SPANK ROCK at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Saturday (April 15). $13.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
From scanning his press, you might assume Naeem Juwan is living the life of a stone cold playa. Magazine features depict Juwan, aka Spank Rock, working the mic from atop a bar. Scantily clad admirers are grinding his knees while he accidentally spills libations over their heated bodies. Reviews of his early 12-inch singles hail him as the new king of filthy party bounce, with club bangers like Put That Pussy On Me glistening in his crown.
Pop in his new joint, YoYoYoYoYo and you get repeated "Tap that ass" chants in Sweet Talk, and songs like rump-rousing, party jam Backyard Betty, which chronicles the triumph of an ass-shaking competition champ.
This lanky MC with oversized glasses must be the Robert Crumb of rap, and an interview phone call will no doubt be taking the prurient lyricist away from something carnal.
"I'm just chillin' at my mom's house right now," says Juwan softly and politely, as if she's in the same room.
"You got to sell yourself and make people believe in your magic. When it's showtime it's showtime. But it's entertainment; it's important to remove myself from what I'm putting onstage. If I got to be Spank Rock 24 hours a day, I'm going to be a real asshole. Besides, I have much respect for women."
There's definitely a duality about Juwan's character. The Philadelphia-via-Baltimore MC gets credited for repping the Baltimore club sound, a dirty concoction of Chicago house twisted with baile funk and some Miami bass thrown in for good ass-moving measure. But ask the MC who he takes lyrical inspiration from and he'll list names like David Bowie and Joni Mitchell.
"I've listened to Blue over and over," says Juwan about Mitchell's 1971 classic. "The way she writes a song is like a journal entry. She's really honest and inspiring.
"I think it's hard for people to understand where I'm coming from, but if you listen to the album, digest the lyrics, dig deeper and see what I'm saying, it's more than just Put Your Pussy On Me.
"The record is uptempo, and I wanted it to have a party vibe, but I didn't think people would discredit everything else. A song like Competition is very different from Backyard Betty. I'll leave it up to the listener to decide."
Juwan claims to be holding it down for Illadelphia, a city known for producing conscious rap artists like Common and Mos Def. It's where he met up with his turntable militia: live DJs Ronnie Darko, Chris Rockswell and his producer Alex "Armani XXXchange" Epton, whose pan-genre sample-swiping and 808 beat chemistry caught the ear of influential Hollertronix mash king and fellow Philly resident Diplo.
Before Juwan could say "Arular," Diplo added Spank Rock to an MIA tour and brokered a deal with Ninja Tune subsidiary Big Dada on his behalf. The outing led SR out of hiphop's underworld and into the curious genre-jump contingent of MIA's indie rock sphere. However, the crossover move puts Juwan in a bit of a career quandary.
"One of the things I'm dealing with right now," he explains, "is whether I should stay in this indie scene. Will I just become a trend or will I be taken seriously as a songwriter? The indie world seems pretty dedicated to indie rock. I'd like to be more involved with hiphop, but I'm not, because I took a lot of liberties with my music. I have friends in both scenes, but hopefully I can develop my own following."
No matter what scene embraces Spank Rock, despite his playboy stage persona and raunchy rhymes, he can always count on one particular fan for support.
"She never gets excited," jokes Juwan about his mother's attitude to his rising fame. "She'll say things like 'So I guess you're rich now, huh?' because sometimes I still got to borrow a couple of bucks."