First impressions of ... P.O.S.'s 'Never Better'

It's going to be a monumental year for Minneapolis rapper P.O.S. After a handful of releases with his pals in the hip-hop collective Doomtree, the musician, born Stefon Alexander, is returning to his much-lauded solo career. His label, Rhymesayer...

"Never Better"
"Never Better" (Rhymesayers, 2009) is the third full-length solo release from Minneapolis rapper P.O.S., hip-hop collective Doomtree's breakout star.

It's going to be a monumental year for Minneapolis rapper P.O.S. After a handful of releases with his pals in the hip-hop collective Doomtree, the musician, born Stefon Alexander, is returning to his much-lauded solo career. His label, Rhymesayers Entertainment, was gracious enough to provide us with a sneak peek at his highly anticipated third album, "Never Better."

What follows is a track-by-track breakdown of the disc, which, as its title implies, finds Alexander moving ahead at full force. Expect big things for this imaginative entertainer. (Note: We weren't provided with any information on the album, save for the track names, so any mention of production and/or guest-vocal credits are "educated guesses" on my part.)

1. "Let it Rattle"

Thirty seconds in and P.O.S. has already mentioned the recession ... something tells me this isn't going to be a party record. All in all, a pretty bleak track until about halfway through, when a bombastic chorus of percussion and samples pummels your senses.

2. "Drumroll (We're All Thirsty)"


Fittingly, this fiery track is fueled by an incessant drumroll that's equal parts Fericito (Fred Armisen's over-the-top Latin percussionist on "Saturday Night Live") and early Building Better Bombs. Coupled with rare P.O.S. speed-rapping, this is an odd track to follow up the epic, socially conscious "Let it Rattle" -- probably would've worked better as an interlude in the middle of the album.

3. "Savion Glover"

I thought there was a reason this one sounded so familiar: An early version of "Savion Glover" was released on the Doomtree album "False Hopes." If you'll remember, that odds 'n' sods album was released with a cautionary note: "[These songs] are all beautiful in their own right, but a few unfortunate idiosyncrasies (the sloped brow, the vomiting when startled, the incessant seal-clapping) have prevented them from meeting the Doomtree Family Gold Standard and making the proverbial A-team." There wasn't anything actually wrong with that "rough draft" -- to this reviewer's ears, anyway -- but apparently P.O.S. just needed another year to tweak it to his liking.

4. "Purexed"

What begins as a nice little production about "making mix tapes for girls" all of a sudden explodes out of the speakers. This is the definition of adventurous hip-hop.

5. "Graves"

A brash composition that, honestly, doesn't do that much for me. I can't really say what P.O.S. is aiming for on this one.

6. "Goodbye"


Ahh, yes, the album's first single. No complaints here: "Goodbye" is a continuation of P.O.S.'s contributions to last year's stellar self-titled Doomtree crew album. With top-notch production and memorable one-liners like "Giving up is like Latin: it's dead," this is a great introduction to the genre-bending world of this talented emcee.

7. "Get Smokes"

Totally switching gears, the hyper-imaginative, ADD-addled backing track found here feels as if P.O.S. reached back to the same playbook he used for albums one and two, "Ipecac Neat" and "Audition." If "Goodbye" is the record-selling strategy of today, "Get Smokes" is a Turbo Nemesis-abetted history lesson for recent P.O.S. converts.

8. "Been Afraid"

Thematically, this one doesn't feel like P.O.S. Highly refined production values notwithstanding, "Been Afraid" probably would've sounded right at home on Atmosphere's "When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that S--- Gold."

9. "Low Light Low Life"

Oh, Dessa, why can't you guest on more P.O.S. tracks? Her feminine intuition works wonders balancing out P.O.S.'s "macho tendencies."

10. "The Basics (Alright)"


Like "Yeah Right (Science, Science)," the standout track on his 2006 album "Audition," this exemplifies the rapper's winning formula: Hit 'em hard, both with rough-around-the-edges production and clear-as-day, no-two-ways-about-it boasts. This is probably my favorite track so far.

11. "Out of Category"

This one reminds me of "Gander Back," P.O.S.'s aurally adventurous contribution to the aforementioned Doomtree crew album. Like that instant classic, there's so much going on in the background (someone's finger was on the "bass trigger," among other things) that I'm having trouble concentrating on what's been rapped about -- will definitely require a few listens to take it all in.

12. "Optimist (We are Not for Them)"

P.O.S. brings it down a notch for this one, which, while not a lame-o ballad by any means, is rather dour compared to what's preceded it. My apologies, but I'm actually going to have to advocate a "skip" on this one.

13. "Terrorish"

Back to the brash sound. A welcome return? Not quite. While just mentioning tax cuts usually makes me smile, this track's heavy metal-meets-epic film soundtrack sound really isn't doing it for me, either. Two duds out of 15 isn't bad.

14. "Never Better"


Another lumbering giant that somehow seems to combine my least favorite aspects of the last two tracks. OK, three out of 15 isn't bad....

15. "The Brave and the Snake"

OK, last chance to redeem himself. Does P.O.S. pull it off? Well.... Just kidding, it's not that bad. After a downer of an opener (something along the lines of Portishead covering the "M*A*S*H" theme), this track really takes off around the 1:40 mark. But then it cuts back to the espionage-film instrumental piece. Then back to the full-frontal assault of the P.O.S. sound we know and love. And back. Yep, this one'll make your head spin.

Then, after the dust settles, P.O.S. and Doomtree mate Paper Tiger return with an unlisted bonus track. It's a little dark, talking about handmade handguns and "paper crooks" and all, but it's a pretty interesting spin.

P.O.S. will be touring with Sims and Hand Over Fist (Mike Mictlan and Lazerbeak) in support of "Never Better" throughout the month of February, with stops in Eau Claire (Feb. 27 at Stones Throw) and Minneapolis (Feb. 28 at First Avenue) rounding out the adventure. The album will be released by Rhymesayers Feb. 3. Visit for details.

What To Read Next
Get Local