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Following the release of their long-awaited debut album, 6666, the SOUTHSIDERS crew caught up with rap duo, Four Fists, comprising P.O.S (Stefon Alexander), a staple of the Minneapolis underground and a founding member of the Doomtree hip-hop collective, and Astronautalis (Andy Bothwell), an accomplished emcee out of Florida and Alexander’s long-time collaborator.
Together, they are Four Fists, and on their recent European tour, the two spared some time before their Glasgow show to discuss song-making processes, rap expiration dates, Scottish accents, and the nuances of the Wu-Tang Clan.
SOUTHSIDERS: First of all, welcome to Scotland – how’s the tour been so far?
P: Kind of incredible. It’s been really cool. I expected there to be people at the shows, I expected it to be a lot of fun. But it’s a lot more fun, there’s a lot more people at the shows.
SOUTHSIDERS: And what happened in Amsterdam?
A: The club owner disappeared! It’s a big club – it’s been open for almost 15 years – and they had 40 shows, tickets on sale – and he just skipped town. Shut the door, skipped town, closed the business. Nobody’s getting refunds, no bands are getting deposits or anything. He basically just took everyone’s money and ran. So fortunately, we got a lot of homies, they worked their asses off and got us a show at the very, very last minute.
SOUTHSIDERS: Are there any differences between North American and European crowds in terms of atmosphere or energy?
P: Yeah, tonnes (laughs).
A: Oh yeah, shit tonnes. The big difference, particularly in continental Europe but also to a degree in the UK as well, is that people come to the shows in Europe to still discover new music. Whereas in America, people only go to shows to sing along to songs they already know.
P: Every once in awhile you get somebody who dragged their boyfriend or girlfriend out, but most of the crowd is people who know you and are there to see you. While in Europe, they might have heard of you or there friend saw you when you came last year.
A: …Or they know you’ve worked with an artist they like. So it’s much easier to pull in a crowd without a fanbase here.
P: I actually bumped into people upstairs when we were eating dinner, at the next table over there were three women, and one them said: “So there’s a band playing tonight, Four Fists. I’ve never heard of them but we can watch them after we eat. I read an article about them in the paper, they seem really good.” That’s not a thing that happens [in America].
A: …Ever! And when I think about how Stef and I toured our brains out, literally killing ourselves on the road for like 15 years, to get the fanbase in America that it took us probably five years to build in Europe, y’know? So, it’s quite lovely…!
“And then we were kinda bouncing around and it felt right to be like, man, if we are going to really hit you in the face in the first half, let’s just close It out with the biggest punch in the dick.”
SOUTHSIDERS: It’s great that 6666 has finally been released. You’ve joked about the delays, many of them unavoidable, that prevented the project from coming out sooner – were you grateful in the end to make this album when you were both a little further down the line as artists? And when you actually both sat down and worked through the song-making process, how did it feel?
P: I think we are both super grateful that it happened now as opposed to later. It’s something that we’ve talked about a couple times in these interviews is – the music that we’re making now and the human beings that we are now, this record is better and benefits from that kind of life experience and career experience than it would’ve had we got it together and put it out in 2008/2009. We are both making really strong music, we’ve made really strong music before, we’re both making really strong and open music and we’re both kind of mentally in that place. So when we finally sat down to make this record it kind of just fell out this way.
And the process was, just the process that both of us, and Doomtree, and Shredders have been hitting for the last few years where we just kind of put ourselves out in the woods with no phone reception, hang out for a long weekend and demo. Then we wait a couple of months and go do it again, wait a couple of weeks and then take a look at what you’ve made and start tuning it up from there. But really not, like holding ourselves to finishing songs in every session and making sure everything is perfect, but just like, getting really good scratch ideas out and moving on. If you do that a bunch, then after a couple sessions, you sit back and you look at it and you’re like: “Oh, this is done. We just need to come and clean it up.” So yeah, it was really easy once we got the process started.
A: Yeah, once we actually started the record [it was easy] (P: it took forever!). It was really, literally, just getting out to the woods at the same time.
And once that happened, it was like: “Oh cool, record’s done – so, uh…Netflix?”
SOUTHSIDERS: I absolutely love the sequencing on this album – it’s like the first part punches you in the face and the latter half dabs your wounds, and yet the project is solidly cohesive.
The fault line is at its strongest when ‘Annihilation’ dies into ‘Joe Strummr’ – can you speak a little bit about the different tempos on the album and how conscious you both were of this shift as the album progresses?
A: It wasn’t in the process that we were thinking about order of songs at all, but once the record was sort of done, and I was starting to get songs back from Subp Yao, I was shipping all the stems off to him in the Netherlands and he was working on stuff and we were shaping it. And then I’d send it to Beak (Doomtree producer and CEO, Lazerbeak) and Stef for notes, and once that started to form, it became clear to me that there was two parts to this record – this very confrontational, aggressive part to the record and this OTHER part, and it felt to me all along that ‘Joe Strummr’ was the lynchpin on that record.
