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A Portrait of the Artist as MC Paul Barman, master of rhyme and palindrome

I like scaring my mom, who once passed out cold when I suggested that Old Dirty Bastard was in the house. When I found out I was going to interview Jewish rapper MC Paul Barman, I thought the "MC" in Barman's name would be a sure-fire hit parade.

Me: I'm going to interview MC Paul Barman! He's this incredibly verbose and weird Jewish rapper! And he's, like, really funny and stuff!

Mom: Oh, that sounds nice. I can't wait to read it.

Me: Could I have scared you with the Insane Clown Posse? They're in town, too.

Mom: You know I'd disown you in a second, hon.

Me: Thanks, Mom.

Apparently, it's hard to be taken very seriously as a Jewish hip-hop artist, even where rural Moody Blues fans are concerned. Disheartened, I set off to Boulder for my interview, which would never intimidate anyone. I caught up with Barman, harassing the sushi chef at the Hapa on the Hill Sushi Grill, just prior to his show at the nearby Tulagi theater.

Barman: I never saw sushi with cream cheese before.

Sushi guy: Before here? Pretty common. A lot of people like salmon and cream cheese.

MC Paul Barman keeps it real; he just happens to care deeply about sushi. Tired from a long drive through Kansas, he and his crew had rings under their eyes, and Barman was in dire need of a Woody Guthrie talking blues CD. It becomes obvious at this point that Barman is not going to be getting all Cash Money on me or anything. Reticent, he answers my query about palindromes, the transition between his old EP and new LP, and the future of hip-hop itself, thusly:

Barman: I think the future is cowering in bunkers.

Indy: Cowering in bunkers. (significantly long pause)

Barman: I mean, all I can comment on is my own future. And that's pretty unclear.

Unclear, indeed. His new CD, Paullelujah, is chock-full of eccentricity; amongst the instances where actual hip-hop takes place, there's beat poetry and talking blues. Unlike his debut EP It's Very Stimulating (Wordsound Records, 2000), which basically focused on the disastrous nature of Paul Barman's sex life, the new LP concentrates mostly on how patently awesome Paul Barman is. Ofttimes, it concentrates on the complexity and cleverness of the rhyme itself, i.e. the entire song "Vulture Shark Sculpture Park."

The diversification of the album may suggest a future direction for Barman. Band manager and guitarist Yaz said, "Well, I think of him as somewhat more of a Beck figure than a rapper." Of course, he also claimed that they'd gotten lost in Kansas, which we all know is impossible. Still, respect from more serious hip-hop artists doesn't look likely to come at any point.

Indy: How has the acceptance level from black hip-hop artists been? Have things changed since It's Very Stimulating has had time to sink in, or since the release of Paullelujah?

Barman: They've already rejected me.

Indy: Well, you've worked with some of the, I guess, "true-school" hip-hop artists -- I mean, there's a Deltron sticker right over there. And on the "How Hard Is That" single, you even thanked Jay-Z. Was that sincere?

Barman: I love Jay-Z.

So he's certainly not bitter. The show was great, with lots of crowd participation (he brought camerawoman Mandy Burch onstage and rapped to her while drawing an unflattering caricature) and Barman's odd stage presence -- your basic, straight-faced MC who happens to be tap-dancing. He also managed to pull off a talking-blues freestyle. "It was lookin' stormy out ... like a rooster on its back." He did his new "hit" single, "Cock Mobster" -- a stream of gems like "a pornutopia, a cornucopia of warm fallopia."

After the show, I tried to get him to predict the future.

Indy: You seem to be getting into more eclectic forms of music than strictly hip-hop.

Barman: Hip-hop is eclectic.

Indy: Wrong choice of words. Just ... different genres. Do you think you're likely to continue that trend?

Barman: What trend?

Indy: Different genres.

Barman: Definitely.

Indy: Will it still be based around hip-hop, or ... ?

Barman: I think there will just be a lot of experimentation, and a lot of hip-hop, and a lot of, like, continuation, and outgrowth, and sh** like that.

Indeed. After all, what can you expect from an Ivy-educated, sex-obsessed Jewish MC? There are many ways to avoid being labeled a novelty act, and for some, this might even require rhyming "newborn gorilla" with "blue corn tortilla." Might.

  • A Portrait of the Artist as MC Paul Barman, master of rhyme and palindrome

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