Rediscover is a series of reviews highlighting past releases that have flown under the radar and now deserve a second look.
A particularly important aspect of hip-hop that all too often gets lost in the discussions of what has become perhaps the most important genre of the tail end of the 20th century is its capacity for unity of styles. On its road to cultural dominance hip-hop has become a truly American music, as diverse as that country’s population, with charting singles that have sampled everything from yodeling to jazz to rock records. And yet the 21st century has found mainstream hip-hop mostly shedding this musical adventurism, leaving the underground to pick up the slack. No wonder, then, that one of its leading lights originally rejected hip-hop in favor of hardcore, only to come around once he’d found a way to join the two.
As a founding member of the Doomtree Collective, P.O.S. would have an important role in the Midwest hip-hop scene regardless of his personal success, that outfit acting as a breeding ground for some of the most important work coming out of the area, a 21st century Native Tongues of sorts. On debut Ipecac Neat, P.O.S. showed potential that seemed to indicate he was heading towards more than just benevolent leader status, but it was follow-up album Audition that erased all doubts. With his experience with Doomtree, P.O.S. was the perfect candidate to pull off something like Audition, a highly ambitious work that blends the worlds of indie, hardcore and hip-hop with hardly a seam in sight through collaborations and P.O.S.’ twin obsessions.
Like The Roots, P.O.S. has mastered the art of the collaboration, utilizing guests like Craig Finn of the Hold Steady and Greg Attonito of the Bouncing Souls to add an exotic flavor to the mix; he lures in listeners who might not give the music a chance otherwise and also avoids leaning on these guests to the point of losing his own identity. The Finn collaboration, “Safety in Speed (Heavy Metal),” is perhaps the only exception to this last point, but it’s well worth that caveat. While Finn rails against “future governors” who happen to be “double speakers from the double features,” P.O.S. takes point, elaborating on Finn’s Predator-fueled rant as the Eastern-tinged beat compounds the layers.
More often P.O.S. is front and center, his thick, passionate delivery mostly unadorned and all the better for it. “Bush League Psyche-Out Stuff” has P.O.S. trading verses with Slug amidst the slow burn of a mid-tempo beat driven by a bassline that sounds like the mellow cousin to “Sabotage.” P.O.S.’ delivery here is similarly down tempo, less aggressive and more conniving. P.O.S. endows his flow with the passion of hardcore, granting his tracks an intensity that not many artists can match; this is hard to miss even when he’s playing it more subtly. as on “Bush League.” while moments like “Stand Up (Let’s Get Murdered)” make it the crux.
Audition’s production often stands out most when it’s working in contrast to P.O.S.’ fierce delivery, whether it’s the clatter of the Serge Gainsbourg sample that ties “Paul Kersey to Jack Kimball” together as P.O.S. destroys the mic or the sparse stabs of overdriven guitars that punctuate his verses on “P.O.S. is Ruining My Life.” The production is equally at home in symbiosis though: “Yeah Right (Science Science)” has its hardcore elements falling out completely before P.O.S. kicks in, dropping down to just a low bass rumble and snare snaps, the emcee and the beat locked in a duel, while “The Kill Me” goes somber, P.O.S.’ sinister lullaby alternately set to lush plucked strings and a jazzy upright bass. On every track the production is locked tightly to P.O.S.’ flow, whether it’s in the low key sidekick of “P.O.S. is Ruining My Life” or the jovial rival of “Yeah Right (Science Science).”
Last year’s Never Better may have been the album that finally brought P.O.S. some much needed attention, but Audition remains his most important and concise work, offering a clarity and resolve that Never Better’s abundant ambition sometimes misses. Audition also remains one of the most potent works of the Midwest hip-hop scene, less egomaniacal than many of its peers and more passionate than so many of the slightly apathetic releases that bog down the region, indicating that P.O.S.’ ability to merge realms goes beyond just musical use.