Hip hop has always had room for humor. Biz Markie and The Fat Boys paraded as pranksters in the early days of the genre. Even as thugs and thug wannabes reigned supreme in the ’90s, rappers like Busta Rhymes and Ol’ Dirty Bastard brought more levity to the rap game.
With that said, keep an open mind to the lyrical stylings of MC Paul Barman, the crude but shrewd wordsmith performing at The Orpheum in Ybor City Sunday.
With a gangly physique, curly ‘fro and spectacles, the sheepish, unassuming Barman looks more like a geeky Ivy Leaguer than a speedy rhyme releaser, and he should, since the New Jersey native is a graduate of Brown University. A proud Jew and prouder intellectual, Barman drops philosophers (Nietzsche), mathematicians (Fibonacci) and religious references (The Rubiyat) into his rhymes and flips a mean chemical formula or physiological process now and then. Barman is just too smart for his own good, and we are the beneficiaries.
All that elitist intellectualism would be too much to take if Barman wasn’t so damn funny. While he flexes his immense brainpower, like all the world’s dorks, he’s out to get laid as well, and that dichotomy explains the humor-plus-brains attraction of Paullelujah!, his first full length LP. With quirky production by MF Doom and Prince Paul, Paullelujah! is this year’s sleeper album in underground hip hop.
“Cock Mobster,” starts the album out with “a porn utopia/a cornucopia of warm fallopia.” He then goes on to talk about his fantasies with celebrities, pining for the likes of Liz Hurley, Laetitia Casta and Winona Ryder.
The chorus of “Bleeding Brain Grow” has the same melody as the theme song to Reading Rainbow. Barman takes a more political tenet with this track, asking, “Where’s the ‘outer city’/I believe ‘inner city’ means black.” He also takes shots at the AIDS quilt, the Holocaust, nuclear weapons and NAFTA. Barman rhymes whole phrases like no other, spewing lines like “I built a planned parenthood out of transparent wood and fiberglass/cybercast/from the Tigris and Euphrates/to the Khyber Pass.” Barman’s penchant for palindromes is also on display, dropping “I’m anomie. I, mon ami” and “Ma, origami magi roam.” He also makes an alphabet soup-like palindrome of a dozen rappers’ names.
Barman is smart and talented enough to do a song called “Burping and Farting” and get away with it. Instead of making easy, off-color jokes, he gets physiological on this track, talking about “carbon dioxide” and “gaseous intestines.”
On “Excuse You,” Barman exclaims, “I catch more wreck than a tow truck/silly kid/I’m iller than The Iliad.” Barman’s self-deprecating humor is at its wittiest here, talking about his “five fans,” and “if I had any rhythm, you’d probably faint.” His tongue-braiding rhymes are also on point, flipping lines like “defining God is aligning a divining rod with your reclining bod.”
The Brown Prince brings his geek-show spectacle to the Orpheum Sunday. At a show in San Francisco, Barman reportedly wore a wig for three songs, sketched a drawing of an audience member while doing another song and did the Running Man during the encore. A memorable show is in store Sunday and, this being Tampa, you shouldn’t miss your opportunity to see a rap iconoclast, a rarity here indeed.
Contact Andrew Pinaat firstname.lastname@example.org