Inquiring Minds

'Gampo' Rapper Prof Believes In Nothing, But Also Himself

Like any artist, Prof is aware some listeners will appreciate his work more than others, which is why he’s a bit cavalier about one of the worst reviews he’s ever received. The Minneapolis rapper returns to Houston tonight at House of Blues, four years after his 2011 release, King Gampo, was reviewed by a hometown critic as “rap at its worst.” The reviewer went on to suggest the record was “asinine, narcissistic self-indulgence run completely riot, without a shred of redeeming artistry.”

“Either he only listened to the first two songs or the album was way out of his league in terms of where he thought music was going,” reasons Prof.

I’ll side with the artist here and suggest that his newest release, Liability, is a welcomed addition to rap’s canon. In fact, if Prof's collected work could be equated to one literary classic, it would be The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. The songs are ribald, frequently funny first-person narratives, chock full of double entendre, wild diversions and unexpected poignant moments.

Most of all, it’s interesting. The first rhymes I ever heard him rap were from “Gampo,” the opening track from that 2011 album and Prof’s attempt to get a new word — representing a shady type of character — into the vernacular. Yes, you can find “gampo” in the Urban Dictionary now. It evokes odd visuals with rhymes like, “like a samurai on a llama ride down a water slide” and is a bit of an anthem for a country that’s actually considering electing Donald Trump president. Later, I was stopped in my tracks by “Myself,” Prof’s too-real account of living with his bipolar father, which includes the haunting refrain, “I believe in nothing, I believe in myself.”

Prof says the new album is not much different, only better, in his opinion.

“When people write about new artists, they’ve got to generalize them really quickly so people can digest what they’re about,” he noted. “If you listen to Liability, you can’t just sum it up in a paragraph. If you picked out a song in there like ‘True Love’ versus a song like ‘Apeshit’ or ‘Mob,’ you’d think, how can these possibly be on the same record? If you listen to the record, how it flows, it’s a different experience.”

We asked Prof, presently in the opening half of some two dozen tour dates, what he recalls about Houston. He says he was here with Atmosphere last year.

He’s on the road constantly, so one city might seem just like the next, we figure.

“Everybody just does lean and fucking acts real slow, right?” he says, with no hint of a joke in the delivery.

Just like Shandy’s Laurence Sterne, the humor was sneaky and caught us off-guard.

“That was basically me joking, that was me kind of giving you a nudge and a poke” he explaines. “I know how people generalize and stereotype regions and their music. I’ve toured the country the past five years and I’ve seen a lot of that. In Texas, in Dallas and Houston, there’s been a lot of stuff happening lately with different styles and shit. It isn’t necessarily what Houston was on ten years ago.”

Prof started rapping ten years ago, so we asked if he’s where he expected to be at this point in his career. He just signed to Rhymesayers Entertainment and is now a labelmate of rappers known for wordsmithery, like Aesop Rock, Brother Ali and MF Doom.

“I started off nice and ignorant, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I thought I’d be retired a billionaire by now,” he jokes — we think. “When you do everything DIY, it’s a slow come-up, a slow grind.”

It’s also one built on the success of Prof's live set. He’s not one to simply pace the foot of the stage, he said. He wants to vibe with the audience and said he’s not above giving them an “emotional poke in the face.” His onstage antics have resulted in a knee surgery and a blown back. But, he says, it’s part of the job, and an important one.

“You gotta prove your live show. I think that’s where a lot of artists are making a living. People fucking spend their money and take time out of their day to come to a show like that, I’ve gotta have ‘em leaving like it was worth it.”

The injuries and tour pace set him back between releases, he said. But, those things also gave him time to perfect Liability.

“I had two or three fucking surgeries, so I had a lot of rehab time," he says. "The record took a long time to make. I never wanna go three years without making a record again. But, it’s the best work I’ve ever done, hands down, by far. I hope it’s got legs and people just share it with other people.”

Prof believes it will catch on because it speaks to many. Not everyone, maybe. Even Tristram Shandy was panned by some in its day. But, he says, there are elements in the songs that stir enduring emotions in listeners that negate even the worst reviews.

“I get so much positive shit and reviews off the records when they release,” he notes. “It really means a lot to me when people are like, ‘This saved my life,’ or ‘You got me out of an abusive relationship,’ or something like that.”

Prof brings the "Liability Tour" to House of Blues' Bronze Peacock Room tonight. Doors open at 8 p.m.; all ages, $15.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.