HANDSOME BOY MODELING SCHOOL

So ... How's Your Girl? (Tommy Boy)

Bring it on, man. All you gotta do in true-blue hip-hop circles is utter the sequined names Prince Paul and Dan the Automator in the same sentence and you'll get some wide-eyed gawkers going giddy. Were it only for a couple of their choice projects -- PP's crack production of De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, Dan's work with Kool Keith on the Dr. Octagon record -- the dynamic duo would forever be etched in the hip-hop canon. But that's just the surface stuff; dig deeper and you'll find them underneath bits and beats from such diverse projects as Third Bass, Stetsasonic, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Cornershop, Queen Latifah, Pizzicato Five and, in Prince Paul's case, dozens of others. Combined, the two have a vision and the genius to back it up; they could make Phyllis Schlafly funky.

And actually, to heads and nonheads alike, the aforementioned stream of funky names -- Stetsasonic, Octagon, De La, Pizzicato and so on -- all share one simple, obvious trait, that genius factor that made 3 Feet High such a joy not just to the diehards but to nearly anyone who heard it.

That trait is fun. Artistic statements and loquacious brain-boy hip-hop each have a place, but without a sense that the studio atmosphere was a damn fun one, a record will drop dead. 3 Feet High, like all of Prince Paul's work, is, quite simply, a goddamn joy to pop on and turn up loud. It's music that, yes, is incredibly smart but, more important, will make you smile. Dan the Automator's got the same joie de vivre, and the two, working together as the Handsome Boy Modeling School, have made a record that you wish you could have participated in creating.

Named after an episode of the short-lived Chris Elliott sitcom Get a Life, So ... How's Your Girl? is a nonstop romp, crammed with sappy symphonic samples, snippets from the Get a Life episode in question, a hilarious testimonial from Father Guido Sarducci ("Handsome Boy Modeling School gave me the confidence to be a model. If it wasn't for them, I'd still have $60."), a genius Three Dog Night sample of "Old Fashioned Love Song," layers of quirky pop hooks and hard hip-hop reverses -- all the heavenly fun that made the duo's individual efforts so inspired. It features guest appearances by members of Cibo Matto and the Beastie Boys, Money Mark, Kid Koala, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, DJ Shadow, Biz Markee, Brand Nubian, Paula Fraser (of country band Tarnation), Sean Lennon and Josh Hayden (of deep-lounge band Spain). Sound like your average exclusive rap jam?

No. It's not.

To those of you who only have a few hip-hop discs in your collection: Add this one. Those of you who have heard every needle drop since the De La and Octagon classics: Add this one. Radio stations playing the same tired beats: Add this one. It's all there, and it'd be the best hip-hop record of the year if it didn't have some hefty competition from Prince Paul's early-1999 release Prince of Thieves. Holy calamity!

 
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