Rap Album Review: Prof’s “Horse” — Carrying Minneapolis on Your Back Ain’t Easy
By Jeremy Ray Jewell
Horse represents a victory lap (pun intended), a confident follow-up to the artist’s astonishing success with his self-release of Powderhorn Suites.
Midwest rapper Prof is renowned for his energetic live shows and distinctive blend of down-to-earth humor and social commentary. Being that he’s a white rapper from South Minneapolis running with a largely Black crew, irony and humility would seem to be an inevitability. To his fans, he is known as King “Gampo,” an ironic persona — visually connected through the musician’s album cover art to Harmony Korine’s 1997 film Gummo and its depiction of white Midwestern poverty. He has also embraced the title of “Kaiser Von Powderhorn,” a homage to Minneapolis’s Powderhorn district, a traditionally diverse and progressive section of the city that includes the historically Black neighborhoods of Central and Bryant. It was on a corner between those two neighborhoods where Minneapolis Police murdered George Floyd on May 25, 2020. At that time Prof was about to release his album Powderhorn Suites, a celebration of his home and its potential. Inexplicably, a month after Floyd’s murder plunged the city into chaos and a day before the album was slated for release, Prof’s label dropped him.
It is impossible to fully appreciate Prof’s sixth album, Horse, without considering what transpired between him and his former label. Perhaps preemptively responding to moral panic within the community, the company, which had been responsible for releasing some of his previous material, just dropped him. Its reasoning has remained opaque to this day. Management has cited misogynistic content in Prof’s lyrics (in music that they themselves once helped distribute) and public statements, which Prof has since apologized for. It has also cited his association with a DJ accused of sexual misconduct, which Prof has denied being aware of (and whom he had fired several years earlier).
In that sense, Horse represents a victory lap (pun intended), a confident follow-up to the artist’s astonishing success with his self-release of Powderhorn Suites. Its commercial and critical fortunes went well beyond Prof’s prior releases. The first half of the new album brings us the bangers and the anthems. The upbeat and energetic tracks are confirmations: Prof has survived and prospered, remained true to his roots, and rejected any temptation to repress the bawdy, Dionysian exuberance of hip-hop that brings people together.
“High Priced Shoes” touches on the desire for a “safe space to get toxic” and the need to “let loose,” while “Horse“‘s huzzahs to success mix pride with pain. In the album, he declares himself to be Dikembe Mutombo and Roberto Clemente, both talented athletes known for giving back to their people. In “Snake Skin Leather,” Prof continues to mine his native Western Americana, seemingly suggesting that treacherous acquaintances might make a good pair of snakeskin boots. “You don’t put a saddle on a mustang,” he suggests. The horns-a-plenty “Pack A Lunch” features Redman and serves up humorous imagery, such as “Jennifer Aniston balancing on a manatee” and “sparring with soccer moms in the octagon.” “Judy” tosses a barb at potential detractors: “I ain’t touch nobody, I just be orchestrating orgies.” Kevin Gates, Method Man, and Cozz all show up on separate tracks, each of them earwormy.
It is around track 10, “Tough Boy,” featuring Mac Irv, that the album takes a more personal turn. Describing the struggles and hardships of growing up amid poverty and violence, the tune speaks to one of the strengths of working people: they confront problems head-on without making a fetish of vulnerability. Prof is gathering momentum for the next track, his most personal one to date. “Louisiana” is powerful and emotive, capturing the feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness that followed the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent unrest in Minneapolis. The song not only addresses racial inequality, police brutality, and social injustice, but demands significant change and genuine justice. He calls out the far-right boogaloo boys for trying to take advantage of the situation to wreak havoc and denounces the “snakes in the middle” who “stab you in the back when they’re terrified.” He goes on to ask if it is even “possible for us all to get radicalized” when even the bad guys “think they got the angels on they side”
Two extremely soulful numbers come next, and they show off Prof’s R&B skills. “Heaven” reflects on forgiveness, while “Tombstones” wonders if, as we walk through today’s minefields of political correctness, we aren’t taking a tour among our own tombstones:
Closing with““Creek Boy,” Prof announces that “from here on out we cuttin’ out the people who don’t contribute to winning.” That’s easier said than done, particularly when those people cut you out despite (or because) you are winning. But Prof is right: folks, we need to get practical. And this artist could be among the models for the future, given that white working-class voters in the Midwest, traditionally Democratic, are willing to vote for Trump and cheer for right-wing characters like Tom MacDonald. As the song “Creek Boy” declares, “My crew filled with hustlers, you could ask them: Hardworking, intelligent black men.”
But “hustlers” (or blue-collar folks in general) were targeted for house cleaning in 2020. Prof’s “cancellation” makes perfect sense when you dig into the politics of Minneapolis at the time. As homes burned and their former inhabitants crowded into Powderhorn Park, the well-meaning white residents (mostly white collar) pledged not to call 911 due to fear of police reprisals against their Black neighbors. The unfortunate result was, in a situation that called for unity, there was a self-imposed segregation; white residents ended up cutting themselves off from the park after it became a focal point for Black protest.
In Horse, Prof’s response to the Powderhorn Park mess is twofold. He has not wasted his energy going after the label’s ill treatment; instead, he is addressing larger social issues. Prof is not interested in wasting his time kicking a dead horse. As the name of his current Workhorse Tour makes clear, Prof has accepted that he has a role to play in America’s class conflict. He is a working person at heart, with a family and a community that depend on him. Prof might be the latest incarnation of another Midwesterner, the fictional Jurgis Rudkus (of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle), whose response to every injustice was to say “I’ll work harder.” In our polarized country, Prof has taken on an essential job.
Jeremy Ray Jewell writes on class and cultural transmission. He has an MA in history of ideas from Birkbeck College, University of London, and a BA in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts Boston. His website is www.jeremyrayjewell.com.