P: Yeah, definitely like the top of Side B.
A: Yeah that was were things needed to… – the weight needed to shift. And Annihilation was one that was hard to place because it’s such a fucking insane song. And then we were kinda bouncing around and it felt right to be like, man, if we are going to really hit you in the face in the first half, let’s just close It out with the biggest punch in the dick. And then, just put a bunch of pretty and fun and really comfortable songs.
Yeah, you guys are the first persons to ask us about that, it makes me very proud because I spent waaaaay too much fucking time thinking about it. So it’s very appreciated!
SOUTHSIDERS: One of the things that stands out to me across the album is the tongue-in-cheek, iconoclastic lyricism. For me, it’s a crucial part of the album’s make-up because it is about jolting the listener.
At times, it feels like music for hurling Molotovs…and in that, how much of this project was about shaking people out of their passivity?
P: That’s what I feel like most of my music is anyway.
A: I feel like my last record was like that too.
P: That’s not a hard thing for me to do. I feel like I came into this after Chill, Dummy and the Shredders record. Which means for me, I had to ease back in to the fucking punching people in the dick vibe because Chill, Dummy is the least amount of dick punching I’ve ever done an album, right?
A: That was actually the bio for the record: “The least amount of dick punching P.O.S has ever done!”
P: So yeah, that’s a lot more introspective and the prettiest thing that I’ve ever made. I feel like it was perfectly timed to come before this. He [Astronautalis] makes a lot of pretty music, he makes a lot of that thoughtful style, and I feel like – I don’t know, man – we’re really, really well-matched mentally and personally to make this record. I couldn’t have hoped for it to be better.
“I personally wish André 3000 would just keep rapping forever because he’s still better than everybody. Same thing can be said about Jay-Z. Not everyone loved Jay-Z’s most recent record – I do because it’s the smartest shit he’s ever made.”
SOUTHSIDERS: Another strength is the diversity of song-writing, and to that, my two favourites – and for completely different reasons, but also kind of the same – were the title track, ‘6666’, and ‘Dork Court’ – which is hard for me to pronounce for some reason with a Glaswegian accent…!
A: Yeah, it seems like a tough one for the Scottish accent, that’s a fucking weird combo of vowels for y’all. Got it – interesting, I’ll make a mental note.
SOUTHSIDERS: (Laughs) For you guys, what is more satisfying to pull off – that profound introspection on ‘6666’, or the goofy wit on ‘Dork Court’?
P: I think that’s a great spread of songs to ask about because ‘Dork Court’ is the least thought out but also… Okay. It’s going to be different for me and him. Because for me, that’s like rap practice for me, that’s the kind of shit I do when me and Sims are hanging out. Whereas, ‘6666’ is going deep and really digging and pulling it out, and I feel like it’s kinda the opposite for him where the ‘Dork Court’ verse is him getting loose and goofy in a way that I probably haven’t heard you [turns to Astronautalis] rap on a song outside of freestyling at shows.
A: Yeah, for me it scratches two different itches. I wrote ‘Dork Court’ to make Stef and Sims laugh, and to make other rappers go: “Oh, that’s right, that dude can rap!” ‘Cause mostly my feelings are talking about old dead scientists or whatever the fuck [P.O.S laughs].
And then, with all that being said, the joy I get from rapping that first verse – the first time I rapped ‘Dork Court’ for Stef and Sims, which was a real joy – is nothing compared to that feeling every single night when I rap ‘6666’ and I get to the part where I “run my fingers through the grass and listen to you talk” and I think about my wife, I get goosebumps every single night. I got goosebumps right now.
And again, that’s why I spend most of my time in my feelings talking about old dead scientists because the thrill of being a fun rapper is really fun but that’s a very quick high.
P: It’s like I was saying, those kind of ‘let’s go fucking rap’ type songs, some of my favourite of Sims’ songs are where obviously the beat starts and he just starts saying a bunch of amazing shit.
A: That’s where Sims crushes all of us…!
P: But that zone is a really comfortable place for me. Whereas singing nice, clear lines about my feelings that everyone can understand and maybe sing along with, that’s the most difficult shit for me. I’d much rather rap incredibly fast while shouting really loud so people can decide what they think mostly (laughs).
SOUTHSIDERS: Given your longevity as individuals and as musicians, it’s clear you’re afforded a certain wisdom on this project that perhaps speaks to a benefit of us hearing it later in your careers.
Andy, on your last solo album, you speak about André 3000’s belief that rap is a young person’s game, and Stef, you’ve got a 10-year anniversary coming up next month for ‘Never Better’.
How does it feel to have been doing it this long? Is there such a thing as an expiration date in rap music?
