Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On #48 - Handsome Boy Modeling School – So… How’s Your Girl?

There was this time in hip-hop called the 90’s. It’s before rap music had really been fully embraced by the pop charts the way it is today, but it’s after the music had been around long enough to have splintered into a million little subsets, each with their own firm adherents who often had nothing to do with each other. And somehow, straddling them all, comes this little oddity, a concept album ostensibly organized by two boozy dilettantes, Nathaniel Merriweather (in actuality, producer Dan the Automator) and Chest Rockwell (nee Prince Paul), centered around the musical curriculum of a men’s modeling school. All this in turn is (loosely) based on a sketch from Chris Elliott’s short-lived Get A Life TV series, which is sampled throughout to provide some of the continuity for the album. And continuity may be something it needs, given that the music broadly encompasses samples of country love songs slowed down, string quartets looped over a beat, water splashing for a rhythm, and other eccentric ways of putting across their musical ideas. Add to this already strange mix a bevy of guests from across the spectrum of music (and elsewhere) – one track alone credits Sean Lennon, Money Mark, Josh Haden of the group Spain, Paula Frazier of Tarnation, and Father Guido Sarducci – and you end up with… well, this. A silly, off-the-cuff sounding, loosely organized “concept” designed for maximum hookiness and maximum eccentricity.

But wait, that’s not all. Turns out that these guest spots are not just phoned in (except once, literally, for a joke); the folks working alongside Automator and Prince Paul have taken their roles quite seriously indeed, crafting words that, while sometimes humorous, address the real world, not just the silly, seedy world of male modeling that the Chris Elliott sketches portray. And guess what? – it also turns out that Paul and Automator are taking this seriously too. Years after I thought the fun of listening to this had run its course I find that things are actually quite intensely detailed and if the album's not perfect, it's only because they want something of the ramshackle feeling to remain in it. And that continuity I mentioned? Somehow, even with all the diverse sounds and guests, it just flows. Nothing sounds out of place within the weird, catchy little world they’ve created. My favorites are the co-production with DJ Shadow ("Holy Calamity") and Encore's Rakim tribute (over a slowed down Eric B & Rakim sample) in "Waterworld" plus both of Del's appearances ("Magnetizing" and "The Projects (P Jays)"). But the whole thing is pretty damn brilliant, and no less so just because they aim for it to be enjoyable to listen to in addition to meaning something. In fact, I'd even wager that saying something and making it accessible like this is a much harder trick to pull off than it is to come on hard and serious and announce your intentions right out of the gate. I'm still impressed and still digging it over a decade later.
- Patrick Brown

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