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The ethics of punk in hip-hop

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The basement was cramped with concrete walls and a low ceiling. People were shoved together haphazardly like dirty laundry packed in clumps and bundles. Sweaty arms pressed up against the back of the person in front you. It was loud. The music trapped in the concrete box, bouncing off the walls and the ceiling, building up energy in the resonating space. It was the first time I saw P.O.W. The band was playing thrash punk, distorted chords over hectic drums, each song a short burst, sounding like an argument. It was the sound of frustration, the sound of fucked up kids finding a release from the bullshit of the everyday.

The show was held in the basement of a house belonging to the band’s singer and leader, T. It was his mother’s house.

P.O.W. (Product of Waste) songs are short. They are direct and to the point. But they pack a lot of ideas into each song – political ideas, attacks against consumerism and corporate culture, and pleas to think of things in your own terms, not what’s been defined for you.

The band is steeped in traditions passed down from 80s punk. P.O.W finds influence in bands like DRI and Bad Brains. But there are wider ranges of influence shaping P.O.W.’s sound. Most significant being hip-hop.

As well as a front man for the punk act, T doubles as the head figure for what has become a sort of hip-hop collective. They gather under the name P.O.W. Camp. There are connections to the music made for P.O.W. and the Camp. But there are differences too.

“Punk is a more unified scene opposed to rap, which is more about selfishness and outdoing the next man. Not as much support in the hip-hop scene,” said vocalist/rapper T on the music communities he’s seen.

“Punk has a more solid foundation.”

The efforts for both acts are completely DIY. The group shuns commercial appeal. The band P.O.W., through word of mouth and touring, has reached even international acclaim in punk circles. Product of Waste played sets at one of the largest punk festivals in the U.S, such as Sound and Fury, last summer in California. In the fall of 2010 P.O.W. supported NYC hardcore legends Agnostic Front on the last leg of AF’s “Victim In Pain 25th Anniversary Tour.”

The Camp is starting to make noise in local circles too, and with an established foundation of fans from the punk world, the group could soon be making noise on a national level.

The collective is self-sustained and self-sufficient.  All aspects of the music are produced from the people within. It’s home to a team of rappers and producers, from T to Buck Nasty, Hank Boogie, Chris Hundred, AM and Agod. Mostly Kid Carnage and CMAC handle production and beats. Even music videos enter the catalog, filmed by Paul Med of PM Productions. The Camp has all corners covered and the grind appears to be un-fuck-with-able.

The collective came about almost coincidentally. With artists from different mediums and backgrounds coming together based on a sense of what they wanted to do with music.

“POW Camp came about when all my boys that rapped mastered their flow and we just united. You can call it a music group but it’s deeper than that. That’s my camp.” T says.

There is nothing manufactured about the Camp. And one of the more important things to take from the group’s ethics is the power an artist can have over his or her art. Each person in the camp contributes to something that could reach a mass audience. It’s a movement powered by the people in the Camp, and directly given to its listeners and followers.

One of the best introductions to the hip-hop side of things is the mix tape Back From The Dead. Kid Carnage handles the bulk of the record’s production. He and T might be considered the foundations of the group. Carnage said the two started making music together around age seventeen.

“I watched T lay down a few kicks and snares. After he left I got into it on my own time after that it was a wrap,” Carnage said.

The sound of both the Camp and P.O.W. could come off as abrasive to some. There is a certain anger that guides the music, but it’s not anger without reflection, not anger without hope for changing the corruption that the music sees as a target.

“The message we are trying to get across generally is to hold your shit down but in a positive way. Keep the moral high ground and only cause harm when left no choice,“ says T.

On Back From The Dead you can experience the range of ideas floating around the Camp. From the political and economic condemnations of “Who’s Your Enemy” to the teeth baring and warnings of street hustling on “Come In Peace.”

Back From The Dead, as well as other releases can be found at the Product of Waste BandCamp page. Some of the music is free for download, the rest is priced at $5 a download for an album, though all the music can be streamed for free.

T and his camp put a purpose in their music. There’s a point to it all, it puts expression and feeling back into music, particularly hip-hop at a time when pop marketability and club-ready sounds have taken over.

For T, the anger and frustration found in his music is fine. Something positive can come from anger.

“We all have demons. It’s about directing them at the right targets.”