Can you make a rap out of “Jingle Bells”? Can “White Christmas” be sung to a hip-hop beat?
These are questions raised by the fact that Maine rapper Spose will do his annual holiday show Friday at Port City Music Hall in Portland.
But they are questions Spose doesn’t care to answer. He’ll fill his PDANK XMAS concert with his raps, mostly not about Christmas. In between, there’ll be some guest musicians doing pop songs in ugly sweaters and ringing a few bells. Plus a few surprises as well.
Christmas rapping? No, more like a rapper putting on a big show with some extra ribbons and bows.
“My whole career I’ve liked to knock down stereotypes about rap shows, so this is more like a play, some rap, some bad sweaters, a Christmas feel,” said Spose, 31, also known as Ryan Peters. “I love the holidays, so this makes sense for me.”
Though based in Wells, Spose tours often and has built up an incredibly loyal fan base around the country during the past eight or nine years. Fans are drawn to his songs about regular, working-class folks, tinged with humor and profanity. They often stay devoted because of the time Spose takes to know and engage with them.
That’s why if you look around the audience at Port City Music Hall on Friday, you’ll see people who’ve come from as far away as Michigan, maybe further, to share the holiday spirit with Spose.
Rachel Tyrer, 23, a bartender from Detroit, says she’s definitely coming to the PDANK XMAS show, but hadn’t decided whether she would drive of fly. She’s been a fan of Spose for a couple years and had exchanged emails with him and posted on Facebook about him. Still, she was stunned in May when she saw him perform in Cleveland, Ohio, and as she was leaving the club, Spose stopped her to say thanks.
“He recognized me from my picture (on Facebook) and said ‘Rachel, I just want to thank you for supporting me,’ ” said Tyrer. “He’s not somebody focused on money. He writes about everyday people, and he’s not afraid to speak the truth.”
Spose does have one Christmas song, titled “Christmas Song.” But as he says, “it’s a bummer.”
Because the truth is that Christmas, and life in general, doesn’t promise roast beef and presents for everyone.
Spose’s Christmas song is about two guys smoking pot, complaining about their families. While cruising around they spot a car in the snow with a woman and her son in it and help them get back on the road. The next day they find out the pair were hit by a drunk driver. The boy was killed, and the drunk driver was the sister of one of the two pot-smokers.
“I mean, what if we had left them in that ditch?” Spose asks in his rap. “What if I had questioned that mom? …What if that right that we did was a wrong? And what if? And so on and on until the break of dawn.”
Other Spose raps poke fun at himself, or at people who take themselves too seriously. The big radio hit that helped his career take off was called “I’m Awesome” in 2009, and it was about, well, how awesome he is.
His song ” ’03 Altima” is about a young man, broke, working at a burger joint, but feeling on top of the world because he drives a 2003 Nissan.
At last year’s PDANK XMAS show, Spose performed that with his daughter Lily, now 7. She sported a leather jacket and was “pretty fearless” on stage, he said.
That’s another reason Spose says he loves the holidays; it’s fun to share them with his kids. He and his wife have four, including 18-month-old twins.
This’ll be his third consecutive holiday show, so he’s got the routine down. Unlike a lot of his club shows, there are no opening acts. Spose will be the first performer on stage when the curtain goes up.
The PDANK XMAS show will feature other local rappers as well, including Cam Groves and Shane Reis, plus singer-songwriter Dave Gutter of Rustic Overtones. Spose also says he might have a “surprise” out-of-town guest, but won’t say who that might be. Last year, he had San Francisco-based rapper Watsky at his PDANK XMAS show.
In 2014, SPOSE visited the Portland Press Herald for a Newsroom Session:
Local musicians Kyle Gervais, Kristina Kentigian and Renee Coolbrith will be serving as sort of “troubadours” and hosts. They’ll sing contemporary pop songs between other parts of the show, Spose said.
PDANK, by the way, is Spose’s business name. It comes from the term “preposterously dank,” meaning roughly “say, that’s really good” in a rap to English translation.
Spose used the money from the record deal he got from “I’m Awesome” to launch his business, and since then he’s been a self-supporting musician. He records and sells his music, as well as merchandise. His creative lyrics, his hard work and his attention to fans has paid off for him.
Check out “I’m Awesome”
It paid off in a big way in 2014, after $20,000 worth of electronics was stolen from his rented tour van in St. Louis.
Within a couple of days, his fans had raised about $18,000 to cover most of the loss by using the website GoFundMe.com. The campaign was started by teenager Adam Fishman, then living in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Fishman is now in college at Binghamton University in New York, more than six hours from Portland. He plans to be at the PDANK XMAS show.
“I was there last year, and it was great, everything Christmas-themed, though the music isn’t really Christmas music,” said Fishman, 19. “He’s just very down-to-earth, and there’s not much of that in the music business. He really cares about his fans.”
WHEN: 9 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $14 in advance, $16 day of show