By Natalya Jones
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By Michael E. Miller
Prince Paul will do anything for a laugh. As a producer he invented the hip-hop skit, a tool he's employed consistently to generate laughs for himself (his first official solo release, Psychoanalysis: What Is It? is a weird and funny series of oddball free-association hip-hop skits) and other artists, such as De La Soul, Third Bass, and Method Man. His most recent project, Handsome Boy Modeling School, cribbed its name from Chris Elliott's hilarious cult television series, Get a Life. Paul even produced the last Chris Rock album, sandwiching standup between his trademark skits.
So it's no surprise that Prince Paul produced It's Very Stimulating, the new EP by MC Paul Barman. Barman is a skinny, allergy-suffering Brown University graduate living in New Jersey. These details are important not because they're true but because this is exactly what he sounds like on the recording. Using complicated rhyme constructions littered with Jeopardy!cultural references, Barman still manages to reduce $120,000 in liberal arts education to an EP full of fart jokes and sex rhymes. And that's not even the problem.
The problem is, while It's Very Stimulating has some incredibly original beats, polysyllabic rhymes (like this one from "MTV, Get Off the Air, Part 2": "Smirkin' jocks with hackey sacks and Birkenstocks and khaki slacks"), and great, catchy refrains (Barman's voice-cracking chorus on "The Joy of Your World" approaches a kind of perfect Biz Markie illness), Barman is just so much better on paper. His voice channels Jerry Lewis, and as he rhymes, he occasionally jams so many syllables into a single line that it must have played hell with his studio mic's spit guard. He's a writer, not a rapper. And though original creative voices should be welcome in hip-hop, there are plenty of other MCs today with excellent writing skills -- Common, Mos Def, Kool Keith, Eminem -- and infinitely superior flows.
So who's this album for? No doubt collegiate late-pass hip-hop fans will disregard Barman's puerile and unkind sex rhymes to enjoy a good, knowing laugh or two over his outrageous rhyming vocabulary. You can't help but do a double take when you hear rhymes like "My pissed off jimbrowsky turned three colors like Krzysztof Kieslowski" on "Salvation Barmy." But just because Ween hasn't gotten around to recording its hip-hop album yet is no excuse to get behind MC Paul Barman.
Maybe the person this album is really for is Prince Paul. After all, we know he loves a good laugh, and he has clearly poised Barman as the new class clown of hip-hop. Even the music, drumbeats, and George Carlin samples, laced among weird musical ephemera like children's songs and broken-down carnival music, suggest the packaging of a rap comedy album. And yes, the ideas in MC Paul Barman's Grad Skool rhymes are often truly funny. But as a hip-hop record, it suffers for the same reason college often seems uninspiring: long on theory, short on practice.