P.O.S - Never Better

Kyle Ellison 04/05/2009

Rating: 3.5/5

Fusions between Hip Hop and Rock music have a history of sounding astronomically bad. Sure there are exceptions, but these are eclipsed by the images of Aerosmith dancing around a stage with Run DMC flaunting Adidas trainers. Even the Beastie Boys rock material pales in comparison to their pure hip hop music, and is really more a case of imitation rather than integration of the genre. What Minneapolis based rapper P.O.S does on Never Better, then, is all the more remarkable. This is an album that takes the raw instrumentation of punk rock and fuses it with hip hop production, yet not once does this clash of styles seem unnatural.

While the influence of punk is apparent throughout, make no mistake that this is a hip hop album. In fact, the reason it works so well is that the external influences mostly remain on the periphery. It's not the case that different styles have simply been thrown together for the sake of it; P.O.S clearly grew up on punk music and feels at home rapping over live percussion. Importantly, though, the inclusions of punk rock sounds never feel forced or take precedent over the songs. For example, at times, such as single Goodbye, the rough production is dropped altogether in favour of a cleaner sound that wouldn't sound out of place on a Kanye West album. In this way P.O.S remains in complete control of his material, paying tribute to very different styles of music but only when they compliment each other.

The records gloomy outlook couldn't sound more poignant in the wake of the dismal economic climate. P.O.S is a cynical and sharp witted MC, but Never Better finds him in a particularly combative mood. Setting this tone from the very first track P.O. S reflects on the recession, making it clear he isn't placing any value on President Obama's offer of hope, he spits, “They out for presidents to represent them / you think a president could represent you?” This scepticism is replicated elsewhere, on Low Light Low Life female MC Dessa delivers the songs best verse, picking apart religion she refers to atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell and then raps, “They say that Gods on the right/ so goes the rhetoric/ But I think that cross is a kite/ that left a skeleton.”

So far this might be sounding like a pretty miserable listen, but while it's lyrically no picnic, there are lighter moments as well. On Purexed, for example, the tone is almost inspirational with a chorus that lends from punk in its stirring defiance, and criticism of the superficial. At times this cultural borrowing can be more literal, in one of the albums catchiest tracks Savion Glover, for example, P.O.S makes direct reference to Fugazi before lifting the refrain from their track Five Corporations. Perhaps such an overt namedrop sounds a little clunky, but P.O.S wears his influences on his sleeve and is keen to express the difficulties of finding his place in the world. The track that outlines this most clearly is Out of Category, describing his experience of finding punk rock as a black kid in high school and detailing the criticism he subsequently received, “Found his kin / brothers at school thinking he trying to rewrite skin/ Others are fools never seem some shit like him.”

While this record certainly isn't going to be for everyone, as somebody that has grown up with a love for punk and hip hop it's great to hear proof that the two aren't mutually exclusive. Degrees of irony are often discussed in regards to white kids growing up with rap music as their rebellious voice, so it's interesting to hear this in reverse. I imagine P.O.S could produce a straight up rap album and it sound fairly lifeless, but he injects his heart into this and it's all the better for it. I'm not convinced this rare successful hybrid will be start of the trend, but its a lesson for anyone looking to try some genre chemistry of their own. Jay Z and Linkin Park, take note.