There really isn't anyone with more hip-hop credibility than producer Prince Paul. In an odd way, he's the Madonna of rap. Through the years, he's morphed his sound so many times that it can't be categorized. His changing sound, from his teenage years in Stetasonic all the way up to his recent pairings with Dan the Automator, has always been revolutionary and robust. Which is why his latest album, Politics of the Business,
is such a disappointment. It's surprisingly misguided and disjointed. What happened?
Let me get this out there right now: I love Prince Paul. 1999's A Prince Among Thieves
is the most singularly creative narrative in hip-hop history. His work with De La Soul, beginning with 1989's 3 Feet and Rising,
which expanded sampling sources to all genres of music (including jacking Sesame Street rhymes and Doors bass lines), kicked the door open for other producers.
That's what makes this record all the more frustrating. His recent work (Handsome Boy Modeling School
and A Prince Among Thieves
) has revolved around a recurring theme. Politics of the Business
continues this concept, only weakly. A Prince Among Thieves
so eloquently told the story of how crime and the hip-hop game are desperately bound. The album's protagonist, Tariq, represented a whole culture corrupted and connected by crime. Politics...,
only Paul's third solo release, looks to defy the classic ideals of rap again.
Unfortunately, the people and music being parodied are the album's downfall. The West Coast slide of "So What" sounds like a Dr. Dre beat, fit with Kokane on the hook. But the song doesn't gel. It can't figure out if it wants to be hard or hilarious. We also get a song wherein rappers bitch about their bitches on "Drama Queen." Truth Enola and De La's Trugoy reflect on the combustibility of their relationships. No new ground covered here. There's even an R&B love joint, the acoustic "Beautifully Absurd." On it, crooner W. Ellington Felton coos about a changed woman. It doesn't fit the flow at all.
All these styles, though, get muddled along with Paul's vision. If he just wanted to hear some of his favorite MCs rhyming over his finely-crafted beats, that would be fine. But constructing the album around a theme that he's already dealt with begs for a comparison.
The album's true but broad insights are best illustrated on the album's skits. Resident hip-hop jokester Dave Chappelle shows up as a ridiculously ignorant record exec. His ignorance highlights hip-hop's decline. "Liked it schmiked it, it's all backpacking music, you're lucky to go double wood with that shit. Stop bringin' me these whack-ass records and bring me some shit I can sell," Chappelle says, noting the obvious bottom-line sentiment in the game. Later, a New York rap station's hype-man repeats the album's title before each song. Tongue-in-cheek horn-blowing runs rampant. It's not surprising that the skits have the clearest voice Prince Paul and De La Soul basically invented the skit on their debut, 3 Feet High and Rising.
Politics of the Business
is not a bad album, it's just confused. Backpackers will scoop this up and smirk at all the insider jokes. But they'll be missing the point. They're being lampooned along with everyone else.
There are a few legitimate bangers here. Chubb Rock, the underutilized Wordsworth and MF Doom rip "People, Places and Things." All three MCs note their contempt for the who-you-know culture over a familiar Paul maraca-laced beat. And Guru and Planet Asia show up to destroy "Not Trying to Hear It," another muffled horn-laden rhythm. But the quality wordsmiths can't save the album from its fundamental problems.
Prince Paul is better than this. If he wanted to make hardcore, grimy music, his stint with the Gravediggaz, he could have done that. If he wanted to joke around and do some silly posturing like on the Handsome Boy project, that would be cool, too. But don't throw us this jumbled mess packaged as a hypothesis. We get it. Rap is way too shallow. Everybody thinks they're the shit, even if they're not. Even if they are the most innovative producer of the last two decades.