Prof: If I can justify it and be smart enough, I can say anything
Photo by B Fresh Photography
Minneapolis rap troublemaker Prof has pushed all our buttons for over a decade now. A mixture of party-starters, gross-out tales, and personal exploration fills the three volumes of his Kaiser Von Powderhorn mixtape series, his King Gampo album, the Recession Music collaboration with St. Paul Slim, and prior work with Rahzwell (Project Gampo, Absolutely), and it's all part of the Gampo oeuvre. There's plenty about drinking whiskey, he incites the moron within all of us, and he clearly has a fascination with nearly full-term pregnant women.
But Gimme Noise wanted a bit more about Prof ahead of his two weekend shows -- Friday is 18+ and Saturday is all-ages -- at First Avenue have been sold out for months. We sat down at Merlins Rest back in January to try and fill in some details about Powderhorn, whether he has children of his own or not, his creative process, if Jameson is sponsoring his misbehavior, and what his mom thinks of his rhymes. Some of it made it into this week's cover story, and a good lot more is here in this extended Q&A.
Gimme Noise: How do you compare your Gampo persona and your autobiographical songs to what Rick Ross does?
Prof: Artists can always "Rick Ross" it and just make up a whole new [persona]. He's so good that people are like "All right, fuck it," he's just that persona now. That seems really hard to do to me, it just seems much easier to say what I am, and what I'm not. Almost all the "emo" songs are 100 percent true, all the over-the-top songs like "New Kid," you know, I don't have 35 houses and 70 mortgages. That's me playing with that. Anything with any touch of sincerity is all real though. I was raised in Powderhorn, I was on welfare for seven years, my family house is still there. It's all there, it's all true.
You got the Prof nickname from your days playing basketball. How serious of a player are you?
I have knee injury right now. It seems like I have one every year, but I love basketball. I would rather be a professional basketball player than a professional rapper. I'm only 6'1" but I can dribble. Before this knee thing, I was able to dunk. In high school, I was dunkin' all the time. I used to be able to jump pretty well. I love defense, I could get talkin' about basketball with my friends forever. I didn't play in high school, I made the team but I never really played. I was a snowboard instructor in high school too. I made the varsity team during winter, but I always needed a job too. I always just played the streets, but I made it and my mom was like "Well, if you play basketball, you can't have a job, and no income," and I made the decision at the time because I needed money, so I decided to go for the snowboard instructor thing.
Photo by B Fresh Photography
Where did you go to high school?
South High, '98 to '02. I've had a bunch of jobs ever since I was 15. My mom wouldn't let me in the house otherwise. So I taught after-school programs, just watching kids, there was a pottery class at South that I liked. I got good at it so I taught kids pottery after school. I taught basketball to kids, I did a bunch of shit. I worked at coffee shops. I never flipped burgers, couldn't do that shit. I worked a photography shops and stuff like that.
What was the first fast rap you remember hearing in that era?
It was probably Twista. He was the first one that I remember really doin' that. Outkast too, a lot of that rap in the '90s, the trips like [mimes a triplet] Bone Thugs, it was pretty popular in the '90s. It was just there, and I kind of soaked it up. Like even Rakim has some fast raps that are pretty technical.
Why aren't you within the Rhymesayers system?
Isn't that weird? My music and Stophouse's whole thing -- it's not the anti-Rhymesayers, but it's kind of like the Get Cryphy thing. All of that shit was going on at the same time. I would go and host Get Cryphy like every month when that first came around. And I was a party rapper, which is totally anti-Rhymesayers from a spot of getting crazy drunk and listening to Jay-Z and Kanye West in a club, like Top 40 shit and going crazy. It's very similar to Rhymesayers with that independent thing, but it's very different philosophy, and content.
You're obviously a city guy, but you seem to tap into that rural thing in some of your stuff.
Yeah, like the white trash let's get drunk and build a fire and break shit? I always felt really similar to Yelawolf as we were coming up. Obviously he was more in the limelight. I felt like were always close in talent and I was more an urban version of what he was. We could both do the party, fast rap shit, but he would go and do some country shit and I'd go do some jazz, whiskey some blues shit, a little more urban-focused.
I was a skateboarder too, more of a skateboarder than a snowboarder. Skating and rapping was all the same shit. Everybody skated. I was a skater before I was a rapper...I think. Everybody got together and skated, you know, it was anti-culture shit too. Like rebellion or whatever, and people started drinking and going to parties and I was freestylin every night. That was like all I ever did, like every night for seven years I got fuckin' drunk and freestyled and skated, went to house parties, that's how I learned how to rap.
