By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
Raise a glass to MC Naeem Juwan Hanks. "I had a shot [recently] in Baltimore called 'the bird,' and I think it's the best comparison to the Spank Rock collaboration," says the man known as Cool Disco Spank Rock (aka Spankro). "It's a combination of things orange on the bottom and the top black and it was both amazing and naaaaaasty."
A collaboration between Hanks (the black on top) and producer Alex "Armani XXXchange" Epton (more white than orange), Spank Rock came up from grimy parties in Baltimore (where the crew met), Philadelphia, and Brooklyn (where they moved). Augmented live by Baltimore Bass Connection DJs Chris "Rockswell" Devlin and Ronnie Darko, the group aims to make the crowd perform just as hard as the entertainers, no matter where the roots get put down.
In the wake of the hype surrounding B'More club music an up-tempo, strip club-friendly modulation of hip-house and a distant cousin to ghetto-tech and Miami bass that emerged in the early '90s Spank Rock has become most associated with Maryland's Charm City. It's poised to have listeners cracked out like they're on Sparks and Percocet with the group's debut full-length, YoYoYoYoYo.
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"It's like this Spank Rock thing is becoming a movement," Hanks says. "My boys are all over URB's Next 100. People are almost building our rep for us because, thanks to DJs, they're picking up on all kinds of gutter music. It's like the title of the record the more yos, the better; it's a perfect word because it's second nature, like the way we drop that fat, funky bass."
Spank Rock's booty bangers, however, may be Hanks' third nature. His original interests lie in the conscious hip hop of Mos Def, Common, the Roots, and the Rawkus Records era. But in the past few years, Hanks found that his peers in Illadelph DJs including Diplo and Low Budget of Hollertronix and Cosmo Baker and Ayres of the Rub were less concerned with "keeping it real" and more into keeping it real funky, which allowed him to step into a rico suavesex-rap persona. Of course, none of this would have come to fruition without Epton's rhythmic contributions.
With a background in hardcore bands followed by a collaboration with sampling rock act Zero Zero, Epton knows his way around EFX pedals and Pro Tools. His production on YoYoYoYoYo's 12 tracks is like a conversation between a calculator and a Geiger counter while ESG plays in the background, or like Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest spitting over robofunk. In any case, you'd never know it was a living room creation.
"Spank Rock is remixing songs that were never there to begin with," Epton says. "I have a lot of stuff recorded on my hard drive lyrics and beats and later, I stick it together in a collage. [It's] no surprise [that] when I was little, I'd be playing Legos and not build what was on the box. The way I work is to have the blocks lying around to see what sounds good with each other."
For his part, Hanks pays obvious attention to certain ways of projecting and pushing voice. His tongue "is the drum," and his mind is "the machine," he claims. Exaggeration, aspiration, exasperation, and perspiration all fuel Spank Rock's verses. Taking offense to reviews that have questioned his level of irony, Hanks says there is a playful nature involved but no buffoonery.
"I'm a rapper, I'm not a superhero," he says, offering haters the bird. "And Alex is a musician. People will have their opinions about how serious they should take us, but we've got no conflict. We want to make music because it's what we like and it's what we want people to like."
And that, without a doubt, is what Spank Rock does best.