Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review: P.O.S. - Never Better (* * * * 1/2)

Disclaimer: I don't listen to rap music. Well, not usually anyway, but occasionally a rap artist comes along with a sound, a style...something that resonates with me and captures my attention. P.O.S. is one such artist. Born Stefon Alexander, P.O.S. is a Minneapolis-based rapper with punk-rock roots and an agenda based much more on social and political issues than self-aggrandizing braggadocio. Apparently, when Alexander was a teenager, he played bass, guitar, and drums in various rock bands before settling on rap, though he never lost his love for punk intensity and the underground scene. His third album, Never Better, was released on Rhymesayers earlier this year and has quickly become a favorite of mine this year across all genres.

The album's first track, "Let it Rattle," a dense, noisy tune, serves as something of an introduction to the record before the explosion of the appropriately-titled "Drumroll (We're All Thirsty)." The song features frenetic drumming and squealing guitar under P.O.S.'s spitfire rhymes that grab hold of the listener and refuse to let go for two and a half minutes. The punk attitude and production continue throughout the record, especially on the intense "Graves (We Wrote the Book)," the abrasive "The Basics," and a rap-rock song, "Terrorish," which features vocals from hardcore singer Jason Shevchuk. It might be something of an acquired taste for many, but I was immediately hooked.

Never Better also includes more standard rap fare, which P.O.S. does equally well. "Savion Glover" has an old-school hip-hop feel and "Goodbye" features more grandiose production while still maintaining an organic base, as does "Low Light Low Life," which includes several members of the hip-hop collective Doomtree that P.O.S. founded in Minneapolis. The softer-edged tunes balance the album and keep the 55 minutes from becoming tiresome or heavy-handed, though this is not a 'light' or 'fun' album. This is music intended not simply to provide a good time, but to deliver a message, a statement. At every turn, P.O.S. stays sharp, struggling with political issues, family matters, and the ills of society in a way that offers a great deal more than just fancy wordplay (though there's plenty of that, too).

P.O.S.'s unique background combined with his talent as a rapper and musician make for a record unlike anything I've ever heard before. It's gripping, fascinating, and challenging, an album that pushes boundaries and explores new territory with exciting results.