Probably about freshman year of High School I joined a group called the Blend that still kind of exists, haven't been with them in years. A group called Agent Orange with another white rapper, Tim Shay from the north side. Then, with Rahzwell. You'd just get faded and the best thing to do was fuckin' freestyle -- it was like better than sex. Havin' a nice buzz and then killin' a freestyle was the most creative, mind-opening shit ever. It was like crack, and I was addicted from then on. Then I got good and started doing shows and then that was addicting too, that rush. I don't freestyle nearly as much as I did back then. But the shows now, night in and night out, that's my rush.
How hard is it to work a crowd?
That takes practice. A lot of these kids in Minneapolis right now with their buzz or whatever -- when they're doing shows and they think they're hot -- put them on the road for the month. They think it's all glamor. Put 'em in Tuscon, Arizona on a Tuesday in front of 10 people. Even when you don't want to do it. You feel like you're going up there and clicking your heels and dancing like a monkey, and entertaining people. Can you still be your best and grab all those people so next time there'll be 20, or 30, or 40 or 50? All these people want that lifestyle, but to really go out there for two years hard and tour like that -- to have the heart to really do that and then want to come back out and do it again? That's super rare.
For all the bottles I've seen you with, do you have a deal with Jameson?
[laughs] I wish! They should give me a fuckin' deal. My first experience with alcohol was like cheap shit, like Phillips Vodka. Whiskey wasn't something that kids drank. People didn't drink whiskey until they were like 25 really. That was kind of why I attached to Jameson. It's not Patron or Cristal or whatever, this is my fuckin' drinkin' man's whiskey! That's why I wanted to rep that too, along with that blue-collar shit, and I still drink it. It's still on my rider every night on tour. I get sick of it, I drink almost everything, but Jameson's just like the go-to whiskey for me. Sometimes I switch it up and get Makers Mark. I like Powers Whiskey, Paddy's is good too.
What's your singing background like?
Zero. I've just been singing more and more, I work hard on it and I wrestle with it on tour. That's the hardest on my vocals. I could sit up there and rap or whatever, but when I gotta come through and hit this note every night that's crazy high? That's why I don't smoke any cigarettes on tour, I don't smoke any weed on tour. That's the only thing I really care about. When I get sick, it's horrible because I gotta cut the singing songs out of it and that's like half of my live shit now. If I'm in front of a new crowd, I'm like "Fuck, now all I can do is rap" and they're not seein' shit. That's the number one reason I've been taking care of myself more and more on the road. Just so I can hit that one note a night. I don't give a fuck about my body, when you're up onstage and you wanna hit this note and you can't. It's like whiskey dick, dude. It's like impotence. You're helpless, powerless, I feel like I don't have my powers.
Do you ever get flack from other rappers for giving away so much of your music?
Those motherfuckers really don't know how much it takes to come out of that hole and actually feed yourself afterwards. I love it, god bless these fans or whatever, but some of 'em think I own a big house and shit and I'm ballin' and I'm really not.
Would you actually live that lifestyle?
I'm about this. In this game I might not be fuckin' popular five years from now. 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.
How long have you been "that guy" that says the shit that no one else is gonna say?
That's me. That's always been me. I've always been the class clown. I've always been gettin' in trouble and shit. I would make teachers cry. Like if they put me together with a couple of my friends in high school? Oooooh shit, it's goin' down. We would act out fake cry like I'm fighting with someone, and I'd put on all these different personalities and stuff and these teachers would have no fuckin' clue what to do with me. I'd be meeting with the principal every week to talk about my progress. I made the principal cry. She called me the devil. I was almost expelled for throwing a kid over the fence and breaking his arm during pep fest. He sued me for $16,000, and they tried to expel me. I graduated from South. It was fun, dude. High school was so much fun! I made the classes very fun for everyone involved. I was never a bully. I never fucked with anybody, I just liked to make it loose.
What's your family life like now?
My mom's married to my step-dad. She lives with him in Linden Hills. My dad's dead. He died when I was in my early 20s. My step-mom still lives in that house in Powderhorn. That's the central house where we all grew up. So we still have that. I have a lot of siblings. Eight, including step-siblings. There was times where we were all broke and we had a table with almost 10 people there eating. It was nuts, but it was great.
What's up with all the pregnant women in your video and cover art?
Dude, love it.
Do you have children?
