November 7, 2006

Originally published in the Brag magazine (

‘He’s off doing the rock and roll thing’, laughs the Big Dada employee. ‘He’s disappeared with some girl’. Considering that ancient adage of ‘keeping it real’, it’s actually a relief to know that MC Naeem does indeed talk the talk. Because for all the hype of the post-revolutionary sound the tech-ridden beats of Spankrock’s new album YoYoYoYoYoYo are drenched in, Naeem’s rhymes are that tried and tested old skool formula – one part sex with two parts filth. If the man’s saying ‘put, put, put, put that pussy on me’, then chasing skirt is, I concede, a more than satisfactory reason for him not to be anywhere within earshot of the phone for the scheduled time of our interview. But life on tour is to be soaked up, and for these three Baltimore dudes, the temptations of a European road trip are taking their toll, as producer XXXchange and the amiable and talkative DJ Chris Rockwell explain. ‘Yeah man, we got big hangovers, we got up to some bullshit last night’ says XXXchange when I enquire as to Naeem’s whereabouts. ‘We just did an interview with radio, but Naeem needs like a LoJack, you know, one of them fuckin’ things you put on turtles, like a GPS.’ It’s sure different to Maryland, admits Chris, where the bars stop serving drinks at 1.30 and hurl the patrons out at 2. By all accounts they’d ‘been hanging for along time’ for this tour, and so they’re making the most of it.

‘Alex (XXXchange) was into jazz and drums, and was getting into down tempo and trip hop and post-punk stuff’, explains Chris when I enquire as to how it all got started. After XXXchange hooked up with budding Baltimore MC Naeem Juwan, who’d previously been rubbing shoulders with Shaun J Period and Rawkus Records artists, the formerly seminal indie hip hop label from NYC, they teamed up with Rockwell to giver their live performances that extra edge. ‘Basically’, sums up Chris, ‘We were all just wanting to go out and have a good time’- and fuck, it comes through in the music. For these US b-boys being in Europe makes a lot more sense than it might. Signed to Ninja Tune offshoot Big Dada, they possess a sound more at home in that continent’s more diverse modern musical landscape than their native US. ‘Yeah I listen to a lot of European music’ says XXXchange when prompted. Although the early nineties sounds of US booty-bass and ghetto-tech styles are more than evident in the tracks that have journalists from the Guardian to NME, and from the SMH to respected rap-rag Hip Hop Connection jizzing their loads with joy, XXXchange cites producers from a wide range of spectrums as influential to his wigged out soundscapes. ‘Yeah, you got some people in the states doing stuff like that, but I listen to a lot of stuff by the guys from Modeselektor (techno), Maurice Fulton (electro) and different sorts of European stuff.’ But when I ask if its exciting to be on Big Dada, home of Roots Manuva and New Flesh amongst others, he laughs that he’s far more excited by UK garage rude-bwoys and So-Solid aficionados Roll Deep than his dubbed out label-mates.

The unwillingness to fit into a box, or rather the subconscious desire not to, have had varying effects on hip hop crowds worldwide. ‘For our first show in New York’ Chris laughs, ‘we had all of our drummers and dancers on stage, we we’re like rocking out in the booth, with Naeem jumping all over the tables, and then people were like asking Alex (XXXchange) to move because they wanted to drink!’ Certainly not what you want when performing, but New York is New York, and Amsterdam proved a different experience- ‘We opened up for KRS One (the ‘Blayst-Master’ he chortles in an amusingly mocking Dutch accent) and people definitely didn’t know what to expect, but after a bout five songs they started to kick it off.’

When we chat they’re in the London offices of Big Dada, only a few hours off from playing ‘super-club’ Fabric, where they’re to hit the stage following the UK DMC finals, but what with the previous night’s hangover still weighing heavy they’re perhaps understandably less than hyped. Whatever the receptions they’ve had, reputation should mean there is ample enthusiasm to welcome them to an open-minded Sydney for their Basement gig, accompanied by Spaserock, on June 18. Rocking out with Chris on the decks and a sampler, with another effects box and Logic running on a laptop to the side, Spankrock live sounds like an impressive far from sit-down affair. ‘Yeah we heard a lot about Sydney, some good friends of mine just moved from there to New York. They’re a punk band called Deathset. We’d really like to tour with them’. How that might turn out is anyone’s guess. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any messier.


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