P.O.S, due at this weekend's Westword Music Showcase, is a founding member of the eclectic and independent Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree. He's been dealing with kidney problems of late, and although he's started dialysis and is back performing, he's still hoping for a transplant. In spite of all this, the rapper (aka Stefon Alexander) recently released his best -- and best-selling -- album to date, We Don't Even Live Here. In advance of his appearance at this weekend's Westword Music Showcase, we spoke with P.O.S about Doomtree, and our conversation meandered from Anonymous to something called "wagging" and more.
Westword: First off, how's your health?
P.O.S: It's still really bad, but I'm doing dialysis, and it works just fine. Some people do that forever, and they're fine. My energy's up, and I'm able to be in the studio. I'm playing some shows here and there. And I feel like I'm doing a good job maintaining at the shows and in my life, so I'm good for now. Hopefully I'll get a transplant by the end of the year.
If my information is correct, Doomtree began with you and Marshall Larada making beats at home. Is that right?
Yeah, that was the plan; it was going to be our production crew.
How did it grow from there?
I mean, it was really natural. I was rapping a lot. I made better friends with Cecil Otter, and he was rapping a lot, and it just made more sense to put out songs. So as a production crew, I think we're going to try to put out an album featuring our production; it just ended up being the rappers we knew were awesome.
And has it surprised you how far it's grown?
Oh, yeah. I don't think anybody really thought about the future of it so much at the time. You think about the future in little, tiny chunks -- like what are we going to do next month? What are we going to do next year? All of a sudden it's like ten years later.
And how did you come up with the name Doomtree? It's such a strange name.
I don't think anybody knows at this point.
What is it like to not only work with some of your oldest friends but to have such great success with them?
I keep on bumping into bands and groups and people a year in, two years in, three years into their band, and hearing about different ridiculous struggles and how difficult it is to deal with each other sometimes, and I wonder -- because we've had a lot of times where it was really difficult. But I think after maybe the sixth-year gap, it just turned on to autopilot, and we got through all the hard stuff.
I think since then it's a blessing. I feel like I trust everybody in the crew, both as an artist and as a person. I trust the notes that they give me. And you know, we all can say shit to each other and have it come off [in a real way]... It's cool. It's a cool thing to have consistent artistic collaborators.
People always say you shouldn't do business with your friends because you might not always be able to be honest with them or take criticism, but you don't see that as a problem?
No, I think that with us, artistically, honesty has never really been a problem. I think we've all, either directly or indirectly, had to have moments of very serious criticism over each other's work. I think it's a matter of just being able to deal with it, you know? I think that a different set of people, and maybe the same set of people under different circumstances, would not have been able to deal with it so well. We all know what we think about each other and we've all been on the road and been in the studio together for so long now that we've kinda found that groove of where we're supposed to be and how we get along the best.
There are a lot of great places for hip-hop, but it seems like there's something special about Minneapolis as a place where a different kind of hip-hop can flourish whereas it seems to be kept underground in a lot of other places. What would you attribute that to?
I was thinking about it earlier today. It's not just hip-hop; it's all of styles of music... A lot of it has to do with that it's not the kind of city where your band makes a demo and then sends that demo out to record labels. It's the kind of city where your band makes an album and then puts it out.
So it's maybe more of a grassroots way to build up a following?
Yeah. Nobody's trying to impress a label and get signed and blow up as much as, you know, nowadays, people are trying to just make their own label all the time, and that's everywhere, but I feel like that's always been what our city's been about, you know, since the late '70s.
And I'm sure you find that you can be a lot more free to make music the way you want that way.
Yeah, and I think it's artists trying to impress artists, as opposed to artists trying to impress labels.
One thing I've heard about Minneapolis is something I don't really understand -- something called "wagging." Do you know what that is?
[Laughs] Yeah, I know about wag.
What does that mean?
I think it's like uh... It's an important enough thing on a certain level in our city that if I say it wrong, somebody's gonna be mad, but it's mostly about having the best time ever...trying to do your own thing in the community and within the bigger community of hip-hop. So it's like a section of the scene separating itself and defining itself by its music and by its style. Some people might say it's a movement within a movement. Some people might say it's ridiculous. But, regardless, it's a lot of fun.
So it's just one of those indescribable things?
