Most of P.O.S' recent album was written in a moving car. On it, he raps at full-clip to ride rolling drums and revving distortion. There's an urgency that he keeps in careful check, and then unleashes for spring-loaded verses that represent his best work. P.O.S built his reputation as an innovator, with an unlikely punk rock past and expressive, honest content. He re-earns the accolades with every release. His records capture his charisma-they're driving and sincere, the dark moments counterbalanced by some giggling banter with the engineer. On Never Better, the new disc, he conjures get-away cars, racing chariots, the pursuit of sirens, and the occasional rueful nighttime drive.
P.O.S was born in Minneapolis as Stefon Alexander, where everybody still calls him Stef. As a little kid, he developed a fascination with an older cousin's bass guitar. Stef was allowed to take it home and he banged on it happily for years before realizing that it was intended to be played through an amp. "I just thought it was supposed to be a quiet instrument." As a teenager, he fell hard for punk rock. Minor Threat, At the Drive-In, Refused, Kid Dynamite. He played in a series of hardcore bands, sometimes as a drummer, sometimes on guitar and vocals. From the start, he preferred basement shows to club gigs. Simultaneously, he pursued hip hop, rapping in the hallways and after school with classmates who would eventually found Doomtree Records. P.O.S released his first rap record, Ipecac Neat, on Doomtree in 2003. After signing with Rhymesayers shortly after, it was quickly released and widely distributed on Rhymesayers Entertainment. The album earned P.O.S a dedicated following of critics and underground fans. Two years later they devoured his melodic sophomore release Audition, which featured collaborations with heavyweights like Slug from Atmosphere; Craig Finn of The Hold Steady; and Greg Attonito of The Bouncing Souls. On the verge of his third release, with his trajectory unchecked, P.O.S still doesn't take himself too seriously. He doesn't sweat the musical trends. He locks himself in his bedroom studio until the early hours of the morning, emerges with a song, and couldn't care less how someone else would have gone about it.
Like many great rappers, P.O.S creates his own self-contained little microcosm-his characters become familial to us; we get in on his slang and inside jokes. His mother and his son Jacob emerge as familiar personalities. We know his politics too: P.O.S doesn't hesitate to call out the compounding absurdities of pop culture, either with a little friendly ribbing or with a Molotov cocktail. On Never Better he drops deft one-liners that cut to the quick of America's stuff-obsessed culture, Can't take it with them can they?
Amidst the swagger, the laughter and the wit, P.O.S also provides a portal to his personal life-a young man ferociously determined to succeed as a father, a musician, and a human being. He's earnest, sometimes frustrated, irresistibly likable, and he's goofy. With that kind of wingspan, he can rally almost any crowd-live he's like the Pied Piper of the underground. He can make a rap show feel like a revival, a mosh pit, or a reunion. He will stand on chair. He'll invent a dance. Then the beat drops, the hands go up, and you're converted.
P.O.S himself made more than half of the beats on Never Better, and the production bears his unmistakable signature. The album enters a room like bombshell with a black eye-badass, noisy, impossible to ignore. Feedback and relentless drum rolls are only occasionally tempered by sung choruses and clean, chiming guitar lines. Some critics will be eager to categorize the album as a hybrid-some kind of crossover project. But it's probably not. P.O.S is a rapper with range, he's a real musician and an unstoppable performer. For him, genres are as they ever were: permeable.