MC Paul Barman — the Brown-educated, New Jersey-native, Jewish entrant in the rap pantheon — comes from the classroom, not the streets.
“I wouldn’t trade anything for a gun shot,” Barman said in a recent interview when asked if he’d consider a Faustian bargain a la criminal-cum-rapper 50 Cent. “I was thinking [of the] Memphis Bleek [lyric], ‘Anybody realer than me is in a mess hall with their chest out.'”
Barman doesn’t want Memphis Bleek’s reality. “[He’s] saying ‘real’ is ‘incarcerated,'” Barman explains. “If that’s real, I don’t want to be real.”
Real or not, Barman’s lyrical wit — a sense of humor that has, for too long, been absent from hip-hop — has earned national recognition for his idiosyncrasies.
In the 18-minute EP It’s Very Stimulating (WordSound Recordings, 2000), Barman, with beats courtesy of Prince Paul, turned rap’s obsession with booty upside-down. “If you want sex with me, be prepared for bad sex and slapstick,” he boasts. In songs such as “Salvation Barmy,” he drops many near-perfect rhymes: “Walking down the street looking at boobs, asses, faces/ Went into Salvation Army for some used glasses cases.”
Barman next released the PM Dawn-produced 12-inch “How Hard Is That,” wherein he mocks bad roommates (“Can’t finish grad school think that’s cool but it’s sad/ If I wanted to watch football I’d live with my dad”) and the late Notorious B.I.G.
Barman appropriates the slain rapper’s self-love anthem — “I love it when you call me Paul Barman” — over music taken from the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski. He seems to be assuaging his own concerns that he may be a “flash in the pan/ Flash ash in the sand.”
With the full-length Paullelujah! (Househusband Records, 2002), Barman confirmed his talents in an album that takes his now-trademark shtick to yet another level. While Stimulating was — despite the dropped names of everyone from Jane editor Jane Pratt to Grace Rainey Rogers, who has an auditorium named after her at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — largely about sex, Paullelujah! exhibits a slightly broader scope. Song topics range from surrealist-sculpture parks to anarchist book stores (based on Chapel Hill’s Internationalist Books and Community Store).
Barman, 28, credits the shift to his own maturation.
“I got a little less young and … I think they stopped putting testosterone in my hamburgers,” he offers.
But lest a fan fear for Barman’s masculinity, the rapper whose libido and artistic skill have resulted in publications calling him rap’s Woody Allen is still adding lyrics to Paullelujah!’s epic fantasy-sex song “Cock Mobster.” Barman rhymes his way through multitudes of famous women, including actress Winona Ryder (“goin’ inside her”), Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon (“slip my slim sword in”) and writer Amy Tan (“she said ‘lay me mon'”).
“I had to take apart my desk yesterday looking for [my list of] new girls,” Barman reveals. “[A new lyric is] ‘Condoleezza Rice on your knees, the price of garnering the best supporting girl nomination for world domination.'”
But while Barman does rap about sex — often so explicitly he can’t hold hopes of MTV or radio play — his music also draws comparisons to fellow satirists They Might Be Giants or Weird Al Yankovic.
For a rapper who’s already experimented with Fibonacci numbers (“MC Fibonacci Sequence Vs. Interrupting Rapper,” from Post Graduate Work (Househusband, 1998), Barman’s first release), acrostics (in “The Joy of Your World,” from Stimulating) and palindromes (Paullelujah!’s “Bleeding Brain Grow”) in his rhymes, it seems Barman might soon run out of clever devices.
But the self-described “brainiac with a veiny sack” isn’t worried.
“Morse code,” Barman replies when asked about his next puzzle. “I haven’t nailed down that style — you’ll see, though.”
But will listeners get the message?
“They’ll have to work on it,” he says.
Barman, who brings to his craft a gifted child’s obsession with word games, will rhyme on demand. Asked to provide lyrics about the current war on terrorism, he raps, “Hans Blix/ His surface non-sticks” and “Jacque Chirac/ He doesn’t want to rock Iraq.”
But for Tony Blair, the rapper — always cognizant of the value of the unsaid — declares he’s going to “hold on to that” rhyme. Will it be “phony bear,” “lonely stare” or “baloney hair care?” Probably something better.