Diffused responsibility is a curious social phenomenon. The idea supposes that individuals, regardless of urgency, will shirk from intervention in the presence of a collective. This inaction is governed by a set of dangerous stances: it’s none of my concern, it’s someone else’s problem, and I cannot be held accountable.
However, on their long-awaited debut 6666, P.O.S (Stefon Alexander), and Astronautalis (Andy Bothwell), lament passivity and remind the listener – it’s up to me, you and everyone around us.
The Four Fists collaboration has been teased for just shy of a decade, with Astronautalis featuring on P.O.S’ 2009 album Never Better, as well as the Doomtree veteran’s 2012 follow up, We Don’t Even Live Here. The duo officially announced themselves in 2013 with a tantalising EP and a series of blistering singles; however, following solo projects – and Alexander’s long-running kidney traumas – the album’s release was continually postponed, until now.
The unlikely release of this album in the face of repeated delays underlines the spirited determination of both artists. Minneapolis-native, P.O.S, is renowned for his punk sensibilities, possessing a flair for seamlessly fusing rap and punk rock without diluting the values of either genre. On the other hand, Astronautalis, originally from Jacksonville, Florida, pairs unconventional delivery with potent penmanship – a formidable partnership indeed.
6666 begins with the firecracker, ‘Nobody’s Biz’. Crafted by Astronautalis with contributions from Netherlands-based electronica producer, Subp Yao, the beat is an edgy, razor-sharp preview of what is to come, both sonically and thematically. P.O.S spits angsty anarchist proclamations like “NO COPS, YES NOW”, while Astronautalis outlines his intentions to arm himself against crooked law enforcement, reiterating: “Question is, why the fuck we waitin’?/ For some president to come fix the nation?/ We takin’ aim to fix ourselves/ Y’all can fix ya faces.”
‘Bobby Hill’ closely follows with swaggering, brag-rap flows celebrating the group’s outsider status. The frenetic energy continues on the Shakespeare-inspired ‘Coriolanus’, which commands the listener to embrace their flaws as a prerequisite for personal growth. Literary references are common throughout the album – Four Fists being a nod to a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald – and each one meticulously serves as a backdrop for the project’s core concepts.
Track four, ‘Sid Vishis’, picks up where P.O.S’ 2012 single, ‘Fuck Your Stuff’, left off. It’s an anti-materialist anthem that smacks you in the face for fetishising expensive things. The song builds to a menacing crescendo propelled by Astronatulis’ refrain of “HOLLA IF YA HEAR ME”, segueing into the bounciest of outro riffs.
This leads to the album’s gutsy epicentre, ‘Annihiliation’. Featuring P.O.S’ Doomtree contemporary, Sims, this track surges with energy and impetus as the screamed chorus bludgeons the listener’s head to a pulp. Sims shows up with a scene-stealing performance, unloading “I’m fucking dying/ I’m fucking living/ Ain’t fucking lying/ Ain’t fucking kidding” over a breathless instrumental from producer, Icetep. If anything, “Annihilation”, speaks to the impeccable sequencing on 6666, as the four-minute song pulses to a frenzy before dying into the stirring, ‘Joe Strummr’.
An ode to Joe Strummer, the late frontman of The Clash, the song unfolds with a melancholic Astronautalis singing about an incident outside his house, describing an enraged drug-dealer loudly threatening to kill an unknown culprit for stealing their stash. It’s in this anecdote that we delve into one of the key takeaways of this album – detachment. Astronautalis remarks that he and his girlfriend peek at the aftermath before – owing either to apathy or disinterest – casually resuming Game of Thrones on TV.
With icy precision, the next verse outlines how the masses therapise collective inaction through hollow gestures and social media photo filters, ultimately remaining motionless in difficult times: “We don’t fight/ We don’t riot/ Even when the war’s outside our door.”
The latter half of 6666 touches upon the album’s other central narrative, affirmation of oneself. ‘Fjortis’ finds both emcees in a reflective mood as they reminisce about their teenage selves; articulating that there is depth and meaning in the seemingly trivial activities of your formative years. The term ‘Fjortis’ is Swedish in origin (as P.O.S outlines in his verse) and acts a catch-all term for immaturity and youth. The verses acknowledge this adage, however, the tone is one of optimism, pride and gratitude for the experiences that shape us.
This introspection switches momentarily to playful levity. The one-two punch of ‘Dork Court’ and ‘G.D.F.R’ sees Four Fists spit tongue-in-cheek raps over cartoonish beats. If this album has a shortcoming, it’s that these moments are all too fleeting. ‘Dork Court’ is a welcome display of versatility from the duo, bringing comedic punchlines, satirical imagery and goofy wit – but it feels like a modest appetiser minus a delectable main meal.
Thankfully, the listener is not permitted to dwell on what might have been as the pace immediately picks up with the album’s title track (‘6666’) – and the best verse on the whole joint courtesy of Astronautalis. The Floridian’s verse unpacks well-trodden cliches of truth, lambasting literary icons like Hemmingway and Bukowski – Astronautalis rejects their jaded cynicism and ‘living on the edge’ tropes. Instead, he raps about beauty in simplicity: “It’s kinda nice/ Quiet life/ Far from guns of war/ Run my fingers through the grass/ And listen to you talk/ Sunlight in the curtains/ Freckles on your skin/ This my Everest, this my Silk Road/ This my South Pole, Shackleton.”
It’s a fine line to walk, and it runs the risk of it’s the little things-type banality. But Four Fists are the antithesis of trite, and this sincerity is echoed on P.O.S’ similarly excellent verse which extols the virtues of self-love and struggle. This pair have lived their experiences; they’ve earned their audacity.
The titular track is a snapshot of all that is good about this collaboration, two emcees bursting with innovation, crackling chemistry and a willingness to jolt the listener at every turn – as the song’s victory lap defiantly hums: “I ain’t dead!”
The project finishes with the champagne salute, ‘Unjinxed’, a swirling, heady climax to 43 minutes of delightful chaos. An epilogue of sorts, ‘Unjinxed’ begins with a snippet of Joe Strummer remarking on his life’s learnings, laying the groundwork for an epic, high-octane instrumental which sounds fresh from a European dance festival.
It’s a joyous summary of how we’re all working towards better things, and on the way, we must all strive to love and cherish being loved. And as Four Fists express throughout the entirety of 6666, there is no time to hesitate – it’s up to me, you and everyone around us.