Stef Alexander lives in Minneapolis in what he calls a commune situation with nine people, and has turned down reality television offers from producers anxious to turn his life in to TLC fodder. If these producers had heard P.O.S.’s anti-materialism salvo “Fuck Your Stuff,” they would have known that he has very little interest in trying to achieve someone else’s version of success.
In fact, Alexander and his rap crew Doomtree have passed on multiple major label and reality TV offers, preferring to not let anyone dilute their punk-derived, hip-hop-delivered mixture of inward-looking rhymes and neck-snapping aggression. Which is not to say that P.O.S. is too serious to have fun. The “Stuff” video makes a good visual argument that defining your value system for yourself is as exciting as an out of control bonfire, and his fourth solo album We Don’t Even Live Here is his most percussively inventive chant-along yet. A few days before the release of his new album, Alexander announced that he had a to cancel his tour and undergo intensive dialysis in preparation for receiving a new kidney. (Easy going as ever, Alexander insists that his kidneys have been garbage since he was a teenager.) Before the announcement, MTV Hive talked with about him fighting to stay happy and repping for a overlooked scene.
So how can you know that you’re fly if you haven’t seen a mirror in a month?
[Laughs.] I think its more about how you feel. I mean, that’s point of “Fuck Your Stuff.” It’s not about hating people and hating people’s shit, it’s about people being of substance. To me it means a lot more who you are than the kind of shit that you have and what you’re telling me about.
You know that you’re fly on the inside.
Yeah, I’m fly as fuck.
There is fire everywhere in your video. It looks like a good time.
It was actually a really good time. The crowd shot is a location that we found that would let us start a massive fucking fire. But the rest of it were all illegal location throughout the Twin Cities that graffiti artists have been frequenting forever.
So it was all guerrilla-style?
Yeah, about two-thirds of what made it to the video was all guerrilla style, yes.
“I’m not better than anybody, I’m never going to be better than anybody, but I am finding a way to be happy in a world that seems so bent on making sure that nobody is happy.”
Anti-materialism is the big reoccurring theme on We Don’t Even Live Here.
It is. That’s totally true. I’m not the only person that feels this way, it’s really easy to feel as an adult in the world that money quickly becomes some form of slavery as soon as you’re 13 or 14. Can’t do shit without it. You need to do shit.
It’s interesting. It’s never been easier for an artist to do whatever they want to do. They’re totally free. But on the other hand, it’s never been more corporate. A lot of artists in your position would take corporate sponsorship or put a soda in their video for extra cash, and no one would even blink an eye. It’d be like, “That’s what you do to get paid.”
I would do that if it was the right situation. Because you do need to get paid. Period. As much as I hate the way the world works, that is the way the world works, and until I can find a place that I never have to pay rent at, I have to pay rent. It’s a matter of finding someone that shares the same ideals and also has enough money to spare. Which so far, is pretty tricky. But you know, I’m not tripping. I play shows, I’ve always been a touring musician, as long as people keep coming to shows I’ll be alright.
It’s tough, no matter what you do as a touring musician, even if you don’t license your songs to commercials, if you’re playing Lollapalooza or Coachella, you’re still playing something that has a lot of corporate sponsorship and soft money.
Yeah, it’s not just that. Any bar … do you know how much money beer companies put in to the actual bar industry? It’s unavoidable at this point.
On the album you never say that you know the answers and that you’re better than anyone, you’re just talking about this problem.
That’s the point of my music. I’m not better than anybody, I’m never going to be better than anybody, but I am finding a way to be happy in a world that seems so bent on making sure that nobody is happy. Everybody is really sad. If they’re not sad they’re really angry, and the people who are happy are like, hiding. They’re either hiding or they found happiness on different terms than what is presently offered as the standard. And that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to advocate for a different standard.
Why is it that you think that no one is happy?
I think a lot of it comes back to the stresses and the pressures of what our lives have kind of become. How many people do you know that are in their forties that like their job? How many people do you know in their twenties that like their job? It’s not encouraged in our culture to find your passion and go after it. It’s encouraged in our culture to make as much money as you possibly can. And that doesn’t necessarily mean happiness for the people that find it, and the people that don’t find it, find the money I mean, that definitely doesn’t lead to happiness. I feel like if you get to the root of it, people don’t feel fucking free.
One of your messages is to focus on the ways you can be free.
Things that have led to my feelings has been taking a look–this is deeper than a rap I suppose–taking a look culturally and seeing what of our culture is influenced by old religious standards, and figuring out if that actually applies to your life. Take a look at the standard way of the world. Everybody goes to school, then they go to college, then they get a job. Does that fit your life or are you just doing it? Take a look at stuff. It’s possible to take this whole life and shape it so that it’s something that fits you as opposed to trying to fit so hard in to it. That’s the root of it. That’s the real reoccurring theme of the record , fucking doing what you want, because it will lead to happiness.
