Sharps & Flats

Infused with pop culture and heady literary theory, Paul Barman's Ivy League rhymes crackle with clever jokes and silly wit.


Joseph Patel
February 14, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

MC Paul Barman is a 25-year-old Jewish rapper with Goldilocks curls. Armed with an Ivy League education from Brown, Barman comes straight out of New Jersey by way of North Carolina. His debut EP, "It's Very Stimulating," is propelled by beats from Prince Paul, the quirky producer responsible for Stetsasonic, De La Soul and his own ingenious record-length melodramas.

In the world of hip-hop, Barman is a shining novelty. It would be easy to lump him in a second wave of white rappers with Eminem, another rapping curio, simply because both of them are white and both of them have skills. But the comparison wouldn't be fair to Barman. On the five-song "Its Very Stimulating," he's smarter and sillier than Eminem, and his rhymes have more appeal to anyone who favored the Bohemian antics of De La Soul's Daisy Age over Dr. Dre's drop-top G-Funk.

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In order to enjoy Barman's rhymes, and therefore his songs (as with Woody Allen, another neurotic Jew, the dialogue is the essence of the art), you have to appreciate sex and school, since that's all he seems to talk about. You also have to be armed with enough education to decipher allusions to historical events, mathematical diagrams and pop culture (well, at least know who Jane Pratt is, anyway).

On "The Joy of Your World," in between exaggerated, off-key choruses, Barman rhymes, "I'm a lonely guy/Since my honey pie ran off with Ione Skye/Now I've got nothing whatsoever/Ugly, broke, arrogant but so clever." And he is undoubtedly clever. Take this line from "Salvation Army," about a severe case of blue balls: "My pissed-off Jimbrowski/Turned three colors, like Krzysztof Kieslowski." Brilliant.

The impressive thing about Barman's college-educated rhymes is that he is as versed in the chambers of the Wu-Tang Clan as he is in Ivy League politics. In one song he asks, "What is the meaning of CLASS?/Is it a Conspiracy Leveled At Sleepy Students trying to pass?" It's an allusion to the classic line from Wu-Tang's GZA on the song "I Got Your Back": "What is the meaning of CRIME?/Is it Criminals Robbing Innocent Motherfuckers Everytime?"

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Prince Paul is obviously nurturing the MC's talent. In Barman, he's found a kindred spirit, someone to share his geeky, dark humor. They're perfect muses for each other, evident on "I'm Fricking Awesome." Barman rhymes from the perspective of an indulgent woman on the prowl, while Paul's heady soundscape underscores the soap-opera-like narrative.

In a way, Barman's existence as a white rapper and his ability to flourish in his own niche is a contradiction -- and Barman knows this. He even mocks his own stature in the hip-hop world. On "MTV Get Off the Air," a duet with with another racial-discussion-in-waiting, white rapper Princess Superstar, he unleashes the ultimate diss, one that trashes himself even more than his partner: "Your talents are bite-size, it's no surprise you rhyme with white guys."


Joseph Patel

Joseph Patel, aka Jazzbo, is a New York writer and an editor at RS1W.com.

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