Naaem Juwan might not be a name you're familiar with, but that won't be true for long. The rapper has produced music under the moniker Spank Rock for years, since the days of the Hollerboard, a pre-social media online forum that helped burgeoning Philly and Baltimore club artists like Naaem and Diplo connect with their community. At last month's Hollerboard Redux, presented by Red Bull Music, Naaem performed his last show as Spank Rock to a packed crowd full of familiar faces. We chatted with the rapper about why the Hollerboard was so integral to developing this community, how his queerness impacts his music and what the future holds now that he's officially killed Spank Rock.
What does it feel like to revisit your old work now that you're closing this chapter of your career?
It's nice because one thing that I've realized, especially with this party, is that we started off as this really underground community and we were all kind of finding each other because the internet would kind of was just helping artists get put together. My first tour's because of the Hollerboard, my first time in Europe is because people in Europe and Hollerboard was wanting me to come out there. I don't know, looking back on my shit it just makes me feel like I actually did something of some importance and not just something else rewarding for me personally. It's not just about being famous and making money; it's being a part of a community.
Why was the Hollerboard so important for you as an artist as a way to connect with your fans and other artists?
It was important because one, it was kind of DJ driven and so it really helped the sound of Baltimore club music be spread across the world. Because at first it was kind of just trapped in Baltimore and so since I was like sampling a lot of club, and I was bringing hip hop into that world. If it wasn't for them sharing club music, I wouldn't have had a home, because the hip hop world wasn't fucking with nothing I made.
What is it like to listen to music today and think about what you were doing back in the days of the Hollerboard?
Every single person that was engaging in the Hollerboard is the blueprint of what people are doing today. So I feel like there would be no dance songs on Nicki Minaj's album. You know when I say dance I mean all of it, the booty popping shit, the weird pop shit that she tries to do that's like crossover pop. We were doing all of that in the Hollerboard we were the blueprint of that and everyone else had to catch up. Even A-Trak being a part of the Hollerboard influenced how Kanye West started making rap music and bringing in so many different [sounds], bringing in Daft Punk samples, you know, really pushing into an electronic world, really pushing into a dance world. It wasn't happening before, the Hollerboard created that scene to do that.
The Hollerboard was pre-social media, and now social media has really changed the way that artists are able to interact with their fans, with each other. Do you think that Hollerboard was at the forefront of something that has really changed the industry?
Yeah, for sure. It was the beginning of social media there was still memes on there mostly it was people shit talking on each other, and you know gossiping. But that hasn't changed. Now we just have it all the time, we didn't have in our pockets, we would party then the next morning go and talk shit on the Hollerboard. But now everybody has it in their phones, you know, at all access with all the time.
Why was something like Hollerboard so important as a way to connect, specifically a community?
Because there wasn't many of us. I don't really know if there is any sort of underground cultures anymore. As soon as something becomes cool or trendy or there's a new expression, it becomes trendy real quick now. You know as soon as a dope piece of clothing comes out everybody knows what it is, everybody wants it, everybody has access to it. But back then before this ... before kids are able to communicate and copy off each other so quickly, you were actually a weirdo if didn't, if you was going to Hollertronix parties. You were like some weird freaky person who didn't fit in nowhere, or it's like experimenting and trying to do something new. Without the Hollerboard connecting us, we would kind of be I don't know, we'd be lost in some sort of way. It was important to be able to communicate with people in New York and LA and also Paris and Switzerland. You'd be like, “Oh yeah, people actually like this stuff out there?” Now everyone sees what each other are doing before we didn't have that.
What is it like to have this kind or reunion tonight?
The reunion is just fucking fun, we're still old friends, we still run into each other a lot. I think maybe it's the first time that we're all in one building all at the same time. It's just to kind of celebrate the fact that maybe be like, “Yo, we were at the forefront of this.” You know, we were actually the blueprint, that's kind of cool to see that.
Why did you decide to retire the name Spank Rock?
Me making music as Spank Rock was so collaborative, my friend Alex Epton produced my first album it was like the most important thing. Then I had all my friends were involved in it some sort of way, and now I'm not making music with those people anymore. I just felt like it's a burden to kind of carry on something that had such a impact or legacy. I feel like I can't carry on, on my own. I don't feel the same making music it's like doing Spank Rock stuff. Even watching some of my old performances recently, I was like, “Oh yeah, I don't perform like that no more." You know I was like spazzy, just freaking out, jumping around, you know, shaking my ass and grinding on the floor, humping the floor and shit. It's like-
What kind of music are you interested in making now? What kind of artist are you interested in being now?
I do consider it a progression off of everything else that I've done, but I care about writing love songs more, I care about writing from a more personal place. I think that is the only real change. I still love mashing up genres and being experimental with sounds.
Why do you think you like writing love songs now more than you have before?
Being in love. I've had a boyfriend for 10 years. Also getting older, you start realizing how important it is to have that community, that family, people you can count on. You know when you're younger you just always, you just trying to fuck, you just try to be out in a party trying to get your drugs. I haven't completely grown out of it, but you know, thank God I've made it past that.
At a first glance this community might not necessarily be something that people would assume would be in the most welcoming for queer people but that obviously doesn't seem to be your experience. What was it like being a queer person in this community?
I think the community was queer, maybe not as far as sexuality. It definitely wasn't like going to a gay club but what it was, it was a group of people who were more interested in accepting each other and having a creative expression or having ideas that were bigger and different than everyone else. Because we were doing something so out of the box there was no, there wasn't a box for what we were doing. We were accepting everybody. We created this kind of zone for anybody to be able to get up and do what you wanted to do.
Why is it so meaningful that your last show as Spank Rock is going to be this show tonight with these people with this community?
Well I wouldn't have done it, I wouldn't have been like, "I'm gonna do my last show as Spank Rock." I would have just moved on, you know? So it's nice to be a little bit, I don't know, sappy or whatever the fuck. "Hooray, last show, Spank Rock!" I wouldn't have done it, I would have just kept going. I don't like shit like that.
What's the next step for you?
I just finished mixing an album, hopefully it will be out in the beginning of next year. I'm doing the same shit, just making music I like and putting it out. No big deal.