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Elevator 17: P.O.S

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Big label rappers get flabby. Their lyrics become inane, if they weren’t already. Their live performances are flashy but many lack basic emcee skills, relying on the audience’s familiarity with their recorded material. Unsurprisingly many lose that dynamic do-or-die work ethic.

Here’s someone to remind us all that there’s another class of rap vocalist. His name is Stefon Alexander, better known as P.O.S. He is one of hardest working rappers in the world right now, and oh yeah, he’s in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Over the last few years he’s performed entire tours while enduring significant physical pain every day.

Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Stefon is a part of numerous bands including the magnificent Doomtree. Last year at a Doomtree show here in Birmingham I bought P.O.S’s album ‘Never Better’ and got to meet the man himself. The title track of this 2009 album has got a repeated phrase, which is a genuinely inspiring mantra: ‘Every never is now’.

Despite the fact that many P.O.S tracks exist in dark and difficult territory, he is a self-proclaimed optimist.

‘F**k Your Stuff’ is a playful anti-consumerist anthem and features on his 4th solo album ‘We Don’t Even Live Here’ released in 2012. As well as being a blunt indictment of capitalism and celebrity rap, ‘F**k Your Stuff’ is a great example of the instrumentation that makes Stefon’s music compelling. His fusing of various genres simply works.

‘Bumper’ is the album opener. It’s yet another song, which made me realize that while other rappers look really out of their depth when surrounded by live instruments Stefon looks at home and in control.

Whether he’s reworking De La Soul’s ‘I Am, I Be’ or roaring out lyrics as part of punk band ‘Wharf Rats’ or dodging percussive missile attacks, P.O.S’s determination, sense of humour and steely optimism shine through.

He tells more of his story in this interview.

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Elevator 16: Lyrics Born

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My first experience of Lyrics Born was a gig in Cincinnati. He and fellow vocalist Lateef opened up their set with a song in which they rapped completely different verses simultaneously. It was, as you can imagine, confusing. In the recording of this signature song the opening verses are panned, one in your left ear, the other in your right making it somewhat more approachable. As I listened I realized that the verses aren’t completely different. There’s a single word both Lyrics Born and Lateef utter together. I was overawed when I discovered this. This is deep, rich rap, which you can’t and aren’t meant to absorb on your first listen.

Born in Tokyo, raised in Berkeley, California, Lyrics Born is a master of conversation as well as a master of ceremony. He can howl out an old school party chant or quietly share his heart with you over a cup of coffee. Many rappers don’t ever consider speaking to rather than shouting at their listener.

The man can sing too and he integrates melody brilliantly into his rap flow. Listen to ‘Bad Dreams’ for proof. However his deep affection for funk and 80’s R’n’B means that he frequently moonlights as a soul-pop-funk crooner. I doubt I’ll ever fully digest the syrupy sounds of songs like this, but it’s a BIG part of Lyrics Born’s musical life and he doesn’t seem to care about scoring cool points.

The two things I admire most about Lyrics Born are :

Firstly he’s been involved in the making of not one but several of what I believe are the greatest rap songs of all time. For example ‘Balcony Beach’. It is completely immersive, disarming, encouraging and continues to be a source of inspiration for me.

The song ‘Storm Warning’ is a flawless expression of narrative rap; the music, the rhythms and the alliteration working in onomatopoeiaic harmony to mesmerising effect.

Secondly the way he and Lateef interweave their lyrics is a rare thing. Latyrx, as they are known together as, are probably the pinnacle of rap collaboration. The way they build off each other towards the crescendo of ‘The Last Trumpet’ is spell-binding.

Here are some other Lyrics Born / Latyrx heavy hitters:

Bad Dreams

Hardship Enterprise