Midwest rapper P.O.S. is undoubtedly at the top of his game — and climbing. His origins in punk rock and later emergence into the world of hip-hop solidified his image as a powerful, original talent.
After founding the Doomtree production team with longtime friend Kai and a host of others, P.O.S., aka Stefon Alexander, went to work on Twin Cities record label Rhymesayers — who also signed Atmosphere. The rapper released his widely acclaimed debut Ipecac Neat, bringing raw beats and straight-up hip-hop with a pulse. The album's follow-up, Audition, hit shelves in early 2006 and has been captivating listeners ever since. On this release, P.O.S. proves even more raucous, outspoken and personal than on his first effort, featuring lyricism at its very best.
Since Audition's release, P.O.S. has been playing a steady stream of venues across the country, and on Feb. 1, P.O.S. kicked off his Midwest block with a stop at The Annex.
It may have been awfully frigid outdoors, but that did not stop anybody from filling up the bar the moment the doors opened. Fans were anxious and ready for a good time with one of hip-hop's most unabashed and expressive artists.
Before taking the stage, P.O.S. took some time in his "chill out" space downstairs to discuss topics ranging from his next album to the pain of his wisdom teeth.
After cracking open a Red Bull, he seemed immediately at ease, ready to go with the flow. The artist, who has been to Madison several times in the last two years, is drawn in by the overall campus atmosphere.
"You know, it's definitely like a school city," he said.
"For the most part, it's just kids coming out for a good time. They're always ready for a good time."
That is one thing that P.O.S. hopes for with any crowd: that they are feeling the raps and having fun. His philosophy for live shows also mirrors his music; he keeps his serious tone in check and is not afraid of joking around every so often.
The poised rapper will take this mentality on the road with him as he transitions to a larger-scale tour with the New York rap quartet the Gym Class Heroes, whose fast-growing popularity has brought them to the level of mainstream success. Despite minor nerves, for P.O.S., good audience involvement and hanging out with the other performers makes life on the road all worthwhile.
"Yeah, I'm a little nervous," he replied with a look of contemplation on his face.
"It's the biggest tour I've ever been on, but it'll be cool. There'll be new crowds and chances to try out some new shit."
The rapper is also working on a new album that fans can expect out by the end of 2007, but he was secretive about its content: "I started writing it, but I'm not sure just what I want to say about it yet."
There was something else on his mind that he did want to talk about.
"I have these two wisdom teeth that are growing in, and it's very painful."
Although P.O.S. did not look visibly affected, the uneasiness in his voice spoke volumes as he described postponing a dentist appointment in order to finish off his mini-tour over the weekend.
"I just hope that the Vicodin doesn't wear off before the show starts," he said. "Painkillers will be saved for later on to avoid any problems during the show."
On Audition, P.O.S. raps with a frustrated tone on a few tracks, and the album is somewhat politically tinged and provides commentary on the current state of the nation — his opening rip on President George W. Bush is brilliant.
"I feel like a lot of people are thinking the same thing, but if the hype dies down, then I don't know. … I feel like it's a lot of hype, so we'll see," he said. "It's going to get worse before it gets better."
When it came to his own performance, P.O.S. certainly lived up to the hype built up by the opening acts.
At about 9:45 p.m., Turbo Nemesis, the DJ for the night, was finally ready to kick off the hip-hop party. Madison native El Guante went on first with a large portion of angry raps, spit out a Capella style similar to a poetry slam. The beats did not start pumping until Sims, of Doomtree, took over with a kinetic set that dared the crowd not to move with it.
Mac Lethal followed with his unique brand of hip-hop that fuses whacked-out lyrics with scathing social jabs, and his eventual freestyle rap was quite impressive.
The crowd was fired up when it came time for P.O.S. to start his set. Throughout the entire evening, P.O.S. maintained a down-to-earth and friendly attitude with all of his fans — he is the type of performer who is there selling his merchandise at the stands or talking with people as they enter the club.
Despite the worries that his wisdom teeth would ruin his voice, he cranked out songs, both new and old, with his usual rhythm and power, all the time reminding everybody to keep the positive vibrations flowing: "If you get bumped by some dude dancing, then don't treat it like a fight because it's just some dude dancing."
The show's peak came when P.O.S. performed "De La Souls," one of the popular singles from Audition. It was a crowd-pleaser toward the end of the night that got the club hopping more than any other song before it.
Finally, at about 1 a.m., P.O.S. signed off, with his affliction still on his mind: "Sorry about my teeth. Good night."