Featuring nothing but the gyrations of a particularly impressive female behind, the video for "Backyard Betty," Spank Rock's debut single, has a clear purpose: to get them asses shakin'. But the music is far from standard club hip-hop fare; in fact, the MC at the helm, 24-year-old Naeem Juwan, would rather avoid classification altogether.
YoYoYoYoYo, Spank Rock's first full-length album, is a detailed collaborative effort: Naeem raps over beats ranging from Baltimore house to Hendrix, artfully layered by his childhood friend and producer, Alex "Armani XXXChange" Epton.
Naeem attributes the eclecticism of the music to his move from Baltimore to Philly to become a Drexel student (and one-time Penn partygoer). "We come from Baltimore," he says, "and the cultures don't really mix up too much." Though early exposure to traditional hip-hop and the ecstatic phenomenon of 'B-more' club house continue to be profoundly influential on the pair, it primed Naeem for a musical awakening.
"I really didn't know much about rock or punk or '80s, so when I went to Philly, things were a lot more diverse. I heard things I'd never heard before, stuff I didn't even know I had a love for." Naeem owes the new way he adopted, in his words, of "seeing how things connect," in large part to the relationships he formed with iconic Philly artists - DJs Diplo and Low Budget and Brit rapper M.I.A. among them.
Now it's Spank Rock's turn to influence. Over the surprisingly effective blend of Neptunes drums, Miami bass and the intro to the Beach Boys' "California Girls" in one version of his club favorite, "Put That Pussy on Me," Naeem raps, "I create styles of a superior taste / that some white boy's sure to imitate."
Though this year Spank Rock's unique style has been met in the mainstream with critical acclaim, the change that most interests Naeem is the fans' "insane" level of enthusiasm - measured, of course, by their booty-shaking. Now endowed with a following that includes pockets of international hipsters (no small feat for an artist without a UK label), Naeem just wants to serve his growing community of Spank Rockers. Fame, as it turns out, is conducive to dancing: "Before I always felt like we had to prove ourselves to people," but, "now it's really raw, I-don't-give-a-fuck energy."
Now on a five-date stint with Beck, Spank Rock's circle is glamorously expanding; YoYoYoYoYo, it seems, is not only the smartest booty album out there, but the most versatile. But for Naeem, it's still all about the club. In the chant of "Sweet Talk," its anchor track, he checks his cleverness with a return to his roots: "Stop acting like a bitch and throw your hands up!" Sweet talk indeed.
Spank Rock will be appearing with Beck at the Tower Theatre (69th & Ludlow Sts.) on October 23.