It was a regular Wednesday in the Rose city, when rap shows make a pit-stop in Portland to re-up on weed and play in venues with overpriced well liquors. The Oregon Liquor Control Board or OLCC doesn’t really like rap music, because all us rap fans do is blaze trees, sneak in flasks, write our names on the walls, wear gang colors and start fights. This was basically unlike all those shows minus the blazing trees part. The venue was about as filled up as it could be on a Wednesday night in the 28th largest city in America.
Mess Kid was on the wheels of steel and spun some good shit to get the night started. He rocked the after-party quite well also (more on that later). I downed a $6 well vodka tonic and kicked it with a few other rap nerds talking about the art they do for Soundset in Minneapolis, another guy about how he saw MF Doom play a show and it was the worst thing he’s ever seen (he’s seen him play horribly multiple times) and spoke with a journalist from Wisconsin who I assume will eventually work at Buzzfeed when he realizes that journalism is basically just marketing now.
At this point we head outside so my friend could have a smoke which is when I hear the music of Baltimore gutter emcee Spank Rock come over the loud speakers. At this point I get hype but I don’t see Naeem Juwan AKA Spank Rock and I ask the door man, “Is Spank Rock playing right now?” He responds, “yeah I hear he’s out on the floor rapping amongst the people.” I tell my buddy he needs to put out his bogie and we roll into the venue. Like many Portland rap shows, the scene is weird as fuck and we witness a lot of hipsters, some b-boy looking guys, a few people who just randomly walked in off the street when they heard that familiar thump from the bass we all know and love and like 2, maybe 3 Indian-Americans.
Spank Rock played a great set and although I always imagined seeing him in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland perhaps rocking the stage with his fine femcee partner in crime Amanda Blank while the stage and dance floor is surrounded by booty-poppin’ dance obsessed supermodels from Brazil, this was most definitely not like that since most of the room was full of bearded Portlanders resembling Timber Joey.
As Spank Rock rolled off stage after a great set, he kicked it in the merch booth with his homie Aziz, selling his music and we spoke about things that matter like the Ghostface/Action Bronson Beef (not Meek and Drake). I ask Spank if he knows about what the bearded Albanian chef-turned-rapper said about Pretty Toney AKA the Ghostface Killah. To which Naeem admitted he did not. I explain the beef and how Bronson let slip that Ghostface is “not rapping like this no more.” At this point, Spank Rock knows when to respect the architects and says “Fuck Action Bronson, I shouldn’t even know who that is.” I give him daps at this point and think to myself, no rap fan could ever think that Action Bronson > Ghostface Killah.
Though the Baltimore rapper is currently touring with Himanshu Suri of Das Racist fame who is friends or at least acquaintances with Action Bronson, both of whom are from Queens, I explain why I pretty much agree with him, but I still appreciate Action Bronson for the content of his songs rapping about burning cheese like saganaki and other ridiculous capers (the act, not the berry). Not only that, but if it weren’t for rappers like Action Bronson or bloggers like Dallas Penn, I would’ve never come across the fine and goodly works or back catalog of a rapper by the name of Meyhem Lauren who may be one of the biggest Polo aficionados and good rapper dudes out of Queens. I tell Naeem that I really liked his Fabriclive set and he told me that his “people” put that together for him. I also tell him I looked through all my record crates and couldn’t find my vinyl copy of YoYoYoYoYo to get signed because I realized I had let a friend borrow it a few months previous right before the show. I ask Juwan if he, like all other people from Baltimore loves crab? Like asking an Inuit if they like seal meat he says “hell yeah” and I tell him next time I come out to Baltimore for one of his shows the crab is on me and to just bring the old bay.
Between sets, local DJ Anjali gets on the 1s and 2s and plays music while attendees swill more drinks and dance like only white people know how. Out of the corner of my eye I see a blondish looking brown dude as I am buying a copy of Eat Pray Thug on vinyl wearing what I have so lovingly described over the last few years as the hipster girl hat. As I gesture to my friend that I came with “hey yo it’s Heems,” he geeks the fuck out and goes over to take a selfie with Young Coco Butter. My friend asks if I’d like to go get a picture with him, I brush it off and say no since I feel some type of way about twitpic-ing and shit just to show I affiliate with someone. As I borrow a sharpie from one of the staffers to get my vinyl signed by the headliner I say to him “Hey Heems, I was wondering if you could sign this?” He corrects me at this juncture and says “Nah man, call me Himanshu.” No doubt he prefers to be called Himanshu instead of the “shorter version” or “nickname” that white people like to give us like they did to Kunta Kinte in the much-celebrated miniseries Roots. One of the Minneapolis homies who I had met earlier in the night comments to me “Hey yo, your boy Heems lit as fuck” in reference to Himanshu seemingly having thrown back a few drinks before arriving. I ask Himanshu if he knew that Hari was in town (in reference to Hari Kondabolu the comedian and older brother of Dapwell AKA Ashok Kondabolu former member of Das Racist)? Himanshu responds with a “no” and I leave it that since last I heard Das Racist didn’t end on the most harmonious of notes. Our short interaction ends and the homie goes out to smoke another one.
