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, but he was hiding out from his cronies.
“Anytime I get home, my friends are always like, ‘Come on, let’s go drinking,’ ” Prof said last week. “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, oftentimes 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. One veteran arts writer, Dwight Hobbes, did take it on, calling it “rap at its worst.”
So it might have been poetic justice when Prof became the first interview subject to get this music 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 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. “Get drunk! Break shit!” he chants in the chest-beating opening track, “Me Boi.” And that’s just the start.
Twin Cities rap guru Slug of Atmosphere called his contribution to the “KVP3” EP — in the sexually warped track “Swimming” — “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 material.
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 Nickatina.
“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).
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 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.
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 on stage, but otherwise I don’t drink before the sets,” he explained. “What I get drunk for are the meet-and-greets afterward, because everybody else is so incredibly drunk. It’s hard to pull that off sober.”
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 the bulk of his albums have been handed out for free. For the Atmosphere tours in 2011, they gave away a staggering 50,000 copies of that year’s full-length record, “King Gampo.” Nearly 30,000 more were doled out as free downloads. This sales tactic — or lack of sales, rather — has earned Prof scorn from some of his fellow 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, adding that most of the giveaways are to fans who have seen him perform live.
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 masseuses, 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 shit 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 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 fucked-up stuff,” he said. “For me, as long as it’s either funny or justifiable, 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.
Serious sides of Prof
He’s not just a comedic rapper. Here are three songs selected by Prof himself that best show off his other, more pensive side.
“Myself” — “It took me a few days to write it, and I cried the whole time. It’s about my dad burning our house down when I was 15 years old, after we got into an argument. My dad was bipolar, one of the most loving guys I’ve known but also an abusive character. I didn’t ever want to perform that song, and now I perform it almost every night. The first time I did it live, I saw people’s faces change and some of them crying. You don’t get that too much with party songs.”
“Borrowed Time” — “It’s sort of a political anthem, which people probably don’t get, and it’s about new generation vs. old generation, changing culture. It’s fun, too, super-dancey, so that’s partly why people might miss what it’s really about.”
“On My Way” — “It’s one that has a clear positive message. Anytime you feel like you [messed up], or if someone you love dies, how do you react? It’s about making a commitment to being a better person, and about trusting in yourself and working hard for yourself as the best revenge.”
With: Mac Lethal, I Self Divine and Haphduzn (Fri.); Mod Sun, Culture Cry Wolf and Meta (Sat.),
When: 9 p.m. Fri. 18-plus; 7 p.m. Sat. all ages.
Where: First Avenue.
Tickets: sold out.