For the past couple of years, Paul White has been building a steady brand through instrumental hip-hop releases, most notably through his excursion of psychedelic rock samples, Paul White and the Purple Brain for Now-Again Records. His sound is very similar to Madlib’s, which is no small praise. He doesn’t have any production totems, preferring to browse through all of his music collection and figure out how to make beats from anything, whether it be rock, soul, reggae, classical or found sounds. However, the true test of a hip-hop producer will never be the beat tape, if only because the genre of hip-hop instrumentals applies to a very select group of the community. Rapping With Paul White comes at a very appropriate time in White’s career, then, as his productions have begun to pop up on various artists’ LPs from Detroit to London.
Unfortunately, Rapping With Paul White suffers from the same sort of problems plenty of Madlib’s rap-oriented releases have been held back by. While it’s an undeniably entertaining listen, there are no homerun hits here and plenty of tracks, particularly the instrumentals, lack cohesion. The first segment of the album is pulled off cleanly, perhaps because of its laser-like focus on the psychedelic side of White’s oeuvre matched with a trio of gritty Detroit MCs – Guilty Simpson, Marv Won and Danny Brown. However, as the album rolls along, it begins to feel a bit unfocused and showy, blazing through interview and television samples paired up with African tribal beats, soul samples and spotty rapping that doesn’t really add much to the note-perfect production.
A great example of this is “A Weird Day”, where former MTV Made coach Homeboy Sandman details a day spent wandering the streets of the UK. The chorus of “UK? OK!” is frustratingly dull, even grating, and neither the beat nor the rapper come with the sort of energy that blesses earlier tracks like “The Doldrums” or “One of Life’s Pleasures.” Guilty Simpson appears to be in steady B-list mode on “Trust”, providing his gully vocals without the staggeringly simple yet effective rhymes that made albums like Ode to the Ghetto and Random Axe so subtly arresting. Other rappers like Moe Pope of the San Francisco Bay area and Tranqill out of London just feel like guys who would make a bigger mark on a full-length dedicated to their performances. Moe Pope in particular brings to mind Mos Def circa the late ’90s in some respects, but in the context of this release feels a little like a token conscious rapper. It’s really only Danny Brown who does a strong job of grabbing your ears and not letting go, though there’s something hypnotic about “Indigo Glow”‘s incense-infused vibe combined with Jehst’s whispery cadence.
Still, Rapping With Paul White is an enthralling listen because of White’s excellent production ear (just try not to put on a screw face while listening to the guitar squeal on “Rotten Apples”) and his ability to make the diverse sample sources co-exist on the same disc. Yet, it doesn’t really rise above the feeling of a compilation or mixtape slapped up to showcase a producer on the rise, either. At a brisk forty minutes, the album contains no truly memorable raps and a bunch of productions and skits that seem to disappear as quickly as they appeared. Rapping With Paul White continues to put the world on notice that White is on equal footing with many of the underground’s most esteemed vinyl spinners. It just doesn’t provide much evidence that White is as accomplished at working out what an album of his should sound like other than more of the sample-exploration we’ve already come to expect of him. What we have here is a fun diversion, an interesting trek through a variety of sounds and cities, but also something with a self-limiting shelf life.