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P.O.S. - Audition

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Artist: P.O.S.

Album: Audition

Label: Rhymesayers

Review date: Feb. 12, 2006

If anyone's keeping the punk rock spirit alive in hip-hop, it's midwest indie Rhymesayers Entertainment. Never mind that times have changed what it means to be punk rock, indie, and hip-hop, or that 10 years ago it would have been anathema for Rhymesayers to sign a distribution deal with a spiffy-punk imprint like Epitaph. For what it's worth today, nobody is getting middle-class white kids to pile into their vans and celebrate (rather than appropriate) hip-hop culture like Sean Daley and his variously talented cohorts. The greater prominence and overhead has been perilous as well as positive, though; since going legitimate, the label has struggled to stay relevant and stave off becoming a caricature of itself – or at least keep the punk in its punk ethos a respectable kind of punk (hint: emo doesn't qualify).

Maybe P.O.S. wouldn't be so important if less were at stake for like-minded purveyors of earnest, frill-free hip hop, but it's the same forces that made Fugazi records available at Wal-Mart that make him such a promising figure. Audition, his Rhymesayers debut, is loud and bombastic, confrontational and funny, and a genuine marriage of punk and hip-hop. About half of the songs sound like punk guitar lines with El-P breakbeats, clamorous and frenzied; about half of the time P.O.S.’s flow sounds like Slug or Eminem, the other half he sounds like Henry Rollins. He namedrops Kill Sadie and Song of Zarathustra in the liner notes; he dedicates the first song to Charles Bronson (the actor, not the band, but still) and starts the first verse with "First of all, fuck Bush." He spits or growls agile rhymes about wack rappers and second-tier Pulp Fiction characters, pausing occasionally to yell things, then cuts out with some more dialogue ("You like Fresca? You're fired.").

That's just the first song. The next – "De La Souls" – is counterpoint enough, a sober meditation over a sparse cello sample with a tasteful, if strained and predictable, chorus courtesy of Bouncing Souls singer Greg Attonito. It's the confessional yin to his freewheeling yang; he's angry but not too angry to brood, not too brooding to make fun of himself. P.O. stands for "pissed off," not "piece of" (and the S is for Stef, dude's first name), but he's gallant enough to couch it in some acronymic mystery. His catharsis is clever and abrasive at once, like Atmosphere and Sage Francis at their best, but it lacks the candor-overkill that belabored both of their most recent records. More importantly, it's not all personal – at least nominally, it's cultural, or political, or generational. "See, we don't throw our hands up like we don't care anymore," he laments in "Paul Kersey to Jack Kimball." "We throw our hands up like we don't care anymore."

Audition continues in this vein, which is to say densely and with frequent interruptions for low-grade silliness, for a good 45 minutes. It's not all gold – douchebag-of-the-moment Craig Finn's crack at observational humor rap in "Safety In Speed (Heavy Metal)" is a particularly low point, and a perplexing one given his anti-earnestness shtick – but it's usually good, and sometimes awesome. Slug shows up on two tracks, including the lovesick reprisal jam "Bleeding Hearts Club," to demonstrate just how similar he sounds to P.O.S.; Maggie from Digitata and Mictlan from Doomtree make relatively nondescript cameos elsewhere. Appropriately, P.O.S. carries the joint and gets his personality across – clever but honest, articulate but scrappy – without smothering you with it. And if there's no other simple or tangible way to explain why Audition is less overwrought and more effective than other records of its ilk, maybe it's just that – his lack of prescriptive or pre-formed persona. We'll see what happens when he gets to the performance, but he passes this round with laudable distinction.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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