White Riot

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

New Yorker subscribers are gonna be giggling nonstop throughout Paullelujah!, if they can stomach the smut (of which there is much -- don't let this anywhere near a twelve-year-old boy; it will become his favorite album ever). Barman name-drops the following people on Paullelujah!: Garrison Keillor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Woodward and Bernstein, the Keebler elf, Principal Asswipe, Erica Jong, Republicrats, Margaret Sanger (including the classic line "more anger than Margaret Sanger sitting on a bloody coat hanger"), Quetzalcoatl, Ric Ocasek, Jeff Koons, John Cage ("I can rock the mic to silence by John Cage"), Jesus H. Christ ("where 'H' stands for 'holy crap!'"), Don Quixote, Alexander Calder, Jean Dubuffet, Al Hirschfeld, Noam Chomsky, Tipper Gore and, in the gloriously bawdy (OK, totally nasty) "Cock Mobster," Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan ("who said 'lay me, mon'"), Cynthia Ozick, Kim Gordon, Laetitia Casta, Teri Garr and Sigourney Weaver, all of whom Barman in the course of the song fantasizes about.

Yes, anyone can name-drop. And aren't we all so impressed with how well-read the MC is? But, as in comedy, timing is everything in rap, and Barman possesses a crazy control, simultaneously working to maintain a rhythm and a comedic tension, and when he succeeds, the deft merger of his verbal style -- always a tad clumsy and white -- and punchline is laugh-out-loud funny. He's as quick as Don Rickles, gets into verbal pickles just so he can unstick himself; he's digging in some very different cultural crates than your average MC, and this examination, although at times buried in a lot of giggly sex talk, is an important step in the progression of hip-hop.

Ultimately, though, we land back at the funk. And who cares how clever and smart MC Paul Barman thinks he is? If the rap ain't funky, the thing ain't gonna fly. Luckily, the thing is strong and sturdy, built to carry a dance floor intent on cooking some hip-hop. It's a solidly produced party record that recalls most closely De La's Three Feet, at least in spirit. It's a bouncy, happy, poppy record for the most part, and it stands far removed from some of the dirtier-sounding peers in the Anticon and Def Jux camps. Within, a sort of direct cleanliness: woodwind samples, horn-section blasts, bouncy carnival brass sections, Spanish guitar lines, all of which loop in odd but ultimately satisfying ways.

Pure white and pure black make what? Pure gray? No, not really. More like both, and the tension, imagined or real, drives Paullelujah!to somewhere fascinating and surprising. And besides, if you're not down with the style, you can stick with the words. Says Barman, "If I had any rhythm maybe you'd finally faint; the way I communicate would make a dang eunuch mate."

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