P.O.S. Never Better

[Rhymesayers; 2009]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: indie hip-hop
Others: Atmosphere, Cage

P.O.S. is a victim of misplaced marketing. Three records into his career, the Minnesotan MC still can’t shake the “grown-up punk” angle. Yeah, he also plays in a punk band. How revolutionary and interesting. And to think he can rap, too. Let’s never stop talking about how radical it is that one person might be into more than one style of music. And then, with the release of Never Better the angle is the packaging: an admittedly cool clear-plastic digipak with mix-and-match cover art. Nifty, but ultimately inconsequential. This halo of trivia that adorns his head only obscures what really matters: P.O.S. is good. Real good. His elastic flow slings alliterative rhymes and super-specific pop culture references (“Dufrane, party of four”), while he balances the swing and bludgeon of his beats with charisma and conviction.

Too often we’re tempted to erect a wall between hip-hop and rock, acting shocked when the two bump shoulders — as they do so effortlessly on Never Better — and pretending like Rick Rubin never had anything to do with Def Jam. No, this isn’t a rock record; it’s hip-hop to its very core. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock, either. It doesn’t mean P.O.S. can’t turn head-nods into headbangs or a sample into a riff. And still, whether or not P.O.S. grew up on Fugazi and Nas — both of whom he nods to on the record — is trivia. What matters is how the MC carries himself, which is chest-puffed, fists-clenched and tongue venomous. Images collide with narrative, filling songs with vibrancy. “Been Afraid” turns a broken home story into steely drama. “Purexed” drops its cleverest line — “hands steadily Purexed, but never quite clean” — like a manifesto, tying the song’s patchwork of visceral imagery into a bumper-sticker-sized slogan. Then comes the hook, like cavalry. We know P.O.S. isn’t happy with the world, but he’s gonna keep trying. Hope’s alive on Never Better, and it’s the glue that holds us together as the world beats down on us.

P.O.S. is still standing, though. Gruff voice buttressed by his own outsized conviction, these songs quiver with anger and fear and dynamism. We feel the rattles in the headphones; we hear the words in our heads and hearts and bodies. And when it’s over, what’s left? A long-player wrapped up in an admittedly cool clear-plastic digipak with mix-and-match cover art? Or a musical testament of life in 2009? Too often, we put the artist in the background. And that’s a damn shame. Don’t let it happen here.

1. Let It Rattle
2. Drumroll (We’re All Thirsty)
3. Savion Glover
4. Purexed
5. Graves (We Wrote The Book)
6. Goodbye
7. Get Smokes
8. Been Afraid
9. Low Light Low Life
10. The Basics (Alright)
11. Out of Category
12. Optimist (We Are Not For Them)
13. Terrorish
14. Never Better
15. The Brave And The Snake

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