By: Chris Pacifico

Spank Rock
2006 was quite a year for hip-hop. It started on a sad note in February when the underground producer/exemplar J Dilla passed away at the age of 32. The Roots dropped their seventh studio album Game Theory, which they called their most serious to date. Kool Keith‘s best known alter ego (one of a gazillion), Dr. Octagon came back after a ten year hiatus with The Return of Dr. Octagon. Aside from re-emerging from a “retirement” no one actually believed would last, Jay-Z released a “comeback” LP and managed to take a chunk out of Cristal champagne sales by boycotting the brand after the company’s managing directors covert racism came to light. If there was one thing overlooked by the mainstream music media it was Spank Rock, a group with the power to save rap music from the pretentiousness and easy gimmicks that plague it these days.

The Philly by way of Baltimore duo of Naeem Juwan (aka MC Spank Rock) and producer Alex Epton (aka Armani XXXchange) and their debut release, YoYoYoYoYo, has not only changed the playing field of rhymes and production but also marks a zenith in hip-hop’s creative dynamic for the 21st century. The album was mostly recorded for fun before Big Dada signed them. “It’s all coming out now that they didn’t want to sign us in the first place,” says Epton.

Along with Juwan’s rapid-fire rhymes there’s Epton’s signature hodgepodge production which incorporates drum n’ bass, big beat, Miami bass, robo-funk, acid house, G-funk, techno and a whole lot more with stabbing bass lines and infectious verses. “It’s more like up-tempo rap music for the club,” says Juwan in the green room backstage at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia with Spank Rock’s extended crew partying all around us.

Spank Rock
Epton’s good ear for what makes Spank Rock so pulsating and speaker-thumping ranges from what some journalists and critics claim was his brief apprenticeship at record label and hipster dance consortium, DFA Records. When I inquire about how he landed it, Juwan shouts, “A lot of dick sucking.” Epton says, “My friend who I went to high school with DJ’ed over there and he was a music technology student at NYU. So I went over there but then they got rid of me because I was too stupid. I always wanted to do shit for rap music but just in a totally different way.”

After relocating from Baltimore to Philadelphia to study at Drexel University, Juwan spent a week with underground producer Shawn J. Period over at Rawkus, one of the labels most responsible for thrusting underground hip-hop acts such as Talib Kweli, Common, and The Beatnuts into the limelight. “He really helped me learn how to be a recording artist. Just watching Mos Def come through the spot and record songs for all the Soundbombing projects and shit like that was really inspiring,” says Juwan. He’s quick to credit the vast eclectic vinyl collection he had as a kid. Juwan recalls, “They used to joke around in the projects and call my mom the black hippy because she had a whole lot of records from like Bowie, Chicago, Yes, and shit like that.”

They used to joke around in the projects and call my mom the black hippy because she had a whole lot of records from like Bowie, Chicago, Yes, and shit like that.

-Naeem Juwan (aka MC Spank Rock)


Just about every track from YoYoYoYoYo is suitable for getting a groove on or getting blunted in a beanbag chair. The album is rife with sexual innuendo though classy in how it’s pulled off – a feat not seen in hip-hop since the Jungle Brothers first pulled it off in the late 80’s. While Spank Rock has weathered comparisons to the likes of 2 Live Crew, the music is deeper; and after spending a few minutes at a live Spank Rock performance it’s crystal clear that these artists whip up a frenzy to get down and dirty no matter who you are. You’d be wise to have some hot water and Epsom salts waiting to soak your feet in afterwards.

Spank Rock by Christie Harrison
Spank Rock also rolls big with an extended crew that makes the adventures of fictional actor Vincent Chase on the TV series Entourage [one episode even featured the Spank Rock tune “Bump”] seem like a kindergarten field trip. Among this crew is Plastic Little, whose recent release, She’s Mature, is a hilarious jab at the world of hip-hop while still being rap for the thinking man. Amanda Blank is an upcoming Philly MC with a sassy word flow and a husky voice in which you can hear all the Newport’s she’s smoked.

A key aspect to Spank Rock’s distinctive approach is Juwan and Epton’s mutual disgust for the current state of affairs in hip-hop. “When we first met we were really upset about how dry and non-creative it was but since then there’s been a lot of really cool shit poppin’ off especially from a lot of kids in the South and a lot of those Parisian motherfuckers and all that weird electronic shit which is right where we like it,” explains Juwan.

“What pisses me off the most is when people aren’t being creative in what they do or when there is like one artist or group that does something new or groundbreaking and they you’ll start to see people doing the same thing, not just with popular hip-hop but the underground stuff as well. It becomes dry and predictable. So, really the lack of creativity is really what the problem is. If you want to talk about something being overlooked, it’s that grime music [Lady Sovereign and Dizzee Rascal] in the UK,” proclaims Juwan.

Check out a sample of “What It Look Like” here.

Check out Rick Rubin’s “Clean” video here.

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