Artist Interview: MC Paul Barman
I think I’ve read the word “nerdcore” in association with MC Paul Barman’s style of hip-hop like six or seven times while reading up about the guy.
And I get it. He’s a white rapper with curly, floppy locks and glasses. His delivery isn’t urban at all; unlike someone like Eminem or Bubba Sparxxx, when you listen to MCPB it’s pretty clear you’re listening to a white guy. The guy attended an Ivy League school, so he doesn’t even pretend to be a thug.
In short (if it’s not already too late for that), he’s not what you’d call a typical hip-hop artist.
If we’re going with “nerdcore,” though, I think it’s necessary to point out that nerds are characteristically very smart, and as a result, Barman is lyrically one of the best there is.
“That stuff is supposed to be totally, totally fun,” Barman said in a recent interview with Fresh Scouts. “It’s supposed to work on its first listen, and I also try to make every line quotable. It’s not supposed to be so complicated that you can’t quote it. On the contrary, something I strive for is to make every line inevitably to follow the previous, and simultaneously be applicable to everyday things out of context.”
If you listened to some of his songs, you’d know exactly what he means. He’s the king of the multi-syllabic rhyme, and we’re not just talking about two-syllable words here. I’ve heard this guy do six or seven at a time on more than one occasion. For example:
“Smirkin’ jocks with hacky sacks
“In Birkenstocks and khaki slacks.
“I’m the hypist lyricist
“While they’re like, ‘What type of beer is this?’”
See what I’m sayin’?
That particular song, “Get MTV Off the Air, Part 2,” is ten years old, and while it still holds up after all this time, a lot has changed since then.
“I toured a lot and then I didn’t tour anymore,” Barman said about his seven-year hiatus between 2002’s “Paullelujah” and 2009’s “Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud,” which has been very critically acclaimed.
“I recorded in Cincinnati and then all over the place,” he continued. “I became a dad twice. New York fell apart, the music industry fell apart, and then the world fell apart.”
But Barman’s music never did. Despite having to take a break from hip-hop for a few years to raise his sons, he found himself back in the game a few years ago after meeting up with DJ Memory Man, who helped get the ball rolling again.
“He started working with me on this one 12-inch—a brilliant 12-inch called ‘Live from Death Row,’” Barman explained. “I started just by doing a verse for him, then I helped him conceptualize a song. Then, we started talking about how the B Side should reflect the A Side, and then we kept working together. Then, he demanded to hear everything that I’d been working on, and then he helped me put it all together and make some new songs.”
Nine of those new songs appear on the new album, in which DJ Memory Man played a huge role. Barman also brought back his old pal Prince Paul, who discovered Barman sometime around the Turn of the Century, to produce a couple tracks as well. Even the great ?uestlove of The Roots helped lay down a beat for the record.
In fact, Barman hinted that more work could be in the hopper soon with hip-hop’s favorite afroed drummer, and it comes in the form of what MCPB calls “creative biographies,” or bio-rhymes. Inspired by Nas’s “Unauthorized Biography of Rakim,” he put together two similar tracks of his own for Wu-Tang’s RZA and, of all people, Weird Al Yankovic.
“What’s so revolutionary about Nas’s song is that it’s an homage to someone still alive, which doesn’t happen in any genre in history nearly enough,” Barman explained. “I’m giving props to a living artist… it’s about a person, which people relate to and are interested and entertained by.
“The challenge is not so much really rhyming about information, which I’ve trained myself to do over these many years, as much as telling biographies differently from one another,” he continued. “I can’t just start with birth and end with death, partly because so many of these guys are still living. Structurally, it might get boring in a linear chronology, and that might not be the best way to present someone’s biography anyway.”
And that’s what comes next for Barman—taking this intriguing new idea and running with it. On deck are bio-rhymes for Little Richard, Chuck D, and a host of others Barman has been thinking about. But at the heart of it all, there will be a commitment to lyrical creativity, to poetry, to hip-hop.
Call him “nerdcore” if you must, but the stuff he writes is funny and intelligent and thoughtful. How many rappers currently on Top 40 radio stations right now can have the same said about them?
“In the song that Ludacris sampled from Rakim, where he says, ‘Emceeing to me means move the crowd,’ I was listening to that song and suddenly I realized, as obvious as it might seem, you can move a crowd physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally,” Barman said.
“There have been times where I can and do move crowds physically, but I’m trying to go all the way until I break through, and go further.”
He’s been breaking through for over a decade now, and “Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud” could be the vehicle that drives him straight into the hearts of the masses. The problem is that some record executive somewhere doesn’t think the world is ready for MC Paul Barman yet. I’m saying that you are read, and Barman would like to tell you, too.
Check out “Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud” in full at MC Paul Barman’s website, or buy the album at his store.
Check out “Get MTV Off the Air, Part 2″:
And one of my favorite tracks from the new album, “Allahu Akbar”: