Hit the dance floor

Spank Rock brings its Baltimore-influenced club music to the Ottobar


It was a normal night at Philadelphia's 700 Club until DJ Low Budget whipped out a set of frantic, banging Baltimore club music. Out on the floor, most of the crowd was overwhelmed. Charm City native Naeem Juwan went nuts.

"I completely flipped out," Juwan said. "I was on the floor dancing real hard. I was one of the only people in the spot that was dancing real hard. You have that nostalgic moment where the stuff that you grew up with never really leaves you. You still hold it close to your heart, regardless of where you decide to go."

Juwan was raised on the west side, near North Avenue and Longwood Street. He partied in the thick of the city's club music scene at Paradox and Hammerjacks before moving to Philly in 1999. Years later, he formed electro hip-hop group Spank Rock with Baltimorean-turned-New Yorker Alex Epton. That night at the 700 Club put club music back in Juwan's head, and you can hear it in his flow.

Spank Rock's debut album, Yoyoyoyoyo, dropped last week, and they're rolling to the Ottobar today for the release party/blowout. The Baltimore Bass Connection, Juwan's crew, has held monthly throwdowns there, but this one promises to spank the previous shows. They're even busing in heads from Philly and feeding them beer on the way.

Spank Rock live: Juwan, the MC, spits fast and nasty while producer Epton bangs out drum sounds from his laptop over beats from DJ team Chris Rockswell and Donnie Darko. It gets even crazier when the Love Peace Project, a group of djembe players and contemporary African dancers, joins in, as they will tonight. Be ready to shake it.

"We're like a mixtape - like a real-life mixtape," Juwan said. "You come in and all the attention is really to get you to party and get you to dance. It's not really about me trying to show off. I feel like if the crowd's moving, that's all I really care about. They don't even have to look at me. I just want to see them dancing. I just want to be down there dancing with them and rapping at the same time."

DJ Rockswell introduced Juwan and Epton, aka XXX-Change, and soon after the two signed with Ninja Tune/Big Dada label. Juwan fed off Epton's tracks, and together they recorded Yoyoyoyoyo for pennies on the computer program Pro Tools.

Though Yoyoyoyoyo has some Baltimore influences, it's misleading to call it a Baltimore club album. Spank Rock took smidgens from plenty of other genres and assembled some of hip-hop's freshest party music in quite a while. The potty-mouthed verses and assaulting beats will either make you dance or head for the door, depending on your tastes.

Juwan likes playing the city because here he can see friends and family - though his older relatives cringe when they hear his lyrics. Spank Rock's rhymes are too raunchy to print. Juwan's mom hasn't made it all the way through Yoyoyoyoyo, but she's glad he's becoming more successful doing what he loves.

"My family's pretty proud of me being a performer," he said.

Ottobar co-owner Brian DeRan first booked the band as an opener and was blown away, he said.

"I came down and I had my head bent," DeRan said. "I was like, `What is this?'"

Now, DeRan manages the group. With a delicious new album and a coming European tour, it's showtime for Spank Rock. But no matter where Juwan tours or lives, a little bit of Baltimore always sticks with him.

"Baltimore is such like an honest, raw city," Juwan said. "It's kind of hard to get away from that. There's certain attributes that I have that I'll never be able to really get rid of. Regardless of where I live, it still has a great effect on me."

Spank Rock's CD release party starts at 10 p.m. today. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. The Ottobar is at 2549 N. Howard St. Call 410-662-0069 or visit theottobar.com.


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