[Laughs heartily] I have a lot of children. I have actually seven children. No, I don't have any children. For the Kaiser Von Powderhorn 3 cover, Mike [Campbell] and I have all the creative ideas, I just need to run 'em by Mike's pocketbook real quick. So for KVP I just wanted the whole No Limit cover. And some normal models. So we sent out a Facebook post like, "Bikini models come in and do your thing." And one girl was like, "I would, but I'm all the way in Ohio and I'm 8 months pregnant." We read that and laughed, and then I looked at him like [gasp] and deleted all the other shit. We put up another post like, "PREGNANT WOMEN 8 MONTHS OR HIGHER COME ON IN," and it just started lighting up. Phones were ringing off the hook and it was just like, the greatest moment of my life. That photo shoot was so intense, dude. The energy of all these pregnant women. And they were all fans of mine and all knew exactly what to expect. They were in good moods, and they were kinda giggly. But all that fuckin' estrogen and like all the girls were talkin' amongst themselves. And they take off their clothes and we're like "Oh my god, we're about to take a picture of this shit!" It was great. That's why I like rap so much, it gives me an excuse to do weird fuckin' shit. Travel the country and travel the world and my ideas can come true.
There was a moment once where I'm riding down Snelling Avenue over here on the south side. I'm in an old-school Mustang drop top, license plate's illegal, on a hella drug dealer hookup. No tabs, I got a bottle of Jameson, I've got three pregnant women in bikinis in the back, no one in the front, and I'm driving up and down. There's this huge van driving along side with the camera in it. The music is goin' and I'm thinkin' "What the fuck?" I thought that video was gonna go viral for sure. I thought it was gonna blow up, but it's those moments that make it all worthwhile.
Speaking of blowing up, you have a line about being a needle and not wanting to be found. What does that mean?
That's kind of a complex line for me. Because I do want to be found, I do want to be successful, and I want people to hear my shit. But on the other side, I see people just blowing up out of nowhere. I'm super competitive, and I'm angry about eveybody's success all the time. But then I see it, like 75 percent of people that shoot up like that just fall right back down. I know already that I've built enough solid fan base for me to live the rest of my life off of if I continue to work. And it won't go away, and I know, I've tried as hard as I can to have these people's backs and I know they have mine. I know I'll be fine. So I'm a needle. I'll find my own way. Privileged enough to be built by the people. I'll work with these people here. Like a major label, I'm not sitting here begging for them to discover me. I'm just fine now, and I'm completely happy with that.
What do you think about "being underground for the sake of being underground" then?
I haven't met a single underground rapper who doesn't want to be world famous. I've come across a lot being like "Nah, fuck that, I'll deny all those deals, I'll deny any shot at opportunity," which is completely bullshit. People who say that know that they already suck and that that won't happen, so that's their crutch.
Why don't people put you at the level of Rhymesayers or Doomtree?
It pisses me off. With Mike [Campbell], 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 Ave without a fuckin' question. And for this show, these next two, we're working for two in a row and for one solo rapper to do that, that list is, you tell me, who can do it? I have my people coming to my shows. A write up doesn't necessarily bring people to your show.
So when you do get written about, are you accurately portrayed by the press?
Perception vs. reality. It's so hard to give a real interview. It's impossible to give one interview where someone will understand. I've almost given it up. For me to put it all into your recorder or for someone to read the article and be like "Oh, I get him." I mean, it's not gonna happen. No one's really gonna understand me unless they're personal friends with me. Unless you've kicked it with me maybe 10 times, then maybe you'll fuckin' know. Beyond that, it's almost impossible. People are gonna spin it however they want to, through music, through house parties, through tales, through press or whatever. Like I said earlier, that's not my job. I need to stop worrying about that and let it be.
What do you listen to?
I don't like shit anymore. I mean, I really don't like a lot of rap. Most of the local shit, like, I won't name names, but it's probably you, it's probably everybody. I'm a Scrooge when it comes to that, because all I can do is critique it. Now it's like I understand everything, like why do you take a breath there, what's his metaphor here. It's lost all magic. And the only thing that I won't critique once and a while is stuff outside of rap like Louis Armstrong's greatest hits. Like what I'll listen to and just take a step back. Rap music, I just can't listen to it anymore because it's like a formula. This other shit, like, I'll listen to Van Morrison and be moved, but I haven't had like a really good moving experience off of rap music in like so long.
How do you make your own stuff then?
