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ISSUE 119 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/24/2006

Posse of Five busts guts, rhymes in the Lair

By Peter Farrell
Variety Editor

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Posse of Five consists of five white guys that, for the most part, all hail from small Midwestern towns and cities in states like Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin – states that are not exactly traditional hotbeds of hip hop culture.

Still, every Wednesday at St. Olaf’s Lion’s Lair, sophomores Sam Erickson, Andrew Foxwell, Brendan Golle, Pete Williams and Erik Wilson gather to freestyle over spontaneous, created on-the-spot beats. The result is an unpredictable and offbeat exhibition of lyrical wit that’s more suburbs than street – or, more precisely, hip-hop minus the heaviness – and it is wildly entertaining.

Appropriately, the Posse of Five formed early this year after an impromptu freestyle session in Mohn Hall: “The five of us were there in Pete’s room, and we stood in a circle rapping for hours and hours and hours,” recalled Golle, the group’s de facto producer, “And we thought we should do this all the time. So we did.”

Of course, that very first night the Posse of Five banded together the group was written up by Public Safety for general rowdiness and alcohol consumption, a fact which Williams believes set the tone for the entire endeavor: “By the end we couldn’t stand up. It was awesome.”

The Posse began to practice freestyling in earnest, and gradually, the group developed a style and identity. As an all white rap crew living in Northfield, Minn., the Posse cannot relate to most of contemporary rap’s subject matter. Instead, the Posse infuses well-established hip-hop talking points – drugs, sex, and the self (self-importance, self-worth, self-respect and self-confidence) – with humor.

The approach generates a colorful pomo mishmash of irony and self-deprecation, which, when mixed with subtle (and not so subtle) Hill-based social commentary, subverts and reinvigorates overused gangsta rap clichés. In other words, the Posse’s off the wall rhymes are viciously funny when coherent and sometimes even funnier when they stop making any sense.

“Sometimes we’re bad, but freestyling’s not easy. But even when we’re bad we still have fun, and it seems like other people have fun, too,” said Golle.

However, the Posse does say whatever comes to mind, and, depending on your sense of humor, the group could be construed as offensive. The provocative nature of the group’s raps was put to the test this February, when the Posse played the Cultural Union for Black Experience’s (C.U.B.E.) multicultural show.

The C.U.B.E. show – generally dominated by African-American students performing spoken word poetry – represented a huge turning point for the all white Posse: it was the group’s first real interaction with an audience of color, and the public’s perception of hip-hop as “black” music is still very real, the Beastie Boys and Eminem notwithstanding.

“We were so frightened, because we’re looking at the audience, and we’re all white, but we got up and rhymed, and they were all about it. The support structure was there,” said Golle.

“They [the other performers] were so good, it really made us kick it up a notch,” added Erickson.

Energized by the C.U.B.E. performance, the Posse of Five continues to rap to the point of exhaustion, with their shows at the Lair often extending almost two hours. And while the show remains unstructured, the group has begun to implement certain segments that their growing audience has come to expect, including a bit called “Battle Royale” in which all five members take turns insulting one other to the only pre-programmed loop of the night.

This past Wednesday, the group also introduced a new gimmick, the prop bag, in which each member must freestyle about an object pulled at random from Brendan’s backpack. Each member puts five objects in the bag that range from a jar of honey to a copper bust of John F. Kennedy.

“We want to keep the roots of just freestyling with words and just saying whatever comes to the top of your head, but we want to mix in a few different gags into our act like the Battle Royale to keep the audience entertained,” said Williams.

And ultimately, the Posse of Five just wants to entertain. “It’s not so much about being able to rhyme, it’s also about audience participation. If you’re up there onstage and you’re moving around and engaging the audience, that’s a big part of the Posse of Five. We want to make sure everyone has a good time,” said Williams.

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