P: I guess it depends. I personally wish André 3000 would just keep rapping forever because he’s still better than everybody. Same thing can be said about Jay-Z. Not everyone loved Jay-Z’s most recent record – I do because it’s the smartest shit he’s ever made. It’s not bangers, it’s not hits but he’s still one of the best rappers to ever rap while saying intelligent shit that no one else is saying.
SOUTHSIDERS: Just on that, one of the great comparisons I heard about Jay nowadays, is that hip-hop has found its Frank Sinatra.
A: Yeah, Jay-Z is a perfect example [of ageing well in rap]. His last three albums were fucking garbage because he was trying to be 22-years-old on those fucking records and he is not 22-years-old. And what’s so interesting about that record [4:44], is that he was finally like: ‘Oh, I’m JAY-Z…I am everybody’s dad. I am going talk to you about real estate!’ And all of a sudden it became so interesting because it was the first honest thing he’d made in a really, really long time.
And I feel like the expiration date, so far as your honesty stops, your expiration date comes up instantly.
P: Yeah, exactly the same thing. If you’re staying true to what you know in your life, and keep making good music, I can’t see why it would expire.
My friend, Plain ‘Ole Bill, used to DJ for me. He said something to me five/six years ago that has always made sense: “No rapper should ever get worse at rapping”, and it’s like, that’s true unless you just stop caring. Nobody’s getting dumber. Nobody is getting worse at writing the more they write; that’s just not how shit works.
SOUTHSIDERS: Well put…
P: So yeah, it’s always like – are you trying to be a thing? Did you start out trying to be a thing? What are you? Are you representing that? Or are you still trying project another thing? It’s like Andy said, that’s where expiration dates come in.
SOUTHSIDERS: We definitely need a new André 3000 record.
P: Yeah, that dude should make records forever, and when he doesn’t want to rap anymore he should do whatever he wants because he is incredibly talented.
SOUTHSIDERS: And Stef, it’s been 10 years since Never Better. I remember vividly the first time I heard it and it’s still in rotation – undoubtedly a huge release in your catalogue. What are your reflections on that album?
P: Aw man, that was the first time I made something that sounded just the way I wanted it to…sorta [laughs].
It was the closest I ever got to connecting the bats and the balls at that point. I feel, at this point, the Chill, Dummy is the actual connection of the bat and ball.
But it’s a different kind of record to anything I’d made before. If I intend to make, another super-aggressive, angular, loud record, I’ve got a lot more tricks now that I haven’t really touched since Never Better because We Don’t Even Live Here and Chill, Dummy are both wildly separate from the vibe of that record.
So, that’s kind of how I’ve been thinking about it as I approach what album six looks like.
SOUTHSIDERS: We traditionally end our interviews by asking artists about an eternal debate that rages among the writers for our website.
Better album: Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx OR GZA/Genius’ Liquid Swords?
P: Cuban Linx. Easy
A: MMMM, Ghostface Killah’s The Pretty Toney Album.
P: Yeah, I’d take Ghostface’s Ironman if that was an option but if it’s just those two, GZA technically is way better, but Ghostface is all over Cuban Linx. And Ghostface AND Raekwon together is better. I just love that combo. I’d pick OB4CL or Ironman, where they might as well be each other’s records….I’ll pick those ones.
A: If we are going by Plain Ole Bill’s rhetoric that a rapper should not get worse, then Ghostface is the only rapper in Wu-Tang that’s worth a shit. They can aaaallll fall back. He’s the only dude who got better out of that entire crew. He stayed getting better.
SOUTHSIDERS: Can we put you down for Cuban Linx then?
A: Nah, I’d still take Liquid Swords over OB4CL because I think Liquid Swords is a more complete record.
P: Yeah, it is a more complete record.
A: But I have a hard time with that too, because I went and saw GZA on the Liquid Swords Tour and it was one of the top five worst concerts of my life…!
P: I opened for GZA once and he came out in a floor-length leather coat. And he didn’t take that coat off once because he didn’t break a sweat.
He was just like “When the emcees came…” [gestures holding mic to the crowd]
A: [laughs] Just atrocious man, it made it hard for me to listen to that record ever again.
P: I’ll still listen to that record, but from jump, I always liked Ghostface and RZA the best because they’re weird sounding and they smash too many words together and it sounds fucking wild. That’s my shit.
GZA is an amazing emcee, amazing writer. But he’s got that one flow and he’s teaching you something while pointing at his head, and that’s never been my shit. I feel like he’s great in the clan, that’s when I prefer GZA.
SOUTHSIDERS: Last thing, is there anything you guys want to add or promote?
P: Four Fists, 6…6…6….
A: Can you guys just say ‘Dork Court’ one more time…? [laughs]
6666, the debut album from Four Fists, is available now on Doomtree Records