The Joy of Your World The thing you need to know about MC Paul Barman is that his lyrics are ill. When his EP comes out, you're going to read white rapper this, Ivy League MC that?listen to the record before you decide. It helps a lot, both musically and in terms of credibility, that Prince Paul produced the five songs, but It's Very Stimulating would be a good EP even he didn't. As it is, the record approaches greatness, challenging the orthodoxy and expanding the boundaries of hiphop. That said, it's pretty much a work of comedy.
We met up at the press listening session for Juvenile's Tha G-Code, held in a conference room at the Universal Records office, and talked later. We discussed hiphop at length, citing our favorite albums, songs and lines to support various points. When I turned the tape recorder on, though, he became nervous and reticent. He's kind of queeny. I asked him about this with the tape recorder off, and he said he's regularly mistaken for gay.
What tradition of rap do you belong to?
No way. I can't do that. It's not?I don't?I could never reply to that. I would have to rack my brain and then say something that probably wasn't true.
You don't have to be correct, just be interesting. Entertain the audience.
In that case, the only answer I could give you would be that I'm of no tradition at all. It's new!
I don't believe that.
Okay, I'm in the oral tradition. My great-great-grandparents told me these stories. I'm just putting them on wax.
Funny you should say that, because I was thinking you're from the opposite, the writerly tradition in rap. I'd put most of the white rappers there, also Slick Rick and Ice T.
Good company. If you say so. I don't care what tradition I'm in.
What gives you the right to rap without a place in the tradition?
I don't have the right. I just did it. Prince Paul doesn't mind, I dunno.
Do you see your music as continuing along the lines of other Prince Paul productions?De La Soul, Gravediggaz, Handsome Boy Modeling School...
I think I'm more or less old-school.
Um?well?Dr. Octagon was cited as a great record by Spin, and the Automator was quoted as saying something like, "Everyone called us futuristic but I thought we were really old-school because we were just trying to be original, honest and funny." I relate.
When Kool Keith or any black man gets up and says he's the dopest, he means it in a way you don't.
I say I'm the dopest and I really mean it.
It's a whole other type of communication, what you're doing. [Barman frowns] Now your feelings are hurt. Let the record show that Paul's feelings are hurt.
No they're not. My feelings aren't hurt. My response is: Big deal, it's not the same.
Do you concede the point that yours departs from traditional rap?
It's gonna ruin your second or your third album when all this naivete comes crashing down on you.
Are you trying to warn me against imminent hating? What can I do about it? I don't think it's necessary to define anything. I'm very curious about the consequences.
What if it's racist? Maybe you're taking away a record contract from some ghetto kid who deserves it more.
You went to Brown, you know how the system works.
I dunno, I didn't really learn anything while I was there.
Why not? It just wasn't for me.
Why'd you go?
Why did I go? My mom asked me that right before I left?I couldn't answer. She was like, "If you hate school so much, why are you going to college?" I was like, "You should have asked me that a couple years ago. I wouldn't even have applied."
...I probably took more classes at RISD than any Brown graduate ever. After I took the maximum number of cross-registration classes, I did a year "abroad" there. So I spent almost half my time there. The only classes I liked were studio classes, where you work in class... I liked being around artists and not social scientists.
What's your problem with them?
You should listen to my school song.
"School Anthem," I did. It says you were bored and couldn't sit still.
No, I actually have some ideas there.
Well, tell the people! What's the point you make?
I thought the format of college was remarkably similar to high school: desk, teacher and chalkboard. A lot of people say that's a totally superficial constant because the professor is so much more brilliant than your high school teacher, but I didn't feel that way at all. I felt the same way I did in second grade, staring out the window. I remember in the catalogs they sent you, in those photos, I felt like, "On a nice day, we have class outside!" Y'know? Like, sweet! "We sit in the duck-duck-goose format!" And I would've loved that. But the textbooks never exactly went away. With the bold print.
Do you realize how many millions of aspiring musicians send a single to their hero? You're the one whose dream came true.
I'm a lucky guy. I definitely sat in class for 13 years, looking at the ceiling, knowing that there was something better, wondering what it could be. And I found it.
Now you're perfectly set up for a painful experience with press and the industry. You were saying something went horribly wrong with the album cover art for your EP?
I just really, really hated the way this album art was handled for this EP. It never crossed my mind that I wouldn't be doing the art. And I always thought it would be exciting if I was in contact with magazines and proposed to do an illustration or take a photo of one of the stuffed animals I made and use it [in the article] instead of a photo, which is always so boring. I'm not as good-looking as Sugar Ray?you might as well use something I made. So not only did it not follow that line of thought?it became the most cliched, disgusting Jane magazine?the cover doesn't even look as good as something that would be in Jane magazine. And if I'm railing against Jane and MTV [on the EP], what am I doing with this hideous, cliched, vacuous cover that would normally belong in those arenas if they weren't so professional? I don't explode cliches. I know a lot of people who like to do that?make cliches work for them. Or like, "It sucks on purpose!" I don't comprehend that sensibility. I try to be original and good. I may fail, but I'm always striving for that.
