Review: Negroes on Ice – Prince Paul

Prince Paul on a comedy hip hop album? Elle explains it all…

Listen, I won’t fuck around, I was always going to enjoy this record. At the very least enjoy it. Prince Paul is partially responsible for switching me onto hip hop in the first place, and during the quarter-century he’s been involved in making music, he has yet to make a duffer. Further, he’s responsible for some key innovations within the genre that –as divisive a figure as he is – will probably take a lifetime and beyond for people to fully comprehend.

To those unfamiliar with his back catalogue, if you listen very carefully you may be able to hear me weep for you. Work your way from Stetsasonic – featuring a wealth of production talent, to De La Soul’s first three (a couple of which consistently make the world’s greatest Hip Hop lists whenever anyone is foolish enough to compile one), to Gravediggaz (ditto), to Handsome Boy Modeling School, his own Prince Among Thieves, and beyond. I haven’t even touched on key works by Big Daddy Kane, Queen Latifah, 3rd Bass, Souls of Mischief and an album or two of collaborations that are still considered classics. To those familiar with his work but who just don’t feel him, stop reading here. I can’t work with that level of tastelessness. You’re wasting your time with me. Think of me fondly…

I’ll give you a brief summary as to why Prince Paul is important:

He almost single-handedly invented the comedy skit. That is the non-music, comedy interlude between songs, that rappers to this day rely on and work. I’m talking The Wu, Kanye… the whole fucking gang. Fuck being a Prince; he’s the KING of the concept album. When you look at the phenomenally joyful Three Feet High…, and contrast it with the Horrorcore gravitas of 6 Feet Deep, it’s there that you can fully appreciate his majesty. Both albums are critically acclaimed, despite initial scepticism, and both albums are unlike anything you have ever heard before. Especially different from each other. Finally, the quality that sets Prince Paul apart from his contemporaries is humour. Whatever the subject matter, he maintains a level of humour that unnerves people. Whether he’s tipping the nod to decommissioned kid’s programmes, obscure cartoons, or breakfast cereals he has an uncanny ability to reference popular culture in such a way as to engage the listener on a primal level. If you ever see the sample quota for Three Feet High…, you’ll be staggered. Samples came from the most unlikely sources, something you could not get away with these days. In fact, there are infamous legal issues that resulted from the samples in that record anyway. But the point is, much of that record incorporated innovative as well as nostalgic samples in a bit to beguile and amuse: comedy is key.

Which brings us to this new album: Negroes on Ice. It kind of makes sense, given that Prince Paul had produced comedy albums for Chris Rock (who makes a surprising special guest appearance on the record), and given his natural aptitude for wit, that he would eventually get around to a new genre-defining work focussed entirely on comedy.

A comedy Hip Hop album.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re not gonna be eased when I tell you he has chosen to make this record with his son, DJ PForreal, who is not the greatest rapper to have lived. It’s different to anything he’s ever done before. It’s different to anything anyone has ever done before, and therein lies its charm. The album is essentially one long comedy skit of offensive, youthful bullshit espoused by the not-unfunny DJ PForreal. Instead of the skit sandwiching the tunes, in this case the tunes sandwich the skit and there is far less music on the record than there is a ridiculous yarn which incorporates guest vocals from (amongst others) Rosie Perez and Chris Rock. Which is not to say the Hip hop standard is poor, on the contrary, the music is (as fully expected) excellent. The stand out track is Pixel Hero, an homage to video games with an apt Electronica backbeat.

Textual Healing is lyrically clever, featuring some wordplay focussed on internet acronyms, which underlines the youthfulness of the joint. It feels like a record made by youth. Which is my favourite aspect of this album. It’s current. There’s a real sense of 2012 about it, as the entire concept is based on the hilarious comedy bullshit anecdote that Forreal excels at. Because he’s young. There’s no attempt by either party to try and bolster the story with a faked wisdom. And along with being relevant it is also strangely uplifting. Yes, there are elements of the record that incorporate misogynistic/ offensive humour and it would be wrong of me not to point that out. But equally, you are left with no doubt that the protagonist storyteller is a deliberate dickhead. He’s not making any political point. There’s no huge machismo sub-agenda. He talks about violence in a comic-book way, in ridiculous terms, so the listener is under no illusion that the guy is in anyway a fucking hero. In this way it’s sort of self-deprecating, which makes it funny. Silly funny. I’m amused by a Whoopie Goldberg lapdance proposal. That’s the sort of twat I am. There are some strong cameo rap performances from lesser-known rappers like T. “Talent” Harris and Breeze Brewin.

So, yeah. I was always going to like this record. It’s not the greatest Prince Paul album, but don’t be fooled into thinking that because this album is silly (and it really fucking is) that it is without merit. As the first project of DJ PForreal, it gives me some hope for the future of rap and the actual music on the album is at times, brilliant. It’s a new genre entitled Comedy Hip Hop that is both funny and most definitely great Hip Hop. It sounds like nothing else you own. What more could you ask for?