The Professor of Rap Tour Memoirs – Part I

Posted by: The Adjunct of Funk on August 16, 2010

A (completely un)true story by the Adjunct of Funk, Spencer Christiano.

The following tale contains some profanity, but no obscenity.

It’s 5:30 at night, Pacific Standard Time. It’s January. Cold. We’re northbound on Highway 376 in Nevada on our way to Reno. Word around the tour bus is that we’ll be hitting the junction with Highway 50 pretty soon. About half an hour ago, we drove by Ophir, right as the sun was going down.

Ophir’s a ghost town. All that’s left there is stone foundations. Old mines. A graveyard. The days are short this time of year, so the little sunlight we get, we count as a blessing. The driver, Carl, always complains about the glare, every day, reflecting off the light layer of snow on the plains and distant mountains surrounding us. He’s never happier than when that big yellow bitch finally decides to hide her face.

While Carl celebrated, I observed. The sun setting over the remains of what once was as we sped by in a climate-controlled bus. So close. So detached.

The roadies are up front, playing travel Yahtzee. I could never get the hang of it. I’m in the back of the bus, reverse-Rosa Parks-ing it up with the Professor and all the other “colleagues.” The ones with titles. There’s a rift between us and the roadies, but it seems normal. I’ve never been on a tour bus before, but from what I hear, there’s always a little tenseness between the roadies and the stars.

“Stars.” That’s what they’ve been calling us. Emcees all over the country, as we get introduced on stage. As if cheap celebrity fame was ever our motivator.

The back of the bus is always quiet, but never still. The Professor writes, constantly, song after song after song. Brandon, the beatmaster, works on new riffs on his laptop. Annette, the photographer, browses through the last concert’s shots, making rapid-fire snap decisions on what to delete, what to save.

Sure. If you really try, strain your ears, you can pick it up. Hear the scratch of pen on paper. Listen to fingers tapping on a keyboard. Pick up the staccato beeps of a digital camera, erasing history. But to us? We don’t even notice it.

To us, the colleagues, the back of the bus is an ass. An ass that you think never farts. It does, though. They’re just “silent but deadlies.”

And if the back of the bus is an ass, then the front must surely be the mouth. The roadies yell, cheering their victories, bemoaning their losses. All over five tiny dice in plastic pop-bubbles.

Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. It all fades into the collective deafness of the riders.

Another pop. This time, different. Louder. We all hear it, even Brandon, with his over-the-ear, sound-canceling headphones on. Guess he got ripped off.

Carl, up front, curses. Swerves the bus, just a little. We all instinctively stop what we’re doing and hold on for dear life. Even the Professor puts his pen down.

The bus slows down and pulls over to the side of the road. The sound of loose rubber scraping against unset gravel. Thump. Swish. Thump. Swish. Thump. Thump. Thump.

We’ve stopped. Carl, muttering, opens the door and steps outside. Even back here, I can feel a blast of cold air. I don’t particularly enjoy it.

The riders, all of us, we wait. For news, for forward momentum, for Carl. Moments later, he’s back.

“Flat tire,” he calls out, “This might be a while.”

A collective sigh. We were hoping to have dinner tonight before hitting the motel. A good meal in a respectable restaurant. Hell, even a diner would be heaven right now.

Carl re-exits the bus. “Close the damn door,” a roadie shouts after him, “It’s freezing out there!” Carl does as he’s told.

More moments. Waiting. Breathing. Hunger and impatience rise. There might be fear of mutiny, if this bus were a ship. It might as well be.

Carl comes back inside. He says he’s got a spare tire in the back of the bus, but he can’t find the jack. Groans and insults fly from all directions. Everyone blames Carl. Carl blames everyone.

I pinch the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger, trying to calm my nerves. I want nothing to do with this. I want supper and a bed. As I exhale deeply, I turn to see the Professor. He looks calm, stoic. He gets that way a lot. Like he’s always one step ahead of everyone else.

A cacophony of snaps from the front of the bus — Phones flipping open. A pause, then… More groans. No one can get signals on their cells. Highway 376. A hundred mile dead zone.

I can almost taste the tension seeping off the confrontation up ahead. Roadies, like the Wu Tang Clan, ain’t nothing to fuck with. I know that whatever restlessness I’m feeling, whatever hunger pangs are stabbing at me, they’re feeling it a thousand times worse. And there’s more of them than there is of Carl.

The Professor, sharply, rises from his seat. Sidesteps into the aisle, and makes his way to the front of the bus. Us colleagues, we all look at each other in confusion, and then all eyes turn to me. The unwritten code: “You’re the Adjunct. You follow him. You make sure he doesn’t get himself killed.”

So I rise. Follow behind the rapper-poet at a short distance, ready for anything. Fearing a probable skirmish. I always wanted to get in a fist fight in Nevada. Wait, no. Not “always.” What’s that other thing? “Never.” Yes, that’s right. “Never.”

My fears quickly subside, though, as the Professor moves clearly down the aisle, through the witch hunt, and out the door. I follow.

It’s cold, dark. Both sensations are more intense than I anticipated. The Professor steps off the gravel shoulder and right into the middle of the road. He looks north, then south. Then north again. Alternating between endless voids.

