New Music Tuesday: Innovation and honesty in hip-hop
Mainstream hip-hop’s festering decline has been more than evident within the past 10 years, especially considering the mass-produced, lyrically impotent “talent” gracing our radio-waves today. But while the mainstream world is facing its own apocalypse, there is a hip-hop community underground that continues to push the limits of that long-forgotten musical genre that once defined itself on dissent, innovation, edge and honesty.
Minneapolis-based rapper P.O.S. is light years ahead of hip-hop, and he knows it. “Never Better,” the follow-up to his 2006 release “Audition,” takes some bold risks with surprising ease. Formerly a punk rock musician, P.O.S. fuses together with rap the audaciousness and dissident qualities of punk to create something unique and charming, rude and gallant, but overall a breath of fresh air.
Frequently rhyming over literal drum-rolls, P.O.S. sounds like he’s rapping on a moving train, skillfully demonstrating a quick, angry delivery while riding the storm of his excruciatingly drum-heavy beats. But it works.
The innovative beats match his style well. He employs heavy guitars, drums and a very subtle use of samples – unlike label-mates Brother Ali and Atmosphere, who make frequent use of old, retro soul samples. P.O.S. gives us a glimpse of the new direction hip-hop may take after the mainstream officially crashes, burns, and looks underground for new direction.
P.O.S. has powerful lyrics and delivery that at times rival the lyrical genius of Sage Francis; when he sings the occasional catchy chorus like on the opening track “Let it Rattle,” he sounds like Atmosphere; when he decides to utilize a sample and a synthesizer, like on the track “Goodbye,” he sounds like a more innovative and obscure Brother Ali. But it’s when he goes in his own direction, when he tries things that mainstream hip-hop would never attempt, that he shines bright and rises above his peers. The songs “Drumroll,” “The Basics” and “Out of Category” show P.O.S.’s true, raw talent. With crazy blues samples, distorted electronic snare drums, and out-of-this-world lyrical barrages, P.O.S. does well with these songs to show the potential future of the genre.
His lyrics focus on real-life issues, struggles and the occasional bravado characteristic of all good emcees. On the track “Get Smokes,” he boasts “I’m on some Ichabad Crane raps/Ghetto with headless gaps,” showing his unique ability to brag without sounding cliché. But he also gets more profound and shows true writing ability, like on the song “Optimist,” where he laments and leaves the audience hanging with “Nothin’s tougher than the dream/And good sleep/Tryin’ to teach my son how to reach/Damn right/Because it gets a little darker every night/And the rent goes up/They gonna cut out the…” P.O.S. leads us on often, making use of audience anticipation.
While we wait for an expected hook or word, he diverts from where we thought he would go and goes an entirely different way, or he doesn’t go anywhere at all.
“Never Better” really hasn’t been better, and proves itself as one of the best releases this year, not just in hip hop, but in music period.
– Tyler Branson is an english senior.