The general impression that the thriving Twin Cities’ rap scene begins and ends with the Rhymesayers conglomerate is worse than wrongâ€”it’s insulting to us locals who, despite giving due props to Atmosphere for blazing a national trail and Brother Ali for being fucking dope, know that those representatives are just the tip of this iceberg. Not that “Project Gampo,” the newest offering from Prof (one half of the Southside staple Prof and Rahzwell) will change outside impressions much, as it’s bound to be relegated to local heads who already knew the kid was nice. This despite the fact that he’s audaciously employed ATLien production duo the Beatchefs to construct the soundscapes, managing the deft task of giving the collabo an organic no-coast swagger, both literally and in spirit. Also despite the fact that dude could most likely spit circles around your favorite MC, conquering the eclectically-constructed southern beats with seeming ease, equal parts venomous invectives, cleverly cynical double ententes and machine gun flows. Universally pleasing pathos never sounded so local.
To start with the MC: as a duo with Rahzwell, Prof is adept at trading verbal fire with his equally passionate partner, and while here the heat remains, the solo format allows him to expand and extrapolate on already established themes while revealing new nuances. A complete circle MC, you’d be hard pressed to find flaws as Prof remains sharp and on attack from the opening salvo. With flavor bursting out his temples similar to Busta circa “Scenario” and verbal dexterity rivaling Tech N9ne, his technique is frequently iller than that dude with the rings in Shaolin Drunkard. The flow constantly plays his Beatchefs’ dynamic beats like Billie Holiday flirting with a fat bassline while staying Ziploc tight. Content revolves around both reveling in and temporarily escaping from the mundanities of being a working class twenty-something in a major city; so while we get descriptive details like finding “sunflower seeds in my car seat” and willingly going downtown after a traffic stop (“ah fuck it, might as well, I ain’t got no where to be”), we also get delicious escapism in songs such as the sexy “Move & Grind” and the behemoth lead-single “Rocketman.” Showing flashes of aww-shucks sincerity isn’t corny because it’s genuine, twisted and self-depreciating, and along with the well-deserved feeling of superiority on the M-I-C, Prof skirts the thin line between emo and invincibility with aplomb, to say the least. That means plenty of braggadocio (that proves itself in real time, being delivered in innovative rhyme structures and wit) mixed seamlessly with real world stories of debauchery and salvation. So of course we swerve from sex-anthems to drunken escapades to the rap standard Momma ode without getting car sick.
A large part of the disc’s success is obviously due to the Beatchefs’ masterful production here, creating songs that stand up nobly on their own but blend together even better. Seemingly using the kitchen sink technique of interesting samples over a staple of strip club beats and soul-drenched instrumentals, flourishes include a looped chorus featuring 70s crooner Harry Nielson and some bonkers Bollywood-style vocals, to name just a few. A lazy comparison of the fresh sound innovations employed here would be to compare it to projects like Bubba’s “Deliverance” or CunninLynguists’ “Dirty Acres,” in the way it updates an established formula without losing the soul. These beats are so alive you can practically hear them breathe, so it’d be a formidable task for any MC to conquer them; thankfully Prof ain’t your run-of-the-mill (cuz for the mill he don’t run). Taking full advantage of the magnetism between artistic brethren, the pairing melds styles and geographies effortlessly. Missteps are minor, the most overt being the pleasant but superfluous throwaway “City of Lakes (freestyle)” and a few chanted choruses that lack the surrounding energy. Otherwise, this is a succinct and densely-packed journey through a good dude’s head, a fun-land where listeners are equally likely to encounter shady cops and creative landmines as they are to fall into drunken trysts or cloud-level ascensions. Perhaps a better title than the unintelligible “Gampo” would’ve been “A Bizarre Ride II the SouthSide.”
As Djay explains to Skinny at the end of Hustle & Flow (and I’m paraphrasing here), “One day, this whole motherfucking place is gonna be gone…And a whole new civilization is gonna rise from this one. And they gonna start digging, you know…but if they really wanna know about me? Wanna know about Minneapolis? All they gotta do is find Gampo. Motherfuck it, man. That was the shit.” This right here is for us, but ya’ll are certainly welcome to put down “The Undisputed Truth” for a hot minute and join the party anytime.