Talk about awful timing: P.O.S. released his fourth album We Don’t Even Live Here the same week he learned that he needed a kidney transplant to resolve health issues he’s had since he was a teenager. Not only has that changed his life in a number of day-to-day ways, but it also means that he had to cancel the tour he’d booked to promote the album. That’s a major inconvenience for a few reasons, not the least of which is that touring is mostly how an artist like P.O.S. makes his money, and given how expensive the health care costs associated with organ transplants, dialysis, and prescriptions are, he needs that money more than ever. Fortunately, the rapper has a devoted fanbase – a week after announcing a crowdsourced fundraising campaign, he’d blown past his intitial $25,000 goal ($34,876.00 as of November 6) to help him cover living and health care costs during his unexpected downtime. Hive caught up with P.O.S. to find out all the details of what it’s like to be a musician without regular health insurance in a time of crisis, how his fans have responded, and why he’s not setting up a StefAid concert anytime soon.
“The timing of this is destroying me, to be honest. It has been really frustrating to feel like I’ve just made the best record of my career, and I can’t do anything right now to support.”
You’ve raised $32,000 in a week. Has that blown your mind?
Yeah, actually. After we hit the goal in three days, I started feeling like I shouldn’t even look at it. I should take it down and not even think about it anymore. And people just keep on donating and it keeps on blowing my mind. And that’s awesome, because I keep on finding out about the more costs that are coming up after I get the kidney transplant. I’ll be taking like 25 different pills every day for the rest of my life. Those aren’t cheap.
Independent rappers aren’t known for having awesome health insurance. Are you paying for everything out-of-pocket, or do you have insurance?
Up until I got on dialysis, I had insurance through a company called Pre-Existing Condition Insurance. Which, I mean, just like the name sounds, was a total joke. They weren’t covering much. After I got on dialysis, I was able to apply for Medicare, so I’m waiting to see if I get Medicare.
How far does the money you’ve raised so far take you? Was the $25,000 goal a bare minimum to survive?
Yeah, you know — I hate the idea of begging my fans anyway, so we pretty much picked the lowest number that I feel like I could get by on until I get back onto the road and start earning again. If I get Medicare, the $25,000 goal was to hopefully cover me for all the expenses of the surgery itself, plus medicines and things like that to last me until I can get on the road. Trying to predict how much everything costs — dialysis is like $80,000 a year, and the transplant, if I get the coverage that I’m hoping for, is gonna come to $10-$15,000 a year, plus prescriptions, which haven’t been factored in at all, but tend to be pretty expensive these days.
What’s the timeline like on the transplant?
I don’t know. I’m actually waiting to hear this week. I have 12 matches within my friends and family. That doesn’t mean that my friends exactly match me, but with kidney transplants, you’re able to check a box that says that even if you’re not a match for me, if somebody across the state or across the country is a match, within the same network, you’re willing to trade your kidney. You know what I’m saying? Like, if you were down to donate your kidney, but you weren’t a match for me, but you were a match for some guy named Joe in Arkansas, you could trade, and I could get his. So between people that are actually matches and people who are willing to trade that way, there are twelve matches. So I’m just hoping to get a date in the next week, hopefully.
In the video you made explaining what’s happening, you mention that you may ask your fans if they’ve got a kidney that matches. Is that where any of the 12 came from?
I didn’t actually have to take any fans’ numbers. When I was planning on touring on dialysis, I still knew I would have to get a transplant at some point. So all of my close friends and family, people in Doomtree, went out and get checked out. But then I was doing dialysis, and it was going to be on the backburner while I toured. But then there were some complications on dialysis, and it went to the front-burner again. So everybody started checking out their availability.
This is something you’ve dealt with since you were a teenager. When you’ve had the transplant, will you be healthier than you’ve ever been?
That’s what I’m hoping, yeah. I’ve never had fully functioning kidneys, as far as I know, since I was early in my teens. It’s one of those things where it builds up on you, like you look in the mirror every single day, and you don’t notice that you’re aging. The way the doctors told me, it’s like, I feel myself every day, but I don’t notice how tired I’m getting. So I’m a lot more mentally and physically exhausted than I should be for my age. Hopefully when I get a transplant I’ll have more energy than I’ve ever had. Maybe not more energy than a teenager, but more energy than I’ve had in the last several years, for sure.
Is that an upside to this happening?
I don’t know if I’m trying to find an upside. I’m happy to be alive, and I think that it’s going to go well, and I’m going to come out alive. One of those things that happens when you get a transplant is that you have to go on immune-suppressant therapy to make sure that it doesn’t reject the transplant. So I might end up with a cold a little bit more. But overall, every report I’ve read has been very positive from everybody. I’m not scurred.
