Off the deep end with Prof
Prof knows full well he doesn't need to do this interview.
This realization came long before he was a rapper. A rough childhood in the crime-ridden Powderhorn neighborhood of south Minneapolis turned the guy born Jacob Anderson into someone who doesn't expect the world — let alone the music press — to nurture him.
He asserts as much on the confessional "Myself" off his 2011 full-length debut, King Gampo. In a markedly pristine singing voice, Prof lays out the mantra: "I believe in nothing/I believe in myself."
He does, however, believe in punctuality. On a snow-covered evening in late January, City Pages meets a camouflage parka-clad Anderson deep in residential Minneapolis at the Rail Station Bar & Grill on Minnehaha Avenue. It's trivia night, so the building's packed, and after sitting a minute, we decide to depart for a quieter spot. He gets behind the wheel of a silver Audi, which he later says belongs to "his great-great-great-grandpa."
A mile north, we arrive at Merlins Rest, the neighborhood bar on East Lake Street in Longfellow. This working-class joint proves comfortable for the 2002 graduate of South High. So comfy, in fact, that he robbed the bar in the video for "Fire," off 2009's Recession Music.
It's the fourth Monday of the month, so it's "Shanty Pub Singing" night, and a crowd assembled in the dining area belts out an old spiritual, "The Key to the Kingdom," which repeats the line, "The world can't do me no harm."
"This is fucking crazy," Prof says with obvious delight. When he grins, his thin Clark Gable mustache gets framed by two deep dimples. "I didn't know white people got together and sang this type of shit." (Although his blues-sampling song "Whiskey" is definitely this type of shit.)
He orders a platter of sausages and a pint of Guinness.
"Slug says it all the time, he loves rap music that comes from the struggle, and he's like, 'Your music is struggle music,' even if it's like 'Moron,'" he says, referencing the revelatory cut that closes out Prof's latest mixtape, Kaiser Von Powderhorn 3, which was released in the fall. It melds a synth-blasting beat from Doomtree producer Lazerbeak's Lava Bangers stash with the rubber-faced rapper calling out his people — many by name — to put their "whole ass" into dancing along. The video was filmed at the St. Louis Park Roller Garden, and is nothing short of a wild rumpus.
"That's a celebration," Prof continues. "Part of people forgetting where the hurt comes from is wanting to party. I'm still kinda battling with my message and what I want to say to people. I still don't really feel like it's my responsibility yet."
Prof's message can be a touchy subject. There's an assumption by a lot of casual observers that Prof's voice doesn't fit within the Twin Cities' conscious-minded hip-hop diet. But aside from a few Rhymesayers artists and members of the Doomtree collective, there's not another local rapper who can sell out First Avenue's mainroom.
Remember how he doesn't need this interview? Our Merlins Rest meet-up occurs two days before tickets for Prof's two mainroom shows — happening this weekend — go on sale. But he and his team are already all but certain that they will sell out. They were right: The 18-plus show filled up within 24 hours and the all-ages show was sold out by the end of February.
Yet Prof has received only a sliver of the press attention afforded most other locals who can command a 1,500-capacity room two nights in a row.
"It pisses me off," he admits. "We've tried just to make it to a level where we can just be bigger than any of the local press and say, 'Fuck you'; we basically already can. We can go without a write-up and sell out First Avenue without a fuckin' question.... I have my people coming to my shows. A write-up doesn't necessarily bring people to your show."
One recent write-up sums up much of the resistance to Prof. TC Daily Planet critic Dwight Hobbes characterized King Gampo as "asinine, narcissistic self-indulgence run completely riot, without a shred of redeeming artistry." While we'd agree that Prof joins a long line of braggadocious voices to hold the mic, it sure seems some locals are awfully pissed off by artistry that was carefully calibrated to piss them off.
