Prince Paul digs through the archives for lost masterpieces. Mostly, he finds castoffs that should have stayed as such, but a few tracks will have listeners doing double takes.
Think of Prince Paul, and the sounds of the old school come wafting into your head. Even as he's kept up his profile over the past few years, taking on projects as diverse as the Gravediggaz, Handsome Boy Modeling School, and his own jaunts into solo work like this year's Itstrumental, he's still most noted for his work on De La Soul's debut, and like it or not, it's the sounds of that debut that will be permanently associated with his name. It is this perception of Prince Paul that may actually help the hip-hop fan's collective opinion of Paul's new album, Hip Hop Gold Dust -- no matter how you look at it, the old school is all over this disc.
Much like Itstrumental, the other album Prince Paul released this year, Hip Hop Gold Dust is an album that collects a pile of the 'lost tracks' in Prince Paul's long backcatalogue. Unlike that album, which was mostly instrumental (hence the name) and all credited to Paul himself, Hip Hop Gold Dust is mostly an album concerned with digging up the lost beats he'd done for other artists over the years. This allows us not only a chance to revel in the Prince's thick-but-minimal production style, but gives us a lesson in the many facets of Paul's hip-hop career. While the number of artists represented here is high, however, there is a common thread that unites the entirety of Hip Hop Gold Dust -- the beats are vintage, and the rhyming style is straight out of the late '80s to mid-'90s.
Yes, if you miss old school hip-hop, you could do worse than this album.
That said, Hip Hop Gold Dust is an album of outtakes, and for the most part it sounds like as much. The De La Soul track that opens the album (after what could be the oldest skit Paul has on record) is no doubt the first thing that people will gravitate toward on the disc, and it's solid enough, but it does sound like a toss-off. As it turns out, there's a good reason for this: The excellent liner notes (Paul provides a few lines of text explaining every track on the disc) betray that "My Mindstate" was recorded as part of a "fake" De La album (that was never finished) that Paul and De La were going to leak to combat the bootleggers during the recording of Buhloon Mindstate. As such, the rhymes are tossed off casually, the beat carries on while the members of De La Soul ramble on about whatever, and the loop that forms the basis of Paul's beat is one of the shortest and simplest he's ever created. It's charming and good-natured, but it's mostly a bunch of guys screwing around in the studio and coming up with something fun.
A little bit more interesting are the alternate takes on the Gravediggaz tracks "Constant Elevation" and "1-800 Suicide". "Constant Elevation" is an alternate take that Paul actually preferred to the album version, though it's not all that different from the version on the Gravediggaz' debut Six Feet Deep raising some question as to the necessity of its inclusion. "1-800 Suicide" is a remix by the RZA that never saw the light of day, and it's interesting for its far more sinister feel, sacrificing the deep groove of the original for something much more cinematic.
Paul uses the platform of Hip Hop Gold Dust to spotlight some of the lesser-known acts that he's produced over the years as well. Groove B Chill lends the album a fun, summery vibe with the goofy-but-endearing old-school stylings of "Top of the Hill", May May adds some R&B flavor with the previously unreleased "Real Man", and Sha of Horror City shows up for "Big Sha", which fits right in with the horror-raps of Gravediggaz sound-wise, but it's more self-promotion than death in subject matter. Resident Alien even shows up with two tracks, the latter of which ("Alone") is a falsetto-laced reggae jam that exposes Resident Alien as more than simply a "hip-hop group".
Hip Hop Gold Dust succeeds in that it gives a solid profile of Prince Paul the producer, complete with all of the tight beats and silly skits that the title implies. What it doesn't do is live up to its name exactly; none of these songs ever quite manage to rise above the level of cast-off album outtake. It's likable, but never fantastic, and solid as Paul's contributions are, the album is more dust than gold.