Yeah, I mean, I feel like our city is pretty indescribable as it is if you're asking the rap. We've got our own thing going on over here, and we always have, and it's not always been the same -- it always kinda changes with the times -- but it stays our own thing. And I think the wag scene within our scene is kind of embodying that Minneapolis trend to take whatever's going on in the culture and spin it on its ear and do it your own way.
Doomtree haven't fully leaked into the mainstream outside of Minnesota, but We Don't Even Live Here has been more successful than anything you've put out so far. Is there something different you're doing, or is music just coming around to where you've always been at?
Maybe. We never consciously try to do anything aside from just make shit that we felt really comfortable and really good and all of us can get behind... Aside from that, it's been trying to make the business run properly as a business and make sure the songs are good, and I don't think we really think about the rest, you know? There's a lot to think about just there, having an artist-run label and being so hands-on about everything. And we don't say "yes" to very much, as far as when people are asking us to do things.
We're not really calculating how can we do this differently from everybody else. We all grew up thinking that things worked a certain way, and then we emulated it, and that's how it worked. We thought Wu-Tang all lived in the same house together when we were kids, so we grew up and moved into a house together. We did all the hard years -- all the strong, hard, building years -- we did the way that we thought everybody else did. We all lived in the same house, and we made songs every day. I don't think that we had time to be plotting it out.
But you still live in the same house as a bunch of the Doomtree folks, don't you?
No, just in the last year or so, we've all kind of got our own spots going. We're all getting older. We've got families and stuff like that.
Listening to We Don't Even Live Here, I felt like there were a lot of different genres -- like there was some punk and some electronic music that were mixing together, and I was wondering if you thought that hip-hop and other musical forms naturally compatible or if you had to work to make them go together.
No, I think on the older records, I was consciously trying really hard to include all of my influences and styles that I liked, but I was very aware that when you mix hip-hop and aggressive rock music, you can get something really, really, really bad. Like there was a whole era of Limp Bizkit and things like that that just don't represent well.
I think pretty early on, it was about not taking the sound of rock music, but taking the feeling, and taking the urgency of drums and all that; you can take that feeling without having it all be just riffs over breaks and having it come off super corny. It's not difficult to do; you just have to be aware of what you're doing when you're doing it I guess.
One thing that I thought was funny when I was listening to your album was on "Wanted / Wasted," you have a shout out to Anonymous, and I was hoping you could talk about that. Why support the hackers?
Why support hackers? I can't think of any reason not to support hackers. It depends on what they're hacking, I suppose. If you look at the track record of the things that Anonymous have claimed, they all seem to be in seriously good fun or in support of things that I, as a dude, support.
And it seems like the Internet freedom movement is kind of the last thing we've got that we can truly still be fronting. I'm not a very tech-savvy person, as far as computers go. I'm not up there hacking into banks and things like that. But that frontier seems to be the only one is still a level playing field between the people and the government.
I guess it might be especially important now considering what we've found out in the last few weeks.
Yeah, but everybody knew that anyway. We just found out for sure that, but everybody's always known that. People were just not paying attention. And it seems like the last people that are paying attention are doing their best to spread the word and fight that kind of thing, and so far, Anonymous has been on that side of it. So I can support that. And I do like the idea of people who are just as tech-savvy as our government's smartest out there fighting with the people who live here, the citizens, in mind. And I'm not saying that every member of Anonymous is a good dude because that's probably not true, but, as a whole, the things they've claimed have been things I can get behind.
Do you think it's your responsibility as a musician to make political, progressive music or is that just the way that...
It's always been the music that I've enjoyed the most, you know? Growing up, songs that are about something are always the ones that I've felt the most. And I'm not saying there's not room for love songs and dance songs and pop songs... I'm just not necessarily best at those because the songs that always influenced me the most growing up were about something, were the ones that moved me. I like to be moved in some way.
Dessa's album is coming out in a week, right?
Are you featured on that album?
I'm not, but it is awesome... It's a really, really good record.
Can you talk about Blowout and how that's grown?
Yeah. The Doomtree Blowout is -- man, however many years ago now that it started, we had never played a show where we were the only ones on the bill. We had only played shows with different groups, either as support or we were opening for them, things like that. The first Blowout was just to see if we had a draw on our own, to see what the draw on our own looked like and throw a bigass party... It turned out really well, so the next year, we moved to a bigger venue, and we've stayed there ever since we moved it to First Avenue, and it's just like our annual winter party.
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