Ridding Ourselves of the Giants and Pygmies of the Past

On December 5, 1956, the Montgomery Improvement Association hosted the Institute on Non-Violence and Social Change commemorating the one year anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott. They asked Lillian Smith to speak; however, she could not attend due to ill health. Rufus Lewis read Lillian’s speech, “The Right Way is Not a Moderate Way,” to the audience. Virginia Durr, who was in the crowd, wrote to Smith, “It was the most wonderful speech and so full of love and truth and at the end when you thanked them for what they were doing to free the South and the white people of the South from their fear and prejudice, you could hear a deep sigh go all over the audience.”

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P.O.S. Top Five: Part II

“Gravedigger” Chill, Dummy (2017)

Like a lot of P.O.S.’s work, “Gravedigger” calls upon us as listeners to act and think about what we are actually doing with “this little flash” that we have on this earth. Are we spending time in club? Are we falling in line? Are we questioning the systems we exist within? What are we, ultimately, doing with our time. In many ways, “Gravedigger” sums up what draws me to P.O.S.’s work. He unequivocally tells us to think, act, and challenge oppressive systems: “(I’d rather be)/sitting back broke/pushing facts and hope.”

On top of P.O.S.’s call to action, “Gravedigger” contains some of my favorite guest bars ever. Angelenah raps the second verse, and her flow, coupled with her rhymes, directly points out the systemic oppression that traces back to slavery and the rise of capitalism.

I ain’t worried bout a charge ’cause I rhyme for the rent
And in a white man’s world get a notary, nig
What you want to see?
Double cuffs and expensive rings
Welfare checks, buying food on link
Work 3 jobs ’cause I just can’t breathe and when I do chase bread it’s ’cause I need to eat (shit)
Feet up high on the dash I’m chilling
Did a line ’cause I just want feelings
Lost girl but I might be villain
And I can feel the wounds on my back still healing

These lines call out those who buy into the stereotypes of the “welfare queen” or those who are poverty stricken. The systems we have in place, which caused the “wounds” don’t provide ways for those to escape poverty. Instead, they work to maintain poverty. We see this in multiple things such as debates about mass transit, the accessibility of medical care, education, and on and on and on. Instead of zoning out and dancing blindly, P.O.S., Angelenah, and the Doomtree crew would rather push “facts and hope.”

“Joe Strummer” 6666 (2018) w/Four Fists

“Joe Strummr” is a track on Four Fists’ album 6666. Four Fists consists of P.O.S. and Astronautlis. Like a lot of the other songs I’ve listed here, “Joe Strummr” calls upon listeners to get off of their phones and act. We all feel numb to what’s going on around us. Instead of fighting and resisting, we hide “in our homes.” We watch as hate fills the streets in Charlottesville or hurricanes destroy people’s lives in the Bahamas, and we “changed our Facebook pictures to congratulate ourselves.” What do these acts do? What does watching, from afar, do? What does changing our profile picture do? Nothing. It doesn’t change anything.

Subp Yao’s production for “Joe Strummr” compliments the lyrics because it creates a feeling of apathy, a feeling of being numb, a feeling of laying on the couch while atrocities occur outside our doors. To counter this apathy, and to fight for the rights of all, we need to act. We need to act before we walk forward into nothingness, succumbing to the void that we have we created around ourselves.

P.O.S.’s work continues to inspire me, and I constantly come back to it, again and again, because it challenges me to act, not to sit inside and do nothing. It inspires me to speak up. It inspires me to “push facts and hope.” What are your favorite P.O.S. songs? Let me know in the comments below.

Lagniappe 

“Bangarang” No Kings (2011) w/Doomtree

P.O.S. is part of the hip hop collective Doomtree, and they have multiple albums that showcase each of the artists: Sims, Mike Mictlan, Dessa, Cecil Otter, Lazerbeak, and Paper Tiger. There are multiple Doomtree songs I could’ve chosen for this list, from “Bolt Cutter” to “Final Boss,” but “Bangarang” was the obvious choice, partly due to beat.

“Bangarang” is, essentially, an anthem that proclaims Doomtree’s talent and drive amidst a landscape that relies on the bottom line over the message. As Mictlan puts it in the hook, “All these rappers sound the same. Beats? Sound the same. Raps? Sound the same.” Doomtree provides something different. The collective mixture of the group makes their work ever changing, malleable. They do not sit on one thing for too long; instead, they evolve.

For his verse, P.O.S. focuses on the ways that the work with Doomtree binds the group together, something that Dessa talks about at length in her book My Own Devices. This bonding influences their output and their message. Cecil Otter points out the group’s excellence through his braggadocio in lines like “Not your average everyday, Nothing short of a masterpiece.” In the final verse, Sims notes that Doomtree has become “more than a rap career”; it’s a family.

The whole song calls out critics who rely on labels to classify anything. As Sims puts it, “They say we too heady, too heavy, too many, too much punk.” The haters can say what they want, but Doomtree “earned it all,” and all the critics only want to become what Doomtree is, a collective, a family, a powerhouse.

What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.

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P.O.S. Top Five

I don’t remember, for sure, how I originally came across P.O.S. (Stefan Alexander). I think I first heard about him in 2006, around the time he released Audition. At that time, I read Alternative Press almost every month, and P.O.S. was in one of the “Artists to Look Out For Issues.” I picked up Audition, and its mixture of punk and hip hop struck a chord with me. P.O.S. introduced me to Doomtree: Dessa, Sims, Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, Cecil Otter, and Mike Mictlan. Thirteen years later, you’ll still catch me rockin’ P.O.S. in a crisis, driving down the road, walking to class, or cooking a meal. He’s evolved over the years, and every move he’s made has brought with it phenomenal musical and lyrical insight. Over the next two posts, I want to take a moment and talk about five of my favorite P.O.S. tracks.

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