On Friday night at the Troubadour, not half a block from the Beverly Hills city limits, three hip-hop artists; P.O.S., Dessa, and Grieves; put on a veritable hip-hop clinic that showed the mainstream that the real spectacle is not under the big top, but in the sideshows during their L.A. stop on the “Every Never is Now” Tour.
Coming to see these three rappers is unlike any other hip-hop experience. You won’t find talk of hoes, dubs, or M.O.E.T. None of them will tell you about how gangsta they are, how much their rides cost, or how they might do a snitch. This is music that goes further and deeper than that; music that draws from life experiences and beckons an echo from those with whom it rings true. If your music is the theme music to your life then these people are truly the story tellers that can put life to a beat. You will hear tragedy, challenging situations, and not settling in life. There will be socially conscious songs, political statements of an intellectual nature, and a mastery of rhyme and conceptual lyrical imagery like wet paint on a canvas, dripping with color.
P.O.S., Dessa, and Grieves are the micro brews of the music industry; those that hand-craft beats with everything from violin cuts to trumpet solos while carefully constructing jaw-dropping lyrics from a vocabulary that would make for a formidable “Scrabble” opponent. Artists, in the truest sense of the word, are those that make music they love, and don’t really care if others do. They give no thought to the mass appeal because they are making it not for the masses, but a select few that may have a thirst for their witch’s brew.
Dessa opened the show under deep blue light with a voice like velvet wisps of cigarette smoke drifting in an a windowless room singing “Kites.” Her music makes me think of a poet with a musical obsession more than a rapper. Her lyrics are wry and clever, always interspersed with a melodious voice that riffs tongue and cheek as much as it throws a mean right hook. She is the result of a philosophy degree and too much whiskey, I saw this written one time, and you are truly aware of this when you hear her music; clearly a rapper with late fees on her library card. With an acute awareness of the human condition, what sets her apart is her slam poetry breakdowns she does. When you hear “Hallelujah” performed at a hip-hop show with acapella verses and an unique and absorbingly sung chorus, you know you are in for an amazing show. She threw down the gauntlet with a sui generis set unlike any hip-hop you will find out there; honestly, how many rappers do you know with a published book of poetry for sale at the show?
Grieves came next with Budo, his DJ, and this kid is something to see. Looking no older than 16 and weighing maybe 120 lbs. soaking wet, this man of diminutive stature casts a rap shadow that has grown in leaps and bounds from his days in his hometown of Seattle, WA. Grieves is oh so musically inclined with the beats he makes. Just like Dessa and P.O.S., there is more than just drums and reverb in his tracks. You will find trumpets, piano, and guitar riffs, performed live by the multi-tasking Budo, that scream Eddie Van Halen influences. Grieves’ lyrics are funny at times with admissions of his odd look and his lack of knowledge as to the definition of “hyfie.” He also speaks of troubles with women, human interaction, and tough times. Admittedly a family guy, he really loves his friends and family, and raps about life and loss while not getting depressing, it always seems to be up-tempo enough to not bring the listener down. The crowd loved his set and despite not striking a large frame, he loves being behind the mic and it shows in the comfort and ownership he shows when he performs.
P.O.S. came next, the headliner of the night. P.O.S. is something to be heard. An amazing fusion of pseudo-punk rock and socially conscious, lyrical hip-hop, his music matches his stage performance; it’s a hip-hop bar-fight with your brain from start to finish. In three albums and many years with Doomtree before signing with Rhymesayers, P.O.S. has cultivated a powerful and focused voice inspiring people as much as attempting to unsettle our complacency. He doesn’t call himself a political rapper, but it is definitely a definable portion of his work. A not so subtle call to the disenchanted and disenfranchised permeates his lyrics between personally significant events and intimate messages of the heart. Beats dripping with rock guitar, drums, and a cacophony of other perfectly appropriate sounds make him feel at home on the edge of the stage screaming at the top of his lungs lyrics that the crowd reciprocates just as ferociously. He will cover everything from challenges with following your dream and being happy in your life, to social issues we all face privately in a slow-motion agony. P.O.S. is truly aware of his surroundings and what he feels, using the stage and the mic as an outlet to entertain and educate as much as provoke and disrupt.
His stage show almost ruins his albums for me for a week or so after. There is no justice coming out of my speakers for the energy he has when he is on a stage. One of the most accessible artists I’ve ever met, he’ll be out chatting and taking photos with fans before the doors even open. He walks among the fans at ease while Dessa and Grieves perform. Same with Grieves and Dessa; stand at the bar long enough and you might find Dessa sidling up next to you after her set to order a drink, Grieves you will find without fail at his merch table unless he is on stage, and is more than happy to talk with you. P.O.S. is just that kind of guy, he likes to chat and shoot the breeze with his fans, and admittedly likes touring with artists that are the same way.
I’ve been to a lot of concerts, big and small, and I have never been to a show like a P.O.S. show. Without fail he will get down in to the crowd. At the Warped Tour he spent more time at eye level with his fans than on the stage. Besides just the fact that he brings it every time out, I don’t find a mosh pit at many hip-hop shows, but P.O.S. requested it for “Terrorish” so that he could mosh with his fans. As with every show he goes elbow to elbow on the floor rapping with, and not just for, his fans. Even on his more difficult songs, the man could just sit back and listen to the words he wrote screamed back to him from 150+ in a seething mass of fandom. He recognizes that he has die hard fans and gets down with them when ever possible because he honestly loves his work, and is humble in his opportunity to do it.
Amazing beats and intellectual lyricism the likes of Dessa, Grieves, and P.O.S. make for maybe a tough pill to swallow for those without the taste for it. P.O.S. is fully aware that there might not be room in the ‘mainstream’ music scene for him but is hopeful. Today, the music seems to be more about style over substance. Artists today have everything from their own vodkas to clothing lines. It is all about cultivating a brand and becoming more than just a musician, which is all P.O.S. wants to be right now. In his words, it’s not that mainstream music is dumb, but it is easy, and he recognizes that his music is not easy or just a catchy beat for the money maker shakers out there. It is not something that he thinks about really, but he won’t ever ‘make it rain’, ‘drop it like it’s hot’, or ‘ride dirty’; this is not the kind of music he likes, and he makes music he likes, it’s just dumb luck that other people like it,too.
“If there’s a place in mainstream for Lady Gaga looking crazy, there’s a place for me looking normal sounding crazy. I just think about making songs I appreciate, and hopefully other people will too.” -P.O.S.
Check out the interview/slideshow conducted by Wesley Bauman:
Wesley is a writer/photojournalist originally from Oregon who makes his home in Ventura, CA. He is currently a contributing photographer for the VCReporter and maintains an active blog (http://www.wesleybauman.wordpress.com/) where he writes on political and social satire regularly.