It’s of no doubt that P.O.S is angry, that he hates your high-class shit, that he hates materialism, “the game,” NIKE, and convertibles. Angry is something that P.O.S does well; his hyper-anarchist delivery and lyricism is stronger than it has been on his previous three albums, which is saying something considering he’s always been a strong rapper. The production is definitely stronger too, helped greatly by Kanye West’s producer Andrew Dawson, a move both more conventional and strange. No more awkward moments, like hyper-speed flows over Underoath samples or De La Soul/Bouncing Souls pseudo mashups. No songs about how P.O.S might be ruining your life or anything in that line. The best moments on We Don’t Even Live Here occur when it feels like P.O.S no longer has to obey to punk rock or emo doctrines, when he takes the anarchist ideals into the realm of the high and heavy.
So for an album this strong, why do I feel so apprehensive about it?
Even with its moments of improvement, moments of great strength and courage, I have this incessant feeling that I’m being fed lines from an anarchist zine by someone wearing an OBEY hoodie. Not to say that rap doesn’t benefit from a heavy dose of grandeur, Whitman-sized contradiction (of which there are plenty on this album, which I’d rather embrace than deride), but that’s usually a case of experiencing someone squash out waves of self doubt in real-time. Lines like “We fuck shit up/ Because shit’s fucked anyway” or “She ain’t white/ She’s an anarchist” are so heavy-handed that they become face-palm worthy. “Get Down” is so abrasively obsessed with its ideology that it feels ignorant, which works really well and is actually what works on the album. What doesn’t work are the moments when it feels like everything gets all Linkin Park-y with its pseudo-techno atmospherics and EQ-sweeps in “Lock-Picks, Knives, Bricks, and Bats,” or the return to screamo and “This might be it” maybes on “Piano Hits,” or the fake T-Pain-esque Justin Vernon Auto-Tune vocals that I’m not sure to take as embracement or irony. If it were T-Pain instead of Bon Iver on this track, my mind would have been blown. But the choice seems easy, obnoxiously so. If P.O.S wants to fuck with the game by working with people who work with Lil Wayne, he can, effectively so. But ironic posturing and forced morality chant-alongs feel easy and are by far the album’s weaker moments.
Which brings up my other problem with this album: that alt-rap, or indie rap, or whatever you want to call it, occasionally acts like a safety net from the far more abrasive and culturally unacceptable conventions of other modern rappers, a.k.a. everyone else who is at the top of the “game.” As a Northwestern white kid who used to dye my beautiful blonde hair black and dig screamo, I embraced this sort of rap as a way to avoid the things I was uncomfortable with. It was obvious that P.O.S was into Minor Threat and Acrobatic Tenement-era At The Drive-In, and this became a jump-on point for everyone who couldn’t relate to gangsta rap or some of the more overtly ignorant southern rap. What followed felt something like being in the throes of overtly existential crisis-handling, deeming itself much “smarter” than rap’s less existential counterparts. It’s precisely these sort of dismissive moments that no longer feel shocking or refreshing or convincing that there’s any damage being done to the darkest sides of rap’s “game.” We Don’t’s moments of being so stringently anarchist that it feels anti-intellectual feel smarter and more genuine than its intentionally smart and genuine moments. Like any radial political figurehead, it’s not unheard of to express doubt if the speaker is actively living the lifestyle s/he preaches (Does P.O.S really carry Molotov cocktails like accessories? Does he really carry a bunch of bricks in his backpack? Does he really set fire to clubs?), much like it’s not unheard of to question if most rappers completely live the lifestyle they sell. When I find myself questioning this, I feel the most engaged. But there’s nothing like ruining a good old CrimethInc dance party with a heavy case of the canned existentials. Punk, screamo, hardcore, grindcore, rap, and fuck it, music’s best quality is the creation of an avenue for expression, but once this avenue starts to get too middlebrow (one of the more obnoxious qualities of some of his Midwestern hip-hop counterparts) is when it folds.
There’s something more intelligent about refusing to be the most intelligent person in the room, and when P.O.S embraces the game while fighting it, things work well. The album’s first two tracks, “Bumper” and “Fuck Your Stuff,” are clearly the strongest tracks on the album, but what happens afterwards is disappointing by the standards that these two tracks set, and it’s an uneven recovery. However, this should provide support for the cliché that more damage is done from the inside than the outside. When P.O.S reaches outside of his circle and avoids the doubting overtones of songs like “Wanted/Wasted,” he feels as strong and as tough as he should be. It’s obvious that P.O.S doesn’t hate the mainstream, but like the great paradoxes of the world, he’s best when he’s less accessible.