“Prince” Paul Huston and Dan “The Automator” Nakamura both have extensive experience with concept albums. Prince Paul can boast the groundbreaking horrorcore of Gravediggaz and his rap-opera A Prince Among Thieves; Nakamura helped with both the sci-fi epic Deltron 3030 and animated pop band Gorillaz.
On their 1999 debut Handsome Boy Modeling School collaboration So… How’s Your Girl, the two introduced themselves in slippery alter-egos, as cunning lotharios Chest Rockwell (Prince Paul) and Nathaniel Merriweather (Nakamura), two spokesmen for a $60 finishing school for jetsetters. Between them, their understanding of hip-hop concept records is virtually unmatched– their projects have displayed ambitious, genre-mashing blends of novelty, unity, and style. And from dozens of in-character interviews (“Handsome people attract other handsome people,” Merriweather once quipped), to the regal coiffure and handlebar mustaches in their press photos, Paul and Dan consistently projected the HBMS motif in their public appearances.
But an amusing concept alone isn’t sufficient enough to carry an album, and White People, the overstuffed, underdeveloped, meandering 53-minute musical odyssey that returns them to the spotlight after a half-decade of silence, fails to reflect the audacity of their off-stage personas. Aside from Father Guido Sarducci’s sardonic monologues and skits featuring Tim Meadows, the moniker Handsome Boy Modeling School serves its purpose in title only. It follows no particular direction, jumping from Del’s sucka emcee baiting on “The World’s Gone Mad” to Cat Power’s lugubrious pleading on “I’ve Been Thinking” to RZA’s punitive beatings on “A Day in the Life”. How these fit under White People‘s thematic umbrella is a mystery.
White People is adorned with a few quality tracks. Longtime Prince Paul compatriots De La Soul worship at the altar of fame on “If It Wasn’t For You”, setting their rhymes against a triumphant bobbing brassline and echoing woodwinds, while “First… and Then” resurrects an energetic Dres (Black Sheep), who crafts a workout routine for a night out. But these noteworthy cuts do not veil Handsome Boy’s central problem: The duo seem to fit the album to its guests rather than vice versa.
At the heart of this debacle lies the seven-minute colossus “Rock and Roll (Hip-Hop Could Never Hip-Hop Like This), Pt. 2”. Bringing together such disparate characters as Lord Finesse, Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, DJ Q-Bert, Grand Wizard Theodore, and Jazzy Jay, the cut sounds more like a rework of the LP’s previous material than an actual collaboration between these guests. It’s like Carmen Santiago kidnapped Pharrell Williams and Jack Johnson and forced them to record an album with Rockapell at the boards. Combine pianist heartthrob Jamie Cullum and John Oates? Genius! Mike Patton and Jack Johnson got a free minute? Brilliant! Is Rahzel even on the album? Who cares?!
As a result, White People, for all its ambitions, fails to coalesce. Worse, it falls victim to the flipside of MF Doom’s critique: Handsome Boy Modeling School is all about the image, not about the music. “That’s the point!” supporters might retort. “HBSM is parodying the state of commercial hip-hop. The scene!” Okay, but that’s just starting a shitty band as a commentary on shitty bands and expecting people to respect you for it. Given Paul and Nakamura’s successful outings, they possess the capability to deliver a concept album brimming with energy and solidarity. White People, unfortunately, bursts with inconsistency.
01 – Intro (f.Father Guido Sarducci)
02 – If It Wasn’t For You (f. De La Soul & Starchild Excalibur)
03 – Are You Down With It (w. Mike Patton)
04 – The World’s Gone Mad (f. Del The Funky Homosapien, Barrington Levy & Alex Kapranos)
05 – Dating Game (f. Tim Meadows, Hines Buchanan, i.Neelam)
06 – Breakdown (Jack Johnson)
07 – It’s Like That (f. Casual) / I Am Complete (f. Tim Meadows)
08 – I’ve Been Thinking (Cat Power)
09 – Rock & Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This) Part 2 (f. Lord Finesse, Mike Shinoda, Chester Bennington, Rahzel, Qbert et.al)
10 – The Hours
11 – Class System (f. Pharrell Williams & Julee Cruise)
12 – First…And Then (f. Dres from Black Sheep)
13 – A Day In The Life (f. Aza, The Mars Volta & AG),Good Hygiene (Tim Meadows)
14 – Greatest Mistake (John Oates & Jamie Cullum)
15 – Dating Game Part 2 (f. Tim Meadows, Hines Buchanan & Neelam)
16 – Outro (f. Father Guido Sarducci)
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