Prof ‎– Powderhorn Suites

3 out of 5

Label: Rhymesayers

Produced by: Prof (?)

Right before the 2020 release of Powderhorn Suites, Prof was dropped from the Rhymesayers roster. While different reasons have been floating around the twitterverse and Reddits, there would seem to be, at least at a high level, some associations with some known abusers that’ve been called into question, as well as some questionable social media posts in Prof’s past and, perhaps, questions as to the content of the his music and how it reflects on him (and the label). There may be more than that. To my eye, Prof (Jacob Anderson) offered a pretty mature reply, but without knowing the exacts of this situation – and / or if there are more direct and flagrant offenses for which a well-worded-or-not response simply isn’t enough – I don’t really think it’s fair for me to weigh in on this much, beyond that I’ve always been somewhat puzzled by the seeming disconnect between a lot of hip-hop “stars,” and what they rap about, and whether or not that’s indicative of their realities, and then the acceptance in the world-at-large they seem to receive, despite all that… but if this is just a drop of the comeuppances that’ve thankfully been occurring over the last couple of years, exposing more truths to more people – other artists on Rhymesayers besides Prof are getting called out on this – then it’s a good thing. And yes, all of this is an incredible over-simplification.

And I swear I’m also getting around to a point that ties into a review of Powderhorn Suites.

After years of quite well establishing a persona as Prof, the fuck-happy partyboy, there comes the “stare into the abyss” conundrum, to a certain extent: while I’ve read a lot of the artist’s braggadocio behavior as a joke – and often a self-flagellating one – that doesn’t mean it necessarily was, and it also doesn’t mean Mr. Anderson hasn’t bought into his own hype, or directly / indirectly encouraged others to. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that all of this popped up right before the album where this persona has seemed to mature to a certain degree; on which Prof becomes more of a person, and his proclivities start to get somewhat dialed back. Powderhorn Suites isn’t as peacocky, or as dirty as past Prof albums. It’s not as playful. It’s… more mature. There are still a handful of excellent bangers, but they’re all interestingly gathered at the start of the disc, almost as though to get them out of the way for some darker and more emotive stuff.

Is Prof still singing about being the best, and about having loud sex? Sure, but in the former case, it feels like a bit more of a laidback, confident boast (though mapped to some excellent beats, as usual), and in the latter case – “Outside Baby,” about how loudly his sex partner moans, you could argue that it’s almost a love song, albeit a somewhat profane one, and turns into a celebration for everyone to get their loud freak on by song’s end. And then the album turns, like, introspective? An ode to a knife (“Butterfly Knife”) is an interestingly joke free take on protecting self image – centered on a knife that Prof always keeps on him – and “Perfume” is a takedown of overly showy gals and guys. There’s an incredibly dark rumination on familial legacy, and then the album ends with, firstly, a legitimate love song, and then a short “I needed to learn to love myself”-type mantra via “Karma Legend.”

The thing is, while I think this is the right direction for Prof to go – trying to evolve his character, or himself – none of the sentiments expressed are especially cleverly espoused. I welcome the shift away from swear-slinging and inflammatory language and concepts, but I can’t deny that Prof had some ridiculously fanciful rhymes o’er the years when singing / rapping about those things, and we don’t get as much of that here. It effects the beats as well: with the change in tone, songs become very stripped down, and the pace is a bit slower. A lot of cool sounds are used, but the latter half of the disc is pretty bare as a result; not many tunes stick in your end. The framework of the album, which seems to unlock different “rooms” in the Powderhorn Suites for each track, almost encourages a feeling like we’re just getting peeks of songs – open the door, beat starts, we hear some ideas, door closes and move on. That doesn’t mean the album sounds unfinished or anything, just that I think this is a slightly new direction, and Prof isn’t exactly sure how to make the most of it yet.

But I think he’s capable of it, if he keeps pushing. His reply to the events mentioned at the start of this suggests he’ll be quiet for a while. Again, without knowing the truth of what’s happened, I can’t say if he’s “deserving” of more opportunities or not, but if he is… I think some good first steps have been taken in trying to change up his music, and so maybe he’ll emerge on the other side of this with a different persona, and something more fully formed.