Trying to cope with kidney failure, the Minneapolis rap hero takes us to dangerous places on his brazen new album "We Don't Even Live Here."
Turns out, criminal trespassing on government property is frowned upon as official newspaper business.
I found this out thanks to P.O.S., one of the Twin Cities' most volatile and voracious rappers on stage -- but not the kind of rapper who gets in trouble off stage. He had agreed to take me and a photographer to the secret location where he filmed his new video, the one where he tries to convince you to burn everything superfluous that you own.
The plan itself went up in flames, though, when bosses got wind of the site: a former munitions plant frequented by graffiti artists. As seen in the video (whose F-bomb title is also frowned upon in newspaperdom), the property is an apocalyptic-looking wasteland of walls and towers. It's here that P.O.S. found inspiration for his firebomb of a fourth album, "We Don't Even Live Here."
"I was really into the idea of going to any place that was appropriated and is now abandoned," said the real-life Stefon Alexander, 31, who grew up a skateboarding punk-rocker in Hopkins. "You visit these places where the government or some super-rich guy bought up a huge swatch of land and used it for a profit, and now nobody can go there. I call [b.s.] on that."
By unfortunate coincidence, Alexander then had to put the kibosh on our second planned interview. He had to go to the hospital instead. When we finally hooked up a couple days later, he opened up about the kidney problems that have plagued him since his teens and caused the cancellation of his upcoming tour. He needs a transplant, and in the meantime he needs dialysis.
Thus, the one and only show currently on the books for P.O.S.' "We Don't Even Live Here" is Friday's sold-out release party at First Avenue.
He first staked out the album's brave -- some might say scary -- new territory at the club last December, debuting a couple of songs during his Doomtree rap crew's Blowout VII concerts. "Get Down" was an instantaneous hit that stood out as much for its techno-blast electronic beats as for its to-hell-with-it refrain, "I don't want to think about it, I just wanna get down."
Alexander truly does want you to get down with his new album.
"A lot of people may not want to listen to what I'm saying, and that's fine," he said. "They can just ignore it if they want and listen to the electro beat this time."
But he also wants you to say the hell with it. A deeper listen to all the new tracks will reveal firebrand lyrics railing against capitalism, against Big Money's chokehold on our country, against laws in general.
It's heady stuff. Here is a step-by-step breakdown, with comments by Alexander, of the ingredients and philosophy he poured into the album.
Lose your appetite for fame and money
As is retraced in the album's hard-thumping opening song, "Bumper," he attended mtvU's Woodie Awards in 2009, where he lost to Green Day.
Said P.O.S.: "There were all kinds of people [at the Woodies] thumping that they're better than other people there -- and not just rappers, but all the performers dressing to the nines. I just realized I didn't care about what they have in a very true way. That's sort of the whole idea behind 'We Don't Even Live Here.' We all live on the same planet, but clearly I and the people I'm trying to inspire live on a different planet. We left this place forever ago."
Lose your faith in politicians
One of the moodier and slower-burning tracks, "Wanted/ Wasted" -- with a guest rap by pal Astronautalis -- touches on his disenchantment with the Obama campaign and lingering race-relation issues in America.
"None of these candidates are talking about money and the way that money influences the system," he said. "We all see that government isn't working. Our little pet fights with the candidates aren't getting us anywhere."
Take your time
When he finally got around to working on "We Don't Even Live Here" -- after a year of touring behind 2009's "Never Better," and another year-plus spent on other projects -- he was still careful not to rush it.
"I worked on this record for almost a full year. I usually stress myself out trying to make the best record ever. I go into a record thinking, 'How can I do my part to change black culture? How can I do my part to destroy capitalism?' You know, just little things like that [laughs]."
Play with friends, part 1
In the interim between albums, Alexander got involved in the electro-soft-rock all-star band Gayngs along with Justin "Bon Iver" Vernon, who turns up here singing an eerie vocal part in "How We Land." Gayngs mastermind Ryan Olson produced the grinding new dance track "All of It." He and Alexander also formed the improv-heavy electrocore band Marijuana Deathsquads.
"Working with the Deathsquads, I got better at using synths and got into electronic music more. I think there's a lot of dance music that's super-heavy, and is about using your synths in the most violent way possible. That's what I always do with guitars, too."
Play with friends, part 2
He completed about half the album in a makeshift studio at a friend's house in Los Angeles before coming home to record Doomtree's "No Kings" over a weeklong session in the summer of 2011.
"It took a really long time to get the sound right, to get the vibe right. I was almost over it, and then I came back to make 'No Kings' and totally got my recharge back. I was on such a high, a lot of the parts I wrote for that record are in the same spirit as this one."
Take care of your loved ones
Already a dad to a 13-year-old son, Alexander found out during the album's final phase he was going to have another baby, born earlier this year. His rants on the new album don't mean he can't support his family, though, as he told a woman who got into a beef with him on Twitter.
"She said, 'You can't be anti-capitalist and then sell your music on iTunes.' I said, 'You don't have to like the system to live in it.' I do have bills to pay and family I'm responsible for, so I have to sell my music on iTunes whether I want to or not. You can't fight the system that way. But you can admit that the experiment of capitalism isn't working."
Take care of yourself
A fund has been set up for Alexander's kidney transplant, linked via his label site Rhymesayers.com. He had hoped his health wouldn't be an issue on his upcoming tour, but a short performance last month at McNally Smith College of Music put him in the emergency room.
"I had just gotten out of surgery, and it was too early. That was before I started the dialysis, though. The surgery was to get a catheter in to do my home dialysis. If I can do the dialysis and bring the machine on tour, then I'll be fine to tour."
The home dialysis did not work properly, though.
"I had some kind of unidentified trauma when I was 13 or 14, something that triggered scarring in my kidneys. It could've been a bad fall, skateboarding or whatever. It could've been some bad product I consumed that's not on the market anymore. Who knows?"
Despite everything else, have fun
As has been obvious at every show since last year's Blowout, the new tracks set off maniacal dance parties. For Friday's concert and the intended makeup tour, P.O.S. will have new DJ Ander Other replacing longtime cohort Plain Ole Bill.
"With Plain Ole Bill as my DJ, I started going out more to dance parties. I'd never really danced before. It was just fun, plain and simple.
"The refrain, 'I don't want to think about it, I just wanna get down,' sort of sums up a lot of the way people think nowadays. There's this common feeling -- especially among younger people -- that everything is [messed up] and ruined. Of course, there are things you can do to fix what's broken, but sometimes you just want to say [screw] it and have fun."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib