As he put down his cane and limped into the whirlpool at the Ivy Spa in downtown Minneapolis, the city’s trashiest rap star explained why he came to such a classy joint upon returning from a two-month tour. Not only was he on the mend, he was also hiding from his cronies.
“Anytime I get home, my friends are always like, ‘Come on, let’s go drinking,’ ” Prof said Saturday. “I just can’t. I’ve seriously been drunk every night for the past two months.”
Drunk or not, like him or not, he’s the only Twin Cities music act in the past six or seven years to sell out First Avenue without any support from 89.3 the Current (the station can’t play a lot of his music for obscenity reasons). And now Prof has sold out the club well in advance for two nights in a row, Friday and Saturday, homecoming gigs to wrap up two maniacal years of full-steam touring.
Prof has toured with Murs and Atmosphere, gotten Yelawolf to guest on his record and smartly built a following by giving his music away for free, including 80,000 copies of his 2011 album, “King Gampo.” However, his jokey, bratty, often-times groin-driven, sometimes sexist brand of hip-hop has also largely been lost on local music writers accustomed to covering conscientious and emotion-driven rappers.
So it might have been a little poetic justice when Prof became the first interview subject to get this particular writer naked on the job. With apologies to my wife, he’s also the first person to ever talk me into a couple’s massage.
“This is the freakiest place I’ve ever been,” whispered the real-life Jacob Anderson, 28, after we walked into the spa’s hushed, low-lit relaxation area — the only two dudes in a zen den of refined, polished women all dressed in white Ivy robes. “I feel like we’re being signed up for some kind of cult,” he added.
Prof was surrounded by women in a whole different light on the gangsta-rap-mocking cover of his last EP, “Kaiser Von Powderhorn 3,” which shows him seated between a harem-like trio of very pregnant women in bikinis. Prof might not have even been allowed on the Ivy premises if the contents of the EP had been heard.
“Get drunk! Break [stuff]!” he chants in the chest-beating opening track, “Me Boi.” And that’s just the start. The EP includes a fake radio call-in skit in which he falsely outs a girl for pleasuring him. There are much more graphic — and reportedly real — phone messages from other women describing in X-rated detail what they’d like to do with him.
And then there are a lot of lyrics like these in one of the EP’s stand-out tracks, “New Kid,” featuring like-minded Eminem protégé Yelawolf: “Undeniably the baddest / I ain’t worried long as I know where you dad is / Uh, where your cousin at baby?”
Twin Cities rap guru Slug of Atmosphere said his contribution to the “KVP3” EP — in the sexually warped track “Swimming” — was “the most idiotic stuff I’ve done in years.” That was neither a joke nor an insult. Slug’s bawdier early recordings might be the nearest local comparison to Prof’s current line of work.
Slug and his bandmate Ant deserve a lot of the credit/blame for plucking Prof from the periphery. They recruited him and his DJ-ing partner Fundo to open Atmosphere’s first Welcome to Minnesota Tour and a subsequent Family Vacation Tour in 2011. “We had to strong-arm our way onto that tour,” Prof clarified. “They didn’t really want us.”
In a separate interview, Fundo marveled at how far they have come since then. The duo just returned from a two-month trek with Los Angeles indie-rap vet Murs as a warm-up to Murs’ Paid Dues Festival, with long treks in between alongside other breaking indie-rap stars such as Grieves and Andre Nikitina.
“We played to triple the size of crowd in Portland from the last time, and the last time was just in November,” said Fundo (Chris Young).
Also part of the locally adored Get Cryphy DJ quartet — which Prof cites as a major influence on his party-centric rap — Fundo said, “He’s in the same territory, telling people who are into underground rap that it’s OK to have fun and lose your mind every once in a while.”
Licking the wounds
Soaking in the whirlpool before our massage, Prof somberly showed off the dire side effects of losing his mind every night.
Tall and lanky, the Minneapolis native makes an imposing figure on stage, with a devilish-looking shaved head and beady eyes that seem to be daring you at all times. He mostly dares himself in concert, stage-diving frequently and working himself into a hyper tizzy.