[Laughs] Well, this is gonna sound conceited, which I probably am, because I'm a rapper. But I get moved of creating my own new music. The next day, if I wake up and play it again and I don't know what to expect when I hear it, I'm like "Yes." I'll give myself goosebumps, and I haven't gotten goosebumps off of rap from anybody else, but I'll get goosebumps off of all types of other music. I used to write rhymes in a notebook, I used to fill up both pages and just write 'em. Now my left side is all ideas and semi-sentences at work and my right side is good. So half of my shit is completely edited before I even put it on now. I'm constantly thinking like nah nah, can't say this, can't say...I'm thinking more when I write. I don't know if it's a slower process, but I think it's smarter for sure.
Has Powderhorn ever been properly captured in song?
I haven't written a good Powderhorn song about what it truly feels like, and what I smell and what I feel. But I love to rep where I'm from, and I love Powderhorn. Powderhorn in the '90s was hard fuckin' time. I got jumped so many fuckin' times just trying to walk down to the park and back. Being one of the only white dudes around. My house got shot up by an automatic weapon by accident while we were at home at night, at 7 p.m. I got dropped off from school on my bus stop and there was a drive-by shooting -- three killed right in front of me in broad daylight. The police had to interview me. That made me who I am. I wouldn't wanna go back, I don't wanna glorify it at all. That shit's not fun, I'm way better off now than I ever was. Even being an independent and not under my mom or whatever. Mom had it hard. She was a single mother, four kids, on welfare, going to MCTC to become a teacher. She still is a schoolteacher. She's still working, she should be retired. I've got stories there, and I've got everything invested there, and I don't know who can speak on it better than me. With a public voice, I'm sure some of my neighbors could speak on it better than me. Someone that, with this amount of people listening, I don't think anyone is talking about Powderhorn like I do.
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen
Does your mom like your music?
[cackles] Not really... She's always kind of let me be who I am, she's let my light shine, she knows I'm a creative type that does all this shit. But sometimes I talk about some shit that your mom don't wanna be hearin', so she's heard it all. I told my mom "I wanna be able to say what I want right now, because I'm young and maybe later on I'll have some morals and I can always cut back, but this is my time, I can do it all right now," and I don't want to be pigeonholed into one area. I wanna be like a comedian, if I can justify it and be smart enough I can say anything. She's like "Okay, I understand. I saw a Robin Williams special and he was saying some really nasty things! But I was laughing, it was some funny shit" You know, she gets it. She was upset once because Peter Scholtes interviewed me once and I said something about when we were broke, with Gampo, when were stealing some shit because we were hungry. She said "I provided for you! I worked so hard! You were never hungry!" And I was like "Nah, it got twisted, I said I was hungry so I went to the store to get some snacks. You know... it was never like we was starving..." She took offense to that! She hated that, because she did work hella hard, she's the hardest-working person I've ever met in my life.
In the prep process, is there any difference between the album and the mixtapes?
No, I mean, I call them mixtapes but I put so much work into those songs because I love the beats. Those industry beats, sometimes I want to steal because I can't get them from local people. I'll write just as hard, and I'll record just as hard, and edit just as hard, it takes just as long, but I can't possibly make a profit off of it. Like some shit off of King Gampo I can license or publish it. This shit I can't. It's just for fun. Sometimes your best shit comes when you just let loose for fun.
What're you gonna do with the rest of your year when you get back from touring?
All writing, all studio. There's things in the works that I can't tell you, but I'm already workin' on it right now. This year, maybe fall. We got people who are getting paid now, and we've got interns, and I can't just stop and chill. This could be my only few years where I'm really earning. I know Dillon and Mike'll have everything ready. Like when I get home they'll allow me maybe four days to a week tops to to deconstruct and do my thing. When I come back from a tour, dude, I would love to have like two weeks. What I would love the most is to have one week at home to walk my dog a lot -- I miss that motherfucker. Then the second week to go out in the woods, to go to a cabin somewhere after I'm home and acclimated. Then I'll come back and start the studio and drink and socialize and shit like that.
Photo by B Fresh Photography
How has your privacy changed as more people recognize you?
When I'm at home, I don't go out as much as used to. I don't go to Get Cryphy as much, it's just different. I'm starting to get hounded a little bit. Before I'm getting recognized when I go out to Noodles and Co. Now it's like two or three people coming up to me and it's getting a little more stressful, which is weird because I've always looked at the tabloids and been like "Fuck the paparazzi? Fuck you!" I mean, I took ya here and you can write about it, because I don't go here anymore. Most of them motherfuckers already know me. But sometimes when I'm at home it's all work no play dude.