Himanshu then takes the stage to start his set. At first it was rather comical because he couldn’t get the audio equipment to work correctly, no doubt a missing audio jack, aux cable, input or output. After Mess Kid who was spinning earlier comes out to fix the situation–which he does–Himanshu begins what I can only describe as a cross between karaoke and DJing interspersed with performances of songs off his new album Eat Pray Thug. He stumbles back and forth, covers one song maybe about 5 times in a row and at one point almost falls off stage. I wish I could be that lit on a Wednesday. However, the times that he actually performed his own music was the highlight of his show for me. That, and the point where he played his new joint “Coconut Oil.” The song is about having a Punjabi girl rub coconut oil in his hair, something that a lot of Indians and Indian-Americans grew up with, that familiar scent, which if it were Amla oil, would make me gag. A lot of people said that they were embarrassed for him and how bad his performance was. I just kinda shook my head and thought, It’s Portland on a Wednesday night in Oldtown, I only wish I was as turnt as he was. The thing is, fans put rappers and artists up on pedestals and in a spotlight that they may not necessarily even want to be up on. They’re just people after all and it’s just rap. What made me feel like I was more than just another digit or drink ticket in the hand of some rapper dude I don’t know is that both Himanshu and Naeem kicked it with us like we were all just people spinning around on this fucked up strange globe and we all have one thing in common: we like rap music.
As the night goes on I figure, alright, it’s 11 PM, maybe 12 AM, time to pack it in and call it a night to get some sleep in time for work tomorrow. But it’s on those random Wednesday nights in Portland when rappers make their pitstops in Portland on their way to San Francisco or Seattle or LA that they say hey “why don’t you come to the after-party,” and all your aspirations of at least 7 hours of sleep before chugging Stumptown coffee go up in smoke, literally and figuratively. Naeem and Himanshu provide the address for the private after-party at ServicePDX and me and my friend make our way to the East side of the river.
We park out front and walk up to a nondescript building with a red neon sign in the window inidicating “Service” and what looks like an office attached out front. Confused, but following the thump of the music, we open a door that seems like it would contain an insurance agent ready to give you a quote for your ’96 Chrysler Caravan or ’97 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Edition. When we enter there are 3 young gentleman who ask “do you have an invite?” To which I say yeah, Spank Rock and Himanshu invited us. We pay a cover and enter what I can only describe as the complete opposite of the vibe we experienced at the concert venue earlier. The ratio is right, the DJ Mess Kid from earlier is spinning, the drink prices were at East side rates and they took square, ahhh the East side, so much more refreshing than that parking lot with no spaces and constant construction better known as the West side.
We get some drinks, bullshit with the other people at the afterparty and I end up talking with some pretty cool cats about subjects I can’t recall. Himanshu gets up on the small stage and covers some more songs and raps a bit, some of the people there scrunch their faces up at him when he covers the same song a couple of more times, while one very pretty hipster chic defends him like the Leave Britney Alone guy and ends up being his arm candy the rest of the night. Later Himanshu comes up to me and asks “Was I too fucked up on stage?” to which I respond, “Hey man, that’s just what we do, we get fucked up sometimes, it’s just a part of life, you had moments of clarity when you were rapping, and those were the parts that I enjoyed the most.” I also tell him the song I wanted to hear most all night was Patriot Act off of his new album Eat Pray Thug which actually made me cry when I first heard it. He says, “nah man, that song too serious.” I’m assuming he doesn’t recall this exchange, but it was a moment that cemented in me that this here is an authentic artist willing to bare his soul to strangers who will either crucify or support him for it. I know the only money that artists get paid these days is from touring and selling merch since most rap fans like to try it before they buy it and I didn’t have any regret getting to hear new music, kick it and politic with these good dudes. As the night wanes on a lot of business cards go around, twitter handles are exchanged and it all comes to an end.
Some of my favorite Spank Rock and Himanshu songs:
1. Spank Rock – Rick Rubin
2. Mylo – Drop the Pressure feat. Spank Rock
3. Spank Rock – #1 Hit
4. Mr Muthafuckin eXquire feat Heems, El-P, Danny Brown, Kool A.D., Dapwell – The Last Huzzah (Remix)
5. Heems – Flag Shopping
7. Heems – Coca Cola Freestyle
6. Heems – Patriot Act
You can follow Spank Rock on Instagram: https://instagram.com/spankrockofficial/
Get his most recent album The Upside.
Follow Himanshu on Instagram: https://instagram.com/nehrujackets/
Buy Eat Pray Thug on iTunes