Borscht Belt B-Boy
It’s safe to say there’s never been an album like this one. MC Paul Barman is, first of all, a rapper who can’t rap worth a damn. That’s part of the act—of course he can’t rap, he’s a nerdy intellectual Jewish white guy. As he says on one track, “If I had any rhythm, maybe you’d finally faint.” But he can rhyme for sure, viz “depraved deformed enslaved conformed wedge letter bed wetter cuneiform”. And yes, he did say cuneiform, which is a clue to his real appeal—the horny Brown graduate is as smart as he is clever, and goofier than Pluto.
He namechecks Margaret Sanger and Noam Chomsky, goes to feminist rallies to get laid, and skewers the American education system (“We could rehabeducate with art, but we ain’t got paint / You can take your budgetary constraint and fudge it up your hairy taint”). He invents words helter-skelter, indulges an obsession with palindromes (like this list of hip-hop luminaries: “Mika, RZA, Evil JD. Nasir is Osiris and J-Live, AZ, Rakim”—go on, read it backwards), and when he steals a fancy office chair he calls it “Trickle-Down Ergonomics”. And for those who get lost in the philosophical switchbacks of “Anarchist Bookstore” (parts one and two), he gamely includes an ode to “Burping and Farting”.
Paullelujah! is Barman’s first full-length CD, but he came to attention with his 2000 EP It’s Very Stimulating, produced by nutcase genius Prince Paul. And his cameos on the projects of assorted maverick MCs (most notably the underappreciated Masta Ace) helped hone his shtick. None of that, though, could really prepare anyone for Paullelujah!. Part manifesto and part stand-up routine, this is a proud declaration of hip-hop’s endless malleability. Barman is a Borscht Belt B-boy (or as he puts it, “the ne plus ultra of B-plus culture”). The Beastie Boys trod some of this ground before, but not with Barman’s socio-political def(t)ness and de-do-dada absurdity.
Of course, any rapping white boy has to face the “appropriation” issue. What right does Barman have to the mic? He takes the question head on: “Had I made a mockery of a culture like the Choco Taco? / Was I to rap as France is to Morocco?” But in the end, he’s having too much fun to worry about it, which is really the only answer he needs.
Prince Paul returns to produce one track, “Bleeding Brain Grow”, and his associate MikeTheMusicGuy keeps the aural playground spirit alive throughout. The languid beats, sunny choruses, and jaunty synth bleeps provide a fittingly happy-go-lucky setting for Barman’s lyrical loop-de-loops. The endearingly attention-deficited songs ping-pong from politics to scatology to utter nonsense, all delivered in Barman’s cheerful nasal bleat. He rhymes “very goth towel” with “terrycloth cowel” and “hairy moth owl”, just because he can. Even at his deliberately crudest (“I would jizz early / Inside Liz Hurley”), he still sounds like the nicest boy you’d ever meet. Really, the liner notes alone were enough to win me over—a fold-out lyric sheet disguised as a newspaper (The Jew Dork Rimes) and illustrated with Barman’s own squiggly doodles, it’s a nifty bit of satire in its own right.
The one non-hip-hop track on the CD is a jokey acoustic talking blues number that references early Dylan—the implicit point being that nerdy intellectual Jewish white guys have an honorable tradition of finding new paths through established musical territory. Paullelujah! shows the tradition is alive and well. He’s “iller than The Illiad”(sic), he “shows more than Shoah”, and he rocks the Bauhaus.