How did you feel after the record release show at First Avenue last week?
I was pretty exhausted. But it was different from the show I played at the school [McNally-Smith] that knocked me out. It put me in the ER the next day. I couldn’t make it up the stairs when I got home from the show. It brutalized me. But doing dialysis has been kind of immediate, which is why I was able to entertain the idea of going on tour with it. It really does boost me right back up right away. When I got home from the show, I was definitely feeling all right – just normal show tired.
How frustrating is it that you just put out a new record, and we’re talking about this instead of We Don’t Even Live Here?
The timing of this is destroying me, to be honest. It has been really frustrating to feel like I’ve just made the best record of my career, and I can’t do anything right now to support. All I can do is sit back and hopefully people check it out. Hopefully people check out reviews and want to talk about it. The support that I’ve gotten from my fans, letting me know that they’re here, and they’ve got my back, and the donations and the support have been crazy. But this is my life’s work. This is my dream. I want to be out there supporting this record, and it’s pretty heartbreaking to not be able to. But I feel like hopefully my fans that have been around are still gonna be around, and the people who are just hearing about me now on this record will still be excited about these songs in six or seven months.
Do you feel a responsibility to the people who’ve donated? Some of the comments with the donations are like, “Get well soon! Can you add Memphis to the tour itinerary when you’re better?” Do you feel like, “Oh, shit, I better get to Memphis”?
[Laughs.] Well, yeah, I mean, people don’t realize that the tour was broken into chunks already, so I had announced two and a half or three weeks, but as soon as it was about to start, we were about to announce the whole West Coast and the south and all that stuff, too. Every time I go on tour, I try to get everywhere. I haven’t been to Memphis in a while, but I’m gonna try to get everywhere. I’m a pretty hard-touring dude. When Never Better came out, I did 225, or something like that, shows in support of that record. If I could be out there tonight, I would.
On We Don’t Even Live Here, there’s an anti-materialistic viewpoint that’s more pronounced than it’s ever been in your music. Does looking at your health put things in perspective that way?
My health was really an afterthought until it stopped me. I’m sure you don’t think every single day about how your heart’s beating. I went from not really thinking about it except for taking my kidney pills every day to, I check my blood pressure every day, I check my weight every day, dialysis is a very, very involved way to live. You gotta be on top of it. So it definitely puts your mortality in perspective, and makes you think about it more than you want to. Which sucks. [Laughs.] Which totally sucks. For me, anyway. But I don’t think that my health influenced the way that I’m thinking about materialism right now. The last few years of being an American looking around at how things are going, at this election, it’s really difficult not to think about the way that people spend money and the way money works.
The election is Tuesday. Does having Obamacare on the line here give you a bigger stake in how it turns out?
It does, but at the same time, I feel like so much of the health care and that stuff hangs in the balance right now, and I don’t necessarily believe anybody, as far as politicians go. I feel like it’s one of those things that that’s gonna be a fight back and forth. I’m gonna be covered one month, I’m not one month. The way that it’s always been, where, as a musician, depending on how much money I make in six-month chunks – maybe I had a busy six months, so now I’m not eligible for insurance, because I’ve had a busy six months. Now the record’s been out for a year, so I’m not as busy anymore, and now I qualify for insurance again. It’s always been so back and forth and up in the air. I used to be on something called MinnesotaCare, which is pretty decent insurance, if you’ve got low-income. But I would only qualify for it once every couple years, depending on how the records were doing, and how the shows were doing. I don’t see that getting settled anytime soon. But that might just be me being pessimistic about it.
Do you have an estimate on when you might be able to tour, or is it way too soon to start talking about that?
I’m hoping to get a date on when my transplant will be in the next week. Once I get that date, I’m going to try to book a tour three months out from the date. Anywhere from five to eight months, I’ll try to be back out there.
Other musicians have donated to the fundraising campaign – Trampled By Turtles, Rhymesayers crew, a few others. Justin Vernon is on the new record. You’ve got friends who make music that a lot of people care about. Have you thought about doing a Sweet Relief sort of thing, or a StefAid concert?
I haven’t, because — well, I thought about it right away, I thought, “Maybe I’ll do some sort of show! Maybe I’ll put together a CD or download for iTunes or something!” But the way that the fan response came in, the last thing I want to do is ask for more than I need. The last thing I want to do is receive more from this than I need. I don’t want to have anybody feeling like they donated and I’m profiting off of it. That feels like a shitty way to go. That’s why we kept the donation amount so small, based on what I’m actually going to need. Half because I don’t want to be gouging my fans, and the other half because I want to be on the road earning again as soon as possible. I’m just trying to cover until I can get back out there.
We Don’t Even Live Here is out now via Rhymesayers. Donate to P.O.S.’s kidney fund here.