The Austin Chronicle

Record Reviews

Reviewed by Andy Langer, October 15, 1999, Music

Handsome Boy Modeling School

So ... How's Your Girl? (Tommy Boy)

It's getting hard to write about hip-hop visionary Prince Paul without invoking the phrase "year-end best contender." In February, Paul released Prince Among Thieves, a dramatic concept album that lived up to its hip-hopera billing by combining a great script and a collection of well-cast cameos (Everlast, Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul). Now, after producing the year's best comedy album -- Chris Rock's Bigger and Deffer -- Paul offers another genuinely important disc by teaming with Dan "The Automater" Nakamura (Dr. Octagon, Cornershop) for the Handsome Boy Modeling School. For starters, the pairing is a no-brainer; both Paul and the Automater have grown so experimental and outside, they represent each other's only peers. And while the Handsome Boy concept, borrowed and hilariously sampled from Chris Elliot's Get a Life, is relatively low-concept compared to Prince Among Thieves, the execution is similar enough: bring in an all-star cast (Mike D, Sean Lennon, DJ Shadow) and push the sonic envelope. The result is as challenging and cohesive as Prince, yet even more experimental and playful. Not only do they pull off matching a rhythmic layer of raindrops to Encore's "Waterworld," they also find common ground between an Aretha Franklin sample and the sci-fi wasubi of Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori and the Beastie's Mike D. on "Mataphysical." Similarly well-crafted tracks from Brand Nubian and the teaming of Del tha Funkee Homosapien and De La Soul are more than effective, but nothing says more about the flexibility of the Automator/Paul pairing than the Portishead-style drama of Roisin (Moloko) and J-Live's "The Truth" or the smart bubblegum pop deconstruction that features the unlikely quartet of Lennon, Money Mark, Josh Hayden, and Don Novello (aka Father Guido Sarducci), who also closes the album with a stunning Handsome Boy testimonial. Ultimately, it all plays out like a 60-minute calling card that illustrates hip-hop's most liberal producers aren't afraid to keep on keepin' on.


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