“If I get off stage and don’t feel like I have to puke, I feel like I didn’t go hard enough,” he said, listing off his wounds.
Foremost among them, a herniated disc from a tour a few years ago still bothers him. He also blew out his knee near the end of this latest trek and is due for surgery next week. Thus, the spa visit was not just another chance for Prof to act like a high roller for comedic purposes.
“Performing live is what I’m best at, and I love it, but I would love to not rely on it,” he said.
The main reason he drinks so much on tour, he said, is to maintain the zany, boozy character he portrays on stage and on record — sort of the indie-rap version of Dean Martin. Except Prof isn’t drinking apple juice every night.
“I might have one quick shot before going onstage, but otherwise I don’t drink before the sets,” he explained. “What I get drunk for are the meet-and-greets afterwards, because everybody else is so incredibly drunk. It’s hard to pull that off sober.”
His touring partner Fundo described a scene where “everyone wants to buy you a shot, and it actually means something to them to do it, so you hate to turn it down.”
Onstage and backstage, Prof is a masterful traveling salesman. He and his partners in the Minneapolis-based Stophouse Music label are so sure he can sell himself on tour that a majority of his albums have been given out for free.
For the Atmosphere tours in 2011, they handed out a staggering 50,000 copies of that year’s full-length record, “King Gampo” (“Gampo” is a Prof-trademarked term for being a nutcase, named after a childhood friend). Nearly 30,000 more were doled out as free downloads.
This marketing tactic has earned Prof scorn from some of his fellow rappers and musicians in town, even more so than his sometimes objectionable music.
“I always tell them, ‘If you’ve figured out a way to make money selling your records, congratulations, but it doesn’t work for me,’ ” Prof said. He clarifies, though, that they don’t just blindly give out the CDs.
“These are people who have already seen me perform, so they already know me and know what I’m about. They can’t get me on the radio, but they get me onstage.”
Rubbed the wrong way
Of course, another good way to get to know a rapper is through a couple’s massage.
With Enya-style, waterfall-shimmery music for a backdrop and our tables side-by-side, Prof seemed to take the last big step unwinding from his tour during our 50-minute session — although he never fully shed his wiseacre skin.
“I’m glad we booked the four-hour massage,” he joked to the two massage therapists, whom he repeatedly called “girls” to their faces.
The criticism most often lobbied at Prof is that his lyrics and imagery are misogynistic, from the lewd and sometimes demoralizing sex talk to his angry and loose use of the B-word. He defends some of that as lampooning other hypersexual machismo hip-hop. But he doesn’t feel the need to defend all of it.
“I’ve said a lot of bad [stuff] about men on my records, too,” he points out.
“Yeah, I’ve called some women a bitch in my songs. I’m not thinking about all women. I’m thinking about some girl from my memory that completely deserves to be called that.”
Ironically or not, he grew up surrounded by women, the only boy in a household with four sisters.
His parents split up when he was a toddler. His mom later remarried a Jewish man, which led to young, previously unreligious Jacob studying at Temple Israel in Uptown and even nearly having a bar mitzvah. He also spent part of his childhood living at his stepdad’s place in posh Linden Hills, in addition to the rougher Powderhorn neighborhood. (Speculation that Prof is actually a rich kid who faked a poor upbringing for his rapper persona is unfounded; welfare was a reality for his family for many years.)
Nowadays, Prof’s mom might be his toughest critic.
“She said, ‘You really say a lot of horrible stuff in your songs,’ ” he recalled. “She had trouble realizing what it was all for.”
While he partially shuns the tag “comedic rapper” — “I don’t want to be seen as the Al Yankovic of rap” — he did point to comedians to explain his approach.
“Comedians can say a lot of really [messed]-up stuff,” he said. “As long as it’s funny, they can get away with it. For me, as long as it’s either funny or justifiable in even the most obscure way, I want to be able to always say whatever I want.”
After the massage Prof was, not surprisingly, speechless: “I want to nap for about three days,” he said. And for once, it didn’t sound like he was kidding.