Barman is a Jewish kid, a skinny graduate of Brown University with a big head of curly hair and a high, nasal voice. Somehow, that hasn't kept him from hooking up with some of hip-hop's hippest tastemakers — folks such as Prince Paul (the producer behind De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising and the Handsome Boy Modeling School) — and appearing on Del tha Funky Homosapien's Deltron 3030 records. Paullelujah! is his debut full-length record, but Barman has been on the nerdster radar for years now, thanks to some 7-inches and EPs.
Here's what MC Paul Barman is not:
The Beastie Boys: Yes, they're all Jewish, but Barman is way more interested in astonishing you with an unexpected rhyme than in forging his own heavy hybrid funk-hop, and he would never do something as pedestrian as encourage you to “fight for your right to party.” (He would more likely encourage you to direct your energies against NAFTA — come to think of it, so would the Beasties, these days.)
Eminem: There's some similarity in their voices, and Mr. 8 Mile does have an occasionally outlandish sense of humor, but Barman doesn't want your stinking rap credibility (a good thing, because his skills are a different — though equally impressive — thing from those of mainstream rappers), and he isn't angry, and he isn't going to make a platinum album any time soon.
Weird Al Yankovic: Barman is a comedian, but he's not doing parodies. Nothing against Al, but most of us could come up with “Eat It,” whereas the routines on Paullelujah! are from somewhere left of left field. There's the hair thing, but we'd all be happier if we just ignored that.
Kool Keith: Barman's record is, in places, as pornographic as anything recorded by Keith/Dr. Octagon/Dr. Dooom. But Kool Keith's best sex rants are hilarious for either surrealist or camp appeal, or they provoke nervous laughter because you've heard that the guy really does film his own porn movies — he's not joking; Barman's “Cock Mobster” is ridiculously, offensively fun because it evokes the encyclopedic imaginary eroticism of adolescence. The song is a catalogue of women with whom Paul would like to make sweet, sensitive, mutually-fulfilling love ... or who at least fill certain masturbatory needs. There's not much in the song we could print here, but it says something interesting about the rapper that he places 70-something author Cynthia Ozick in the company of Cindy Crawford and Anna Nicole Smith. He's a pervert, yeah, but he appreciates a good book. (He also takes a silly delight in shouting the title of his hetero-riffic song so it sounds like the B-52's' Fred Schneider shouting “Rock Lobster.”)
Which brings us to what Barman is: over-smart, certainly, and rolling around in his extra IQ points as gleefully as a pig in mud. This is a guy who, not satisfied to make up rhymes, strings hip-hop names together into an insanely long palindrome (on “Bleeding Brain Grow”); you might have to write down the names to see it, but the shout-out reads the same forward as backward. (Another palindromic example: “Dubya won? No way, bud.”)
That kind of geekiness fills the record, which is so densely packed with obscure allusions and unexpected vocabulary that you can listen a dozen times without making a dent in it. You just don't expect a rap record to make rhymes for words like “cuneiform” and “Rubaiyat.” (And no, kids, the former has nothing to do with oral sex — though you'd be forgiven for guessing that after the rhyme Barman makes for the latter.)
You also don't expect a rap record to feature a Woody Guthrie-Bob Dylan-style talking blues number, but this one does. It's cute, but Barman's “Talking Time Travel” goes a long way to convincing the listener that supernatural facility in one form of rhyme doesn't necessarily translate to another form. Which is good news for Barman, whose megasyllabic territory won't be trampled on soon by Mr. Dylan. Barman's adventures into non-rap territory also include the more successful “A Somewhat New Medium,” a free-form storytelling session over a jazz loop, which might recall another MC, Dallas' MC 900 Ft. Jesus, or L.A.'s mood-master raconteur Joe Frank.
But those detours can't compete with the album's hyperactively goofy word play, which really can't be reproduced on paper — you have to hear it. And if the guy is this whacked-out on record, listeners have to wonder what he will be like in person. We haven't seen him, so we can't be sure, but it's rumored that Barman (who moonlights as an illustrator/cartoonist) has been known to draw caricatures of audience members while rapping. Go see for yourself — and bring a dictionary.