We’re hanging out at MC Paul Barman’s lower Manhattan apartment listening to Beatles tunes on a secondhand disc player his chatty son, Felix, commandeers. Barman shows me a mint condition vinyl version of urban fiction mentor Iceberg Slim’s defunct masterpiece, Reflection, and forthrightly comments, “Iceberg was a master of the English language and pulp novels. His verbing nouns were brilliant, economical, and descriptive. He was slick talking, had depth of feeling, and a large personality.”
The same could be said of egalitarian Ridgewood, New Jersey native, Barman, a savvy Brown University-educated rapper, humorist, illustrative artist, and now, Househusband Records proprietor.
It’s been seven years since Barman dropped fascinating linguistic labyrinth Paullelujah, due to family obligations, part-time jobs, and music-related art in the interim. But he’s come back stronger than ever on ‘09’s epic-sized Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud.
“My structural layering, triple meanings, and speed of rhyme are intended for longevity and nourishment. It’s not available for surface clarity. The consensus was Paullelujah followed up (2000 debut) It’s Very Stimulating with talking blues and word jazz in an attempt to make a more emotionally wide ranging work. Although at the time I wasn’t good at it,” the modest erudite rhyme master quips. “I’m better at doing serious works now then with Paullelujah.”
An ambitious artisan, Barman enjoys setting his audience up for the unexpected, whether through music, online sketches, handbooks, resplendent limited vinyl, or the intriguingly prismatic Buck Moon Kaboom Mixtape. A nimble-tongued jester that could hold court with anyone, he’s shown appreciation for satirical cartoons as well as underground comic book legends R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar.
Despite some serious-minded apparitions spread across Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud’s comprehensive oeuvre, Barman’s jollier tunes in collaboration with long-time hip-hop pals, Prince Paul (ex-Stetsasonic architect/ celebrated artist-producer) and MF Doom (Brit-born KMD protagonist/ rapping metal-faced Nuyorican poet), retain an instant like-ability easing mainstream access. The former helps out on spry ‘70s-styled pop charmer, “Get Along Gang,” commissioned by American Greeting Corporation for a cheesy revamped TV show that never came into fruition but wouldn’t feel out of place next to the Banana Splits’ catchy “Tra La La Song.”
Meanwhile, Doom’s featured on playful dual rhyme scheme, “Hot Guacamole” (initially titled “Bullocks,” abandoned for Paullelujah, then snuffed again by Doom’s euphonic cuisine enticement Mm Food). The playful teaser, utilizing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s jaunty “Down On The Corner” (Mushroom Cloud’s only obvious sample), gets equaled in insouciant splendor by snazzy Barman-Doom accord, “Go Sane,” a suavely posh New York-bound springtime chime.
In actuality, Barman’s not only returned to collect some “Props,” he’s here to snub “hate to laugh novelty acts” and take a stance against hardcore rap’s compromised commercial gimmickry. But he’s not above snickering lowbrow slapstick a la the genitalia-connected triad bounding therapeutic injunction, “Get Help.”
His chameleon-like stylistic proclivities match his burning desire to delightfully transform and cleverly modify each successive endeavor undertaken. “Aids” jokes aren’t off-limits, even when Doctor Joyce Wallace’s involved. Yet “Drug Casual-T” seems grimly sobering. Barman’s prismatic propensities prove positive.
“My favorite logo is (cable network) Nickelodeon. They’ve created a recognizable brand that changes all the time through font and color. It’s aspirational,” he imparts.
Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud was originally available via your website, mcpaulbarman.com, November ’09. There’s now limited vinyl and a listener’s manual (lyric book) on the way.
I liken the slow roll out to an egg with some shit and feathers still stuck to it. We were so constipated with this project we practically had to give the chicken a C-section. It’s using the working title for Paullalujah, but with the crucial chorus containing the words in ‘Science,’ wherein I’m not only rhyming about splitting the atom but also doing so in Morse cadence, which is long and short syllables that spell out Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud underneath other words. That’ll be the subject of YouTube’s ‘Pellet #2,’ where I’ll explain how this rhythm/ rhyme operates. Another working title was Tears Of Joy—also not the greatest title. In retrospect, I should have called the album The Moon. It’s simple and relates to the songs and fits on YouTube’s 16X16 square pixal thumbnails of album covers; the graphic adjustment which I’m still working on.
You’ve squeezed so many diverse ideas into a single-hour disc. It’s impossible to figure it all out in just a few tertiary listens.
Nobody rhymes like me. I don’t even rhyme like me. I don’t repeat what anyone, especially myself, has done. DJ Qbert is constantly twittering good words of advice like ‘Just as a rolling stone gathers no moss, a focused artist deflects both positive and negative criticism.’ All I cared about was talent, vision, point of view, originality, directness, expression, and innovation. One day someone will notice I worked with total unknowns that were the most famous people in the world.