You have to fight for your happiness.
You do. I think that everybody does, you know? Whether it’s somebody that works a standard 9-to-5 that they hate and they just make sure to take every spare minute to enjoy their life to the fullest, or it’s people like me who will never ever ever work a job that I don’t care about. You have to personally decide what success is to you.
Do you feel successful?
Yeah, I think I’ve felt successful since I first quit a job in 2004 and haven’t looked back.
So as long as you don’t have to have a 9-to-5, you feel good?
I mean, as far as the work, yeah. As far as the rest of my life, you know, there’s … I have kids and life and health and all sort of other shit to worry about. But am I successful as a musician? Yeah, because I don’t have to do anything else.
Have you ever seen a documentary called The Century of the Self?
Yeah, I love it. I actually recommended it to my Twitter followers not even a month ago.
It seems like it fits in with what you’re talking about, how the adverting agencies found a way to prey on people’s insecurities and make money off of them.
Not even just advertising, that’s how government works, that’s government, that’s where we are all living. That’s what We Don’t Even Live Here means, not being prey to corporations, not being prey to governments, not pretending that we’re all in this together as some crazy pretend democracy. Just actively knowing that system is made to work against me, and living outside of it, because that’s personally where I find my happiness.
Anti-materialism is not really a hip-hop idea. It’s more of a punk attitude.
At a real root level, thinking about the smartest rap and the smartest punk and where they both came from, on the root level the only major difference is some sounds.
Your music and your persona sits at the intersection of punk and hip-hop. Where do you see yourself?
If you are talking about P.O.S., P.O.S. is rap music. There’s no other way to put it. This record has some dance songs on it, but it’s still rap music. The last record had a couple of punk songs on it, but it’s still rap music. I grew up in punk rock, I still play in punk bands, I still make hardcore music. I still want to shout and scream and have less words with more impact. So it’s never about picking what I am, it’s about making progress as I go.
Which did you get in to first?
I got in to punk rock first. I grew up listening to R&B and whatever my mom was listening to, funk and soul. And then I started listening to rap. Rap was on the radio, rap was on TV so I picked up all the mainstream rap at an early age, but at the same time that’s when I discovering punk rock for myself and really investing in it. The first things I took seriously were my punk bands, and my bands.
Did you see a natural similar between the cadence of a hardcore singer and a rapper?
Yeah, definitely. Tim Armstrong comes to mind as someone who I feel like … I got a lot of my basic, “this is how you rap” rapping skills from Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre, and then I got the way to turn that basic rap on its ear with a kind of punk vibe from Tim Armstrong or the percussiveness of Cedric (Bixler-Zavala) from At the Drive-In. Stuff like that, it just made sense to me in my head.
Do you pay a lot of attention to where your crew Doomtree fits in to the national hip-hop scene?
No. [Laughs.] I think we all want to be on the national radar, we all want to be the rapper people think of when they think of rappers, but we’ve been at it for a long time, and we just don’t think about that so much. It’s more “it’d be cool if that happened, but how do we keep this thing floating?”
Spin did this thing last year about the various underground hip-hop crews, and it does seem that because you’re from the Midwest and you have this anti-authority vibe and there’s a lot of punk in your music, people don’t even scan your crew the same way they would Das Racist or Odd Future.
Oh, absolutely. And that is something that I have known personally, when Odd Future came out somebody hit me up and was like “this dude is just like you four years ago.” And that’s cool to me, because I want to see different examples of what rap is. I’m really happy to see Odd Future still on the map with their artists going and doing shit. At the same time it does feel crazy to be overlooked after grinding hard for 10 years. But it doesn’t necessarily feel like overlooked, though. Because everywhere we go there’s people.
You have your fan base, but it’s hard to say to what extent you’re really considered the current hip-hop movement, even though you’re all great rappers.
Yeah, that’s what it is. I don’t know, I think when Def Jux was everything I carried about, I couldn’t find people who were searching for the newest underground. I don’t take personally, I don’t take it as a fault, and like I said as long as there are people at our shows, it doesn’t feel like anything. And when people review my records, when people review Doomtree records, they typically give us pretty good reviews. We don’t say yes to everything. We don’t jump on everything as it comes. We stay at our pace because that is something that felt like the right thing to do for us. There’s been a lot of opportunities that we’ve sat on and then said no to, because that’s not the look we’re trying to go for. So I don’t know, there’s no regrets over here.
P.O.S.’s We Don’t Even Live Here is out now via Rhymesayers.