdy, really fun. My style was especially unrefined. I look at some videos from that time period and I am baffled that anyone wanted to see that [laughs].
How did you first get started producing beats?
P.O.S.: While were making that Cenospecies record, we were recording with Anomaly, we were recording at his house and we were buying beats from him at the same time. We were spending a lot of money, more money than anybody had at the time. He was charging like 300, 400, 500 bucks a beat. That's not a totally unreasonable amount by any means, but for me, it was like, well I should just make beats. I don't want to buy beats; I'll just make 'em. Turbo Nemesis, my old DJ, had an MPC that he didn't really use for anything, so I gave him a couple hundred bucks, and he gave me an MPC, and then I slowly kept giving him money until it was paid off. I sat in my mom's living room and learned how to make it work.
I don't know if you know about MPCs, but when you turn them on, there's no sound. Nothing's ready to go, so everything has to be sampled or put in there, so I just kind of learned how to sample and learned how to structure songs. It was pretty much like that. I don't remember what the process was, I just remember, I need beats! Ok, I got beats, now I'm broke. I need more beats! I don't have any money! That was that. Again, that was before any computer. Coming into [Ipecac Neat], by that point, I was already used to making beats.
On the album, some of the tracks are credited to Emily Bloodmobile. Is that you?
P.O.S.: It is.
What prompted the alter-ego?
P.O.S.: I think it was because I was really excited about Quasimoto, and Madlib taking different aliases and stuff like that. Plus, back then, it was really nice to have -- in my mind, anyway -- [because] if people didn't like the beats that I made, I could just blame them on somebody else and still work on developing styles and things. I think it was an excuse to try to sound meaner and practice different [things], work on my style, work on what I was doing. Not commit to being one person yet. Plus, inventing a super sweet female beatmaker from the north woods just seemed like a really cool legend [laughs]
You actually created an Emily Bloodmobile profile on the early Doomtree website.
P.O.S.: On the old Doomtree website, yes, there was a picture of somebody and all types of explanations of who they were and where they were from and why nobody ever got to meet her [laughs]. After Dessa joined our crew, it seemed silly to have a pretend girl around.
Tell me how you met and began to work with Lazerbeak?
P.O.S.: We were in rival bands in high school, and I always thought he was a cool guy. I wanted to be buds with him. I think it might have been right after high school, we were just getting along, talking about hip-hop a lot, and he was into a lot of the same stuff and expressed interest in making beats, and I brought him to Guitar Center and helped him pick out some gear. It wasn't even a couple months later before he was way better at making beats than me.
Lazerbeak: [Ipecac Neat] was one of the first times we had guests on a record that were outside of Doomtree. Toki [Wright] was on there on "Ants," Chaka [a.k.a. I Self Devine] got on the "Matador" remix, Crescent Moon was on a couple. Chaka's like the Godfather of this whole rap shit to me. That was a really big deal to me at the time. Those [collaborative tracks] are probably my favorite.
P.O.S.: Those three specifically are the people that not only introduced me to the scene, but introduced me to the idea of local hip-hop. Crescent Moon was the first person to make me a mixtape [where] one side of the tape was all local rappers. I always knew that punk rock had scenes in town, I didn't realize that hip-hop was also the same way. I assumed everybody that was doing it was in California or New York or whatever. Toki put me on my first shows, along with Heiruspecs. Chaka, ever since I first started rapping, has been super supportive of what I'm trying to do. He always kinda acted toward me like I must be his little brother.
What was the release party like?
P.O.S.: I remember it being really fun. I remember covering a Spoon song, I covered "30 Gallon Tank" with a band that, I wanna say, Sean McPherson put together. I'm not sure if that's right but that's what I want to say. It was fun. It was at the Entry, I had my rap friends on the bill. I remember every release party I've had for all of these records being really exciting because the crowd already knew the songs before. When the beat starts, they already knew what was coming; I remember that being really exciting and strange.[page]
What was the impact of the album coming out?
Well, I decided that that was what I was going to do with my life. I already knew that I was going to make music with my life, I decided that as soon as I knew that was a job people had, 4th, 5th grade or whatever. I don't know, [signing with Rhymesayers] seemed like a really good idea. It just seemed like the smart move.
The Doomtree crew since the beginning has had a very tight crew mentality. What was it like realizing that one member was gaining traction, and how did you push that into pushing the rest of the crew also?
It all happened super organically. By the time Doomtree was called Doomtree, I had already had a few years of rapping and playing shows under my belt. It wasn't so much I was stepping out ahead of anybody, as much as, when the crew started I already had a rap record out with Cenospecies, I already had a lot of shows played... You know what I'm saying? I'd already been in a band and been playing shows for years. I went on my first tour when I was 14. I don't think anybody took it as, oh, he's stepping out, I think everybody was just inspired to keep moving.
Lazerbeak: I do remember [P.O.S.] being on the cover of the City Pages [in March of 2004], and that was the first time I was like, oh my God, people are paying attention here. Very soon after that Rhymesayers approached him. There was a lot of mixed emotions with that, but I think we realized that if he gets bigger, that can only help the rest of us doing this shit. That kind of continued to be our philosophy throughout. Someone's always bigger than the other person at some time and we all just kind of piggyback off that.
P.O.S.: [Rhymesayers CEO] Siddiq always had the door open to ask for advice. After that record came out, and after I had been hustling and Doomtree was making some little tiny baby moves, I started getting calls from different record labels. I remember Babygrande Records left a message on our answering machine, and everybody in Doomtree gathered around and listened to this message over and over again.
We sat and thought, "What are we gonna do? Oh my God, what's going on?" I would call Siddiq up for advice on how to handle it, what kind of steps I should take next. Slug brought me on Warped Tour [in 2004] to sell merch and play a show at the rap tent or whatever random stage. I think it just went from there. Right when I got off that tour is when I got signed. Rhymesayers are helpful people, and [I had] really good friends there, and it just seemed like the smart move. I don't think anybody [in Doomtree] took it as, oh, he's stepping out, I think everybody was just inspired to keep moving.
Who is the woman on the cover of the album?
P.O.S.: That is "Billy" Claudia Baca. She's the homie. We met when she worked at Saint Sabrina's tattoo shop, she gave me a bunch of tattoos, she looked really cool, and she was down. Simple as that. She ended being within the packaging of the first three records. She's on the back inside cover of the second record Audition, and if you look really hard through the Never Better artwork, you'll find a picture of her standing there wearing a scarf. Our art designer Eric Carlson took a sharpie and made it look like she's wearing a mask, but it's her.
How often do you play Ipecac Neat songs live these days?
These days, I don't usually play too much off Ipecac Neat anymore. Over last summers festivals, I played "Duct Tape" and one other song from the record, can't remember which one. But yeah, I try to bring a couple songs here and there back in. The thing is, they're old songs. I like them, and I stand behind what it was like to be 18, 19 writing songs, but my style has developed a lot from then. I feel like I had way too many words in every song. It was very, very, very sloppy. It had to be sloppy. I was coming from punk rock into a genre like hip-hop where, not only then but still now, is super nerdy. You gotta come at it from a different angle. I think the angle I was coming at it was make it fun, make it punk rock. I wanted to be a band by myself.
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