We were recording for King Gampo and Dillon Parker was like "I heard an artist say that his best times were before he blew up because he was still having fun and everything was still real to him. This could be the last time we really truly have fun and have dreams and ambitions." And lately, I completely agree with that. I know it's just business, and I've just seen it. I've opened up for big shows and see how the business runs. It's not as glitzy and glamory anymore because I've already been there. I still do appriciate it when people come up to me and want a picture, I'll still do it. It does make me feel good the more it happens.
But there's part of me where that privacy's kind of leaving, you know? You don't see Slug out as much as used to happen. I've had conversations with him about that. I'll go to a Timberwolves game with him, and it's just reality now. I don't want to go all the way there. I was at Lollapalooza when Atmosphere was playing there, and Eminem headlined. He rolled in there, and we had backstage passes to everything, but when he was about to go on, everybody was kicked out. Backstage was huge. It was like four or five blocks, tents everywhere. Everything was shut down. He went on and he did his thing, and when he left, 12 different SUVs went in all different directions, so they'd be guessin' which one was he in.
I've always wanted to be rich and famous, but now I'm starting to realize what it is. So do I wanna keep going and be like, 10 years and 15 years from now I'm just in some huge suburb gated community grilling, I've got a great expensive grill and a family or something but like...I don't go grocery shopping? I dunno, I don't wanna have security guards with me when I go grocery shopping.
So do you think Eminem is still relevant artistically?
If he's getting quality controlled and people are telling him what to say, then no. But I get a feeling he says whatever the fuck he wants. So artistically, he's earned it. His artisitc quality, I think that fluctuates. I think he's one of the greatest rappers of all time. Jay-Z is one of the greatest rappers of all time, I got nothin' but respect for those dudes. And I'm pretty sure those dudes call their own shots, and that's how I wanna be throughout my whole life and my career. I don't wanna anybody dissecting my rhymes and going "Don't say this...don't say that." I want 100 percent creative control where I am at all times. So that might mean underground, or if a major label tried to buy out the whole Stophouse contract, and did everything, and I could take my team along, great, I'll do that. But, I doubt it.
How often do you deal with the "white rapper" tag?
In this day and age, if you're a real hip-hop fan, you know there's white rappers everywhere. So some people who compare me to Eminem think there's only two white rappers out, me and Em and that, but it ain't that at all. He's fat and happy and he'll do whatever he wants. But there's nothing like a young and driven-ass hungry rapper like he was and like I am -- what a lot of these Minneapolis rappers are today, and that's what's attractive. So if I ever get old and I'm not hungry anymore, I move on to something else and do some blues or somethin'. Almost every rapper gets worse, they either blow up and get successful or... no matter what it be usually every rapper, besides Jay-Z, who's still hot and relevant, almost every rapper gets worse when they reach a level, and I'm constantly worried about when that is for me, and how the fuck does that happen? It's never happened to me yet, and I've been rappin for over a decade. Just been getting better, and topping myself, and if it does happen, when the fuck will I be worse? Hopefully at that time I can afford to be worse and I can already support myself.
How much planning goes into the surprises for the mainroom shows?
I like to be home, and be there like two or three weeks before the
show, and come there during the day to look at what's physically
possible in their space. Like, "what kinda weird shit can we do?" I feel like it's gotta be
crazy, you can expect that for sure. We've even talked about being on a
rope, and what's possible swinging around and shit, like really dumb
shit that probably shouldn't work. We've tossed it all around. It's not
there yet, but by April our ideas will focus in and we'll know what we
can do. With our shows, we almost don't come out on top money-wise.
Last show I threw $1000 out into the crowd, in ones, at First Ave. at the end. That's what I love about Stophouse. I'm in there like "What do you want to do for the show Prof?" "Can I have $1000." Businessman Mike Campbell, all the numbers, he's got 'em, he's like "For what?" "I wanna throw 'em out to the crowd..." like, the worst thing possible to say to the financial guy. And he goes..."Yes, let's do that shit" [laughs]. I have like one picture of me going like "blaaaaaow" and people on the balconies were throwing it at the same time so the whole fuckin' venue...it was rainin'! That was an amazing experience, and people will remember that, so hopefully that's another investment, that we can do this twice in a row in April.
Prof. With Mac Lethal, I Self Devine, and Haphduzn at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 12, 18+. With Mod Sun, Culture Cry Wolf, and Meta at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 13, all ages. Both shows are SOLD OUT.
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