But you sat for the album-cover photo sessions.
(Prince Paul and Wordsound) said, "Do the photos, or go back to Chapel Hill and scoop ice cream." I don't want to disrespect those guys in any way.
They were acting as professionals, making a commercial decision.
Yeah, a terrible one. Wait till you see it, you'll vomit.
What'd you think when you heard Eminem?
I thought there was almost no reason for me to record. He was so funny and good. It turns out there's room for me. I actually told Paul about him. My friend DJ Mr. Ten Fingers played me Eminem before he broke. I was like, "Oh my God. I'm dead." The whole "Hi! My Name Is" thing, I'd kind of done that but not nearly as well. I thought, "This guy is gonna make me look like a crumb." I called Paul and I was like, "You don't wanna work with me anymore. There's this fucking white guy, he's so funny and has these triple-syllabic rhymes that are really hot," and he was like, "Who? There's room for you. You got the concepts!" I was like, "I hope so." Obviously, [Eminem and I] are really, really different.
Well, I have a verse that's antialcohol.
Yeah, what's your problem with drinking?
Part of the point I was trying to make with that song, and it's a little obtuse, was that artists who drink every night think of themselves as different from jocks who drink every night. And that similar lifestyle choice is more important than what books they read, I think.
You're as funny as Eminem, but in a different way. Silly jokes are sorta taboo in hiphop. A nasty sense of humor is way more popular.
I'm actually going the super-honest route, but thanks. Maybe it's because of that. What's gonna get me ostracized more than being white is the sort of Weird Al sensibility. I'm heading toward less nasty. I just wanna be smarter. It's too easy to spew venomous bile, enema style.
It sells. Don't you think more rappers would take the "super-honest route" if not for the realities of the business?
I think it's really creepy to imagine that you're right. I guess I'm just naive to say this, but I don't know why a talented person would listen to someone who didn't know what he or she was talking about.
Maybe they really want to make a lot of money.
You think people want to buy the smartest, most creative, challenging music around?
But there's no evidence of that.
I'll prove it!
You're already suffered some industry angst with your cover, and now comes the press.
It's actually fun to meet [writers]. And though it's always disappointing when something isn't awesome, things are very rarely awesome. There's so much boobs and poo-poo on my record, it's amazing how seriously people have taken it up till now. Don't you think? People are giving me an awful lot of credit, considering the subject matter. I mean I tried to put in some stuff. I could go a lot smarter, as I hope "Anarchist Bookstore" demonstrates.
I think a lot of critics will like what you do, especially white collegiate types. You provide a lot of illustrative quotes, so reviewing your record is just like writing a paper about a book.
I also think that music reviews should not be graded like papers! One-through-five is pretty bad, but A through F is unforgivable. Entertainment Weekly does that.
Do you know who started that?
Robert Christgau, in the Voice.
That was his innovation?
Yeah, he called himself the Dean of Rock Journalism.
Baaaaarf! It's like, "Oh MC Paul Barman got a B-minus. That album must be mediocre. I won't bother to read the review, which is poorly written and superficial."
An Excerpt From "Anarchist Bookstore"
In a college town, With olive green all around, Professors and skatepunks rock Paul and Paul's wall of sound, There's an anarchist bookstore, That has more than you'd look for, A core of local folks wait for a late lift, There's often a great drift, To the shop, For the Wednesday night five-to-eight shift, Cause the clerk at work is the prettiest gal in town, She cries at the video for "Allentown," A precocious socialist, And she's willing to pal around, She's twice as cool, As the kids at her high school, And every Wednesday after French club she rides to work, With a stuffed mastodon, In the basket on her bicycle. Voice Talent, a MC, said "If Noam Chomsky Was from the Bronx he'd have been assassinated promptly," The clerk said, "He was from the Bronx," Voice Talent said, "You know what I mean," Giving someone an opportunity to throw out a Comment about ignoramuses, but no one paid attention. "Boyee, what a pain this is," said the only paid employee, the manager, "I came for culture, not accountan'," And a girl put a flyer up above the watafountain. She carried clandestine, Two-dollar mesc'line, In her blue-collar mess tin plastered with stickers, that said "Food Not Bombs," "Sex Not Proms," And "Critical Mass." That bastard, Voice Talent snickered, He thought, "Nice graphics, But that's just half-assed agitprop, To piss off a traffic cop," Aw shucks can it be I'm too lazy for pot-lucks? If not my friends who am I willing to cook for? And they're chillin', At the Anarchist Bookstore.