"I've always been the class clown," he says. "I'd put on all these different personalities and stuff and these teachers would have no clue what to do with me." But turning into a comedic, dirty-mouthed rap persona in his late teens meant answering to another life-long teacher, his mother Colleen, who he calls the hardest-working person he's ever met. "She's like, 'Yeah, I understand. I saw a Robin Williams special, and he was saying some really nasty things — but I was laughing.'"
For those who can't stomach Robin Williams, the tawdry side of Prof could be a problem. A few of his songs feature salacious come-ons, such as the Slug duet "Swimming" ("Grabbin' on the lactose while I do the backstroke") that are easily pulled out by point-proving prudes. And the "get drunk, break shit" will of "Me Boi" may put off others, even though Prof includes a disclaimer at the end.
For his young, caffeinated audience, this overblown, Jameson-soaked world Prof has created in some — not even most — of his rhymes continues rap's tradition of exaggerated storytelling, from Eazy-E to Rick Ross to Riff Raff. His crazy personality is named for an old childhood friend, Gampo. As Prof explained on Twitter: "if we'd do something buck, or get BIG, we'd be getting GAMPO."
Within his fast-rap narratives, the joke is frequently on Prof — and it comes through on his trashy Kaiser Von Powderhorn 3 cover, which features him in a neck brace, surrounded by swimsuit-clad pregnant women, with a Dodge Caravan slung off in the background.
Still, it wears on him that this persona has become the one-note description of him. And Prof's music has always told his story better than the critics have.
In "Baby Jacob," for example, we learn that he was born during a tumultuous time in his parents' relationship ("He took so much of her soul/It's kind of like he murdered her"). Soon after, his mother moved out with his three older sisters, and he was left with a father who taught him to love basketball and cursing, but also what it felt like to be on the receiving end of physical abuse. It's a disturbing narrative that he says is 100 percent true, and it's part of a huge swath of songs that are expressive and — dare we say — deep.
"I don't want to be known as just this drunk dude who parties all the time, but that's the popular songs," he says. "What will come to the forefront is what people will play and party and listen to. That's where I'll make my name, but if you really want to dig close, there's [more serious] songs all over, like 'The Season' and 'On My Way.' People will take me in however they want, it's not my job to worry about that. It's the buyer's job to critique me."
The chief way Prof has brought in the "buyers" — fans, collaborators, and business associates — is his unmistakable live charisma and competitive business sense. In addition to being a rapper, Prof is part-owner of his own label, Stophouse Group. His partners are his manager, Stophouse CEO Mike Campbell, and Dillon Parker, who owns and manages the northeast Minneapolis-based Stophouse Studios, where Prof records.
Campbell first experienced Prof performing with his old recording partner Rahzwell at a "drunk show" at the Dinkytowner in the mid-aughts. They'd drink every shot and beer that came to the stage until Rahzwell puked, and then the show would begin. In spite of the antics or because of them, Campbell was won over.
"Nowadays in rap it's really tough to find someone, especially at that level, who really has a polished live performance, so that was the attraction for me," Campbell says. "From that point on I became absolutely loyal to trying to make his career work."
In 2011, Campbell's loyalty meant giving the go-ahead for Prof to throw $1,000 in one dollar bills into the crowd at his sold-out First Avenue show. They've also given away 50,000 promo copies of the album, and it has notched nearly 30,000 free downloads. There have been almost 16,000 downloads of Kaiser Von Powderhorn 3 since its release in September.
All of these freebies are seen as investments in Prof's longevity as a touring artist — which includes stints with Atmosphere, Murs, Grieves & Budo, and Andre Nickatina. So if rappers like him, and fans buy the tickets, records, and hoodies, why's he politely enduring this interview before heading back out on the road? It's leaving nothing to chance.
"In this game I might not be fuckin' popular five years from now," Prof sagely admits. "Right now if I'm gaining steam, I have to work as hard as I can for the next four years because that could be it for the rest of my career. If I do make money, I'm gonna make sure I invest it or save it and I got something to do in the future."
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