This is usually one of the biggest weekends of Prof’s always-hustling year. He’s often seen ripping up the stage and riding giant flotation devices over the heads of tens of thousands of fans at Soundset, a staple of Memorial Day weekend in the Twin Cities for the previous 12 years.
Like nearly everything else fun, though, the hip-hop festival has been called off for 2020 (one cancellation that actually predated the quarantine). So what is Minneapolis’ most volatile rapper doing in lieu of the big shindig?
“Just going crazy like everyone else,” he flatly stated last week.
Actually, Prof is about to drop what may be his most important album yet. He was supposed to be touring this month and much of the rest of the year to support it, too, cashing in on a sizable new booking deal with the William Morris Endeavor agency.
When those dates were suddenly put on hold because of the coronavirus, he and his handlers contemplated also delaying the new record. But that really might have driven him crazy, he said.
“I put so much work into this record, and it means so much to me, I didn’t think I could hold on to it any longer,” Prof explained.
“Whatever happens, I can always make another record some other time. I feel like this record is supposed to come out now.”
Due out June 26 via Rhymesayers, the album is titled “Powderhorn Suites,” a nod to the Powderhorn neighborhood of south Minneapolis that’s been Prof’s home for most of his 36 years. The songs pull from his troubled upbringing there as well his tumultuous life on the road.
The “suites” in question are the hotel rooms he calls home for much of the year. He envisioned each of the record’s 15 tracks as different rooms with different stories inside, starting with the come-to-my-party openers “Animal Patrol” and “Squad Goals” — the latter of which prompted a riotous “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”-inspired music video that hardly marks a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Darker and more dramatic, personal epics come later in the record, including “Ain’t We Rich” and “Flower Boy.”
“It’s sort of the full experience start-to-finish of staying in hotels,” the real-life Jacob Anderson explained.
“You have fun with each other partying in this room over here. And after you make connections and get to know each other, you wind up in a room over there pouring your heart out to one person or another.”
Prof not only took inspiration from his touring accommodations; he actually recorded different sounds and voice snippets during his hotel stays that are featured on the record.
He says he walked around with his phone’s audio recorder turned on for over a year’s span, capturing everything from check-in to an unwanted wake-up call to what sounds like the start of a fistfight.
“It took me literally days to go through and listen to it all,” he said. “I learned a lot about myself and how I interact and sometimes kind of control other people and situations with my personality, often not in good ways.”
The hotels themselves, he noted, “aren’t the legit trap houses we used to stay in.”
“We had a lot of years there staying at Super 8’s in the hood and places where bad [stuff] happened. Not anymore. Touring is our livelihood, and it just isn’t worth the risk of being robbed, or worse.”
“Powderhorn Suites” is loaded with enough lewd and jaw-dropping lyrics to re-earn Prof his offensive reputation. The mid-album romp “Geromino,” for instance, drops in a cringeworthy line commingling Sept. 11 and orgies.
However, the record’s most shocking moments might be when Prof opens up about his own damaged hotel rooms.
“Never had a happy family,” he repeatedly sings in “Flower Boy,” a song that details his late father’s struggles with mental illness and the abuse inflicted on his children:
“Trauma is in the bone, it resonates/ Minnesota Section 8/ Hard times perpetuate/ Driving blindfolded just to test the faith.”
“The scars are still there,” Prof said glumly. “My sisters are having kids now who never knew him, and they’re even stuck with the damage.”
That’s one of the reasons he said he has refrained from starting his own family. Of course, another reason is he’s still a long way from settling down, literally and figuratively. He insists he has mellowed, though.
“I maintain pretty good self-control these days on tour. I can’t be entering my 40s drinking and partying every day on tour.”
He was just a day or two from announcing his ambitious 2020 tour itinerary in March when it became clear the coronavirus would stymie those plans. He’s holding out hope some performances might still come together in the fall, but like so many other musicians he has no idea when he can return to the stage.
What’s more, he pointed out, “It’s going to be a hard adjustment for a performer like me, because I’m always in people’s faces. I’ve usually touched the hands of everybody in the front row even before the first song is over.”
In other words, it’s going to be a while before we see his fans crammed together closely enough to carry him over their heads in a life raft at Soundset. But he’s still taking them on a voyage of sorts in the meantime.