Point being, I have to contradict myself because L.A.-based Open Mike Eagle, part of Project Blowed at the Bay, whom I’m gonna work with, has a song on his Another Roadside Attraction EP, called ‘The Financial Crisis Song,’ a tight edu-tainment rhyme about the bailout debacle. His understanding of the information in a really tricky lyric is in some ways what I tried to do with ‘Oil,’ ‘Radiation,’ and ‘Owl Pellets,’ which in a way, may not be different than the KRS-One songs inspiring us.
Do you feel like an appreciable underground artist rising up against today’s trendy fashionistas?
When it comes to fashionistas, the underground is a losing proposition. We grew up wanting to be the first to hear Nirvana. When they blew up, people weren’t as attached to them, even though that didn’t take anything away from their records. Then, there’s the Dead Kennedys. Even if their music wasn’t what it was, the name of the band alone makes sure you’d never get divorced from underground status. You could root for the underdog as a kid and get attached to that, but then you believe only underdogs are valuable and shoot yourself in the foot in life. However, I have no interest in fashion, be it underground on not.
…As Paul wears his dress pants with yellow army boots, jacket, vest, and hat that don’t match. (laughter)
If fashion is about surfaces, of course, I have no interest. It’s not that I’m in opposition to fashion, it doesn’t (come into my radar).
Did you ever feel your abstract lyrical twists were too sharply worded for the proletariat or possibly over regular people’s heads?
Regular people are smart and don’t like to be spoken down to. The fast food proletariat is gonna fall apart. Have you seen the new study saying Monsanto corn, which is all corn and most food, causes organ damage? It’s genetically engineered to do well with a certain herbacide. Point being, strategy and creativity have very small overlap so I don’t have a choice about what I do.
You deal more with serious social issues and less with hilarious sexual innuendos on Thought Balloon. Has your perspective matured since being married with two sons or have you seen too much bad shit in the world?
Both. (laughter) Also, I don’t only have to use my own ideas anymore. I can collect things that appear to be the truth and throw them in the mix.
Do you still think ex-prez Bush knocked down the towers on 911?
When I said that I was convinced there was an order to not send planes to intercept the terrorist planes in illegal airspace. My understanding was it’d require a presidential order not to send planes to knock those planes out of the sky. Did Bush knock them down? I don’t know.
Tell me about Beer, the loose musical collective you and famed movie director Michel Gondry (animation/ piano/ optigan) put together.
It’s just us—not to take anything away from the fabulous collaborations. It’s a mind melt and we’ve hired awesome musicians. Gondry wanted to call it Beer Machine, but I just wanted Beer. We should do shows with Can. (laughter) ‘Leafbird’ is a new kiddie song. There’s a few unfinished.
Weird Al Yankovic does the horror-filmed ‘weird owl’ outro for ‘The Moon’ (featuring deep-voiced dramatist Master Ace). Have you discussed doing any future projects with popular musical satirist, Weird Al?
Nas did an unauthorized biography of Rakim that was brilliant and blew a lot of heads back. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy to do one with Weird Al?’ So I researched him and put it together in similar format to a beat that could be a cousin to the Nas song and I did that years ago. I also reached out to him when his parents died inexplicably (in a car accident). Incredibly sad. Then I sent him the song. He said, ‘That’s awesome.’ But it needs updating because I did it after Al’s Poodle Hat and before White & Nerdy. It exists on my Buck Moon Kaboom. I also did an interview with him for Village Voice. I wrote an unauthorized KRS-One bio. It was actually Gondry’s first assignment for me to translate into rhyme—what I call Rhyme Slating. I’m working one for Joe Strummer and Obama as well.
The emotionally compelling tracks ending Thought Balloon, beautiful moonlit sonata, ‘Divorce,’ and post-recession reflection, ‘It Can All Be Taken Away,’ seem to reminisce about the struggle to survive.
But it ends positively with marriage. It’s about my parents divorce and the triumph over that. We take everything for granted. We make art ‘cause life hurts.
Will you sign artists to your boutique label, Househusband Records?
But who’d sign with me when I won’t sign with anybody. (laughter) Grand Royal Records were great taste makers—I’d love to write for people like King-Goffin did in the ‘60s. We’re making kid’s books and elaborate lyric books for Househusband Books & Media. The label will involve me, but not always as performer. Also, I have dreams of overseeing other people’s projects. Maybe tweaking rap demos with some outside direction to bring it up a few notches.
Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud is available through mcpaulbarman.com.