Handsome Boy Modeling School could accurately be described as a supergroup, although not in the same way as bands such as Velvet Revolver or Audioslave. Instead of rock stars linking up, the Modelling School consists of two producers, Paul “Prince Paul” Hutson and Dan “The Automator” Nakamura.
You may not have heard of Hutson and Nakamura by name before, but if you’ve had even the slightest interest in cutting-edge dance and hip-hop over the years you’ll have heard their names. Prince Paul was the producer of De La Soul‘s ground breaking Three Feet High And Rising and has also lent his skills to records by the likes of Boogie Down Productions and Stetasonic. Nakamura, meanwhile, has worked with Kool Keith and most famously with Damon Albarn‘s side-project, Gorillaz.
The duo’s debut album So…How’s Your Girl? was released in 1999 to general acclaim and five years later White People is the follow up. The first noticeable thing about this album is the truly jaw-dropping list of guest appearances that Prince Paul and Dan The Automater have managed to rope in. This is probably the first and only album where you’ll hear Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand duetting with dancehall reggae star Barrington Levy, or Pharrell Williams collaborating with Twin Peaks singer Julee Cruise.
Prince Paul’s old friends De La Soul appear on the opening track, If It Wasn’t For You, an old-school hip hop number giving thanks to various people. Similar traditional fare can be found in the likes of First…And Then which features rapping from Dres from Black Sheep, but it’s when Handsome Boy Modeling School stretch their musical boundaries that this album becomes really interesting.
The aforementioned duet between Kapranos and Levy, The World’s Gone Mad, a loping reggae beat which melds the two vocalists lines perfectly. There’s a definite Gorillaz feel here, in no small way due to the appearance of Del The Funkee Homosapien. There’s also the astonishing Rock And Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like That) Part 2, a seven minute masterpiece which pits various rappers like Jazzy Jay and QBert against Linkin Park over a sample of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and even throws in Lord Finesse reprising his famous “right about now” – as sampled by Fatboy Slim for Rockafeller Skank of course.
There’s other tracks here though that will appeal to those who boat isn’t floated by rap or hip-hop. Indie-folk siren Cat Power appears on the slinky I’ve Been Thinking while the Williams/Cruise duet, Class System is just fantastic – a Twin Peaks-style piano riff creating a darkly mysterious atmosphere. Some of it doesn’t work – The Hours relies too much on the shouty vocals of Chino Moreno from Deftones while A Day In The Life, a collaboration between Wu Tang‘s RZA and art-metal combo The Mars Volta is a bit of a mess.
Yet when it works, as on Greatest Mistake, the sublime duet between the ubiquitous Jamie Cullum and the moustachioed half of Hall And Oates, John Oates, it works quite beautifully. As with Outkast and Eminem, the band somehow feel compelled to include minute long ‘skits’ through the album which does disturb the flow of the album somewhat. Yet overall, this is the most innovative, original and enjoyable hip-hop album since Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.