Super Pak: The Spiritual Odyssey of Mad Decent's PO PO

The Philly-born Pakistani's first album, Dope Boy Magick, is a wonder to behold.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 28, 2012

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Photo by Photograph by Ryan Strand Greenberg

The rollout begins with black sheep of @maddecent POPO … five years in the making
-@diplo, Feb. 18, 2012

     Listen to Po Po's "Final Fight".

     Listen to Po Po's "Dnt Wnt U Jst Wnt It All".

     Listen to Po Po's "About U Boy".

Here it was: every musician’s worst nightmare. Jahan Zeb Malik, “Zeb” to friends, was living in his tiny practice space on Columbus Boulevard, sleeping on a dirty mattress he’d crammed in amongst the maze of gear and the straggle of guitar cords. He had no shower. No fridge. No stove. No closet.

His diet at the time mostly consisted of gas station hot dogs. Though sometimes he’d splurge for a gas station hamburger. The year was 2008, and everything had pretty much gone to shit.

“It was a pretty miserable lifestyle,” says the Philly-born Pakistani, looking bleary eyed while eating a pear on a bench upstairs at the Market East station, one of the oddball spots he likes to hang. “Awful.”

Zeb couldn’t help but think, as did his two brothers, Shoaib and Hassan Malik, that the time to call it quits was nigh. They’d been a band, PO PO, for only a short while, and had already experienced a gigantic high, one that only served to make their current low feel lower.

Just a year prior, Zeb, his brothers, and then-bandmate Mike Collins, were touring Europe with Nine Inch Nails. Plucked, they were, by the hand of Goth God Trent Reznor himself.

PO PO had cut a rough demo they’d recorded in a Bryn Mawr party house they were renting, and it wound up in the right hands. Before the demo, they’d played only a handful of open mikes at spots like the Grape Room, along with a few West Philly basement shows. “We went from playing for 15 people at Tritone one night to playing in front of 25,000 in Portugal the next,” says Zeb, still in awe at the thought of it, still eating the pear.

They were invited from the basement into the penthouse faster than you can say, “I wanna fuck you like an animal.”

Reznor liked what he’d heard on the PO PO demo, no doubt. But it’s certain he’d really liked what he’d seen in the PO PO promo photo, too: three gargantuan, long-haired, imposing Pakistani brothers, each hovering around 6-foot-5. Reznor was, according to Zeb, on “some hardcore political shit at the time,” and many a Nine Inch Nails video around that time bear that out—each is permeated with an undeniable and angry Big Brother is watching you vibe. The prospect of flying across the pond in a post-9/11 world to tour with three guys who would make TSA agents shit bricks on sight probably held more than a little appeal to him.

So was the NIN tour a lark? A fluke? Was it the peak of a career that needed to just end already, or the auspicious beginnings of something that could be bigger still? It was something Zeb thought about while eating gas station pork product.

PO PO decided to make a choice about their fate on May 29, 2008, at Johnny Brenda’s, where they were filling an opening slot for Athens, Ga.’s Dark Meat, a (not kidding) 17-piece collective of cacophonous hippy-dippy love children who play Southern rock/free jazz. PO PO would quit if the show sucked. If it didn’t, they’d suck it up and keep the band going.

The night was magic. A band friendship between PO PO and Dark Meat ensued. The three Pakistani giants would eventually head down to Athens to feed their inner Michael Stipes for two weeks of hippy-sponsored, sun-soaked Georgia glory.

“It was such an inspirational time down there,” says Zeb. “It was the first time I was around any sort of hippy vibe, for real. I think it really changed us for the better. Anyone from Philly should hang out in a city like that just for a little bit. It felt like a warm hug after being in the cold.”

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