“What are you looking for?” I ask.

“I don’t know yet,” he replies, “I’ll tell you when I see it.”

A couple more turns. South. North. South. I shiver and rub my arms. I see the cold air escape the artist’s lips — He’s breathing from his mouth. That means he’s concentrating. More turns. I consider going back into the bus to get my jacket.

And then, in the distance, right as he spins into it, a bright light from further down the road catches my eye. It’s getting closer. The Professor lets out a cool grin, barely noticeable.

As it approaches, I start to make out the shape. It’s another bus, barreling down the highway. And we’re standing in the middle of the road.

“Professor…” I mutter. No reply.

The bus gets closer, the light gets brighter. I can hear the engine roaring.

“Professor!”

Nothing. The death cab is barreling down on us, closer and closer.

The bus finally halts, brakes screeching, and stops mere feet from the rapper’s face. Still calm as ever.

“There it is,” he says, matter-of-factly. As if he simply replaced the TV remote.

I avert my eyes from the bright headlights. The Professor doesn’t have to — His shades block it all out.

A silhouetted figure steps out of the bus. “What the hell are you doing,” he shouts, “Get out of the road!”

And then, another figure exits. Grabs the first by the shoulder, says something to him. I can’t hear it. The first figure gets back in the bus, and the second approaches us.

I finally glimpse a face. I wipe my eyes — I don’t believe it. It’s T-Pain.

“What seems to be the problem here, gents?”

As he lifts up his white shades, my jaw drops. The Professor, naturally, speaks before I do.

“We’ve got a flat tire. We need a jack. Do you have one we could borrow?”

Mister Pain smiles. “Of course.” He hollers back to the bus. “Yo, Damien! Help a brother out, get the jack and change this man’s wheel!”

“Thanks,” the still-calm Professor says, “I really appreciate it.”

“It’s no problem at all,” T-Pain replies, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

“He’s the Professor of Rap,” I chime in.

“Oh yeah,” T-Pain says, “I saw you on Good Morning America. You did that French song. I don’t know French, but I liked it. I went to your website. I liked the rap you did about Michael Jackson’s monkey. That was some funny shit.”

I feel a twinge in the air. It’s obvious why the Professor kept his shades on.

T-Pain’s driver gets out of the bus, carrying the necessary tools. He and the roadies go to work on the tire. The two rappers make small talk as the labor continues.

T-Pain shifts his weight back and forth. “What brings you out here, Professor?”

“We’re on tour,” he replies, “We’re on our way to Reno. We’ve got a show there tomorrow.”

“No shit. We’re headed out there, too. Our show is in two days. I like to have a day to myself in the city before I hit the stage. I like to be relaxed, you know?”

“Sure.” The Professor is getting curt. Not a good sign.

“You know, if you have time, you should come over to my show. It’s gonna be wild. Hell, I’ll even let you open for me. You can do that monkey song, alright?”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” the Professor replies, “We’re running on a pretty tight schedule.”

He’s lying. We’re spending four days in Reno before we have to get back on the road and head to Fresno.

“Too bad.” T-Pain seems to be just a little bit sad. “It would’ve been a nice launching point for your career. I wish I had a chance like this when I was where you are.”

Silence.

T-Pain shivers. “It’s cold as hell out here. If you guys don’t mind, I’m gonna head back into my bus… Want to join me? Have some drinks?”

“No thanks,” the Professor replies, “I think we’ll just stay out here and enjoy the view.”

It’s pitch black. There’s no “view.”

“Ok. Tell Damien to come back on the bus when he’s done. We gotta get moving.”

“Of course. Thank you very much.”

A handshake, and then T-Pain is gone as quickly as he arrived.

The Professor yells after him. “Would you mind turning off your headlights for a while? The stars.”

“Sure,” T-Pain yells back, “No problem.”

The Professor and I stand in the road. In a moment, the lights fall out. Nothing but some flashlights over at our bus, more than enough to change a tire by. The Professor looks up. Me too. He’s right. Without the light pollution from T-Pain’s bus, the stars come out of hiding. They’re gorgeous, well worth braving the cold for.

I can’t muster up the courage to say anything, even though there are a million things racing through my head. I know he always has a reason for everything. But this? I don’t get it.

A few minutes later, the tire is changed, and Damien gets back into the bus. T-Pain & Co. are chauffeured away into the night.

“All aboard!” Carl yells.

The Professor turns and makes his way back to the bus. I follow. We climb on, and reclaim our seats at the back of the bus. Within moments we’re back on the road, and everyone is as they were. The Yahtzee game starts up again, with the sort of pops we don’t mind hearing. We’re all content, mere miles away from food in our bellies and pillows beneath our heads. All of us, content. Except me.

I turn to the artist. I can’t hold it in any longer. “Professor…”

“Yes?”

“Back there… T-Pain. He asked you to open for him.”

“Yes.”

“That’s a sold-out arena gig.”

“Yes.”

“It would’ve gotten you national publicity. It would’ve been huge.”

“Yes.”

“So why didn’t you accept?”

He pauses. Takes his shades off and makes eye contact with me for the first time all night.

“I don’t work with autotuners.”

He dons his shades, settles back, and attempts to sleep.

And that is that.

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