White Riot

Jewish pottymouth MC Paul Barman makes a brilliant hip-hop oddity

We are white. We long to be funky. We want elasticity; we want the rubber knees, the fluid flow, the boiling blood, the innate understanding of the rhythms we pine to create. We want the funk, are willing to give up everything for the funk. But it remains buried by centuries of oppressive Caucasianism.

Many foolishly -- though understandably -- try to mimic those who possess the funk but end up looking like honky clowns. They turn their hat just so, tie their laces exactly as loosely as our "brother" over there. They buy black, all the while trying their damnedest to nail the handshake, the 'tude, the vibe -- and in the process sucking the life out of all of it, because a brother doesn't have to work on any of this, it just is, yo. We tryin' too hard, man; as long as we keep doing so, the funk will remain laughably out of reach, and we'll end up like the lone white dude on at a North Side playground pickup game.

You think Eminem had it bad trying to break into rap? At least he shared a common class with his peers. MC Paul Barman's an Ivy League Jew, he sounds like one and he ain't hiding it. He defiantly, courageously (foolishly? annoyingly?) pounces on rap as his creative outlet, and the results are, for better or worse, unlike any other rap album you'll hear this year: a white dude doing rap, keenly aware of his place in its world.

MC Paul Barman
MC Paul Barman

Paul Barman graduated from Brown University in 1997 and soon thereafter dropped a debut single with the defiantly unghetto title "Postgraduate Work." Producer Prince Paul, who will always be best known as the producer of De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising, liked the single and contacted Barman, and they created a follow-up EP, "It's Very Stimulating." It was well received, probably because of the certainty of Barman's vision, and from there he has gradually worked his way into the upper echelons of the American hip-hop underground. He's got guts, style and an incredibly distinctive voice.

His debut album's just come out, and it's called Paullelujah! You'll either love it or want to hunt MC Paul Barman down and kill him, depending on how open you are to a weird, brilliant hip-hop oddity -- and depending on how rigid your definition of "keepin' it real" is. If you like rap and are interested in exploring a brother from another planet, in exploring a dalliance between hard-funk production -- some of the best beats of the year, most created by an obscure producer named Mikethemusicguy, who apparently has some sort of relationship with Dan the Automator -- and an annoyingly clever lyricist with a potty mouth, check Paullelujah!, because it's fun as hell, one of the best nonstop party records since Three Feet High and Rising (even though Prince Paul only produced one of the record's thirteen tracks).

On Paullelujah!, Barman sets songs in an anarchist bookstore, at a National Organization for Women rally (and proceeds to have nasty sex with Genevieve, who "has a whole henna sleeve that says, 'Who cares what men achieve?' Under her arm, America's Wrong, by Erica Jong."), a high school, a Nazi death camp ("Gramps made a damn nice lampshade. They stretched his tanned flesh out like a Band-Aid without the sterile pad. As feral lad, did you feel in peril, Dad?").

In these places, MC Paul Barman lets loose, and when he starts rhyming, you'd better have a napkin handy, because he's going to get spit all over your face. His voice has absolutely no black in it whatsoever. None. He's as white as Jerry Seinfeld. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have confidence; like the runt so outsized on the playground that he just goes fucking nuts on the bully, Barman gets going and from there hangs on. His rhymes tumble down the hills like a slalom skier in the middle of a career-ending crash. But within these brilliant catastrophes are angles and bends and twists and sprains that on first, second, third listen will pass you by, no matter how smart you think you are. At one point Barman even threatens to start rhyming in Morse code.

Of those thirteen songs on Paullelujah!, just one -- "Old Paul" -- captures the album's essence. It takes the form of an imagined autobiographical obituary: "I'm gonna take a lackadaisical ride on my back-in-the-day cycle," he says, overpronouncing every syllable. "Old Paul gave rap a cold call. The Caucasoid had the whole block annoyed. It took big gilded gold balls to smile at terror and trial and error." He then ponders the charge against him of ripping off a culture: "Is it 'cause I go for the laugh? Because I'm not from the ave.? Because I target fans you wish you didn't have? Had I made a mockery of a culture like the Choco-Taco? Was I to rap what France was to Morocco?" Then, at the height of Old Paul's imagined career, he stops, retires: "I pressed control-Q in full view of my old crew. Instead of hustling cameos and picking out Grammy clothes, I make stuffed animals while my family grows."

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