Baltimore-born/Los Angeles-based Naeem (full name Naeem Juwan) may be best known as the high-flying, genre-bending and chaotic Spank Rock, but he wants the world to know him now as Naeem. He has released a new album Startisha, his first in nine years, though he did release a seven-track project The Upside as Spank Rock in 2014.
Startisha is a byproduct of his own growth and change, where the name change allowed him to expand beyond the frenetic music that Spank Rock had become beholden to. This goes beyond the blend of club and at time peak festival beats and delves into personal R&B, rap and still some odes to the rave.
The album opens with a cover of a song by the cult electronic band Silver Apples that sets the tone that this will be different from what he has done in the past. That is cemented with “Simulation” featuring Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Swamp Dogg, which he describes as a an attempt to unpack a world where “nothing is real, and our greatest defense in this life is our own creativity, and finding great faith in whatever sigils and icons we choose to guide us.”
But fans shouldn't feel as though everything has been left behind. “Let Us Rave” is chaotic and intense, channeling the energy of raves at Hacienda with ecstasy from the era, demanding of the world “they should just let us rave” as booming drums take over the track. “Woo Woo Woo” is an unvarnished look at sex as a queer black man and his love life, which sits next to the single out this week “Stone Harbor” -- a funky and uplifting jam about love with soaring horns. “Us” adds some of the Baltimore club music you expect from someone who grew up on that music. This takes us to the final track “Tiger Song,” which examines the harsh world he grew up in Baltimore and the expectations of being a black man in America.
The album feels timely in its own way. It provides solace in dancing, self-reflection and love, but there are serious examinations about being a queer black man in America now. That has always been a pressing concern, but in the wake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other’s murders at the hands of police and the ensuring conversations and protests, it feels even more pressing to have albums like this come to the mainstream conscious.
Pick up a copy of the album here and stream it below.